My escape room solve tally has been stuck just shy of 400 since the lockdowns started. Sure, I’ve played a few home games and online games, and most of them have been enjoyable, but it’s a little bit different of an experience. So when I got an invitation from Cici and Brandon at EscapeTheRoomers to beta test a remotely guided escape room, I was immediately intrigued.
A little more context- Scrap, one of the earliest and biggest players in the escape room world, has started offering their games online, broadcast from Japan to any location in the world wifi is available. I had heard of businesses starting to use this model, and while it’s exciting to see a bona fide escape room, I had my doubts- is it really the same experience if you can’t touch anything?
Before I answer that question, I’ll circle back around to the story of my particular experience.
Our team was made up of five- Christina, me, Cici & Brandon from EscapeTheRoomers, and John Trapp of ETrapp reviews. It’s always fun pairing up with other lovers of escape rooms and comparing notes on favorite places, and I’m usually left with a few more places I’ve mentally pegged that I have to get to sooner rather than later.
Scrap sent a detailed list of what applications we’d need to use to play. Here’s a quick breakdown of how it worked:
Zoom – Players use a desktop version of Zoom to see each other face to face, but most importantly, to see with the camera the escape room operator is carrying around the room. Scrap would also show the intro videos and periodic update videos using Zoom.
Facebook Messenger – Players are encouraged to get both the mobile version and desktop version. Scrap set up a bot to respond to certain strings with hints, clues, and puzzles.
Other Chat Tool (Players’ Discretion) – Our group used Google Hangouts. The idea here is to be able to send screenshots and notes to each other.
While it may sound daunting to use three different applications during the game, it was actually pretty manageable. During the game we rarely had to resort to using the Hangouts chat. I had two screens during the game, so having one screen on Zoom and one on Messenger served me well 99% of the time. I never had to use my phone during the game.
If I had only one screen, it probably would have worked to use Zoom on my computer and Messenger on my phone, though some of the puzzles were nice to review on a larger screen. In some cases, a printer would have been very nice (to be able to draw directly on puzzles).
Using Messenger, Scrap sent us a few starting materials, one of which was a map of the game area. The area had a number of landmarks called out that we could use to tell the game master where to bring the camera. It worked well, as it gave us a clear checklist of what we needed to search to piece together our answers.
Another one of the materials provided was a list of commands we could use to clearly instruct the game master where to go or what to do. We ended up not referring back to the sheet because all the phrases were intuitive- i.e. “LEFT,” “UP,” “GREEN TREE.”
After a little pre-game chat geeking out about escape rooms with the rest of our team, Scrap kicked off the intro video.
This was my second time playing one of Scrap’s “hall-type” games. The game is designed such that a large number of teams can play simultaneously in a large space, with most puzzles visually solvable. There’s no need to physically interact with the space (which would create a bottleneck if multiple teams tried tackling the same challenge). This design also minimizes “seek & find” elements, since it would be too easy to see another team find something and then follow suit.
In both hall games I played, the overall puzzle flow was the same- start with a bunch of puzzles that aren’t tied closely to the rooms theme (logic puzzles, mazes, crosswords, etc.), and each of these puzzles provide a clue to the room’s core challenge- in this case identifying and defeating hidden werewolves. As the team progresses through the game, the puzzles become more intertwined with the game’s theme, and they become more and more devious and challenging.
I found it surprisingly easy for the group to ask our game master to navigate the room, and to collect clues. Brandon was on point with taking screenshots of each clue and putting them into the Hangouts thread so we could refer back to them. Scrap clearly marked all the clues we needed to use, so it made it very easy to collect everything we needed.
That approach had its pros and its cons. Because everything was clearly marked, we never experienced an iota of frustration dealing with the virtual aspect of the game. But it also meant that once we grabbed our screenshots, we didn’t have to interact with the space as much any more.
