The anatomy of an escape room

It’s no big secret that I’m an enormous escape room geek. I’ve set multiple room records (with more than a little help from my friends), played all over the world, and written blogs aplenty on the topic. So, when I was recently approached to consult on new kid on the block Cyber Escape Challenge, it got me thinking; what makes the perfect escape game? Escape rooms are like a TARDIS: they can transport you to a different world, they’re full of weird and wonderful things, and they’re usually bigger on the inside!

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For me, there are two absolutely vital factors to an escape game: that you get on with the people you’re being locked in with (if the room isn’t murder themed, it will be after an hour); and that the room is immersive. Filling a room with a couple of padlocks, loosely themed detective paraphernalia from your local pound shop, and anagrams so lazy that even Trump would have an easy time cracking them is simply no longer good enough. Like any decent product, escape rooms have evolved from their humble beginnings, and as such, consumers now expect more. That’s why the best escape rooms have a really solid theme, which they fully commit to. It’s all about the details, baby!

Toronto’s Escape Casa Loma is an example of how this can be done to perfection. Set in a spooky mansion in arguably Canada’s coolest city, this game has it all: an atmospheric setting; rooms so detailed, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’ve entered an alternate universe; and healthy smattering of interactive characters to help you out if you get stuck.

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A fancy location isn’t everything, though. Award winning Can You Escape is based in a basement just off Edinburgh’s historic Royal Mile; another favourite, Poppa Plocks Wonky Workshop, is based out of a North London pub. Both share unassuming locations, yet, along with their Canadian cousin, they’re amongst the best games I’ve ever played. Why, I hear you ask? They all share the same vital components. Firstly, all three feature live actors. Having a games master who remains in character throughout makes a huge difference to how immersive a game is. Secondly, they all have well thought out stories. Whether you’re uncovering an Anti-Submarine Detection Research Centre, bringing peace to King Arthur’s Land, or assembling Roy, the finest toy to walk the earth, all of these games have a strong theme and carefully thought out, incredibly detailed, story.

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Not only do all of these games have a good setting, but they also make the escaping part brilliant fun. The best escape games combine both ‘Crystal Maze’ type tasks with more logical puzzles, for the brainiacs in the room to sink their teeth into. The chances are, not everyone in your group will have the same thinking style; ideally, you want a room that will suit all brain types. Finally, any escape game worth their salt adds value in one way or another. There are lots of way you can do this; Can You Escape recently offered special ‘Trick or Treat’ versions of their games, in which you can pick cards that will either give you extra time on the clock, or land you without clues for the first third of your game! Seasonal novelties aside, there are lots of other physical ways to surprise and delight gamers. I won’t give them all away, but if your room didn’t have a surprise second room, did you even escape bro? And that my friends, is my round up of what makes a perfect escape room. Happy escaping!

Have I missed something? Let me know in the comments below. And check out my other escape game blogs, too!

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