A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO ESCAPE ROOMS
WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT, THEN?
For the last two years, I have been living and breathing escape room. But still the usual response whenever we start talking about it is; “A what??”
Two years ago we were escape room innocents too. We’ve always been a board game kind of family and two of us are computer game junkies. We had a trip planned for Christmas and I started searching around for fun, different things to do. Something that rated on the kids’ interest scale and didn’t cost the earth.
Eventually, I came across the concept of escape rooms. I then spent a hugely entertaining hour or so looking up every escape room that I could find in Portugal.
STEPPING INTO THE UNKNOWN
The big day arrived and off we went. We had no idea what to expect. All that I could tell the kids was what the website had told me – we were going into an Incan type temple. There was a bit of backstory, but basically, we were stuck in there and had to figure out how to get out.
I had picked this particular room because we were taking kids in there. I had fast realised that this is a game for adults and wanted to include my daughter, then 10, as much as possible. I needed something more puzzly and hands-on, less cerebral, in the hope that she would be able to help. I also wanted it to be as immersive, fabulous, eye-catching as possible for her (She’s a complainer. I wanted her to enjoy it as much as possible so the rest of us could!).
I reckoned that a Tomb Raider-esque temple should do the job.
WHAT HAVE WE GOT INTO?
When we got there we were a bit surprised. It was in an out of the way area that we would never have found without directions. The windows were covered in vinyl with the room artwork all over them. The business logo stretched across them all. It looked huge and incongruous down that street. It did look super professional though, and we were quite excited to step through the door.
We were asked to sit down for a briefing. This sounded ominous! It hadn’t occurred to me that we would need something like that. You get briefings before you jump out of planes or get in a track car. Should I be taking my kids in here??
Well, the briefing turned out to be the best explanation of what to expect of an escape room. So I’ll let you in on the secret.
An escape room is a team game. When you first enter, have a quick look around the room. Don’t focus on the first thing you see. Talk to each other, let everyone know about things that you find.
You will find a lot of locks in there. Some need keys, some need combinations. Once a door or a lid has been unlocked it will open with ease. Nothing needs to forced. You don’t need to climb on anything.
Everything that you need to solve a puzzle is in the room and within reach. You don’t need to move any heavy furniture or have any special knowledge. You might need to crawl a bit, or move around in the dark at some point, it depends on the room. You will not have to do anything dangerous.
You will be watched. There are cameras in the room so the Gamemaster can monitor your progress and offer you hints when needed. They can hear you and they can talk to you. Some rooms will have a timer and a hint screen, some use walkie-talkies, it depends. Spoiler alert: You will almost definitely need hints. If the room is good, it will offer even experienced players something new: Innovative puzzles for discovering codes and keys, a great delivery of the story, an immersive atmosphere.
There are hundreds of different room themes out there. Horrifying ripper rooms based on the Saw movies. Creepylicious haunted rooms set in an abandoned asylum or orphanage. Adventure romp rooms through Incan tombs or Atlantean temples. Plain freaky rooms from Alice’s Wonderland. Detective themes. Mafia themes. Spy themes. The FBI, Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, the Wild West. The list is endless. Here in Portugal, rooms often have themes linked to local history or legend.
The puzzles could be a play on words or an object to place somewhere to reveal a cypher or open a door. It could be a sound, a light, a word or a sum. Clues could be in a book, on the wall, under a drawer’s false bottom. Everybody thinks different ways and what will be obvious to one member of the group may mystify another even after their escape! You’ll have (usually) an hour to solve the trail of puzzles, open the locks, discover more about the story and finally, solve the mystery and escape.
Often, something happens after the hour is up. The police could arrive to arrest you, or the bad guys to shoot you! The bomb could explode, the ghost could come out of hiding, the temple self-destruct. Except (and shhh! Don’t tell) not really! If you don’t make it out in time then most Gamemasters will help you through the last stages. So you don’t actually go mad wondering how the hell you were supposed to finish it…
ESCAPE ONE ALGARVE
Our rooms are immersive and story driven. We have three – The Laboratory, Final Call and Atlantis!
The Lab and Atlantis! are family friendly so there are no big shocks or creepy bits.
Final Call is a zombie theme. Although it’s not too scary, maybe it’s not one for the smaller kids!