A while ago I was talking to a new friend and I was mentioned I had done over 100 rooms. Their next question was not which was my favourite, but what I look for when booking these rooms. The short answer was…availability. However, I think it probably is worth mentioning what can sway my decision!
The most important one for me is the theme – I’d rather do a very easy room with a theme I’d never encountered, than yet another Scientist room. The theme can really sway my decision, and often if I’m going for a new company, the chances are I will go for the theme I haven’t done before rather than judging on anything else.
Common themes that I do last; Scientist, Egyptian, Spy, Space
Themes I’d like to see more of; Historial other than WWI/II, fantasy based on local lore or stories, mysteries where you have to solve the mystery.
After themes, the next thing I consider are the reviews. Different reviews have different weighting for me, for reasons I’ll explain;
Escape room enthusiasts – The reviews I trust most come from fellow enthusiasts – either from our FaceBook group or word of mouth. The reason this holds the most sway for me is that most rooms aren’t necessarily created for our ‘level’, and having done so many if a room is getting good reviews here chances are it’s amazing. Reviews are also tempered by the knowledge of what else is out there – a room could seem great to a newbie, but a nice 7/10 for an enthusiast.
Awards and blogs – the next source I look for would be any awards on the site, or blog posts from other reviewers. Same reasons as above, with the added benefit of reading reviews a bit more in-depth.
Trip advisor – I admit I don’t put much stock in TripAdvisor reviews, but I do see the importance. Most reviews are from the casual player, and so I don’t think they necessarily give me a good idea. However, I will pick the top few and then turn to the above sources to corroborate!
Although I like to say that things matter more to me than difficulty, I admit that if I was presented with two identical rooms I’d go for the harder one. For the most part, I think this tends to indicate more puzzles and more to my level, rather than the more linear ‘easy’ rooms.
This one is harder to judge when booking the room, but there are certain tropes that I love. Being handcuffed, having the team split or having additional challenges to complete within the room are all winners for me. Adjustable difficulty is also a sign of a great room.
Franchise or Independent?
This is a hard one to judge as a whole, so I do take it on a case by case basis.
There are a few franchises I avoid (CityMazes, Escape Reality), but for the most part I don’t think franchises should be avoided on principle. There are some great franchises about, which give you a reliably good experience, and can be fun to see the various themes across the country.
However, you often see more love put into independent rooms – the owners are enthusiasts, and so you can see the thought and passion put into the rooms. Sometimes they can be lower budget, perhaps missing the mark on set design, but the puzzles are just as good.
I can’t give a definitive answer for which if go for. If I was introducing someone to escape rooms for the first (or first few) times, I’d want something reliable so would go for a franchise I’ve been to before. That being said, if I know an independent room as had good reviews, I may be swayed. Otherwise, I would want to try out independent rooms and save the franchises for when I need them!
Obviously I need to check whether there is a free room for when I want it.
However, I also like to take a glance at the times – are the slots spaced an hour from each other (meaning tight turn around), or are they 90 minutes? 90 minutes tend to indicate more time for resetting the room, and less harried staff who are more willing to have a chat. Rooms spaced exactly 1hr apart make me think that the company are trying to cram people in to make more money, and so the staff would be more pressured to reset the room and see to the next group.
I admit I don’t tend to put a whole lot of stock in price – I’ve played an outstanding room for £15pp, and an awful one for £40pp. Whether the business is a franchise or not can have more of an indication that the price (see above section).
That being said, any room charging more than £25pp always makes me research a little more, particularly if it’s not one I’ve heard of before.
The final thing that could sway me would be their website. How easy is the booking process? How easily can I read about the rooms?
A good sign would be a clear section about their rooms, ideally with a coupe of (spoiler free) photos and a nice brief about the room. Reviews and links to social are also a good sign, as well as clear contact details and an easy booking flow.
Added bonuses I’ve seen that makes me trust the company a little more are where they’ve included additional keys and information, such as mobility, age ranges, ideal team sizes and even how much physical activity to expect. All of these can make choosing a room a little easier, as well as showing the company has really considered their customers.
So what do you think? Have I missed anything that you tend to look for? I’d love to hear your thoughts!