I’ve seen more and more escape rooms advertising that they offer only private experiences. While in general this is a nice perk, I have to admit I have conflicted feelings about it. While some of my worst experiences have been getting dumped in with other groups, I’ve also got a lot of great memories from this kind of arrangement.
I’ll start with the cons- what people always imagine could go wrong when getting dumped in with a random group. I’ve been with enough random groups that I can talk to everything that can go wrong.
-Too large of a group. Christina and I want a quiet night out together and we get grouped together with 10 others in a room that shouldn’t have more than 6. Even when we’re with our own friends, we don’t enjoy ourselves as much when the room is overstuffed.
-Limited resources. When a room has a set number of key items (blacklights, notebooks), some mixed groups struggle to share them evenly and everyone fights for their 30 seconds with the gadget.
-Puzzle bottlenecks, especially ones meant for one person. I’ve usually seen the most enthusiastic members of the group leap into the puzzles while everyone else stands around.
-Different skill/experience levels. When I’m with strangers, I usually take a back seat and let everyone else explore and solve first, but there have been one or two times where I’ve been with friends and we’ve blazed through the room while the strangers we’ve been partnered with hadn’t even got the idea of what an escape room is.
-Awkward combinations. One time I ended up as the plus one on a three-generation family event. Eight family members… plus the one enthusiast. They were good sports, but it was a little awkward.
So joining up with strangers sounds like the worst thing ever, right? I’m not done yet. We’ve got a lot of positive experiences, too.
-Intrigue. There’s something cool about being partnered in an unusual circumstance with strangers. It’s what murder mystery dinners attempt to capture, and in the right scenario, escape rooms can do it really well.
-New friends. It’s not uncommon for me to solve an escape room with complete strangers, then make plans to do another escape room with the same people.
-Surprising combinations. It’s the flip side of the “awkward combinations” I mentioned in the cons. Every once in a while we get paired up with a family or group of friends that is an absolute blast to play with. Even cases you don’t expect to be great, like pairing up with a bunch of children with one adult, can be memorable in unexpected ways. You might end up being the Major Don West for the Robinson family… Or the Dr. Zachary Smith…
-Stories. Escape rooms are built to be memorable, but I feel like at least half of my favorite stories are about the people we partnered with, good and bad.
-Unique skill sets. When you play a bunch of escape rooms with the same people, you get to know who does what. When you get mixed up with strangers, you get the fun of figuring out all over again who is good at what.
So my takeaway on all of this? I like having the option to have private experiences when we’re looking to reduce the variance of our experience, but I also like joining up with strangers when it stays within an appropriate group size. My favorite arrangement is when the room defaults to being public but players can pay an extra fee to make the room private. And I usually opt to stay public.
I hope the trend across businesses doesn’t steer too far in one direction or the other; with the wide variety of experiences available now, there’s something for everyone.