Every escape room enthusiast has their own idea of escape room perfection. The design should be impeccable, the puzzles engaging and innovative, and the game completely immersive. There is nothing worse than having the wind taken out of your sails during an escape room experience because of a poorly managed hint or a broken clue. Nothing. There are so escape rooms in the city—some are very good, some amazing, and others you probably just want to skip. There are some recurring mistakes we keep bumping into, which you can keep a weather eye out for. Take a look at our list of escape room clichés.
#1 – No backstory
This one might seem obvious but it happens more than you’d realize. A gamemaster can spend all the time they want designing an escape game but if the person on duty during your session doesn’t bother to explain the backstory of the room you’ve booked, or does a poor job doing so, the magic is ruined. If you’re in an escape room and the employee is about to shut you in but you haven’t heard the reason you’re getting locked in yet—don’t be afraid to ask.
#2 – Every puzzle is a three-digit padlock
It is perfectly understandable to create a puzzle or two using a padlock with number combination on a box, or a closet, or maybe two closets. But having too many padlock puzzles is a huge flaw in game design. It’s not about the lock itself, it’s about constantly looking for three-digit combinations everywhere in the room. Padlock puzzles are okay if there’s only a few of them, but if every puzzle in the room is a padlock puzzle it’s a bit of a bore and a sign of lackluster design.
#3 – Confusing props
Escape rooms should never use props that confuse the player. Imagine entering a voodoo-themed room and seeing a message on the table “The answers are in your heads” and about dozen shrunken heads hanging around the room. See? Everyone will go over and look at the heads, instead of trying to work out the answer to the riddle. And, of course, the heads are there just for decoration. Immersive decoration is good, and in fact it’s necessary for good game design, but sending mixed messages leads to very poor experience. The gamemaster should make sure that everything in the room is there for a reason—and won’t confuse the players.
#4 – Like every other movie out there
When it comes to designing the theme of the escape room, it should be creative, innovative, and captivating. We are not saying that there’s anything wrong with zombies, vampires, serial killers (actually there are many things wrong with them!), but the escape room’s theme should not be just the replica of another movie we’ve all already seen. Escape rooms should be exciting and full of surprises, and the stories should be too. We don’t want just another mummy or ancient curse story.
#5 – Paper puzzles
Some people like word puzzles, and others are good with numbers. But no one likes getting into an escape game and then solving crosswords and doing algebra for an hour. People can play Scrabble at home and more than one or two Sudokus are not worthy of an escape room story.
#6 – Poorly managed hints
It happens to all of us. You’ve hit a roadblock; no one on your team can figure out how to move forward; you need a clue. But when you buzz the gamesmaster and ask for a hint, the experience is so unpleasant you wish you hadn’t in the first place. Maybe the gamemaster takes a long time to respond to your request for a hint, wasting precious escape minutes. Or maybe when they come to give you the hint they are critical of how you’ve gotten to where you are in the escape room currently. (We hate fussy gamemasters!) Or, worst of all, they tell you how to solve the puzzle and give away the game.
#7 – Broken or damaged inventory
Oh, the pain people go through when there is torn wallpaper or broken props in an escape room! If that wallpaper is peeling back, curious minds will try to see if there’s something hiding behind it, so gamemasters should always keep that in mind when there’s a crack or a hole. Broken clocks are a big no-no too, because if the clock is stuck on 12:15 everyone will assume it’s a code or lock combination. And the worst cliché of all: broken props, like broken black lights or flashlights with dead batteries. Check those batteries regularly, gamemasters!
#8 – Mirrors and black lights
Sometimes in an escape room you’ll need to look for something in the mirror to read it backwards. That is fine, but having everything written in reverse can be really tiring. Making use of a black light is cool too, but some escape rooms can really lean on this technique. Using this simple trick too much is a sign of lazy game design.
There’s nothing worse than being locked in a room at the mercy of a lazy gamemaster. We want escape rooms to keep surprising us, but not in a negative way. So check out the escape room nearest you and don’t settle for something lackluster!
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