Ultimately, the impact of the tradeoff will depend on the specific player. Those who love escape rooms for the puzzles have a great channel in which to engage in a mental workout. Players who love searching for that hidden key magnetized to the bottom of the desk or finding the loose bricks in the walls may have more of an issue with it.
One thing I liked was that the game rewarded logical thinking- some of the clues had hidden meta-clues built in if you pay close attention, and with those you could jump ahead or avoid solving time-consuming early puzzles. I don’t know if this was intentional, but either way I always like to see bonus rewards for critical thinking.
As the puzzles became more and more challenging, I really appreciated the ability to finally play an escape room game from home in which you can have more than two people fully engaged and working without tripping over each other. I hadn’t found a home game yet that works really well with 3+ players, where you don’t have at least one player at all times sitting out, unable to interact with the critical puzzle elements. Kosmos Adventure Games and Time Stories are probably the best in that regard because they use game elements to give each player some autonomy, but it still doesn’t come close to having a space to explore together.
At the end, when our group was wrapping up the final puzzles as the final minutes of the clock were ticking down, everyone became focused on the same few riddles. The last puzzle was the hardest of the full game; even after having all the clues and pieces, it’s not obvious what you have to do to win the game. In a hall-type game, the epilogue doesn’t start until after the clock runs out, win or lose, and it would have been very possible to have quit before the finish line without knowing it.
We weren’t even 100% sure we had won until after the clock had expired and one of the game masters walked us through the experience start to finish. Scrap is experimenting with the format and I’m anticipating they’ll make a change to this for future players, to avoid feelings of frustration in winning teams. It’s kind of like if you solve the final puzzle in an escape room and the lock on the final door is sticking, even though you’ve got the right combo!
With the game completed, I’m able to revisit the question I posed earlier- is an escape room really the same thing if you can’t touch anything? Short answer- no. It’s a different beast of a game, but an enjoyable one in its own right.
I find that different types of escape room games test different types of skills. Several of my friends and family are absolutely gutted when they go to a physical escape room and find that the space is too “clean” with nothing to search above, below, or through. I personally enjoy an escape room most when it builds in a strong test of communication skills. A lot of people are all about the theme, decor, and feeling like they’re in another world. We’re often looking for different things in an escape room, and of course a different kind of product would match up better with certain purposes.
Even after the lockdowns end, I think this remote escape room experience would be a wonderful team building activity. Not only does it allow for collaboration between team members scattered around the world, but it also emphasizes the use of strategy, logic, and communication. Sure, a very bright team could brute force the puzzles straight through without much of a plan, but a group that approaches the situation the right way will have a much better chance of success. I’d rather take my team to one of the really good escape rooms near our office, but sometimes taking a whole team off site can cause major logistical headaches, and it’s nice to be able to set something up from the office.
I also think there’s a great opportunity here for friends scattered around the country. During the lockdown, I’ve played a few online escape room games (video games, not physical rooms being streamed) with friends, and it was fine, but there’s not really a sense of urgency or challenge.
So what does it all mean?
If you love escape rooms and are still locked in, it’s worth checking out a remote escape room if you:
-Love escape rooms for the puzzles
-Enjoy when your communication skills are tested
You should avoid if you:
-Primarily enjoy the thematic elements of an escape room
There’s a lot of potential to the medium, and I’m going to try out a few more from around the world to see how different companies handle the limitations. I think there’s an untapped market for elaborate experiences explicitly designed around the remote broadcast model, rather than an adaptation of a room players would explore themselves. There was an innovative Playstation 2 game called Lifeline played entirely by microphone, where you speak instructions to help a character navigate through a destroyed space station. Something like that could be a neat way to make a remote experience that outlasts the lockdowns.
If you’re interested in playing Scrap’s remote Escape the Werewolf Village game, the same game we played, here are links to book. If you play, let me know how you do!
Click here to buy tickets for 15~22 May PST: https://escapewerewolfextended3.peatix.com
Click here for buy tickets for 23~30 May PST: https://escapewerewolfextended4.peatix.com