How to Get the Most out of the TERPECA 2020 Results

The 2020 TERPECA results are live.

Last year we did a fairly deep dive into the data. I think that piece still holds up, so this year, we are offering some advice about how to get the most out of the TERPECA list as a player.

Before diving in, I’ll remind you that Lisa and I share a vote on the TERPECA board. This isn’t our project, but we do contribute to it and do our best to help guide it.

Top Room Escape Project Enthusiasts' Choice Awards 2020 logo.

Top Tip For Using TERPECA Results

In my opinion, the absolute ranking of TERPECA is a bit of a distraction from the project’s true value.

Numbered lists are eye-catching. The internet loves them. People love to see their opinions validated… or they love being righteously angry over what is clearly a wrong list. Lists spark conversation and they are good for marketing. For us, however, that’s not the point.

This list will never be perfect because these experiences are subjective.

For Lisa and me, the real action is the easily overlooked “Phase 2 Room Results” data. This is a listing of 279 really great escape games that are geographically dispersed. Let me explain why.

Figure Out Your TERPECA Use Case

Think about your own personal use case. Here are what I surmise are the two most common ones:

  • Selecting a travel destination
  • Picking games within a region you are in or will travel to

Let’s look at these individually.

Selecting a Travel Destination

If you are an escape room tourist looking to pick a place to visit based purely on density of amazing games, the top 50 list ain’t a bad place to look.

It’s easy to come to the conclusion that you’ll enjoy visiting Greece, Spain, or the Netherlands. Having visited 2 of those 3 destinations, I can say with confidence that they are amazing places to play escape rooms.

Is The Dome truly the best escape room in the world? Maybe it is; maybe it isn’t. Is The Bookstore the second best escape room in the world? Maybe it is; maybe it isn’t. Will you have a good time playing in the Amsterdam or Athens regions? I’d be shocked if an escape room fan walked away from either destination disappointed.

Picking Games Within a Region

Most of our travel is determined by happenstance. Work and friends’ weddings tend to select where we visit. We truly choose our long-distance travel destinations infrequently.

Instead, we use TERPECA’s Phase 2 Room Results because it is a big list with few duds. If you exclude a few quality-dense regions, most of this list is massively dispersed. Most cities and regions have but a few games on the list.

For example, our home state of New Jersey has only 1 game on the entire TERPECA Phase 2 Room Results. It’s The Grand Parlor at 13th Hour Escape Rooms. If you’re visiting New Jersey, go play this game. It doesn’t matter that it ranked 75th on the list. It’s a phenomenal game. And while it didn’t win TERPECA in 2020, it received a Golden Lock Award from us in 2018.

The bottom of TERPECA Phase 2 Room Results contains so many gems… even only judging by the ones that I’ve personally played.

If you live near one of these games, or you’ll be traveling near one, you should probably just check it out.

About TERPECA

You can find the winners and more information about the Top Escape Rooms Project Enthusiast Choice Awards on the TERPECA website. It’s impressive in so many ways. Not just the games, but also the broad participation, the checks in the process, and, of course, the math.

If you’re a community outsider, TERPECA is a novelty, and rightly so. If you’re a habitual escape room player, however, TERPECA is a useful tool. You just need to know how to use it.

Trust Thresholds in Escape Room Play [Player Tip]

There is an art to taking hints that even experienced escape room players struggle to balance.

Lisa and I find that the art to taking hints is built around trust.

A sign with a person walking, a sign over its face reads, "Trust." The symbol is encircled in red.

How do you trust a game?

When we start playing an escape room, we don’t just solve the first few puzzles, we silently evaluate how cleanly they resolve. Was the solve fair?

Escape games can build trust quickly by presenting good “on-ramp puzzles.” Obvious, eye-catching challenges that solve quickly and cleanly establish how the room wants to be played.

Trust breaks easily when an escape room lacks an on-ramp and the players are unable to gain momentum. Trust also breaks if the players spin in circles for long stretches of time without a clear sense of direction.

We’re pretty good at escape rooms at this point, so we are capable of solving a fair number of puzzles that we don’t necessarily think are well crafted or fair. As we play, we are mindful of the flow of the gameplay.

Subconscious Evaluation

When we play an escape room, we usually just play. We don’t like to think as reviewers while we play. At the outset of a game we rarely begin writing in our heads or meta gaming. We prefer to simply exist in the moment and enjoy the game.

That said, for us, this mental state comes to an abrupt halt if the game breaks our trust.

When The Trust Breaks

If the gameplay seems to require leaps of logic, then this has a couple of effects on the way that we approach the escape game:

First, we try “bad ideas” more readily.

An extreme example (that we’ve seen more than once): if we derived the code “1234” and for no good reason we needed to input it in reverse as “4321,” then we’re going to encourage our team to try all manner of silly bullshit ideas. We do this because the game has broken our trust. All bets are off.

