As a creator of escape games, it’s hard to play an online escape game or physical escape room without thinking ‘as a creator’. Every game we play, every puzzle we solve and every story we hear is potential inspiration, either in a good way or a ‘better avoid this’ way. For a designer of escape room games and puzzles, it might be a good thing to sometimes switch off the designer button and turn on the player button. But for players, it might be useful to do it the other way round, when you want to become better at solving escape games or escape rooms.
Here are 10 tips to make you a better escaper!
1. Look for unusual things
For an escape room designer, one of the biggest challenges is to blend in your puzzles with the story or décor. This is what you, as a player, can make use of. Look around for anything that stands out. Anything that wouldn’t be in the scene if there were no puzzles in it. If you’re in a Harry Potter themed room, a broomstick makes total sense to be part of the décor. But would it really require a big mirror on the wall? Maybe it was placed there for a reason…
2. Look for flaws
In line with the previous tip, on a more detailed level you can do the same thing. For example, when you find a handwritten love letter in a drawer or another piece of text that doesn’t immediately ring a bell. Clues are often hidden in texts, for example all the capitals in a letter make a sentence or every first letter of each sentence does. There are endless possibilities of hiding a secret message in texts, but what most of those texts have in commons, is that there’s something off about them. For a creator, if you want to for example make a sentence of every capital in the letter, you really need to pay attention to the sentences you write, especially the first words and names. Sometimes the result is that sentences don’t sound natural, but a bit forced or artificial. That’s usually a sign that you’re onto something. Find those ‘out of place’ things and you’re halfway solving the puzzle.
3. Take notes
Not everything you find can be used immediately. Sometimes you find a code, but don’t have the means to decipher it yet. Or you’re halfway solving a puzzle when you get stuck. It’s very useful to write down what you’ve done with it so far, so that later you – or your teammates – don’t have to start solving it from scratch. If you found out how to decipher some words or letters, but not all of them, make sure to write that down or pass it onto your fellow puzzlers. Maybe they manage to solve the rest based on your start. Or maybe you suddenly see it for yourself when you take another look at puzzle and your notes. In physical escape rooms, it’s often ok to bring pen and paper inside if the room doesn’t provide it already by themselves (make sure to ask if it’s ok).
4. Appoint someone to keep the overview
No matter if it’s a physical escape room, an online escape room or a printed at-home escape game, as long as you play with a team, there’s bound to be confusion or things forgotten at some point. Make sure to appoint someone who always keeps the overview. Did you find a code, a key or a strange object but don’t know what to do with it? Tell it to the person with the overview! Perhaps someone else found a decipher code or a lock. You don’t want to know how much time you can lose by not knowing all the things that someone else already discovered!
5. Get rid of unnecessary things
Once you’ve solved a puzzle or opened a locked chest for example, it’s good to make clear to everyone that this part of the game is solved and done. Keep the chest open with the key inside for example, so that someone else doesn’t try and solve the same problem that you just did. For at-home escape games, this means discarding papers that you probably don’t need anymore. Sometimes, certain items or papers may need to be reused later, so don’t throw it away completely, but just put them aside. You want a clear overview of everything that still needs solving and every clue that hasn’t been used yet.
6. Use hints
I know, we all want to solve an escape game without any outside help. But is it worth getting frustrated over something that’s supposed to be fun? If you’re stuck on a puzzle and see no way of moving on with it, just ask the game master for a hint or request one digitally if you play an online escape room game. There’s no shame in getting some help in solving a puzzle that just might not be your cup of tea.
7. Don’t enter the rabbit hole
It can happen that you’re onto something when solving a puzzle, but when trying it out, it doesn’t seem to be going quite as you expected. It’s easy to keep on trying along the same lines and just change a parameter here and there. Maybe you were onto the right code, but just need to move every letter in the alphabet one up? That also doesn’t work? Then maybe only the vowels move one up, but the consonants move two up? If you reach this point and none of those things you’re trying here were signposted, it’s very likely that you’ve entered a rabbit hole. Things only seem logical from this point on because you’re basing them on a previous assumption which also seemed logical. If you’d have suggested from the start to move all consonants up by two and vowels by one (without it being signposted like that), you would have dismissed it as being very unlikely. Get out of the rabbit hole before wasting all your time chasing the wrong path.
8. Work backwards
Admittedly, this doesn’t always work, but sometimes it does, so it’s worth knowing about it. With some games, especially at-home escape game boxes, you get a big pile of things spread out in front of you. It’s easy to just pick up a random thing and start reading or solving whatever you see. But do you actually know what you’re trying to find? First try and figure out what you actually need. Sometimes, the game or the story itself gives a clue on what you’re looking for, but sometimes it can also just be a matter of checking a submission box or scorecard to see how many words or letters are required. If the designers gave you that info, it’s not cheating. If they didn’t want you to know, they wouldn’t have shown you. Once you know what you’re looking for, it becomes easier to try and find that inside all the information that you got.
9. Don’t forget the story
Escape rooms and escape games are more than just a set of puzzles. They’re (supposed to be) an immersive experience. It’s a shame to disregard any story or theme-related item just because it’s not necessary for solving a puzzle. A great deal of work might have gone into creating an escape room, just to get you in the right setting. Appreciate these little touches and you might enjoy the game even better.
10. Most importantly, have fun!
No matter if you’re good or bad at escape games, the most important thing is to always have fun while playing. If you’re very competitive, maybe don’t choose teammates who are just in it for the fun of being immersed in a game without bothering too much about solving things as fast as possible. And if you’re that second type of player, perhaps avoid your ultra-competitive friend when playing an escape game. Don’t blame anyone for any mistakes they make. Don’t feel bad for not solving a puzzle. And just take a break for a moment if you’re stuck and getting frustrated by something in the game. Have fun and make sure your teammates have fun too!