Escape Rooms in the Era of Pandemic & Quarantine

We aren’t escaping our home anytime soon.

Last week we began publishing content embracing self-isolation. For the foreseeable future, our publishing schedule will continue to put a greater emphasis on play-at-home games and experiences. We’re doing this because we think that it’s best for as many of us as possible to shift our mindset.

We resisted the powerful urge to suggest anything to owners or players about how to handle this crisis because it felt irresponsible to add to the cacophony. With the clarity of this week, we have a lucid message.

A lone person standing on a island in the middle of the water holding a flighlight in the darkness.

Please Stay In

We aren’t encouraging players to visit escape rooms, even though we’d love to play, and we know how badly COVID-19 is hurting escape room businesses (more on that later). The best path forward for all of us is to temporarily change our lifestyle in order to keep this outbreak from spiraling out of control.

None of us can do this individually, but collectively we can make a difference. By staying home… and in our case, puzzling.

Maybe you already agree with me or maybe you think that I’m gullible, wimpy, or dumb. For those that think less of me, let’s do a thought experiment.

Cost Benefit Analysis

Let’s look at a pair of possible scenarios.

Nothing Happens

COVID-19 is a total bust. “It’s Y2K.” “It’s a bad flu.” “Nothing happens.”

Everyone who isn’t involved in keeping the basic mechanisms of society running has shut themselves indoors for few weeks. Everyone’s really bored, the economy takes a hit from the diminished production, and a lot of people suffer from the loss of work, but in the end “it’s not that big of a deal.”

At the end of a couple of weeks life goes on. In 20 years we will all get to laugh at it when VH1 makes I Love 2020 and some washed up comedian that no one remembers cracks jokes about it.

The Threat is Real

What if it’s a legitimate threat?

What if we’re literally 2 weeks behind Italy’s trajectory?

What if we’re all staring at a historic turning point and we make the wrong decision to go get some dinner and play some games?

What if we don’t force that exponential outbreak curve to plateau?

We’re all escape room players here. We all understand limited resources. If more people need hospital beds and ventilators than we have available, people will needlessly die.

If we don’t slow that exponential growth curve, then the timeline of the crisis will spiral out of control. It will run longer. Quarantines will extend. Business shutdowns will extend. Everyone will suffer more.

If you’re still thinking that this is “just a bad flu,” let’s not forget that the Spanish Flu of 1918 killed more people than World War I. The Great War. “The war to end all wars.” “Just a bad flu.”

If you’re thinking that “this is like Y2K… and that was a total joke,” please remember that the only reason that Y2K wasn’t a calamity was that countless people worked long hard hours to manually update code and prevent the problem. Hundreds of billions of dollars were spent to keep Y2K from breaking the world, and it worked. Was it really “nothing” if it required that much effort to prevent?

Moreover, even in the COVID-19 scenario where “nothing happens,” tens of thousands of people have still died.

We must embrace quarantine.

Escape Room Owner Problems

I’ve been speaking with owners for the past few weeks about how they are going to weather this crisis and no one has a solution to match the problem.

Escape room owners are drowning in operating expenses, even though they cannot actually operate. Rent and insurance alone are profound costs.

Escape room owners with employees are bearing the burden of making painful decisions. Who can they pay? Who can’t they pay? Do they pay themselves? Will their valued, skilled, and trained employees even be around when this crisis ends, or will they have been forced by circumstance to move on? When we come out on the other side, how much spending money will the nation at large have for entertainment?

The problems are grim, the options are bleak, and every single problem will be amplified with each day that passes. The longer this crisis extends into the unknown future, the worse it becomes. We must embrace quarantine.

These problems aren’t limited to the escape room world. They touch so many small businesses.

Small Businesses

I’ve owned multiple small businesses for over 15 years. Politicians from both sides of the aisle love to speak of the value of small businesses to the American economy.

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a politician utter the phrase, “small businesses are the backbone of the American economy,” I would have a lot more than government has ever done for my small businesses.

Everything that’s being done right now helps giant companies, banks, and investors. And look, in times like these, everyone needs help. But small businesses shouldn’t be forgotten as they always are. They shouldn’t be left out to languish as bills pile up. No one asked for this. No one made some foolish decision that led to this.

Landlords and insurers have two options right now. They can be parasitic in the face of a crisis or they can realize that everyone hurting means that they have to hurt as well. They can take this pain now or take it later when they strangle their tenants and customers to death and are left wondering where their revenue will come from in a strained, post-pandemic economy.

Government has similar choices. Let landlords and insurers strangle small businesses or stand around in 2021 wondering where the hell all of their tax revenue went. This isn’t just an escape room problem.

Embrace The Quarantine

COVID-19 is not going away without all of us doing our part. Some generations have been called upon to fight wars. We don’t have to take up arms. No one is asking us to give up our lives. We just have to sit at home and play games, solve puzzles, read, and watch Netflix.

Lisa and I started our self-imposed quarantine a week and a half ago when we returned home from our trip to Europe. We were obsessively careful while traveling, but upon returning home we decided for the sake of our friends, colleagues, and strangers that we would act as though we were carrying the virus.

For my part, this isn’t coming from a place of ignorance. I spent years designing software for use in humanitarian crises. I’ve been deployed by the United Nations into the field. I’ve seen things that shook me to my core. I’ll never claim that I am a humanitarian myself, but I understand that world and how to interpret the data.

We need to embrace quarantine. Flattening the curve is the only weapon that we have available to us… and it takes all of us to make it work.

We need to quarantine because for all of the policy decisions that could be made to help small businesses, none of us can donate enough money to get enough leaders to listen. To help.

We need to quarantine because the shorter this lasts, the better everyone’s chances of living and thriving are.