We would never do this in a game where the puzzles had clean, elegant, and clued solutions.

Second, and more important, we’ll take hints more quickly if we don’t trust the game.

This method isn’t foolproof. We’ve seen a bullshit puzzle show up in a game made by someone who had otherwise designed a great escape room. It happens.

If you’re aware and keeping a mental trend line of fair/ unfair puzzles, this will help you and your team adjust your approach.

Trust is like a shower.

A stylized image of a showerhead spraying water.

When the water is the right temperature, you’re simply immersed. If the temperature spikes or plummets momentarily, it’s annoying, but fine. If the temperature starts shifting up and down haphazardly, it not only yanks you out of the moment, but it changes your entire approach to even touching the water.

Are Escape Rooms Locked?

No, you aren’t truly trapped in an escape room.

Every modern escape room should always allow players to free themselves in the event of an emergency.

If you visit an escape room company and they insist on locking you in without an emergency exit, you should demand a refund and leave.

Closeup of a beefy squire padlock securing a door.

Common Types of Emergency Exits

There are 2 ways that escape rooms typically handle emergency exits. We explored these more thoroughly when we established our basic escape room safety evaluation guide.

No lock at all

The door is always open. You can come and go as you please. When your gamemaster explains this to you, 1 of 2 things will happen:

  • Your gamemaster will explain that you can come and go as you please, “but using the door as an emergency exit doesn’t count as ‘escaping.'”
  • In the event that your gamemaster doesn’t explain this, inevitably someone from your team will jokingly ask if “using the emergency exit is a way to win.” When your teammate makes that joke, they will be fully confident that no other person has made such a clever joke.

Push To Exit

Many escape rooms use magnetic locks, also known as maglocks. Maglocks use an electromagnet to hold a door shut. In this case, the locks should open automatically if power is cut to them. There will also be a big button near the door that will release the lock.

Maglocks are easy and quick to use. This has become the industry standard, should the game designer feel that a “locked door” is necessary to the escape game’s design.

Emergency Key

A minority of escape rooms will hang an emergency key beside the door knob.

This isn’t really an ideal emergency exit system because it requires a little bit of time and coordination. It does, however, provide a means for players to free themselves.

An old rusty master lock and a disk lock securing a door.

History

In some regions, locking players in used to be quite common in escape rooms. As escape rooms gained popularity, however, this started changing rapidly due to many factors.

First, locking players in wasn’t a great idea and a lot of escape room creators realized this. It added an element of unnecessary danger. It was also impractical. It was easier to just let people go to the bathroom if they needed to. $#!% happens… it’s best to let it happen in the toilet.

The second factor that drove escape rooms away from lock-ins were laws. Throughout the United States many states and municipalities do not allow a business to lock customers into any space. Sometimes it’s fire code; sometimes it’s false imprisonment laws. Either way, a lot of places don’t allow it.

The third influence away from locked games were insurance companies that weren’t keen on that aforementioned unnecessary risk.

Finally, escape room creators realized that mission-based play was far more compelling than pure escape. “You’re on a quest for the Holy Grail” is almost always more interesting than “You’re locked in a room; figure out how to unlock the door.”

Even with all of these clear and good reasons to avoid lock-ins, there were still some holdouts. Essentially everyone was convinced that lock-ins were bad when a fire in a Polish escape room claimed lives. In the wake of that event, the industry as a whole responded swiftly. Now it’s rare to find locked games anywhere in the Western world.

The Bottom Line

Escape rooms should not lock you in without a quick and easy emergency exit.

If you encounter a company that is locking you in without providing an emergency exit and explaining how it works prior to the game beginning, ask for your money back. Tell that company that this is unacceptable and unsafe. Then go find a better company to visit.

Have a safe and fun time on your escape room adventure.

Are Escape Rooms?

This post is part of our on going series, “Are Escape Rooms?…” We’re digging into questions, concerns, and curiosities that are common among new players.

Support Room Escape Artist’s Mission

There are lots of ways to support Room Escape Artist, like buying from Amazon or Etsy after clicking into the links included in this post or backing us on Patreon.

The money that we make from these helps us to grow the site and continue to add more value to the community that we love so much.

Are Escape Rooms Real?

I love this question so much. There are a couple of layers to it that aren’t immediately evident.

Comic of a dog raising it's paw like it wants to ask a question.

The question “are escape rooms real?” is really asking 2 different questions:

“This is a real thing? I thought it was just a movie?”

And then the immediate followup:

“Wait, it’s real life… and not like a video game?”

Are escape rooms real?

Yes, escape rooms truly exist in real life.

Escape room creators are building games where a group of participants collaboratively discover and solve puzzles, tasks, and challenges to accomplish a goal within a set amount of time. The participants solve the games together, in a physical space, which is usually a themed environment. Sometimes these games are just about escaping a physical space like a prison. More and more often they are about completing a mission like Indiana Jones finding some powerful lost relic.

