Escape Room: The Game has a recommended three player minimum for games. I looked at the label on the box and thought ‘good for you, but I’m different.’ Well folks, it turns out I’m not as different as I thought I was — and for my hubris, I wound up having a very bad afternoon. In fact, I was on the verge of tears nearly every minute I played Escape Room: The Game.
Take it from me: do not attempt this game solo.
In a group, I’m sure there’s plenty of fun to be had. But minor mistakes and oversights meant I struggled badly with context clues and couldn’t figure out what I was supposed to do in the very first adventure of the box (also known as the easiest one).
For a bit more context, here’s how Escape Room: The Game works. You’re given sealed envelopes containing various paper clues and/or a location where a secret code is hidden. You’ll need to solve around four puzzles per ‘part’ of the adventure which will give you a single number, shape, letter or direction to put into a decoder machine. These correspond with notched keys you put into this electronic companion to determine if your answers are correct or not.
When you start, you’ll need to set the decoder timer. You get an hour to complete multi-part adventures, with the machine constantly playing haunting, atmospheric chatter and music that’s incredibly stressful. It’ll also chirp every five or ten minutes to indicate you can pick up a hint card if you’re stuck.
But beyond the ticking-time of the machine, the thing that very nearly made me cry while on my solo adventure was the loud buzzer that sounds when you get a code wrong. It’s not just a polite little ‘try again’ tinkle, it’s a full-on foghorn EEEEEERRNNTTTZZZZZZ that will reverb around your entire playing area.
If you’re playing in a group, it’s something you can laugh about. If you’re playing alone, it’s very loud and very anxiety-inducing.
Coupled with how difficult some of the clues are, it’s pretty obvious this isn’t meant to be a game for a single player.
Case in point: Prison Break, the opening escape room. (Not based on the classic TV show.) It’s set at the second easiest difficult, and truth be told I could’ve solved it with enough time. But I made a fatal error: I didn’t think to flip over the object cards included in the first envelope. Why didn’t I flip them over? Honestly, I have no clue. I can only put it down to being alone, having a ticking clock in my ear, and playing the game after a long day at work. It’s a simple solution, right? Flip the cards, and you’ll find the formula you need to escape.
But in my hurry, I didn’t even think of it. Instead, I searched map clues and panicked about not being able to escape in time.
If was working in a team, it would’ve been another matter. Somebody who had more of a brain would’ve said, “hey, maybe we should search all the components and pay attention to the clues.” And I would’ve laughed and gone, “hey, yeah. That sounds like a good option.” Anyway, that didn’t happen. Instead, I ended up staring at the time counting down, searching desperately on the floor for missing pieces, flipping the map over multiple times and then finally, accepting defeat and looking up the answer.
To be clear: this is my own fault. There’s a reason why the game recommends three players. I was just so certain I’d be alright on my own. The game’s introductory puzzle, The Basement was extremely simple, and I was able to breeze through with no dramas. It gave me a sense of confidence that proved to be my downfall.
As soon as I encountered a puzzle involving maths, my brain short-circuited and I ended up staring at the clue cards for 20 minutes without making any progress.
But that’s not to say the experience wasn’t fun!
During The Basement, I was having a blast — and when you finally do solve that escape room code (after frantic minutes of clues and fumbling) there’s a real delight in hearing the decoder give you the winning chime.
I also dived into the Family Edition of the game and had a much easier time with Magic Monkey than I did with Prison Break. (As the name implies, Family Edition is a bit simpler so everyone can enjoy it.)
To solve each puzzle, you need to think through the logic and number challenges presented on every piece of card, clue and map you find in each envelope. There’s maths puzzles, number puzzles, pattern-solving and other major hurdles to overcome along the way, but once you start gathering clues the solution comes together rather quickly. It actually makes you feel very chuffed if you get it.
But friends are essential to keep you moving along your puzzling path.
No matter what puzzle you’re attempting, there’s plenty of stumbling blocks along the way — so you’ll want to be equipped with as much knowledge and insight as possible. Yes, you can attempt the game solo and if you’re sharp enough you may just be able to solve some of the many clues in the game (despite my difficulties, there were a bunch I was able to solve pretty easily). But the real fun is in sitting down with friends or family and working through puzzles together.
It’s also bound to make you feel far less silly when the solution is something simple you’ve overlooked.
I’ve learned a very important lesson throughout my time playing Escape Room: The Game. First, I’m a bit stupider than I thought. And second, that sometimes it’s dangerous to go alone.
If you’re keen to try a puzzle adventure, Escape Room: The Game is a great, robust option. Just make sure you bring some friends along for the ride.