No running in the house!
Location: at home
Date Played: Q1 2023
Team size: 3-6; we recommend 4
Duration: 15 minutes x 6
Age range: 8+; we recommend 8+
Price: about $30
This was the first at-home escape room game that had me running through my house and climbing over furniture as part of the game requirements. It prioritized teamwork and time pressure over intriguing puzzle design, but for a tweenish audience with a bit of experienced guidance, this trade-off worked. It offered a genuinely new angle on at-home games, and we had a blast.
Rather than attempting to recreate the aesthetic immersion of an escape room, this set of six “missions” achieved a sort of adrenaline immersion that resonated a lot with my kids. A 15-minute game time for each mission created this expectation upfront, so we had to work efficiently to beat the clock. The game established a large footprint to explore within this timeframe by spreading various game elements throughout several rooms. More than just inspiring several mad dashes through the house under pressure, this design also lent itself well to split-information puzzles, requiring us to refine our communication strategies from mission to mission. Even the game’s simplistic door-hanger locks added a sense of progress and accomplishment to the experience, something that seemed even more profound to younger imaginations.
This focus on time pressure and action came at the expense of puzzle depth, a presumably calculated balance meant to accommodate the short game clock without frustrating novice players. Even so, each mission included a variety of observation, communication, searching, and physical challenges, giving newer players a nice sampling of puzzle types. These activities were only marred by tiny print, occasionally indistinguishable colors, and an occasional need for outside knowledge. Overall, most of the puzzles were approachable and interesting for the target audience, especially with an experienced player to support them along the way.
What really intrigued me as an adult guide throughout this mayhem was how conducive the game was to post-game reflections on strategy and improvement. With six missions that repeated some structural elements and puzzle patterns, my family had several good debriefs about how to modify our gameplay and communication. As the missions progressed, my kids were then able to suggest strategies for themselves. It was an effective learning ground for my kids that demonstrated how making intentional changes could really improve our experience over time.
Ultimately, I recommend this as an action-packed candidate for family game night if you’re looking for ways to train up the younger spies…er…puzzlers in your life.
Who is this for?
- Adventure seekers
- Families or anyone entertaining kids older than 7 or 8
- Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle
- To train your apprentice escape room players through repetition and reflection
- To experience some fast-paced excitement throughout your home
Our family had been surreptitiously enrolled in the Spy Team Auditions. Through a series of missions, we had to not only prove ourselves capable of super secret spy skills but also disarm a nefarious villain-training school, rescue a missing dog, restore cat videos to the internet, and free some brainwashed whales. All just a couple hours’ work for some unwitting spies like us!
This game consisted of six 15-minute missions. Setup for each mission was a bit complex but well-explained in the instructions. First, we designated 10 distinct areas in our home to be the game space. Ideally, each area would be a separate room, but sections of rooms can work as long as they are spread as far apart as possible to enforce the communication aspects of some puzzles. After choosing the areas in play, we positioned specific puzzle cards in each space according to each mission’s specifications. Some puzzle cards had a set of answer cards labeled A, B, C, and D. We also placed a uniquely-colored lock door hanger at the entrance to six of those areas, indicating that the space and its accompanying puzzle cards were gated until we found the appropriate key card. There was a final higher-tech door hanger to place on the front door to the house.
This entire process took about 15 minutes per mission. Whoever set up the game could still play it along with the rest of their team. In fact, the instructions recommend having multiple team members check the layout because any error could break the entire game flow.
To play, our team was allowed to explore the puzzle cards in the ungated areas of the house. Each puzzle card had a color and showed the total number of cards necessary to complete the puzzle. After we had located all the puzzle cards of a specific color, we could combine the information to solve the puzzle. However, we were not allowed to move any of the puzzle cards, so cross-house communication techniques were necessary. The answer was always one of four choices listed on one of the puzzle cards, which mapped to one of the four accompanying answer cards. If we turned over the correct answer card, we would find a key card whose color matched one of the lock door hangers. In this way we slowly unlocked all of the gated areas and eventually discovered the plastic key to unlock the front door hanger, stop the 15-minute game clock, trigger a victory jingle, and escape!
Some puzzle cards were destroyed in the process of playing the game, but the game included one set of replacements.
Escape Room the Game’s Escape Your House Spy Team was an adrenaline-filled approximation of a short escape room for you to set up in your house. It offered a moderate level of difficulty, not from the puzzles themselves but rather from the teamwork and pacing necessary to beat the game clock.
Puzzling consisted of heavy communication, observation, physical challenges, and searching.
➕ The missions had silly scenarios that connected to the puzzles, though not in any way that impacted the gameplay. I was mostly oblivious to these connections, but my kids paid attention and enjoyed them.
➕/➖ The 15-minute game clock was the perfect length for these missions, forcing an intentional approach to puzzling and strong teamwork. However, the short length does require a resilient attitude for the first couple of missions when teams are less likely to beat the clock. Children may find this disappointing. Also, each mission took just as long to set up as it did to play.
➕ The game’s requirement that game pieces remain in the room where they start forced creativity in communication, making the physical space directly impactful to the experience.
➕ The lock mechanisms were the perfect level of playful. The low-tech nature of the cardboard locks was charming in its simplicity yet effective in engaging the kids’ imagination. The final, slightly-higher-tech lock gave a satisfying conclusion to each mission with a little victory chime. Fun!
➖ Some of the lock colors were too similar, particularly fuschia vs. red and blue vs. green.
➕ Physical challenges in each mission were simple enough to maintain the game’s pace but substantial enough to add adrenaline to the experience. They were my kids’ favorite part of the game.
➖ Some basic outside knowledge of foreign languages and math was necessary. Experienced players could fill in these gaps, but these things didn’t add much to the game.
➕ Each mission followed a roughly predictable pattern, with a mix of split-info puzzles, physical challenges, and a final meta-puzzle. For novices, this helped build skill and accomplishment along the way, giving a legitimate feeling that they were actually getting better at the game.
Tips For Players
- Space Requirements: Ten different rooms or spaces. Game difficulty increases somewhat as spaces get farther apart.
- Required Gear: Scissors. Some of the physical challenges also require common household items, but discovering these is part of the fun.
- Set the expectation with children or competitive teammates that you probably won’t beat the clock for the first couple of missions, but that’s part of the game.
- Don’t move the puzzle cards during play. This is explicitly stated in the instructions, but it’s absolutely critical for making the puzzles interesting.
- Take time to debrief after each mission. The structure of this game offers a truly unique opportunity to enhance your skills.
- Clear the floor. You will want to run.
Buy your copy of Escape Room the Game’s Escape Your House Spy Team, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.
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