Put too many escape room enthusiasts in one place for too long and inevitably someone asks:
What escape room themes are you tired of seeing?
There’s no shortage of common escape room themes:
- Zombie apocalypse
- Stop the bomb
- Stop the disease or virus
- Sherlock Holmes / generic detective
- Prison break
- Spycraft something-or-other
- Prohibition speakeasy
- Ancient tomb raid
- Surprise Satanism
This list can go on, but it doesn’t need to.
Common themes aren’t the problem. There are good and bad executions of all of these themes. A great zombie escape room is still a great escape room even if I’m disappointed with how prevalent and persistent mindless hordes are in popular culture at large.
Eliminate the mundane
The themes that I’ve found inherently disappointing are the easily executed, humdrum, everyday life themes:
- College dorms
- Hotel rooms
These are often themes of convenience and laziness. These themes give a creator license to buy crappy used furniture, tape posters on the wall, dump in a few puzzles, and start charging money.
Do the mundane creatively
If you want to create a dorm, do something creative with it. Build a world.
Set it in the 1890s. Make it look authentic. Put the players in a secret society initiation where your group must puzzle out how to make an offering.
A shortcut to creating something interesting: combine two different ideas so that you aren’t executing one in a cliched manner. To illustrate the point, think of Star Wars as warrior monks in space.
Dead Air was a rock & roll radio station in the zombie apocalypse. The mixture of two different concepts paired with good execution gave birth to a creative, unique, and fantastic escape game.
Craft an experience
Your players are paying for an experience. Give them one.
Don’t throw them in a space that looks like a regular home. They live in one of those already.
Don’t ask them to pay to play in a space that looks like an office. They just left work.
Don’t sell the mundane priced as extraordinary.
Choose to provide your players with an amazing adventure in a cohesive and exciting world. Mind the details. Your puzzles, set, hint system, and story should all be part of this fantastic world and make sense within it.
Damn near any theme can be made interesting as long as you’re willing to put in the creative effort.