The 10 Commandments of Escape Rooms: Part 1
Updated: Sep 19, 2018
1. Thou shalt make it ding
One of the coolest moments in an escape room is that “breakthrough” instant. There’s little that compares to suddenly coming up with a crazy hypothesis that everyone just knows is right. You start spinning the lock (or whatever needs to be done in this particular instance) and you just know that it’s going to open. It’s amazingly cool to finish input and see your success. However, some rooms that we’ve gone through don’t make that success apparent. When someone solves a puzzle, there should be some immediate feedback to indicate success or failure. Oftentimes, failure simply means that the game state doesn’t change; try again, but do better next time. Success should be clearly communicated, so that players don’t keep working on a puzzle they’ve already solved. Maybe a lock opens, maybe a door is revealed, maybe there is an actual “Ding!”, but good rooms have some way of giving feedback to a player.
2.Thou shalt use renewable resources
It’s not unusual to see a puzzle where the player needs to fill up something with water to float an object to the top of that vessel. It’s pretty cool, especially for new players who haven’t seen it before. The problem comes when a room doesn’t give a player an opportunity to get more water. When a player finds a bottle of water, there shouldn’t be a problem if they pour that water down the nearest drain (hopefully not just on the floor). But in many rooms, that’s not the case. In this example, the water is a necessary resource that can be exhausted, leaving the players stuck in the middle of a puzzle that is now impossible. If a player can take a reasonable action and thereby exhaust a necessary resource… the room might have a problem.
3.Thou shalt make it possible for the game master to know the game state
It should go without saying, but the game master should always have a good idea of where in the game the players are. That means that they need to be able to see AND hear what’s going on inside the room. If the room can have low-light at any point (including the point where the players decide to flip the light switch for no reason!), then the low-light situation needs to be tested also. As a player one of the most frustrating feelings happens when you feel like the game master isn’t paying attention to you. Invest the money to make sure that your game masters don’t have technical issues while they’re monitoring players.
4.Thou shalt not laminate
This one is somewhat of a pet peeve for Team Bluefish, but we think it’s worth including here, because we’ve seen many rooms that are guilty of this. Laminated pieces of paper, especially plain white laminated pieces of paper, are hardly ever thematic. We understand; it’s annoying to have to replace the same paper every time you want to run a game. BUT, that’s part of the room experience. Every time you have a chance to make a player feel more immersed in a room, you should take that opportunity. It’s an incredibly small touch, but that’s what moves a room from good to great: removing all the things that remind us that we’re in a half-empty office park, instead of sailing the high seas on a pirate ship.
5.Thou shalt not rely (completely) on dexterity
Dexterity puzzles can be cool, but it’s important that they don’t outlive their novelty. Dexterity puzzles are called out here because you can usually identify the goal of the puzzle immediately. I need to guide this marble through a maze to this hole. I need to move this key along a path to a place where I can reach it. I need to shoot that target with a nerf gun. All pretty simple, but the simple goal means that we don’t want to spend a lot of time on it. Team Bluefish is not all that coordinated. We’ll happily admit it. If we can’t progress past a puzzle because it’s physically difficult for us, we’re going to get frustrated and bored. Many companies will tell you that they don’t put anything out of reach, but we’ve found that it’s easy to forget that some people will find dexterity to be “out of reach.”
Update: the second half of this post can be found here