Playing Live Escape Room Games: First-Timer Run-Through

Three glass domes that hold the objective pieces for each of our three rooms.

For whatever reason, you’ve gotten yourself booked for something called an “escape room”. The date is fast approaching and while you’ve seen a few social media posts and overheard a few anecdotal conversations, you have no idea what you’re getting into. Perhaps you’re a bit nervous? No worries! You’ve come to the right place. Let’s get you ready for your very first live escape room experience!

When you arrive, you’ll be welcomed into a lobby. These vary based on the establishment’s theming. An escape studio featuring scary experiences, for example, may have a dark and foreboding lobby to set the mood. Step in and take a deep breath. No matter what the lobby looks like, there aren’t going to be any tricks or scares just yet. Get acclimated, fill out the waiver if you haven’t already, put your phone and belongings in the provided lockers, and maybe go to the bathroom.

Next, your Host/ Gamemaster will provide an introduction covering baseline rules, your scenario, the objective, and how the hint system works. Listen carefully. The introduction contains experience-specific guidance on how to escape successfully.

If anything isn’t clear, don’t hesitate to ask clarifying questions. Your Gamemaster is not there to trick you. They want you to escape as much as you do. Some of your questions, however, may have answers that give away game secrets. Don’t be surprised if your Gamemaster is a bit cagey or fibs at this junction.

Once you’re in the game room, the Gamemaster will start the timer before leaving and closing the door. Most live escape rooms do not actually lock you in the room. Should you need to go to the restroom, get some water, or just need some fresh air, you can leave the escape game room through the door you came in. Just remember: the timer doesn’t stop when people take breaks.

The first task of all live escape room games is to explore the room. While breaking and roughhousing is always frowned upon (and could get you kicked out), don’t hesitate to make a mess. Really scour the place top to bottom. Open books, drawers, and cabinets.

Make sure you’re looking behind movable fixtures and inside containers, but always pay attention to signs deterring specific actions. Most importantly, make sure that you are talking about what you are finding.

Escape rooms are intricate puzzle games that rely on cooperative communication. You’ll be using items in the room and all the brains and different perspectives within your group to make the necessary connections in order to solve puzzles and advance through the game toward your objective.

For instance, where you may be strong with numbers, another teammate is great at patterns, while another is code sleuth. In a typical game room, all these skills will be needed. Time is best spent catering to strengths rather than sitting in frustration trying to figure out something alone. Talk to each other.

Even with all minds working together, you may not solve the puzzle. That’s ok. First, try moving on to something else and come back to the discouraging puzzle later. You may find that some of your perceived connections were entirely wrong, or you didn’t have all the necessary pieces/info. If you can’t find anything else to work on, it might be time to ask for a hint.

Gamemasters give hints based on what is needed to move you forward. This means the given hint may not correspond to the object(s) you’re working on when you asked. Typically, you cannot ask the Gamemaster for a hint to a specific puzzle. Just ask for “a hint”.

Hints in escape room games are a controversial feature. As you’re up against the clock, they serve to move you forward without losing too much time. Some groups will overuse this feature by asking for help before they have even tried a puzzle. We see this most when groups select escape experiences that are more challenging than their experience level.

Other groups despise hints and feel they cheapen the triumph of escape. It’s good to get a sense of how your group feels about hints before starting the game. A Gamemaster may ask the group during the introduction or require that everyone agree to receiving a hint before any are given. Typically, a Gamemaster will wait for a hint request before helping.

Some escape studios may add time penalties for excessive hints. In these cases, “excessive” should be defined before the game starts. Here at Reed Between the Lines, we let you have as many hints as you want. After 3 or 4, we might make you sing a silly song as payment. This is technically not a time penalty—or is it?

Your room should be equipped with a time-keeping device so you can gauge your progress against your 1-hour deadline. While some like to wait until they are almost out of time to ask for hints, it’s worth considering that each game is designed to take about an hour. If your group isn’t getting very far but doesn’t ask for help until 45 minutes in, you still risk not having enough time to finish the objective.

After you have successfully completed the objective (or used up the hour), your Gamemaster will return to the room to give congratulations (or condolences). They will tell you your official time and answer questions about completed game segments. They may offer you a photo opportunity either in the room or at a designated spot in the lobby.

Once the photo is taken, you’ll be led back to the lockers to retrieve your belongings. We think this is an excellent time to check out the games for sale in our lobby. We feature various puzzle, mystery, and tabletop escape games to play at home with friends and family.

At this point, you will have survived your very first live escape room experience! Give yourself a pat on the back for trying something new and exciting. We bet you won’t be able to get home before already looking for your next great escape. Happy puzzling!

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