The Split Team Regrouping Problem in Escape Rooms

The longer a player or a group of players works within a space in isolation, the harder it becomes for teams to fully reintegrate… and it’s often better for players to stick to the space that they intimately know.

The problem becomes more pronounced over time. It’s barely noticeable if the teams are only split up for a few minutes. When teams spend half of the game split, it becomes an annoyance. When teams spend more than 3 quarters of the game split, it can be downright irritating, even if no one has the language to vocalize it.

Stylized image of a woman's head splitting in two.

The Situation

When a player enters a space that has already been thoroughly searched and solved, that player has three options:

  1. Start playing normally and “find” a ton of stuff that’s already been found or solved. This usually leads to exchanges along the lines of, “hey… did y’all see this little trap door?” A teammate who has been in space from the beginning will have to stop and explain that it’s been found and used.
  2. Stop the entire game while teammates catch one another up on what’s been found, solved, and what still requires the team’s attention.
  3. Stay put. Nobody crosses the boundaries and everyone sticks with the content that they already know intimately.

We had been feeling this problem for years, and only started to put our finger on what was going on last year after playing The Order at I Survived The Room. Prior to identifying it, under circumstances like this, we would just say something like, “Hey… I think it’s easier for me to just solve this.” Which is a polite way of saying, “You don’t know what’s going on and you’re in the way.”

Stylized image of tomatoes and potatoes split up into separate piles.

Our Dominant Strategy

When faced with a challenge like this, if we’re choosing to play efficiently, we usually stick to the spaces that we have mastery over, even when free to roam. 

The pro is that we maintain efficiency. The con is that everyone kind of misses out. Another potential con is that we could really use person A’s skill set in space B and we’re avoiding that situation.

Regardless of what we choose to do, it usually feels like a bit of a wash because getting up to speed on someone else’s mostly solved section of a game is tedious.

Unevenness

It can be challenging to follow this strategy when the spaces are really different from one another. If the other space looks really inviting, as players, we have to go against our instincts to follow this efficiency strategy.

If we instead take the time to fully explore another teammate’s space, some players invariably feel like they drew the short straw, and they would have preferred to spend the majority of their time in the other space, the one the group deems more fun or more exciting.

Stylized image of a road splitting around a mountain.

Mitigating the Regrouping Problem

There are a few ways that we’ve thought of to prevent this problem from emerging: 

  • Limit the amount of time that teams spend split up. This is a problem that becomes increasingly pronounced with time.
  • Once the teams regroup, push them forward into a new space. If the previous spaces aren’t really relevant, then it’s a nonissue.
  • Make all of the puzzles within the split-team portion joint solves, so that seeing the other space feels more like seeing what you’ve already participated in, rather than something new that demands exploration.
  • Don’t bring the team together. If you want split-team gameplay, keep it split the entire time.

The regrouping problem isn’t a gamebreaker, but it can be a late-game momentum killer… which is less than ideal for both players and game designers. Teams should be excited to regroup. That momentum plays a crucial part in building the right vibe for any given moment of a game.

3 thoughts on “The Split Team Regrouping Problem in Escape Rooms

  1. Great post. I played 2 rooms at Palace during IDS, with strangers – some of them who are “pro” puzzlers. Although I had a good time, It was really irritating for all the reasons you stated. Nothing worse than working on something for a period of time only to be shoved aside, and people not communicating what has and hasn’t been solved.
    Looking forward to your talks at the Halloween/Escape/Christmas show.

    1. Yeah, I can absolutely see this happening in Roosevelt Room… I think that there may be multiple team dynamics at play here too. Anytime someone’s feeling shoved aside, that’s usually a sign that there were some broken communication dynamics which is especially unfortunate in games of that caliber.

      We’re really excited for the St. Louis show too (I’m just taking a break from writing my talk right now). Please come find us, we’d love to talk.

  2. Great article! It really stalls a game and makes it harder to be completed, when teams split up for long durations. Mostly such problems are seen in the corporate events, where players are from different departments. The team leader has a big responsibility in keeping the team together; at the same time the admin has to ensure that they are encouraged to keep note of time.

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