I Could Crush You Now or Later. Your Choice
Updated: Aug 16, 2018
Recently Team Bluefish organized a friends and family trip to North Valley Escape Room to play the competitive “Cyber Case” game. We were split into two groups of five players and the groups were led into identical rooms to see who could escape the fastest.
The room itself was fun, but while we were playing I felt a few times like something in the experience was missing. Later, when I talked to Mrs. Bluefish about it, I realized what I was missing: a sense of progress.
There was plenty of trash talk between the players leading up to the room. Boasts were made. Pride was at stake. Both teams promised the other a crushing defeat. Pretty much your typical family competition.
Unfortunately, once my team got into the room, we were basically allowed to forget that there was another team that we were supposed to be competing with. We had a compelling story to unwrap, but there was never really an opportunity for us to compare ourselves to the other group.
The idea of a competitive escape room is really cool because it takes a race-against-the-clock experience and adds tension to it. You’re trying to beat the game, but you’re also trying to beat the other team. If you don’t have some idea of how the other team is doing, relative to your team’s progress, you might as well just play the same room in two separate sessions and then compare times later. That can still be fun to do, but it loses some of the tension and it doesn’t quite get the adrenaline pumping in the same way.
What I want to see in a competitive situation is essentially a scoreboard. I want to know when we reach a checkpoint whether the other team is ahead of us or behind us. If we’re falling behind, I want to know that I need to double my efforts. And if we’re ahead, I want to know that I have time to pause and devise some taunts that will cut my opponents to their very core. Or whatever you’re supposed to do when you’re winning.
Reflecting on this game reminded me of the short-lived television show “Race to Escape”. There’s only a handful of episodes, but in each one, two teams are racing to complete the exact same room. Each team has to enter a code to move into the next part of the game. A correct code is rewarded with the next puzzle, but more importantly, it alerts the other room that the team has made progress. At any point in the game, either team can look at a bank of lights to see how their progress compares to the other teams.
What’s really cool about this is that it introduces a subtle little meta-game around hint-taking. During a normal escape room, it’s important to time your hints right, but in a competitive room, I find that my team really agonizes over each hint we want to take. Do we save our hints for when we get stuck? Or should we blow through a couple of them to get a lead and then trust in our future smarts?
We had a lot of fun at North Valley, and it’s definitely worth a trip out there if you’re in the Phoenix area (and while you’re there, please, please, please play their Alcatraz game, you won’t regret it). The puzzles and tech were on par with the amazing experiences that we have come to expect from one of the best companies in Arizona. I just wish that we could’ve gotten a little more realtime feedback about our performance and status during the game.
As far as I know, there’s only one other truly competitive game in the Phoenix market: Pipeworks at Gilbert Escape Room. Team Bluefish played this game about a year ago with family and found a really interesting experience. In Pipeworks, the two teams actually meet in the middle of the game and have access to each other’s rooms. That means that each team actually has perfect knowledge of the other team’s progress, which presents another new and interesting twist. I decided not to cover that too much in this post (because it was just too much content), but I did want to make sure that people interested in this type of game were aware of all the local options.
What do you think? Does it help to know how the competition is faring while you’re in the thick of things? Or would you rather wait until the end to hear how you’re stacking up? Let us know in the comments! I’d also love to hear about any other competitive rooms that you’ve been through, it seems like it’s an area that not many companies are exploring.