Every strong escape room market has its own flavor, norms, and style. This is especially true of the top tier games in a given region.
Of all of the cities that we’ve visited, Athens, Greece, had the most pronounced style that we’ve ever seen. Of the 10 games that we played, every one exhibited a collection of traits that were unique to the Greek escape room scene.
There were 6 different traits that were on display in many, if not most, of the escape rooms that we played in Athens:
- Mode Setting
Greek games are long.
The shortest games we played in Athens were 90 minutes. In most other places, 90 minutes would be quite a lengthy game.
The longest game that we played was upwards of 3 hours. And yes, there was a snack and drink break in the middle of that escape room.
In the past, we’ve played games with long clocks that weren’t necessary or that we won with 30+ minutes remaining. That didn’t happen in Greece. These were long, active games.
By Paradox Project’s estimation more than half of the games in Athens have clocks that run longer than 60 minutes, and more than a quarter of them have clocks that run upwards of 90 minutes. It’s worth noting that when we visited, all of the top-rated escape games in the region had 90+ minute game clocks.
The biggest shock to me throughout this trip was that I almost never felt like the games were dragging or carrying on too long. Sure, there were moments that could have been edited out or down… but they were few and far between.
Game length is meaningless if you don’t do something special with it, and so many of the games that we played in Athens did just that.
These games focused on storytelling. They used the extended clock to stretch out and develop their narratives.
Most of the games that we played had fully realized stories. Those that didn’t had so much character.
While we’re on the subject of character, the use of actors in Greek escape rooms was top-notch, especially considering that these actors weren’t performing in their native language.
One of the games that we played felt more like a 2-hour horror immersive theatre production with puzzles as gates than it did an escape room… and it was an incredible experience.
The stories that we experienced were detailed and nuanced in ways that 60-minute experiences often struggle to achieve.
All but one of the games that we played in Athens were epic in size… And the “small one” felt like it was a normal size by our standards.
We quickly became accustomed to sprawling sets with multiple floors and bewildering uses of space.
We’ve often described escape rooms as real-life video games, but the games that we played in Athens took that a lot more literally than we’ve been used to.
The influences of games like Super Metroid, Silent Hill, and Resident Evil were palpable throughout our trip to Athens.
I mentioned a horror game above. There were lots of horror games in Athens, but one of the interesting things about these games was that they could be played different modes.
While different companies branded their modes different, they generally followed the same structure:
- Heavy Horror/ Light Puzzles – a haunted house with light puzzles as gates
- Light Horror/ Heavy Puzzles – an escape room in a haunt setting that has been de-fanged
- Heavy Horror/ Heavy Puzzles – a horror escape room
I’ll be clear: I think that you’re doing yourself and the escape games a disservice if you play anything other than the Heavy Horror/ Heavy Puzzles setting. However, I appreciate that the creators of these games have recognized the variation in their audiences and created workarounds.
From speaking to the gamemasters, it seemed that a lot of the local audience plays the Heavy Horror/ Light Puzzles variants and that a lot of the tourists/ escape room enthusiasts tend to play Light Horror/ Heavy Puzzles version.
One of the gamemasters even went so far as to thank our team as we were leaving, saying, “We don’t normally get really good teams. We usually just run around for a couple of hours scaring people.”
Greek escape rooms have a different relationship with safety than their American or Western European counterparts. They involved more risk than we were used to.
From seemingly unchlorinated pools of water to a chase scene on an uneven surface, we encountered many interactions in Greece that I can’t imagine experiencing in the United States. Some of them we honestly enjoyed. Others seemed lazy or silly. We’re going to call out the difference in our reviews.
Additionally, it’s important to note that in most of these escape games, I couldn’t tell you where the fire exits were or if there were any at all. In the games with actors, this would have been mitigated by the presence of a human who knows their way around. In games without actors, however, I have no idea what precautions were taken. I found this troubling post-Poland, for reasons that should seem obvious.
It’s my sincere hope that many of the owners in Greece rethink their approach to fire escapes and signage. It’s the kind of thing that isn’t a problem until it’s a big problem.
The first row might get wet.
Bring an extra pair of shoes with you to Athens… and a few extra pairs of socks.
These should be shoes that you don’t care about at all. We encountered a couple of games where the threat of soaked footwear was real.
I wouldn’t call this normal for Athens games, but it stood out to us nonetheless.
We left Athens feeling insanely spoiled.
Athens doesn’t have a monopoly on long games, but they have so many of them.
Greek escape rooms aren’t necessarily the largest, most epic games that we’ve played, but there were so many of them.
Athenian games didn’t tell stories better than every other escape room in the world, but they did a fantastic job of it.
I lost track of the number of times that I looked at Lisa or another teammate with a grin that said, “I can’t believe that someone built this!”
Another travel companion suggested, “It might be hard to go back to ‘normal escape rooms’ after this.” Of course, he didn’t know that we’d be quarantined in our homes for months wishing for a “normal escape room” when he said that.
It’s not a magical, perfect escape room scene and we’ll delve into the details in individual reviews. In aggregate, however, Athens delivered quite a few incredible, epic escape rooms at surprisingly affordable prices.
Also, the food. There was so much great food.
I’m eager to return.