REA in the Era of Pandemic & Quarantine

At Room Escape Artist, we’re going to continue to publish daily content for the escape room industry. Our audience includes players, creators, owners, and the escape room curious. Regardless of your place in the escape room economy, your normalcy is temporarily upended.

On this website, we’re operating under the assumption that the era of pandemic and quarantine will be temporary. This is what we need to do now to enable our industry (and many other industries) for the future. We’ll continue to publish a lot of our normal content, which will be of value again when we emerge on the other side.

We know that many in our community are severely hurting right now. We know that you have to make hard decisions and that every day will be challenging. We will publish content for you too, but only when we have well researched, rational words to share.

In the meantime, we’re adding an emphasis on play-at-home content, as noted at the top of this post. For the most part, we’re planning to keep our content lighthearted, not out of disrespect for the severity of the situation, but as an escape.

Our Quarantine Tabletop Escape Room To Play List

In this time of social distancing, we’re staying positive and embracing the opportunity to play many of the play-at-home escape rooms and other puzzle games that have been piling up around us. Some of these, for far too long.

The iconic scene from The Twilight Zone's "Time Enough at Last." The man on Earth surrounded by his books just before he breaks his glasses.
If you aren’t laughing right now, go watch, The Twilight Zone’s “Time Enough at Last”

Typically we don’t publish about products until we can vouch for their quality… so buyer beware. A listing here is not necessarily an endorsement. This is more of a statement that “This is a thing that exists and might be entertaining.”

Please reference An Escape Room Players Guide To Self-Quarantine for a list of suggestions that we’ve already reviewed.

If you know of other tabletop escape games that we haven’t yet reviewed that you think we’ll enjoy, please let us know and please let everyone reading know by writing a comment.

Update: We are adding “review now available” with the links to the reviews as we publish reviews of the games on this list.

Reviews Coming Soon

REA’s “To Play” List

Boxed Escape Rooms

Subscriptions

Books

Puzzles

For Kids

Watching the Mail

These new games are on the way to us – we think – and if they arrive, we’ll add them to the list.

If you know of other tabletop escape games that we haven’t yet reviewed that you think we’ll enjoy, please let us know and please let everyone reading know by writing a comment.

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.

An Escape Room Players Guide To Self-Quarantine

As more of us are working from home and self-isolating, we figured that we’d put together a little entertainment guide to help keep everyone’s minds occupied.

A lone person looking out a window in a dark room. Labeled, "Escape Room Player's Isolation Guide."

Community

If you’re looking for some company, may I suggest the “Escape Room ‘Secret Slack.'”

It’s filled with lovely escape room folk, and we wrote a guide to it a while back.

Cryptex Hunt

The Cryptex Hunt ended last week, but the puzzles will be available for all to enjoy (depending upon your definition of enjoyment) until the end of March 2020.

We have a guide for that too.

Tabletop Game

Call it catharsis, or call it macabre, but I know we aren’t alone in wanting to play some Pandemic. With all of this chaos, it’s kind of nice to feel like you can exercise some control.

Base Pandemic is a great time. If you haven’t played Pandemic Legacy Season 1 and Season 2, these games are an incredible way to spend a large amount of hours. Be sure to play them in order.

Tabletop Escape Rooms

There are tons of great tabletop escape games, and most of our favorites are currently available on our Amazon Store.

Discount Codes

Enigma Emporium (Carte Rouge, Wish You Were Here, and other games) is running a 30% off sale with the code “StaySafeStayCurious”.

The Conundrum Box (Christmas Seasonal Escape Room Box Review & others on our to play list) is having a 20% off sale with the code “SPRING”.

If you notice other discount codes are introduced or expired, please contact us and we’ll update this section.

Mobile Games

On mobile, there are tons of great escape room-y puzzle games:

YouEscape

YouEscape is an online escape game played through Google Hangouts. We’ve played and reviewed a few of the YouEscape games. They’re especially fun to play with people that you can’t see in real life… and depending upon your particular set of circumstances, that might be everyone.

Wizard’s Escape

The MIT Mystery Hunt had an incredible audio escape room puzzle. It’s hard relative to escape room puzzle difficulty, but so worth it. We have a whole post on it.

Podcasts

Speaking of audio and escape rooms, there are tons of episodes of Escape This Podcast & The Room Escape Divas to catch up on. A handful of these episodes feature us… if that’s a selling feature.

Escape This Podcast

In these episodes we try to solve an audio escape room scenario, complete with a set, characters, and puzzles:

If you’re into Escape This Podcast, down in the comments, Scott Weiss has offered to run one of his games inspired by the ETP format. We have a review of that as well.

Room Escape Divas

In these episodes we chat with the Room Escape Divas about the escape room industry:

Escape Rooms Gift Cards

There’s a good chance that your friendly neighborhood escape room business is hurting right now.

Many escape room companies have shifted to private bookings, so if you’re going with people that you would otherwise remain confined with at home, it’s certainly safer than going to a movie theater.

If you’re not looking to play now, it’s a kindness to pre-purchase your eventual games. A lot of escape room companies could really use the cash flow.

Holiday Buyer’s Guides

We have a few years’ worth of Holiday Buyer’s Guides. We put a year’s worth of research into each holiday buyer’s guide, something that we didn’t have time to do this week. You should check them out, and seriously consider purchasing a Hobbit Hole. It will complete you.

What’s On Our Quarantine Play List?

For the next few weeks we are shifting a lot more of our attention to reviewing play-at-home games and puzzles. We think that’s a healthier focus for the time being.

Come back tomorrow when we’ll share the list of things that we’ll be playing for the next few weeks. (Update: Check out Our Quarantine Tabletop Escape Room To Play List here.)

We will be welcoming your suggestions too!

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.