You've decided that you are going to open an escape room, now what? Besides a whole host of things that you need to do just to get your doors open, there's this one other small task. That's deciding what your room themes are going to be? Are you going to purchase your games or design your own. There is nothing wrong with either course of action, just be advised that when dealing with vendors you will want to carefully choose who you are working with.
When we decided to open Cracked it! Escape Games we were faced with this same decision. We had a very limited budget to purchase or design our first game and we chose to design our own game which we called Antiquities, Investigations, and Recovery, In Search of Episode 1. A game that we commonly refer to A.I.R. A game in the tradition of National Treasure. How did we get from decision to design? First, we had to choose the core concept of the game and that is the point of this post. Give you the fledgling operator some ideas to design your own escape room games.
The title of this post may be a bit misleading because honestly, not all of these themes were AWESOME ideas. Some, after a second or third review, were merely meh. But you may find it an awesome idea so that is why I am allowing it to see the light of day. You may also see themes that have become tropes in the escape room genre. We created this list from several brainstorming sessions without doing a ton of research on the industry and seeing what may be a common theme.
1. Rube Goldberg Room - assemble a Rube Goldberg Machine in order to unlock the door.
2. Trap Room - disarm all the traps or face the consequences if you spring one!
3. Isolation Room - team is split up into smaller groups or individuals, using limited or no communication, they must all escape their own "pod" (and help others escape) then escape from the central room together. (This has been done very well by Crossroads Escape Room with their Hex Room)
4. Time Warp - two "identical" rooms set at "different points in time" are caught in a time warp; the puzzles are different/missing/fragmented; actions in one room affect the reality of the other. Could utilize time-delayed video feed, a secret door which is opened by something the other team does, a two-way drawer to share items, etc.
5. Panic Room - your well-to-do family has hidden in your panic room from an intruder; the threat has passed, but a mechanical failure has left you stuck; use your supplies and provisions to escape, or wait for the security company to come release you.
6. Space Mission Room - Uh oh! The life support systems have failed. Get them back online before you run out of air! Problem: may be too high tech.
7. Senior Prank/Class Prank Room - set up a prank on your school and escape before the teachers bust you! We could ask what local school groups are from when they book the room and tweak the experience accordingly.
8. Arcade Room - room has 3-5 custom arcade cabinets. Team starts with one coin, which will activate a cabinet. Solve puzzles for more coins to activate other cabinets. Win games to get codes to escape the room.
9. Mythology Room - cycle theme through various culture's mythologies.
10. Treasure Hunters Room - pay homage to all the great treasure hunters: Goonies, Indiana Jones, Uncharted, Lara Croft, etc.
11. Adventurer Room - have RPG themed room with different "class" items in the room (like wizard "spellbook" to decode cyphers. "thieves' kit" to unlock things, etc) that each "adventurer" uses according to their skills/strengths, pick up thieve's kit off a "corpse" to unlock chest with other items, and so on.
12. Kids' Room - aimed at age 8-12, a kid's bedroom, use toys to solve problems, maybe use as an opportunity to help kids enjoy cleaning up? Problem: kids may get too distracted by toys to play along.
13. A Real Life Logic Puzzle? - ex: three cats in a kennel need to have the correct toy and food matched to them before their owners come pick them up.
14. Detective Room - Sherlock-style subtle clues to solve a (non-murder) mystery
15. Murder Mystery Room - Clue-style whodunnit
16. Toy Room - You have been shrunk down to the size of a toy, you must escape the room to get back to your regular size.
17. Jungle Room - You are out on a safari or a hunt, but you realize you are the one being hunted, get out of the forest while you can.
18. Pirate room - You have been taken aboard a pirate ship, solve a bunch of puzzles to get off. (We opened Queen Anne's Revenge in April 2016)
19. Military - You have been trapped in a building on a military base, use your military knowledge to get out (Also likely to do well in this area)
20 Magician's Apprentice - You are a magician's apprentice, you were fooling around with one of the magician's magic boxes, and you got locked inside. You have to solve clues (Your boss loves puzzles) to figure out how to open the box back up.
ALL ONE TYPE ROOMS:
21. Book Room - a library with only ciphers/word puzzles/codes, etc. Card catalog! Dewey Decimal System!
22. Circuit Room - a room just covered in handles, which must be connected in various configurations to complete different circuits to unlock things.
23. Knot Room - Just, so many knots. Problem: obscenely long reset time.
Seasonal rooms MAKE MONEY! If you can handle the extra workload create seasonal rooms for Halloween and Christmas. They are nearly a license to print money. They have several attractive appeals. 1. The limited time offering creates a sense of urgency that once it's gone, it's gone. 2. Your fans want a new game to play and will keep coming back. We created New Blood, New World for the month of October only. Using the existing set for Queen Anne's Revenge we created an all new theme, new puzzles, new marketing materials, and soundtrack. This room was met with great enthusiasm from our existing customers and won us a whole new crop of fans. Limited edition rooms will boost your sales substantially!
24. Ghost Room - lay to rest a vengeful spirit that opens/closes doors, moves objects, turns things on/off.Problem: may be too high tech. -C
35. Christmas Room - use presents, ornaments, and other items to solve the puzzles.
26.Sponsored Rooms - once the company is established and successful, team up with a sports team, video game company, movie promoter, etc to theme a room/provide related swag.
Note: Pop-culture marketers have caught onto Escape Rooms for marketing their property.
27. Charity Rooms - team up with an non profit organization, theme the room aroun their work, and donate a portion of the proceeds.
5 tips to help your game stand out from the crowd.
1. Give your game a creative title.
2. Write an intriguing description of your game that entices a player to want to play your game
3. Design or have designed a custom poster for your game.
4. Create an interesting backstory for your game.
5. Be inspired but be original, don't rip off someone else's intellectual property.
5 Resources for inspiring creative escape room ideas.
TV Tropes.org - The all devouring pop-culture wiki
Wikipedia.com - The free encyclopedia
I hope that this post inspires you to create new and unusual escape room games.
Until next time, what do YOU think. Let me know in the comments below.
Brian Vinciguerra is the co-founder and chief marketing officer of Cracked it! Escape Games in Jacksonville, North Carolina.