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Book Review: Escape the Room

Escape The Game (by Adam Clare) is a book about escape rooms, also called puzzle rooms.  It covers a range of topics, from design, to operating, to business advice.  It is a quick read and a broad overview of the overall escape room phenomena. 


Review


Escape the Game is a short book.  While the topics are logically grouped, the book gives the impression of a train of thought or maybe an informal presentation.  While the book does cover topics important to escape rooms, it does not go into depth on any topic.

The design section covers the range topics from theme integration to creation of props (covering topics such as sturdiness of props, etc.).  This was the section I was most interested in, but really only gave a taste of what I was hoping for.

The operation section gives good, practical advice, which if you have played a couple of rooms, you will have seen for yourself.  It covers such things as play testing, multiple rooms, length of playtime, and so on.

The final section covers some of the basics of running a business and contains fairly generic advice, some of which is specific to puzzle rooms, but is mostly generic to any business.  For example, it talks about fire codes and about checking the local ordinances against locking people in a room. While this is germane to puzzle rooms, following local ordinances is fairly good advice in general.  Not following them can get you shut down, in any business.

It would have been more interesting to discuss why it isn’t necessary to lock people into a room for the “escape experience” (particularly with bathroom access and drinking water). 

Summary

The Bad

The largest complaint I have is about the formatting and editing of the book itself.  While reading, I came across over a dozen typos; simple ones such as “the” instead of “there” or simply missing words altogether. 

The footnote annotation is quite confusing as superscript is not used, leaving just an ‘i’ or ‘ix’ affixed to the end of a word, which at first I thought was simply more typos.  There are other formatting issues, particularly with lists, which generally give an unpolished impression.

The Good

The book does touch on some important issues of design, such as theme integration and what I refer to as “connective tissue” of puzzles.  The idea that parts of a puzzle should somehow be recognizable as a group, particularly linked by theme.  For example, a puzzle using poker would use playing cards to solve, with the connective tissue being that cards are required to play poker. 

Escape also has a very interesting section discussing win loss strategies for escape rooms and covers both sides fairly well.  I agree with the author that all rooms should be winnable, given enough time.  Anyone can make an unbeatable room, that doesn’t take skill, in fact it indicates an absence of skill. 

A puzzle room that encourages reruns of the same room is not incentivised to have a single run result in winning, since failures would bring more money.  This seems counter to a good player experience and just encourages poor puzzle design.

The author does a good job of footnoting other sources, however, they are all electronic.  If you are reading this book to find other puzzle design books, you will be out of luck. 

The Conclusion

This is a light, superficial look at three big topics of puzzle rooms: design, operation, and business.  Escape the Game is fairly un-polished, with lack of formatting and prevalent typos being a fairly large distraction.  While the font size is easy to read, the overall feeling is of a student trying to meet a page quota and at 190+ pages, could easily be reduced by about 30%.

Who Should Buy This Book

Anyone who knows nothing about escape rooms.  The people who will get the most from this book are people who don’t know, what they don’t know.  In other words, people fairly unfamiliar with escape/puzzle rooms.  Each part of the book could really be handled by its own book and as such, will give very little information to people who have played more than a half dozen rooms.

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