REPOD S5E11 – Golden Lock Grand Slam: Game Designer Mark Larson

In Season 5, episode 11, we chat with Mark Larson, a game and puzzle designer with an impressive track record. As David notes, Mark is the only designer to have contributed to Golden Lock award winning games in 3 different categories: tabletop, virtual, and IRL escape room.

Hero image for REPOD season 5, episode 11. Image of man wearing glassess with short brown hair. He has a tight lipped grumpy expression, and he is looking slightly over his shoulder towards an image of Captain Adama from the TV show Battlestar Galactica. Adama is a middle aged man wearing glasses and a haughty expression. The title on the image reads "Golden Lock Grand Slam: Game Designer Mark Larson"

We talk to Mark about the different hats he’s worn while working in the gaming industry: designing tabletop games, managing escape rooms, and designing audio escape rooms. One of his award-winning audio creations was Escape from Escape Island, a game created exclusively for RECON 2021. Mark has also designed the virtual game for the upcoming RECON Remote 23: The Shop of Theseus.

We hear the story behind Mark’s infamous headshot with Captain Adama from the TV show Battlestar Galactica, and loyal listeners will get a chance to hear Peih-Gee sing. Mark has navigated his long career in the gaming and puzzle world with humor, charm, and kindness. We’re so happy for a chance to chat about his experiences.

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We are immensely grateful to our sponsors this season: Morty App, Resova, and RECON: The Reality Escape Convention. We truly appreciate your support of our mission to promote and improve the immersive gaming community.


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Resova is your all-inclusive software for bookings, made specifically for escape rooms, offering robust booking management, waiver management, integrated point of sales systems, and follow-up emails. Resova is the ultimate online reservation software designed to elevate the guest experience, increase game master efficiencies, drive sales, and improve operations.

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RECON: The Reality Escape Convention

Escape room conventions should be as fun, collaborative, and immersive as the games we celebrate.

RECON is our very own escape room and immersive gaming convention. Whether you’re an owner, creator, player, or you’re escape room curious, you are invited learn, connect, and play with our wonderful community.

RECON Remote 23 will take place August 19 – 20, 2023, online.

RECON 24 will be in person.

Get your ticket at now.

