If you’re building puzzles for escape rooms, whenever possible, you should build them into the gamespace as opposed to adding them to the gamespace… and you should make them big!
I can experience paper puzzles or other common puzzles at home. I can buy books of Sudoku, crosswords, or tavern puzzles for a whole lot less money than a single ticket to an escape room.
In an escape room, the space should be part of the experience and not just a backdrop that’s more interesting than my living room.
Build the puzzles into the gamespace. Make the puzzles an integral part of that world. If the puzzles can only exist in conjunction with the set, that’s a draw to visit the escape room.
Escape rooms are a group activity. The puzzles should be designed for collaboration. One way to facilitate this collaboration is to build bigger so that multiple humans are needed to interact with a puzzle.
While many escape room puzzles could be solved by one person alone, they usually won’t get to work on them on their own. Other players will want to participate. Building bigger means more people can see what’s going on and interact with the puzzle.
Scale can also be used to turn a single-player puzzle into a multiplayer puzzle, by spreading out the inputs and mechanisms.
Scale is the Point
In an escape room, bigness is the point. The game designer is pulling the players out of their lives, out of the real world, and putting them into a constructed reality. Making the game literally larger than life will make it feel like the adventure we crave… and that’s what you as a designer want.
You want every player to leave awed. Give them multiple opportunities to lay their hands on the props and puzzles, earning their victories as they play. To achieve this, scale is your friend.
Scale is fun. A big game makes an amazing first impression but can sometimes fall flat when a group is in a space for some time. I keep thinking back to the detailed sets of Sleep No More or even Escape My Room. I could have spent an hour exploring the nuances of just one room. It leads me to think that a large scale is one way to pull players in but playing with nuance and detail in a small scale can also work. (the challenge is eliminating unintentional red herrings in the details). Big reveals, big aha moments, big lasting impact – that’s where it’s at.
What is the difference between an escape room with stand alone puzzles scattered about, and your friend’s coffee table with a few puzzles laying on top….about $35. Totally support the concept that the puzzles should be built into the set. Scale is a welcomed ingredient. So is timing, which can be a great way to involve teammates. Non-linear games with quick solves by individuals and “missed” reveals and “Ah-Ha” moments can also make a player feel disconnected with the adventure. I think most of us would like to have our hands as busy as our minds in a collaborative environment with moments of awe and an triumpant experience.