Escape rooms are a lot of fun, but can be intimidating for new players. The first game is always one of the hardest simply because beginners need to pick up on so much so fast to do well. As a gamemaster, I frequently get asked how players can make the most of their first games and escape successfully. Whether you’ve played multiple rooms or are seeking advice before playing your very first, here are some basic escape room “do”s and “don’t”s that every player will find helpful.
- Plan your group well. Check the escape room’s website— most locations will list the recommended number of players for their games. The “golden number” is often a high average between the minimum and maximum number of players the room allows- for example, if the game is suitable for 2-10 players, 6-8 might be good group size. A small team means few people need to pick up a lot of slack, while an oversized team can quickly become a “too many cooks in the kitchen” scenario. You could also call and ask the gamemasters if they have a group size recommendation.
- At some locations, a “private” room (where only your group is playing) requires payment for the majority of the room “slots” anyway— so bringing larger groups can often be more economical if you’re looking to play by yourselves. At my location, you must pay for six of ten room slots in order to get a private game. Some locations only list a room price and require the players to divide the cost among themselves. In that situation, more players would of course result in a cheaper cost per capita.
- In addition to planning your group size effectively, it helps to choose your players strategically. You never know what puzzles might be ahead— if you end up bringing a group of three people who hate math, you might find yourself lost if a math puzzle comes up. Bringing a variety of mindsets and skillsets is helpful.
- Use your clues. Many beginners treat using clues as a sign of weakness or optional “easy mode” assistance. However, there is no shame in clues, and many games are built with clues in mind, meaning the gamemasters expect the vast majority of teams to use clues in order to be successful.
- Be prepared to think. There’s nothing worse than groups who refuse to use their brains. Escape rooms are mental puzzles. Expect some rigorous problem solving!
- Be prepared to read. Reading is often an integral part of escape rooms, whether in the form of game pieces or clues from the gamemaster. Bring your reading glasses! Also bring your best reading comprehension skills. It’s frustrating when groups miss important information just because they didn’t read the provided material closely enough.
- Follow the clues you’re given. When your gamemaster gives you a clue, be sure that you actually do what they’ve told you to do! You’d be surprised how many groups walk away from half-finished puzzles despite just being given a clue that details exactly what they need to do to solve it. Also be sure to follow the clues provided within the room— keep track of the information you have, and try your best not to forget about things you think might be important!
- Be curious. Look under, inside, and behind things, unless the gamemaster has specifically told you not to. The underside of desks, tables, and other furniture are fair game. If you’re not seeing anything useful, getting down on your hands and knees and looking low can sometimes help. (Be prepared to move, stretch, and bend!)
- Be flexible. Don’t be fickle, but don’t be afraid to walk away from things, try new things, or experiment with things you would never expect to work.
- Think outside the box. Don’t be afraid to consider absolutely every possibility— even if it seems impossible. Casting spells with magic wands and triggering clues with a sequence of musical notes might seem crazy, but escape rooms are designed with surprises in mind. Try absolutely everything, no matter how stupid or outlandish you might feel. Have fun with it!
- Come to have fun. Don’t get bogged down in self-imposed pressures to escape, or worries of appearing smart. Just enjoy yourself! Groups tend to do better when they have fun than they do when they’re bored, upset, or overly manic.
- Be destructive. Though you’re encouraged to use everything you’re given to the fullest extent you can imagine, be careful not to break anything. Sometimes props could appear to open, but don’t budge when you try them. Feel free to give it a good attempt, but never force anything. (The same goes for locks. Give locks a firm tug upon entering a code, but dont try to tear it open.) Also avoid dismantling things— removing battery packs, unscrewing lightbulbs, and taking apart furniture is typically frowned upon. If you’re unsure whether you’re allowed to do something, you can also ask the gamemaster. This typically won’t count as a clue, and gamemasters will often be happy to provide such information if it will stop you from breaking something. Further, pay attention to any labels or signs that specifically say things like “Dont touch”, “not a part of the game”, or “Dont open”. These aren’t tricks!
- Fight with each other. This is incredibly, dishearteningly common with families who have never played before. Resist the urge to get frustrated when you’re confused or feel you’re doing badly. Not only does it not help you, it can also get in the way of what you’re doing and actively prevent progress.
- Blow through all your clues too quickly. Space out your clues. Don’t be afraid to use them, but using them all in the first 10 or 20 minutes of the game will almost always work against you. It can help to feel out how much of the room remains— if you still have 4 locks to open and only have 2 clues left, you may want to use them sparingly.
- Waste your time. If you’re making no progress, you may need to try a new way of looking at things, or it may be time for a clue. Spending more than a fourth of your time on any step in a game is typically a sign it’s time to throw in the towel and ask for a clue. Spending too long on one step can seriously handicap you later.
- Be afraid to split up. If there’s multiple things that seem important, breaking up to divide and conquer is usually smart. This goes double if you have a large group with you— three or four people is often plenty on any given puzzle, unless there’s really that much going on in that particular step. Consider splitting up and sending people to read notes, look for new clues, or play with unsolved puzzles. Be wary, though: if you have considerable reason to believe you should be focusing on a specific thing, sending everyone else away in the name of productivity might actually be counterproductive.
- Get stuck on previous expectations. If you’ve played any rooms before or heard any advice from friends who have played, you probably have some ideas as to what might come into play in your next game. Be wary: just because your last game included a blacklight or required you to find a specific page in a book doesn’t mean every game will. While looking for these cliches can be helpful and is generally encouraged, spending too much time looking for them when there’s no indication you should be doing so is counterproductive.
- Try to guess locks. Often in newbie groups, one person will sit themself down at a single lock that they have no relevant information for, and just guess codes at random. While you should try every logical code everywhere you can think of, many rooms are built with some sort of linear order in mind, and guessing a lock can provide you with puzzles you don’t have the full information to attempt, or information for puzzles you don’t yet have. It can completely confound you, not to mention negatively impact your experience and annoy your gamemaster.
- Be a lone wolf. Two or more heads are almost always better than one. If you find potentially useful information, make sure everyone knows about it, and dont attempt to solve what you believe to be a crucial puzzle alone if you can help it.
Overall, the most helpful advice I can give to newcomers is to come ready to have fun playing a game as a team! Though the advice above can be useful for helping you succeed, remember that the most fun part of the game is simply the process of playing. In the end, your experience is more worthwhile if you enjoy yourself and fail than if you fight the whole time and escape. Follow my tips and bring your best attitude, and hopefully you’ll have a happy success on your hands!