Topics Discussed in this Episode

  • [2:29] David introduces Mark Larson as the only game designer to have contributed to Golden Lock Award-winning games for a physical escape room (Utopia from Riddle Room), a tabletop escape room (Ruff Bluff: A Furlock Holmes Mystery), and a virtual escape room (Escape from Escape Island), as well as being the designer of the game that we have commissioned for Recon Remote 23: The Shop of Theseus.
  • [3:20] Mark talks about his love of puzzles from a young age. He had a background in theatrical design, then eventually found a job in tabletop gaming. 
  • [5:18] Mark talks about some of the different jobs he’s had in the escape room industry, including general manager, scenic painter, events manager, audio escape game designer, and project lead for escape room builds and designs. 
  • [7:30] Mark talks about why he never opened his own escape room company. He says it’s partly due to the financial aspect and uncertainty. 
  • [8:49] David and Mark talk about the escape room Utopia at Riddle Room, which won a Golden Lock award in 2017, but the company has since closed. Mark tells David that Utopia was purchased by another escape room company in the Twin Cities, Lock and Key.
  • [9:59] Mark tells us about his audio escape room adventures, which are similar to the ones created by Escape This Podcast, who we interviewed in Season 5, episode 8. 
  • [12:08] Mark talks about using the virtual medium to push the possibilities of play in escape rooms. 
  • [13:07] David talks about the audio game Super Squad, where every player had a unique superpower. Mark explains that one of the goals for that game was to avoid the “alpha player” issue, where a dominant player tends to take over the game. 
  • [14:20] Mark explains that one of the downsides of the audio medium is that because there’s only one narrator, the group has to do everything together. It’s difficult to create a game where players can split up and play independently. 
  • [14:58] Mark talks about tricks he uses when designing an audio-based escape room. He says that he prefers to “show and not tell.” So if players are traveling through time, he won’t tell them, but rather will leave it to the players to figure it out through the setting and action. 
  • [16:27] Mark shares another trick and says that when he’s describing a room, he’ll tend to put the most important information last so that it makes an impression on players’ short attention spans.
  • [16:55] Mark says that Escape From Escape Island, the game he created exclusively for RECON 21, is his favorite audio room to run. He explains that one of the mechanics was that players eventually get access to the “script” of the game and can change how he, as the narrator, behaves in the world. He said he had a lot of fun playing along with the crazy things that the players would make him do.
  • [19:16] Mark talks about how this was a game created specifically for escape room enthusiasts, really leaning into different escape room tropes and clichés. 
  • [21:12] Mark tells us about some of the ridiculous ways that teams rewrote the script, including forcing him to speak Italian and singing the entire script as a Broadway musical. 
  • [24:59] Mark talks about the Golden Lock award-winning tabletop game he helped create called Ruff Bluff: a Furlock Holmes Mystery. He tells us how they settled on a Western dog theme that felt playful and humorous. 
  • [27:46] Mark talks about his experience crowdfunding the game on Kickstarter. His advice is to keep the campaign period short. He explains that people tend to respond in the first couple of days and the last couple of days. He thinks that a 2-week campaign is as effective as a 4-week one. 
  • [28:42] Mark talks about his previous job as project coordinator at Fantasy Flight Games, which created many classic tabletop games including one of David’s favorites, Battlestar Galactica.
  • [32:57] Mark tells us the story of how he acquired a giant 25’ banner for Battlestar Galactica, which features the box art with a giant Captain Adama on it. Mark took a headshot standing next to this banner mimicking Adama’s expression and has used that as his headshot to this day.
  • [34:36] Mark tells us how the Battlestar Galactica tabletop game works. It’s a hidden role game with cards and skill checks where the humans are trying to discover who are the Cylons. 
  • [35:42] David mentions that he thinks it’s one of the most interesting platforms for emergent gameplay. He also says that he’s been trying to acquire the expansions, which has been difficult since the game is now out of print. 
  • [36:41] Mark talks about how his puzzle hunt team came up with the name “Luigi’s Death Stare,” which is a reference to Mario Kart 8.
  • [38:18] Mark talks to us about The Shop of Theseus, the audio escape adventure that he has created for RECON Remote 23… and maybe he slips us a few teasers about what to expect. David shares that it will have interesting, playful, and unusual mechanics crafted specifically for the enthusiast.
  • [40:23] David breaks down the ticket structure for RECON, explaining that the Basic ticket is free and will get you access to the talks. The Community ticket is more for enthusiasts and includes access to Mark’s game as well as additional community-driven features like happy hour virtual bars, and live Q&As. The Pro ticket is geared towards folks in the industry with facilitated conversations. There is also a Champion ticket that helps support our work and includes priority access and RECON swag.
  • [42:03] David talks a bit about some of the speakers who’ll be presenting at RECON, including past guests Dino Paulo (season 4, episode 3), Anne and Chris Lukeman (season 1, episode 4), and Gai Bosco (season 4, episode 7).
  • [43:43] Peih-Gee talks about why RECON is virtual this year, and David reminds listeners that the RECON dates are August 19-20, 2023.
  •  [44:53] Mark talks about being on the board of directors for the DASH puzzle hunt, which will resume again in-person in 2024. He will be one of the puzzle managers for next year’s hunt. 
  • [45:44] Mark tells us how DASH works. It’s a walking puzzle hunt. When you solve a puzzle, you’ll be directed to the next location, and it’s all run through ClueKeeper. 
  • [47:38] Mark tells our listeners to reach out to him if they want to know more about puzzles, games, or DASH, and directs them to contact him through his website,
  • [51:10] Mark shares a bonus story about finding dumb ways to die in a text-based adventure puzzle game and how it became the theme song for Luigi’s Death Stare.
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Resources Mentioned in this Episode

About Mark Larson

Image of man wearing glassess with short brown hair. He has a tight lipped grumpy expression, and he is looking slightly over his shoulder towards an image of Captain Adama from the TV show Battlestar Galactica. Adama is a middle aged man wearing glasses and a haughty expression.

Mark Larson is an interactive experiences and puzzle designer from Minneapolis. His work focuses on combining narrative storytelling, engaging and thought-provoking puzzles and gameplay, and a healthy dose of fun. He’s best known for his series of Audio Escape Adventures created in 2020 and 2021, including Escape from Escape Island, commissioned for RECON 2021.


Twitter: @mrklrsn

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