So this won't be my usual kind of review. Instead, I'm going to try and give some insights into the kind of work that goes on behind the scenes at a true escape room outfit.
From my seat, I could see two monitors that showed the video feeds from several cameras in each of the 2 escape rooms - Supercell had a group of 2 people (also first-time escapers) and my sister's group of 4 first timers were attempting the Bunker room. We also had an audio feed so we could hear exactly what was being said in the rooms (Akos and I were looking after the Bunker room and Martina was looking after Supercell 117).
What I learned from this experience is:
- there is a HUGE amount of work that goes on behind the scenes during an escape. You really do need a dedicated game master for each room, to watch every step and to guide players if they are heading off track;
- based on the hundreds of groups that have previously escaped the rooms, Akos and Martina know precisely when to give hints (eg they know which step players need to be at at different times on the clock if they are going to be able to escape in time, and they time their hints accordingly);
- it is so much fun to watch people trying to escape - listening and watching them trying to figure out clues, watching their excitement (and frustration) as they try to solve puzzles, watching them bravely walk into dark spaces, watching different personality types and how they work together and of course watching their excitement and the pure adrenalin rush as they manage to escape a room (in my sister's case, with just 2 seconds left on the clock!). It was really exciting right down to the wire.
It was almost as fun watching as it was to try to escape these rooms myself! I can imagine that as an owner and designer of a room, it must be very rewarding watching players try to escape the room that you have crafted from scratch.
Many of the other escape rooms in Sydney do not have dedicated game masters for each room. Sometimes they have one game master for 2 or 3 rooms, and other times I have experienced game masters too busy doing other things to bother to pay attention to players in a room. Several times I have escaped a room only to find nobody in reception - at other times, I have called for a clue only to have the phone ring out several times because there is nobody on the other end.
Thankfully, there are some escape room outfits (like Paniq Room, The Enigma Room and ParaPark Sydney), which are true" escape room outfits, who I think realise that their primary purpose is to provide a fully-immersive, well-designed escape experience with a good mix of puzzles and led by great game masters who know how to ensure that players have a fun time (and who know how to adapt hints to the relevant level of experience of each team). At the end of the day, it's simply good business to provide escape rooms that players love - they will keep coming back and will spread the word.
In fact, if you look at my 15 reviews on this blog to date, you will find that those outfits that score 4.5 or higher for a room all have dedicated and skilled game masters. After 15 escape rooms, I think I can call myself an experienced escape room player. What I have learned (for what it's worth) in those rooms is that the best escape room outfits provide:
- clever puzzles, with a mix of high tech and low tech (and novel or home-made and designed puzzles are always the best)
- a mix of tricky, mind-bending puzzles and "hunt and seek" fun
- excellent theming, where the story line, noises/music, props and over all ambience all make sense and create a fully immersive experience (I think escape rooms are just as much an escape from reality as they are an escape from a room)
- skillful game masters who:
- are enthusiastic
- set the scene and explain the story line of the room
- carefully guide players through the room
- adapt their hints to the players' experience level (just handing out answers is not enough - subtle hints which allow players to feel like they have still solved the puzzle is much more rewarding than simply providing answers)
- celebrate players' success! So many rooms I have been to have been such a let down when we have escaped - either nobody even notices or the game master doesn't seem to care - it's much more rewarding when game masters become engaged and truly share the experience with players)
- take the time after the escape room to answer questions and explain puzzles (particularly where players were not able to escape in time). The best rooms allow players an extra 5 or 10 minutes after the clock stops to keep going and to try to escape.