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.
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.
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.
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.