These days, many people have at least heard of the term "escape room," but what exactly is an at-home escape room game? Like the name suggests, it's a game that transforms the escape room experience to one that you can play at home. Sometimes it's referred to as a tabletop escape room game.
At-home escape room games are a newer twist on the escape room concept that's been taking off in recent years. This is largely due to eight big advantages at-home escape room games have over traditional escape rooms.
But first, what is an escape room?
Imagine you and a group of friends are assembled at a business that has one or more themed, decorated rooms. For sixty minutes, your group will be "trapped" inside a room (though being supervised in case you need hints or help). While in the room, you will need to figure out how to escape before the time is up. A great escape room will often have many hidden clues and challenging puzzles that take you down a path to eventually escape.
The form that the clues and puzzles can take can greatly range. Some are straightforward while others are extremely creative, and that's the fun of escape rooms. Sometimes, it's a matter of seeing a lock and finding the correct key within the room to unlock it. Other times, it's much more intricate, perhaps rotating two sculptures to look at each other, which opens up a hidden compartment!
This escape room puzzle requires spinning the discs to reveal hidden patterns
Many traditional escape rooms also will have a theme to them. Palace Game's Edison Room pretends that it is the secret laboratory of Thomas Edison, the famous inventor (most notably of the lightbulb) who lived in the twentieth century. With innovative inventions and antique relics around the room, this escape room contains interesting puzzles involving light and electricity.
Escape rooms can have any theme to them. Some themes out there today include settings within secret laboratories, in ancient Egypt, within the Victorian era, during a zombie apocalypse, and more!
Themed escape rooms immerse players in a new world
Escape Rooms are a Popular Pastime
While escape rooms now seem like a mainstream form of entertainment, the first escape room appeared not too long ago. The modern escape room was first created by SCRAP in Kyoto, Japan in July 2007. Today, there are estimated to be about 2,300 escape room companies in the United States alone. This is up an astounding number from just 22 escape rooms in the US in 2014.
Today, escape rooms are a great pastime for many avid fans because they offer a fun, unique challenge. Often played with a small groups of friends, they are a great way to put your problem solving, communication, and logical thinking to work. It's a thrilling way to work together and feel the excitement from cracking codes, solving puzzles, and getting into locked boxes. If you're playing with friends or family, the group wins together, as opposed to board games that often have winners and losers.
Further, they are an active form of entertainment. Rather than passively binge-watching a TV show (though there's certainly a time for that as well), escape rooms - both boxed and traditional in-person versions - have a lot more mental stimulation.
Finally, there are often many twists and turns within the escape room story or puzzles, which make escape room games incredibly immersive for players.
Now, what is a Tabletop or At-Home Escape Room Game?
A tabletop or at-home escape room game often takes the form of a board game that is purchased from a retail store or directly online. The game will contain instructions and all of the content required to pose a challenge to the players. In many boxed games, there are also online portals that players need as they go through the storyline.
These games capture the essence of what makes a traditional escape room fun. They contain the same game experience for players who seek to solve puzzles, crack codes, and look at clues in order to escape the scenario set by the game.
As an example, imagine you receive a mysterious package that contains a plea for help from the town's police commissioner. The commissioner has been kidnapped by devious criminal, who has left behind a trail of cryptic clues. To save the commissioner and others that have been taken by the criminal, it is up to you to solve all of the riddles that the perpetrator left behind. By sifting through photos, a map, a newspaper, and much more, you'll begin connecting the dots and seeing the method behind the madness. This is the premise behind Puzzling Pursuit's BLACKBRIM: 1876, an at-home escape room adventure. It contains two parts within the game itself, and many players split up the experience over two or more days for two to four or more hours of entertainment.
Just some of the contents within BLACKBRIM: 1876
Eight Reasons to Try a Tabletop Escape Room Game
While similar in many ways, there are also many benefits to playing a tabletop escape room game compared to a traditional escape room game.
1. You are not bound to a short time-limit
When you think about the traditional escape room business, they can only have one group at a time go through a room. This means that in order to service more people, escape rooms generally have a time limit of one hour. Win or lose, that group must stop playing the game at the end of the hour, which can be frustrating.
For at-home escape room experiences, players can continue playing for as long as they'd like. Some of these at-home boxed games do issue a time limit challenge for players. For instance, Mattel's Escape Room in a Box: The Werewolf Experiment gives you an hour to solve all of its 19 mental and physical puzzles. However, it is of course up to the players to decide if they'd like to time themselves. Also, even if they do not finish within the suggested time limit, they can still continue to play and finish the game.
Further, many other tabletop escape room games have a longer time limit or even no limit at all. As an example, ThinkFun's Escape the Room: Secret of Dr. Graveley's Retreat has a 2 hour recommended time limit for groups of 3-5 players. Neil Patrick Harris's Box One doesn't have a time limit. In fact, it goes a step in the opposite direction with a very interesting twist on time requirements.
2. You will have more money left in your wallet
In-person, traditional escape rooms typically charge anywhere from $25 to $30 per person for a 1-hour experience. On the other hand, at-home escape room games are normally around that price for a game that can provide longer entertainment than one hour. Further, boxed games have a fixed price no matter the size of the group. Especially when you factor in that you don't need to worry about getting to the location, potentially paying for parking, and other logistical costs, you're sure to get more bang for your buck.
