Characteristics of a Good Game
by Kozan Soykal
So what makes an escape room good, or bad?
We obviously cannot talk for anyone else but ourselves, but having played tens of rooms, designed three and run our place (more or less successfully) for nearly a year, we have strong opinions – which we are not afraid to share.
Players come to escape rooms to have fun. Players also come in groups – to experience the room together and to generate shared memories. In an escape room, players actually play with each other (that sounded so wrong…). The escape room is there to facilitate them. Thus, the role of the escape room is not central, it is supportive. The main attraction in the room are the people themselves.
So what does this mean for design purposes?
The puzzles in the room should be memorable. At least some of the puzzles should be things you would want to tell your friends about. This means surprises – that last suitcase you open does not have a key inside, but something else; or the drawer pull you found unlocks a secret passage. This also means novel uses of everyday items you would not have thought would be part of a puzzle. Can you use a toy train as part of a puzzle? How about a leaf blower?
Puzzles should be designed to be solved by more than one person. A good puzzle requires active engagement of two or more people. Remember, one of the goals of the players is to create shared experiences. Multiplayer puzzles get the players to organize, and really bring the team together.
Clutter in a room should be minimal. By clutter, we mean things which will not help you in the game. Some escape rooms call these distractors, or red herrings. A number stapled on a pair of pants you find which does nothing… Or a device which looks like a puzzle, but is not. These so-called distractors are there to make you spend time trying to determine what they do. And they do nothing. In effect, they are fillers to extend a shorter experience to a longer one and do so by decreasing the game quality, in our opinion. If an escape room needs people to stay in the room longer, they should add puzzles, not clutter.
The escape room staff should be supportive. The gamemaster should be keeping track of where you are, and provide clues if necessary. Clues should not be intrusive to the experience – the game master should ask if the team wants a clue; or give a hint rather than an outright answer.
Some escape rooms have large screens in their rooms which show the clues as text. We think large screens in the room deducts from the atmosphere of the room and talking to a screen which displays text feels like a scene dystopian sci-fi movie.
We use walkie talkies for clues, which are less intrusive. Escape Zone (on Mill Ave) does this with a toy mouse carrying small, handwritten messages – which is both a novel and non-intrusive way to help players.
If a team cannot manage to escape in time, we generally let them play for as long as they need. This is only possible if we don’t need the room back right away, naturally. However, the rooms are for the players – a nice establishment should allow the players to finish themselves if the time allows and the players are up for it.
Yelp, Google and Facebook reviews are generally good indicators to the quality of a room. Please leave a review for the games you play – even the ones which you think were not so good. Escape rooms are for your enjoyment – your reviews allow other people to see which places run more enjoyable games and help all of the player base.
Game Design Team Member
Dare to Escape AZ