I know a few of you had already noticed ‘my favourite rooms’ page, where I’ve been ranking each of the rooms I’ve visited after I’ve reviewed them. But it’s been nagging me that “favourite” suggests picking out individual games, whereas what’s there is a full list of every game I’ve played. So I’ve renamed the page ‘Room rankings’.
If you hadn’t noticed it before I don’t blame you. In fact I’d been deliberately not mentioning it until there was some more content, as being “third best” doesn’t mean much if you’ve only rated three. Now that I’ve completed 10 reviews (with #11 in progress (and may actually get finished once I catch up on the Puzzle Hunt)) I feel the time is right to ‘launch’ the page.
But rather than just say “ta da!” and provide a link, I thought I’d continue the ranking theme and share what factors I consider most important for an escape room based on my experience so far. I thought this would be easy but actually it really got me thinking, so I’d love to hear your thoughts too:
- Challenging… – The rooms I remember most fondly have been difficult. All the rooms I’ve considered too easy are near the bottom of the list. I don’t think this is a coincidence. Partly this is due to value for money; I don’t want to complete in 30 minutes what has been billed as an hour’s entertainment. But more so I want the puzzles to make me think; anything that feels more like a chore than a challenge (simple substitution ciphers I’m looking at you) really grates on me.
- …but fair – At the other end of the spectrum, puzzles that require logical leaps or brute force/guesswork to overcome sloppiness of execution are perhaps even more likely to annoy. I’ve only encountered a couple of these so far hence why this doesn’t rank higher. Hopefully this will stay like that.
- Logical story/theme – I’m a big fan of ‘play’ (perhaps even ‘role-play’ in its purest sense). I’ll happily take on the role of a secret agent, detective or even a regular Joe in an irregular situation, so long as what I’m being asked to do makes sense. But a flimsy pretence just to get me into a room full of random puzzles and padlocks isn’t going to do it.
- Set design – This is probably linked to my comments on theme above, but white walls are one of the biggest mood breakers in a room. Even if it’s conceivable that the walls could be white in the scenario, it still feels like a lack of effort. Similarly the props have to feel like they belong there. “The person you’re investigating was a collector of random tat” seems highly implausible.
- Something different – Obviously this is very subjective, because the first time you encounter anything it feels new and original, even if it’s in every subsequent experience. But having an “oh, that’s clever moment” can make a bad room better, and a good room great. In fact, “something clever” may be a better description as uniqueness isn’t always a good thing.
I’m sure there are other factors as well, but these are the ones that stood out to me when reviewing my list. Based on that, my favourite room so far has been The Dungeon of Doom at Clue HQ Warrington. In terms of challenge, it’s the only room that’s ever beaten me, and it did that without any of the puzzles feeling unfair. The set up of liberating your friend who has been framed for a crime they didn’t commit makes perfect sense (although there is one question left unanswered which I can’t get into here). The styling and layout of the room is excellent. And your initial set up, with a different role for one of your group, is the first of many nice surprises.
I’d like to add that Mission 60 at Lockin Real Escape Manchester comes a very close second. And both games set the benchmark for the two different play styles they cover (more on that some other time).
Here’s hoping there’s more contenders for the top spot to report on soon!