This post is about what I've seen good escape room teams do badly. It isn't an indictment of the team or even the behavior which I'm sure works in other arenas, but about the mistakes I see in escape rooms, often in team-building situations.
One of the cool things about Escape Rooms is that they are cooperative. This makes it a great choice for parties, like bachelor or bachelorette parties as well as team building events. Here at Enigma HQ, we do have another option, which is to turn it into a “race-room”, where 2 teams compete against each other for the fastest time. Both teams enter their respective rooms at the same time and see which team finishes first.
This is a good option for large groups (over 8 or 9 people.) Most escape rooms aren’t built for groups over this number of people even if they accept bookings for more. It’s hard to have enough stuff for 10 or more people to have all at the same time.
I’ve written about closed versus open puzzles from the standpoint of a designer, but in this post, I wanted to go over how to approach the difference from a player’s standpoint.
To review quickly, a closed puzzle is one where all the information needed to solve the puzzle is apparent to the player immediately upon finding the puzzle. For instance, a Sudoku puzzle or most crossword puzzles. Many math puzzles also fall into this category. In these puzzles, no additional information is needed to solve the puzzle. Once you find an element of the puzzle, you have found all the elements of the puzzle. It then becomes a matter of solving it.
An open puzzle is one where the information needed to solve it is not obvious or self-contained in the puzzle itself. Most good escape room puzzles tend to be open puzzles. It’s hard to describe an open puzzle easily, because by their very nature, an open puzzle can’t have all of the information in one place.
Before we get to answer, what steps do groups to through to solve puzzles in an Escape Room?
First, they discover all the relevant information in a room. This can be clues, or physical pieces of information that have to be used to solve a puzzle.
Next, they deduce what is needed to solve the puzzle at hand. The best groups figure out what information is necessary to solve the puzzle and then they go about solving it. The skill here is figuring out whether the information they have at hand is sufficient to solve or if they need additional clues.
Once they have the answer, they solve the puzzle. This may seem obvious but this is a real step and I’ll explain why in a moment.
I think many Escape Room designs struggle with a choice (even if subconscious) between designing a narrative in their rooms versus having enough for the players to work on. I don’t think this dichotomy has gotten enough attention.
For example, imagine an escape room (I’ll call it the Any room) where there are 10 puzzles. You can solve the puzzles in any order. Once all 10 puzzles are complete, the experience is over.
Now contrast that with a room where there are the same 10 puzzles, but you must solve them in a sequence (1st puzzle then the 2nd puzzle etc.) I’ll call this the Sequence room.
One thing I frequently see Escape Room designers talk about is a hierarchy of “generations” to Escape Rooms.
In this, depending on the author, there is something like two to four “generations of Escape Rooms, where locks and safes are the first generation and as the technology in the room grows, it goes up on the “generations” scale.
Game genres are no built whole cloth out of nothing. They frequently first appear the with the game mechanics of other games, and only later do they start to morph into something that looks like its own genre.
One distinction I occasionally hear Escape Room owners use is defining the different between puzzles and tasks. Here, a puzzle is something where the player must figure out something. This something could be very easy or very hard, but there is something that the player must work out.
A task on the other hand, is a goal given to the player where the player needn’t figure anything out other than accomplishing the task.
Much like the one-step puzzle, the two-step puzzle is a relatively simple puzzle where there are two solutions or at least partial solutions that have to be put together to make a final solution. I break down the types into three.