Chekhov’s Gun & His Other Belongings in Escape Rooms

Here’s a simple rule of escape room design:

The coolest things in the room need to have a purpose.

If they don’t, they turn into a disappointment.

And… in so many instances, the coolest props and set pieces in a given escape room do nothing.

This rule is a simplification of the concept of Chekhov’s gun.

Pixelated photo of a revolver.

Chekhov’s Gun

Popularized by Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, “Chekhov’s gun is a dramatic principle that suggests that details within a story or play will contribute to the overall narrative. This encourages writers to not make false promises in their narrative by including extemporaneous details that will not ultimately pay off by the last act, chapter, or conclusion” (Masterclass).

The notion here being: in a story, if there’s a rifle hanging on the wall in Act 1, it needs to go off in Acts 2 or 3.

This video does a great job of breaking down the principle:

Chekhov’s _______

Escape rooms are packed with Chekhov’s other belongings… but sometimes his gun is there too.

We frequently find prop guns in escape rooms that do nothing… or next to it. “They’re just there to be cool.”

Maybe there’s a big antique cash register in the room… and it does nothing.

Or a car’s engine block… just sitting there looking like an engine block.

Maybe there’s a big nuclear missile, but you never get to interact with it.

The list can go on… and when these things disappoint, we talk about how “that game had Chekhov’s missile” in it.

Don’t make Chekhov’s belongings. Use your most eye-catching props appropriately. Your escape room will be better for it.

Escape Room Phones Should Default to Speaker

A recurring and simple issue that we have seen in countless escape rooms over the years is their use misuse of telephones.

In almost all cases, escape rooms should be using speakerphone, not handsets. I’ll explain.

A pixelated, black speaker phone.

πŸ””πŸ””πŸ””πŸ“ž

When player picks up a phone receiver and is delivered a clue, hint, or bit of story, the game has just created a solo moment.

That player is solely enjoying the experience and the rest of their teammates are watching, hoping that the teammate who answered the phone will successfully relay all relevant information to them.

And the better and more entertaining the phone message is for the person holding the phone, the more the rest of the team is missing out.

This is an artificial and unnecessary feel-bad moment.

πŸ””πŸ””πŸ””πŸ”ˆ

Whether you’re delivering a clue, hint, or bit of story, it’s better to deliver the message via speakerphone… or better yet… pipe it through your PA system.

Yes, I know that picking up the phone receiver is more realistic and immersive, but this is a classic example of when breaking from the “more realistic and immersive interaction” makes for a better experience for all involved.

It’s better for the person who picked up the phone too. It kind of sucks as a player to have a really entertaining moment, and then have your teammates ask you what happened, and you can’t really explain what made it compelling or funny. It’s hard to retell jokes.

You can still keep the telephone receiver in the room, have it ring and everything… but when the player picks it up, blast the message out through the biggest speaker you can.

When πŸ“ž > πŸ”ˆ

There are a few instances where the receiver is better than a speaker, but they are few and far between:

  • If part of the game is psychological and you’re attempting to create an air of mystery or distrust.
  • In some horror experiences, you might want to create an intense moment for one player, and having the rest of the team witness their reaction is important.
  • You’re attempting to create some kind of communication challenge.

But in most cases… just default to speaker.

North Valley Escape Room – Escape From Alcatraz [Review]

What are you in for?

Location:  Anthem, AZ

Date Played: March 10, 2022

Team size: 4-10; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 75 minutes

Price: $29.95 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A] Push To Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Escape From Alcatraz was a large game that felt like a couple of different escape rooms merged into one.

The first half had a more traditional prison escape room aesthetic, but a novel approach to gameplay that was elevated by the presence of a performer.

Interior of a prison, bars are visible on two floors, the wall is labeled, "Block B."

The second half of the game stylistically changed to a more traditional escape room feel, and the puzzle design loosened the deeper we progressed.

I haven’t been shy about my general dislike of prison escape games, but there was quite a bit to enjoy here. That said, the last half undermined the overall experience. It felt like the second half either needed to be refined… or some of it could be cut down. Either would be a viable solution.