In fact, they are a global phenomenon existing in every continent except for Antarctica.

As of 2019, there were more than 2,350 escape room facilities in the United States alone. There is a sprawling global community of players who share game recommendations to traveling fans that can be found in the Escape Room Slack and a Facebook Group.

This isn’t a video game or TV Show?

Escape rooms conceptually began as video games and TV shows, but now they are real-life games that you can purchase tickets to.

Game shows like The Crystal Maze (UK) and Legends of the Hidden Temple (US) were certainly proto-escape rooms.

Video games like Myst, The 7th Guest, and even the Zelda series are clear ancestors of modern escape rooms.

We explored the history of escape rooms a while back if that kind of thing interests you.

Finding A Company?

We maintain a directory of all escape room facilities within the United States. To help you find great games near you, we also build recommendations guides; not all escape rooms are created equally.

Now that you know that escape rooms are in fact a real thing, go check one out.

Are Escape Rooms?

This post is part of our on going series, “Are Escape Rooms?…” We’re digging into questions, concerns, and curiosities that are common among new players.

Support Room Escape Artist’s Mission

There are lots of ways to support Room Escape Artist, like buying from Amazon or Etsy after clicking into the links included in this post or backing us on Patreon.

The money that we make from these helps us to grow the site and continue to add more value to the community that we love so much.

Are Escape Rooms Scary?

It surprises most folks to learn that the overwhelming majority of escape rooms are not scary at all.

Yes, scary escape rooms exist.

However, the horror genre is a small subset of the escape room medium. Horror escape rooms are heavily desired by some and hated by others. Within the horror escape room genre, most are more creepy and intense than they are terrifying.

Creepy image of a person fearfully clutching the window of a door.

A few horror escape rooms are legendary in the escape room player community for their fear factor, but they are extraordinarily rare.

Escape room companies label horror games appropriately as horror. If you read a company’s website before you book, you won’t inadvertently book a scary escape room.

Let’s examine:

  • Why do people assume escape rooms are scary?
  • How can you determine whether or not an escape room is scary?
  • Where can you find some truly scary escape rooms?

Why do people assume escape rooms are scary?

There are 2 reasons why most people immediately assume that an escape room must be a horror experience.

SAW

It’s difficult to hear the words “escape room” and not think about the SAW franchise. Those movies are literally about a group of people confined within a space and forced to escape or die.

You can rest easy knowing that whatever escape room you visit in the United States is a proper business with insurance and a desire to not get sued or prosecuted for murdering a paying customer.

The Official SAW Escape Las Vegas logo depicting Jigsaw.
Image via Official SAW Escape

Escape rooms – even the official SAW escape room in Las Vegas – are not operated by serial killers hiding behind a literal puppet.

Escape Room Movies

While most escape rooms focus on puzzle and adventure, the movies with the name “Escape Room” are all horror movies (one was more watchable than the others). More specifically, these movies are basically low-budget SAW knock-offs… which is funny because SAW was a low budget flick in the first place, and the sequels are all SAW knock-offs.

A character solving a puzzle box.
Escape Room (2018)

How do I determine whether or not an escape game is scary?

Scary escape games are generally clearly marked.

Zoe, the scariest escape room that we’ve ever played, had this video advertising it on the booking website. It isn’t coy:

Companies like THE BASEMENT that specialize in horror experiences are direct about this on their websites.

Creators of horror escape rooms are targeting a specific audience. They aim to appeal to players who are excited for the experience.

That said, if a game tells you absolutely nothing about the experience, like Escape Games Canada’s The Unknown, you can also read the total lack of information as confirmation that it’s scary.

Where Can I Find Horror Games?

If you’re the type of person who found this post not out of fear, but out of excitement, here are a few places you can go to seek out the thrill of a horror escape room:

The Basement, Los Angeles, CA

The BASEMENT is one of the best-known horror escape room companies in the United States. In each of their games, you are trapped by the serial killer Edward Tandy, who toys with you, his prey, as you solve his traps. From their collection, we highly recommend The Courtyard and 2017 Golden Lock Award-Winning The Elevator Shaft.

DarkPark, Zoetermeer, The Netherlands

DarkPark is one of the leading escape room companies in The Netherlands. At their locations in Delft and Zoetermeer, they create “mysterious, immersive, and blood-curdling experiences that take you to new worlds.” Their games are dark and intense. We highly recommend Golden Lock Award-Winning games Honeymoon Hotel (2018) and The End (2019).

Single Games at Escape Room Facilities

Are Escape Rooms?

This post is part of our on going series, “Are Escape Rooms?…” We’re digging into questions, concerns, and curiosities that are common among new players.

Support Room Escape Artist’s Mission

There are lots of ways to support Room Escape Artist, like buying from Amazon or Etsy after clicking into the links included in this post or backing us on Patreon.

The money that we make from these helps us to grow the site and continue to add more value to the community that we love so much.