Escape room

Create Great Escape Room Puzzles

If you’re running an escape room game business, then the quality of the puzzles you offer is paramount to your success. You can learn about this through immediate feedback...

If you’re running an escape room game business, then the quality of the puzzles you offer is paramount to your success. You can learn about this through immediate feedback. Hopefully, you have a de-briefing after each game. This will encourage the players to speak about their experience, for you to strengthen the connection with them as well as allowing you to gauge what works and what doesn’t in terms of the clues, puzzles, and gameplay.

You or your game master should have a mental quick-list of questions about the game. Only with this information will you be able to improve and upgrade the games. Make sure that you get to know about any difficulties or problems your customers had with any of the clues and puzzles. On the one hand you want them to struggle, but on the other, you don’t want to discourage players from overly complicated or impossible tasks. 

We would like to imagine that one of the main reasons that you opened your escape room business, is that you love puzzles. So inventing, applying and over-seeing puzzles should be your cup of tea. A good indicator of how your games are being played is to look at the percentage of games that are being played successfully. If it’s very low, then not only is this not good for business, but it also points to problems within the game’s structure itself. 

To find the balance between keeping your customers entertained whilst at the same time keeping them challenged, without bogging them, down is not easy. Another point is that you want the customer who doesn’t manage to complete the room within the allotted time to feel that there was every possibility of completing the room by themselves. In other words, they don’t end up blaming the puzzle or clues. 

Make Your Puzzles Inspiring

So many escape room games are using the same puzzles, that playing one game in one city is the same as playing in another city miles away. The main reason for this is that thinking up good puzzles is hard. A huge problem is the general lack of originality you can find across so many escape room businesses. Most rooms appear to have locks and combinations that are interchangeable in any situation. And that’s why you see the same escape mechanisms across so many games.

We suggest the first stage is to examine the games themselves. Depending on the chosen theme, you’ll spread a load of relevant props to convey the required atmosphere. 

A common puzzle is to have the player count up a number of these objects to reach a total number. But this might have been good enough years ago when escape room games were new. But it doesn’t cut it anymore. Maybe opening a box plays music, and the beat is the clue needed. So, whatever the first reflex might be on seeing a group of objects, you have to think beyond the simplistic. Use items with their purpose in mind, but add just a little something to get them thinking. 

Many rooms fall under the error of creating puzzles around numbers. But there’s so much more that can be done using all the senses. Working with the senses is a much more immersive means of communicating. If, for example, you have some glass containers with a liquid within and each has a distinctive aroma, then that could factor into a clue later on. Maybe one of those scents is the same needed to open a door or operate a mechanism. Using smell, touch, and taste will certainly have an instant effect and make those puzzles the more interesting.

How to Manage Levels of Difficulty

You have a couple of choices when it comes to the level of difficulty you want to impose on a room. One is to have a smaller number of difficult puzzles which will be more time-consuming. Or you can do the reverse. Have a lot of easier puzzles, which will still fill up the allotted time.
A lot will depend on the type of customers you’re marketing yourself to. If they are escape room veterans, then the former is the route to go down. If the customers are new players, like the majority of the general public, then go with more, but simpler puzzles. 

Keep an eye on the time limits. It’s best if you have a group of friends or relatives come over to “beta-test” the game before you throw the doors open to the public. If the puzzles are too challenging, then they will not have a chance of completing the game. Somehow, you’re going to have to find a balance between the game’s complexity and the available time. This is only discovered after several games have been played through the room. Also, the number of players might have an effect on the time taken to completion.

The Structure of Your Puzzles

To avoid having a single player dominate the whole proceedings, a good idea is to make use of a non-linear game design. By this, we mean that you shouldn't have a game’s structure whereby one solution leads to the next clue. Instead, you want to have several puzzles that can be solved at once, spread around the room. This will allow more players to be busy at the same time. That’s because the last thing any escape room game wants is to have a player standing around feeling redundant. So having more puzzles and clues spread around the room allows everyone to get busy. Also, more puzzles will force the players to work more as a team because they’ll need to put all their respective findings together at various points throughout the gameplay.

Install New Puzzles

Many escape rooms have been going for over 10 years now. And many are still running with the same games as they had on day one. This is unacceptable. As a business, you want to create many repeat customers. No one wants to be playing the same games over again and paying for the privilege of doing so. Once you’ve had your room running for a while, you’ll be able to see what works and what works to a lesser extent. You can also use customer feedback. All these factors can be put into a hat and then you’ll find it much easier to pull out a new trick or two.

Take time to re-examine all the props you’ve been using. See if you can think of new ways of using them within the game. You can add more items, or try and combine several to create a new clue. Upgrading the room’s props and clues should be a given if you want to turn customers into regulars.

Other Things To Consider

One reason that will help you see a failing in a clue or puzzle, is if a customer can solve it by guessing the answer. That’s why you shouldn’t leave anything to random choice. Make the player work! Get them to use their brains and have puzzles that actively encourage them to discuss solutions with each other. A puzzle that can be solved by luck doesn’t belong in an escape room game, as the game is a test of mental agility. Also, if a player can simply guess the correct answer, it takes away any sense of accomplishment or satisfaction.   

We would also suggest that you don’t base any clues or puzzles around trivia. Most people are not experts in cinema memes or pop personalities. Just stick with what you can place in the room for references. If the only means of answering a question is not in the room itself, then there are bound to be some teams of players that have no clue to the correct answer. This not only slows down the game for them but is unfair.

Finally, a Word of Warning 

Not every game you plan will go as you’d like. Not every puzzle you’ve slaved over will be great for the players. Some may take considerably longer to figure out than you initially planned for. There are many other factors at play, not least the capabilities of the players themselves. The only way to know if a puzzle functions well, is to ask for feedback from players. That’s where beta-testing comes into play. By allowing your friends and relatives to play, you can get feedback without having paying customers go through testing and possibly failing to find the right solutions. 

Whatever information you receive from feedback, please don’t ignore it, or think that it can wait till later. All constructive feedback should be analyzed by yourself and your team of game masters. If changes are required, then make them straight away. Constantly be inventing and introducing new puzzles to the games. This will keep each escape room fresh, meaning that players can play the same game over and over and still find new things to entertain themselves.

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