Escape rooms are tough. In fact, most groups don’t manage to break out. It’s not that people are too stupid to solve things; it’s a matter of strategy. I remember my first room. I was so young, naïve, and innocent, and I spent the first 15 minutes absolutely bewildered as to what I was supposed to do. Needless to say, we didn’t make it. But as I played more rooms, I began to notice certain things that worked and others that didn’t. Escape rooms aren’t really that hard at all. You just need to know what to do right. Here are 10 key ingredients for a successful escape!
1. Pick the Right Team
It’s not about what you know, it’s who you know. You want a good group to play with. It’s not necessarily about finding a bunch of smart people. You want to play with people you are comfortable with. Remember, there’s a very good chance you’ll be freaking out with 3 minutes left, scrambling around with your last hint alongside these people. Who do you want to be with in that situation?
It’s also good strategy to pick a good group size. While some rooms will hold up to 8 (or even 10) people, you may want to have about 4 to 6 people. Trying to beat a room yourself or with just one other person is almost impossible. You don’t have enough minds working on the puzzles. On the other hand, 8 people running around in a 15 ft. x 15 ft. room, yelling frantically, is just going to give you a headache and confuse things. Somewhere in the middle is usually best. I wouldn’t recommend a escape rooms for a date, though a double date might be just perfect…
2. Plan Ahead and Be on Time
The reason for this is simple. You want to expend your mental energy “in” the room so you can beat it. Trust me, these rooms can be mentally draining. Any energy spent racing to the escape room because you’re late, or frantically searching for parking while the store is calling and asking where you are is just going to leave you tired once you enter the room. You want to go in comfortable and fresh, ready to conquer! Therefore, make your reservation a few days ahead of time, and show up 15 minutes before your scheduled game.
3. Come in with a Positive Attitude
This makes such a difference! Don’t be cocky, but do feel confident in yourself and expect to succeed. Embrace the struggles. Don’t get too frustrated if you get stuck on something for a couple minutes and have to use a clue. Also, be on good terms with your group. If you’re playing with some strangers, introduce your selves and become acquainted with one another. You’ll all be working together on the same goal, so be friendly, excited, and helpful.
4. Understand the rules of the room
This is crucial. There may be certain items that you shouldn’t touch in the room. Disrupting these can result in messing up a puzzle and causing lost time as confusion erupts as to why the device isn’t working. A game master may have to enter the room to fix the problem. All of this leads to lost time and momentum. Other things to take note of are the number of clues you get and the length of the game. Also, understand how clues are given. Different companies have different methods of providing help.
5. Keep an eye on the clock
An hour goes by very fast in an escape room. Think back to those video game binges where you looked at the clock and realized it’s 1 AM after you set out to play a couple games at 9 PM. Where did the time go? It’s going to be like that in the escape room, so pay close attention to the timer. This is also vital for determining how long to wait before asking for a clue.
6. Keep a consistent, determined approach
Escape rooms can be mentally challenging, and there’s a definite inkling to give up in frustration when you’re stuck on a particular problem for 10 minutes or so. Doubt creeps in, heads start to hang, and thoughts about how you’re a failure and will never live up to your parents’ high expectations may begin to swirl in your head. Ignore them. Remain focused on the task at hand. You’ll eventually figure it out. If not, ask for help. Don’t get too caught up with yourself when you do solve something, just methodically move on to the next step and proceed. Most groups finish room within the last 5 minutes or end up running out of time while on the last step. That extra minute you wasted explaining to your team how you solved a puzzle would be quite valuable down the home stretch…
7. See something, say something
Communication is absolutely vital for beating an escape room. Puzzles often link with various items around the room. So you might come across an item with a particular symbol on it, and that might correspond to something on the opposite side of the room. If your teammate stumbled across that very item, but neither one of you said anything, well, you’re probably both going to miss the significance of those pieces. Talking to each other about the things you discover in the room will help you notice the crucial aspects and help you win. Work together, you’re all on the same team.
8. Don’t take over the room
Certain people have special intangible leadership qualities that lead to success in the business world. Sometimes this can be a benefit in a room, say if you’ve got the coach of a high school sports team in the room, helping keep things under control when the kids get too excited, or pointing them in a useful direction. But other times we notice people who get a little to full of themselves and start taking over the room. They yank a clue out of a teammate’s hands because they’re sure they alone can solve it. Then they yell for everyone to head to this item to see what they’re doing, blatantly ignoring their teammate who was perhaps properly instructing others how to solve a puzzle. Turns out this item they deemed so important was actually just a red herring. This tendency can ruin a group’s chances of escaping. If you feel the urge to want to take over the room, hang back a little. Let everyone participate. Who knows, other people may be better equipped to solve something because they have a different way of analyzing it. The best groups in escape rooms are the ones where no one is the clear leader, everyone solves a handful of the puzzles, they break out, and they leave happy.
9. Use your clues
A major pet peeve for game masters is groups that flat out refuse to use their clues. It usually begins with some sort of macho braggadocio speech upon arrival about how they won’t need to use clues. Then in the game they inevitably get stuck. Of course now their ego is on the line. They’re not really going to ask for a clue, are they, after all that big talk? Well they aught to! Everyone gets stuck. These rooms are tricky, and sometimes no one can solve the riddle or notice the key item required to progress. The clue gets you unstuck. The group that waits 20 minutes for a clue, despite repeated suggestions by their game master to ask for help, has probably wasted too much time and is now doomed. A good rule of thumb is to ask for a clue if you’re stuck on a step for longer than 5-10 minutes. And if a game master is recommending you use a clue, take the hint!
10. Have fun
This is a key ingredient for success. Escape rooms are entertainment after all. It’s supposed to be fun. Don’t storm out in anger if you run out of time. Laugh it off; it’s just a game. Keep on positive terms with your group, be it your close friends, family, or just random strangers you’ve been paired with. Everyone is looking for a good time, and that truly should be the goal. This is especially important to consider when playing your first escape room. It usually takes someone a few tries before they break out. Understand this, and try to just enjoy the experience, and don’t let your overall level of happiness be determined by whether or not you win.