North Valley Escape Room is a strong escape room company, and I’m glad we visited them. In its current state, Escape From Alcatraz had a lot to offer, but our team greatly preferred Big Top Circus. We expect with some editing, Escape From Alcatraz could be one of the rare standout prison escape games. If you’re in visiting Phoenix, I recommend seeing if you can fit North Valley Escape Room into your trip.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Prison break fans
  • Best for players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • The prison set was cool and dramatically lit
  • Solid actor interaction
  • It was a whole lot of game

Story

Our crime had landed us life sentences in Alcatraz… which meant that we had 75 minutes to life to contemplate and enact our escape plan.

View of a the sign for Alcatraz viewed through rusting bars.
Continue reading “North Valley Escape Room – Escape From Alcatraz [Review]”

Maze Rooms – Tombstone [Review]

Shoot out

Location:  West Los Angeles, CA

Date Played: March 5, 2022

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $49.50 per player for teams of 2, $37 per player for teams of 3+

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Tombstone was a solid escape game set in an unusual environment, a wild west town at night.

I’ll shoot you straight. The reason to play this particular escape game are a couple of really cool cut-scene moments. Be cautioned, however, because they are both “blink and you missed them” scenes. So please call out your solves to your teammates.

Bird Cage Theatre facade

Beyond these key scenes, Tombstone is a good game, but unremarkable. And as for the wild west town… I found myself wishing that we could see inside of more of the businesses on the street.

Tombstone is in the same Maze Rooms location as Whatever Happened To The Garretts, and in my opinion, that’s the stronger of the pair. If you’re already visiting for Whatever Happened To The Garretts… tacking on Tombstone ain’t a bad idea. There certainly were puzzles worth solving in this wild west town.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Western fans
  • Any experience level
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • Nifty wild west town set
  • A couple of fantastic cut-scene moments
  • Solid puzzle play

Story

It was 1881 and Wyatt Earp, his two brothers, and Doc Holliday had just gunned down most of our gang at the OK Corral. Those that they didn’t gun down had been taken to jail and would have a date with the gallows in the morning, unless we could pull off a jailbreak and ride off into the sunset.

Facade of an old western jail. The door is padlocked shut.
Continue reading “Maze Rooms – Tombstone [Review]”

The Escape Revolution – Wrongfully Convicted [Review]

You get at least 1 phone call.

Location:  Los Angeles, CA

Date Played: March 8, 2022

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 80 minutes

Price: $59 per player

Ticketing: Private

Accessibility Consideration: All teammates need to be comfortable going up and down a flight of stairs and crawling a bit to fully experience the game.

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Escape Revolution is an interesting beast, and Wrongfully Convicted perfectly captures the essence of the company.

The prison set of Wrongfully Convicted was large and presented a surprisingly accurate aesthetic of a modern prison. Their use of two floors shined here, as it was an interesting and entertaining space to traverse.

A hallway in a prison.

However, as with Escobar (and I’m not going to rehash my thoughts from that review, because they are largely the same for Wrongfully Convicted), The Escape Revolution’s inconsistent design and desire to take edgy material, but only flirt with the darkness of the story and setting that they have built, made this game feel beautiful and a little hollow.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great build, and a cool game… but it is bogged down by its own premium expectation and the faux heaviness of its plot.

Similar to Escobar, a portion of the proceeds from this game go to the Innocence Project, which is a wonderfully selected organization. (Innocence Project on Charity Navigator).

I’m very open about my dislike for prison escape rooms. I’m tired of them… and I find the underlying politics of them distasteful. So believe me when I say that this is one of the better prison escape rooms I’ve seen. It’s a worthy game… it just feels like it wants to be and is striving for more.

Who is this for?

  • Scenery snobs
  • Prison break fans
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Cool two-story set
  • Some unusual interactions

Story

We had been wrongfully convicted and sentenced to life without possibility of parole. Our appeals had been denied. We only had one option: escape.

Continue reading “The Escape Revolution – Wrongfully Convicted [Review]”