Spain has been rising up the ranks of the top escape room destinations for traveling enthusiasts. A high density of quality games has garnered international attention. Thanks to impressive showings in popular awards lists such as TERPECA, the buzz around Spanish escape rooms has never been higher.
Being a Europe-naive American, I wanted to learn more about the Spanish escape room scene and what it would be like to play games there. What makes that market special, and what makes it different from what I am used to in the US?
I recently chatted with a few more knowledgeable folks to see what I could find out. Victor Espriu is the TERPECA Ambassador to Spain. Justin Graham and John Devendorf are American enthusiasts with experience playing in Spain. Randy Hum from the blog Escape Rumors provided his thoughts on Barcelona.
Make Sure You Can Play In English
A common piece of advice I heard was that if there is not a direct option for English during the online booking, it is important to contact the company. They may have to schedule particular people as gamemasters for English-language groups. It is also important to remember that newer rooms may not yet be available in English.
John Devendorf: For the popular rooms, you need to plan WAY in advance. This is not only because they fill up but because they may not have an English-speaking GM. Without a native speaker, I would recommend avoiding rooms that don’t have an English-speaking GM.
Justin Graham: Most of our rooms were reserved well in advance of the trip. In every case I specifically asked for an English-speaking GM. I was disappointed that one highly regarded room was unable to provide an English language version. But everyone else on our list was able to find a way to accommodate us.
Getting Around – Rent A Car
If you are planning on traveling around the country to play games in different regions, renting a car seems to be the thing to do. Keep in mind that you may have to specify if you want an automatic transmission.
Victor Espriu: Traveling around, I will say that it will be easier than traveling to Italy or France, because most Spaniards know the basic English words and with Google translate, everything is easier.
John Devendorf: Depending on where you’re playing, you will probably need a car. Especially in the North. If you are driving, leave plenty of time to find parking and walk to the rooms. I don’t think most places had any dedicated parking, and some required parking a couple of blocks away.
Randy Hum: In Barcelona, the metro system is excellent. However, there are a lot of games in the surrounding 20 miles (30km) that are outside of the metro system. For those, you could rent a car or use taxis (what we did).
Justin Graham: The northern Spain rooms are quite spread out (1-2h driving time from city to city). I can’t really see doing this trip without a rental car.
Horror Themes Are Popular
Randy Hum: In our research and from talking with local enthusiasts, it seemed that there were a lot of top-rated games in the horror genre.
Victor Espriu: Spain is not Greece; in Spain, the ratio of horror to non horror may be 35:65. Horror games are getting more popular, but most of them are old houses with jumpscares and not so great game play, so once you have played the best, you can skip the rest.
Game Lengths and Actors
Victor told me that in Spain, game length has moved up from the old standard of 60 minutes. Most of the newer games are 80 or 90 minutes and some of them are 100 or even 120 minutes. Make sure you note game lengths when planning your schedule.
He also said to expect role playing, and actors in almost every single room.
Victor Espriu: Not just in the horror games, in most regular games you will have an actor in character introducing you to the game.
Justin Graham: The Spaniards take the immersive element of the game seriously. In nearly every room the gamemaster was fully in character and participating in our experience as an actor from the moment we stepped in the door.
No Lobbies – No Briefings
Victor Espriu: Do not expect a lobby where you can use the restroom and then receive a rules briefing. Be prepared to start once you ring the bell. Some games have a toilet available once you reach the halfway point of the game.
Randy Hum: For many of the games we played, you can not enter the building until your start time. There was no lobby to wait in and no one will let you in early. At your start time, you ring the doorbell, enter the building and boom… the game begins! This method was much more immersive than sitting in a lobby.
Victor Espriu: All games in Spain are private. Some of them require a minimum of four players, but the vast majority are 2 players minimum. If you are experienced players, I would suggest playing with 2 to 4 players to get the most out of the game.
Bring Cash With You
Randy Hum: Most places accepted a deposit online (20%) and then would ask for the rest of the balance in cash after the game was over. If you want to play a ton of games, make sure you have enough cash for your entire group.
Other Things I Learned
Expect Spanish games to be more physical than you are used to in the US. Climbing, crawling and skill challenges were all things I heard mentioned. Escape rooms there also tend to put more emphasis on action and adventure and may be less puzzle-centric than you might expect.
Victor Espriu: Owners are warm and want to hear your thoughts. If a game is 90 minutes, they may let you finish it in 100 minutes, and after that they will talk to you for 10 or 15 minutes to know how it was or to see if you understood everything.
Justin Graham: The Spaniards seem to eat 5 meals a day, which was just fine for us. Dinner often starts quite late – if you go to a restaurant at 8:30pm, you’ll often be the first people there.
Dan Egnor: My understanding is that Spain has a very robust enthusiast culture, and a culture of enthusiasts who travel for escape room marathon holidays. They use the term “ruta” (literally: route) to mean a lineup of rooms to do in a row, and people like to publish and discuss their rutas. So a highly rated room gets booked out by all the Spanish enthusiasts planning their trips. (I’m gonna go out on a limb and say this may be cause and/or effect and/or both of why Spain has so many well regarded rooms)
Escape room companies sometimes get together and create themed rutas for enthusiasts.
Victor Espriu: “The Pain Route” is an example. It was made by 6 different companies with scary rooms, where after playing each of them you get an exclusive collectable bracelet, cap or magnet, and when you have played all the games in that route, you get a t-shirt and the chance of winning some additional grand prize.
Of all the things I learned, most interesting to me were the differences between what is common in Spain and what I am used to here in the States. The lack of a lengthy check-in and briefing is an adaptation that I would love to see take hold in the US.
To learn more about escape rooms in Spain join the #spain channel on the Escape Room Discord at escaperooms.fun, and to find escape room recommendations for other international or domestic travel destinations check out these guides on Room Escape Artist.