Top tips for a great escape experience

When I try to get people into playing escape games, a lot of the time the first question is “what is it like?” And I tell them, usually involving a discussion about the Crystal Maze.

Another popular question from my friends and a topic I try to discuss before starting off is what tips and ideas I suggest to make an escape experience fun. Here are my top tips to make your play experience amazing.

0 Picking the right room
I’ve put this as 0 because it applies well before you get to your room. If you’re based in a big city such as London or Manchester, there’s probably a fairly big body of reviews for you to get through. Elsewhere, it can be more difficult. If you’ve got a non-standard group size (outside of 3-5) the rooms that’ll accommodate you will narrow this down naturally; otherwise, look at reviews – TripAdvisor can be good if you don’t find anything on dedicated sites – check the theming and website of your preferred room, and maybe even give them a ring to talk through what they’re like.

1 Being prepared
Top tip here is being on time. I wish venues were a bit more consistent and set out their slot times as the time they wanted you to arrive for, but as it is, you have some that say arrive 20 minutes early, for others it’s 10 minutes, and others still are “arrive no more than 5 minutes early and not a second late”. Many venues have little or no facility to accommodate people who are early, and may still be resetting the room or even debriefing the previous team if you’re too soon. Equally, if you’re running late, you’re liable to cut into game time and you won’t be able to enjoy yourselves fully, not to mention that if you’re rushing you’ll be stressed and out of breath at the start and won’t be at your best.

2 Communicating
I am firmly in the “say what you see and say what you do” camp. In most games you’ll have a clipboard, chalkboard, or some similar device to take down details of codes or other notes that you’ll require. Whoever’s in charge of this should make sure they keep track of any clues and numbers that are available and ensure they mark off anything that’s been used up. The best teams also make it plain to everyone if they’ve cleared a puzzle or if they’re leaving something for someone else (see also 3 Being humble).

Communicating includes with the game master, when you are getting on the walkie-talkie, phone, or whatever other method’s in use. The most common walkie-talkies have an annoying habit that you need to hold down a button for 2-3 seconds before your voice starts broadcasting, so if you just push the button and say “yes”, nothing will come through. I don’t care how stupid you sound – test the communication system properly before you’re on the clock, and end your messages with “Over” so the other side knows you’re done!

3 Being humble
“I’ve nearly got it” killed many an escape team’s chances. If you’ve worked on a puzzle for more than a few minutes and you’re clearly not making progress, hand it over to another team member. This counts double if you’re on the critical path and everyone else is waiting for you before they can do anything else. I would suggest giving a minute or two without saying what you’ve done or achieved so far – this allows your teammate to possibly try something you didn’t see at all without getting steered by something you did.

4 Using hints
Just about all rooms have some system for hints. They vary considerably, and systems we’ve encountered include the host talking loudly from outside the room to high-tech computerised systems involving a message popping up on a screen. The most common, however, is a two-way radio or walkie-talkie.

Most rooms will allow you to radio for a hint and most will also have the host watching over CCTV ready to contact you in the event they see you stalling. How much they will keep you hanging on varies from venue to venue – but if you’re stuck and you see no way forward, there’s no use in waiting for 5-10 minutes for something to happen. Get on the radio and ask: the worst that they can tell you is that you’re too early and you need to wait.

5 Keeping cool
Escape rooms can stress the best of us (I’m no exception and I get really competitive; I confess to grabbing the walkie-talkie off a teammate when she wasn’t operating it properly). Managing this and keeping yourself and your performance under control when the time’s running low is something that only comes with time and experience. But remember, it’s only a game and nobody dies…

6 Managers
It’s rare that you can have someone acting in a “manager” role whilst the other team members are “doers”. Usually it ends up with the “manager” collecting information in a silo that’s useful to the other members. On the other hand in highly non-linear rooms it’s useful to have someone who knows exactly what’s been completed and what you’re done with.

What do you think are good ideas to improve your escape room? Comment below…

Postscript: I’m booked into The Crystal Maze with Team Judge on 6th October. Excitement level is already off the scale…

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