For a long time I’ve been considering putting together a more rigorous framework for my reviews, and I’ve finally got the pieces in place to start with it. I’m going to stay as objective as possible but also start calling out how my personal preferences influence my experience with escape rooms and other puzzle games.
So without further adieu, my framework…
I broke down puzzle games (escape room, video game, board game) into the core skill sets the games require. I’ve played through one of each in the past two days, and while going through those I kept tabs on what was being asked of me, so here’s what I came up with. In no particular order:
- Association. Where have I seen this before? What could this go with?
- Memory. Do I have to commit to memory some image, sound, pattern, or number?
- Attention to Detail. Is something out of place? Is there something strange about that picture?
- Basic Logic. I have a car battery. Can I put it in the car?
- Lateral Thinking. I have a car battery. Can I use it as a weight to hold something down?
- Tactile/Visual Puzzles. I have a jigsaw puzzle, sliding puzzle, magnet maze, etc.
- Strategy. How should we use our limited resources? What choice leads to the best outcome?
- Communications/Planning. Which puzzle warrants focus right now? How do I tell my team what I’m seeing?
I’m going to group each of these eight skills into one of three buckets.
- What There’s a Lot Of
- What There’s a Little Of
- What There’s Not Much Of
I’ll explain each group one at a time to hopefully paint a clear picture of what the game plays like. Hopefully this will enable other puzzlers to determine if a game fits their particular liking. For a quick summary, I’ll visualize the outcome of this classification into a radar chart, like the below, using each of the skills on the points of the graph (instead of the numbers 1-9).
Finally, I’ll outline two subjective elements about my personal experience.
- What I Found Special
- What Would Have Made Me Like It More
I’m going to force myself to write at least one bullet for each of these, so even a phenomenal room will get some kind of constructive feedback based on a puzzle enthusiast’s opinion.
You may note that this still doesn’t give a letter or number score on the overall quality. This is intentional because of how subjective any kind of rating system would be. Imagine a room with incredible million dollar set pieces, famous actors playing roles, and a space the size of a mansion to explore, but with puzzles so simple the team gets out in under 30 minutes. Now imagine a ten by ten prison cell with the most dastardly mind-wracking puzzles you can imagine, with just enough flair to keep it interesting, and the group is fighting to the last second to get out the door. I’d probably rate the second room higher. Would you? That’s why it’s important to factor in the specific perspective when providing a clear score, and I’m not confident there are enough other super enthusiasts out there to make a score like this meaningful for me.
Maybe someone will convince me some day there’s some value in rating a score (giving incredible, or underappreciated, places something to brag about?), but for now I’ll start with the framework above and see where that takes me.
As a teaser… One metric I think would be fun to use to measure my preference for escape rooms: if I knew that an escape room was going to close one of their rooms within the next three months, what is the maximum distance I would travel to play that game before it went away? The higher the mileage, the more I liked it!