One isn’t always the loneliest number in an escape room.
The concept of “single use” items is common in escape rooms, but it has a strangely fuzzy definition.
Pros & cons
Single use is a popular design choice, but it is not the only way to design an escape room. It has a few benefits for both players and companies:
For players, the benefit is clarity. If you use something, you won’t need it again. You can create a “used” pile that you never have to revisit.
For companies, that player clarity generally results in smoother game flow. It also reduces wear and tear on props, because players don’t continually investigate them for the entire game.
On the flipside, without single use, the same concept can return in different ways, enabling players to build mastery. This can add a level of player satisfaction and more interesting and innovative game design.
Every game design decision comes with tradeoffs.
The proper definitions of single use
If you use it once, you never use it again.
“It” refers to anything in your gamespace, be it a prop, puzzle, solution, key, clue, combination… or black light.
The black light alternative definition
If you use it once, you never use it again, unless it’s a handheld black light. This is lame, but can be ok if it’s made crystal clear.
The incorrect definition
If you use it once, you never use it again, unless we think you should. We’ve seen this strange definition require us to reuse journals, keys, solutions, information that leads to one solution and then leads to another… and, of course, handheld black lights.
The words “single use” should be pretty clear.
They should mean that players will rely on each item once. If that is not your definition, that’s perfectly fine. Not every game needs to be, or even should be, single use. But if you design a game that reuses anything, don’t announce it as “single use” in your pregame briefing.