Escape games, also known as puzzle rooms, escape rooms, locked room games, exit games, and plenty more besides, are a class of game where a team races against the clock to solve a series of puzzles within the confines of a defined area, typically the size of one or more average household rooms.
The usual goal of the endeavour is to obtain a code or key which will unlock the exit door. Variations include completing a mission or collecting one or more items. And the main constraint is time – generally an hour is allotted for players to do their thing, though some missions can take more or less. Along the way, a series of puzzles lie in wait which test players’ powers of deduction and mental agility. In some rooms there are also elements of physical agility or dexterity, or a need to search the area for clues. Frequently players need to progress through two or more intermediate rooms before getting to the final exit.
Games are typically monitored via CCTV by one or more hosts who generally have a scheme in place to communicate hints to struggling teams – and many rooms have the facility to offer a little extra time to unsuccessful teams if they’re nearly done.
Opinions differ on what precisely started the genre – certainly there has been a series of phone apps (of varying quality) badged as escape the room games, and many aspects of the classic video games Myst and Riven feel a bit like one. What’s clearer is that the spiritual home of physical escape rooms in Europe is Budapest, in whose buildings’ many ancient cellars a whole raft of venues have sprung up over time. The first two locations we’re aware of in the UK are London’s HintHunt and clueQuest, which we understand to have opened in 2012.
The range of rooms has quickly exploded in a market where the millennials who watched The Crystal Maze and later Fort Boyard are now possessed of the disposable income and the desire to participate in and play the games in person. (And the Crystal Maze itself has become a thing in Angel and Manchester.)
One thing’s for sure: in a world where people have most of the world’s information and knowledge in their pockets, and fall over one another to accumulate the most and the latest things, the market has never been brighter for the sellers of experiences, and escape rooms are here for the long run.