Thoughts on Destructible Props in Escape Rooms

It’s rare, but it’s fun when a game includes a destructible prop. When I say destructible, I mean something that the team is required to break into order advance the game… not a breakable item.

I love a good destructible, but in my experiences so far, I see a room design flaw: the destructible arrives too early in the experience.

Black & white image of three padlocks that have been cut and destroyed with bolt cutters.
Fun with bolt cutters.

Timing and unspoken rules

The timing of a destructible matters because players learn the rules of an escape room in three ways:

  • Past experience (if they have it): Players who have played escape rooms will draw on the rules and expectations of their previous games.
  • Explicit rules: Players should learn the basic boundaries of your experience in the pre-game briefing prior to playing.
  • Implicit rules: Players learn through play. They usually aren’t even aware of this.

A destructible will screw with every one of these.

Past experience

Players with experience know that one of the basic expectations of escape room play is that they will not break shit.

Explicit rules

Pre-game rules are usually pretty clear about not breaking things… although games with destructibles usually have a tell in the pre-game briefing. The gamemaster usually says something cagey along the lines of, “at some point you might have to break a rule… but you’ll know it when you see it.”

Implicit rules

Finally, destructibles mess with player expectations. Once you have to break something, the room starts looking different. “Do I have to break that thing?” is suddenly a viable path to explore. This can become a dangerous thing for both the players and the room.

Late game destructibles

Destructibles are best placed somewhere near the end of the game.

This allows players to explore the vast majority of the game under the typical rule structure, without having destruction factored into their reasoning.

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