3. You can play the game by yourself or in small groups
Some escape room fans love solving puzzles a bit more than their closest friends. This means that they may want to play escape rooms more than others that they know. However, many physical escape room games are difficult to play through successfully within the hour time limit as an individual or with a small number of people. Also, there might be a bit of discomfort in going to an escape room game by yourself, perhaps similar to watching a movie in the theaters alone.
A tabletop escape room game does not have these drawbacks. From the comfort of your home, you can solve puzzles and even get through locked boxes as an individual player or in very small groups. It isn't necessary to try to get a large group together to play through a boxed game, though of course that's possible too!
4. You can have novel online experiences
A traditional escape room is all about interacting with the physical space: mysterious jars to decode, drawers to open, odd items to puzzle through, and more. For a tabletop escape room experience, all of the physical items in the game must be small and light enough to fit inside a standard board game box. What this means is that you're not going to be rummaging through drawers to look for clues. But what the at-home boxed games offer are the ability to use the extended time and the items to interact with online content.
For instance, many of these games contain an online companion app that guides players through the game. This online companion app may contain clues, ways to check answers, and further the story along, such as in Puzzling Pursuits tabletop escape room games. Other games go even a step further and create entire worlds with special websites and other online content filled with clues and puzzles. These include Society of Curiosities and DarkPark Games, both of which create rich online experiences to go with the physical items that are shipped.
5. You can experience different types of puzzles
Many players are fans of both traditional escape rooms and tabletop escape room games, but the puzzles and clues within each of them can vary. For example, since a traditional escape room is very physical in nature, there may be a good amount of searching the space for clues. While some of this might translate into a boxed game, there's typically less searching involved. And of course, the searching is limited to in and around the box that the game came in.
Boxed games also tend to have more paper puzzles, since paper is easier to ship. More traditional escape rooms may lean into larger props in their games since they can be re-used and do not have to be moved. Because the boxed games have more paper puzzles, there are often interesting new ways to solve puzzles. For instance, there may be paper folding involved in order to expose the answer to a puzzle.
6. You can play from anywhere
While there are over 2,300 escape room locations in the United States, many fans need to travel large distances to get enough fun experiences. Some even plan trips around escape rooms they want to visit! So unless you happen to live in a large urban area with a lot of high-quality escape rooms or don't mind traveling hundreds of miles, chances are that your local selection is limited.
At-home escape room games are generally picked up from brick-and-mortar retailers such as Target or purchased online through the game company's website. Some are sold through Amazon or other online marketplaces. This means that a large number of games are easily accessible and delivered right to your doorstep. That's certainly a much easier way to play a game for most people!
7. You can turn it into a game night
Many traditional escape rooms are played during the daytime since they must be staffed. For those that like to host game nights, an at-home escape room game would be a great option. With drinks and food on hand, the group of friends can collaboratively work together and beat the game. Around the boxed game, it offers a cozier alternative to planning an outing for a more traditional escape room.
8. You can go through a richer storyline
Tabletop escape room games can have a deeper storyline than many traditional escape rooms because they have a longer period of time to build a new world. Boxed games often contain more letters or writing to get to know the characters in the story. They can have more time as well with longer or no time limits involved.
Further, some boxed games even have multiple parts to the games, allowing the story to progress and build. This is generally very different from traditional escape rooms where there is often very little story to set up the experience.
But wait, are these games one-time use?
Many people new to the at-home escape room concept have a very common question. The question is: are escape room games one-time use or can they be replayed?
The reality is that escape rooms, whether traditional or as a boxed game, are generally fun when the players have not previously gone through it before. The challenge and the excitement can quickly fade if a player sees the same puzzles and clues that they know how to solve.
However, what's interesting for boxed games is that they could at least be re-gifted or re-sold if they are kept in good condition. So, if the question is if boxed games can be replayed by different players more than once, the answer is... it depends.
There are some creators, such as EXIT: THE GAME, that create boxed games that are meant to be one time use. What this means is that in the act of playing through the game, you will physically destroy some of the components irreversibly. However, even for these games, some players will make photocopies of the materials that need to be destroyed. That allows their game set to be replayed, and they can then re-gift or re-sell the game to another player.
Many other games can be replayed quite easily, because they don't require any items to be irreversibly destroyed. If in doubt, you can always reach out to the company and ask.
You can also take advantage of the fact that many boxed games can be re-set fully. You can buy second-hand games in good condition sold for a slight discount online through eBay or Facebook enthusiast groups. That's just another way to add more money into your wallet with at-home escape room games!
I'm Interested in Playing! Now What?
There are many at-home escape room games out there from a large variety of companies. So, which one is best for you? Luckily, there are review sites and online groups that help break down what's out there.
View our recommendations
We put together a list of recommendations! Click here to learn about many companies that help you play an escape room from home.
Check out a review site
ESCAPETHEROOMers is an extremely comprehensive review site for both traditional and boxed escape room games. Created in 2018 with the idea of providing reviews for escape room enthusiasts, their site hosts reviews that the co-founders have personally played from 500+ traditional escape rooms and 400+ boxed games.
Join an online enthusiast group
There are also multiple enthusiast groups you can join for recommendations. Puzzle People: Games and Mysteries is a Facebook group of enthusiasts that share a love for boxed escape room games. With over 1,000 active members, there are many posts and polls for anyone to share what they're currently playing, how much they enjoyed it, and even asks to buy or sell played through boxed games.
Remember that at the end of the day, all of these games are meant to help you have a great time. Whether it's facing a challenge as an individual and feeling accomplished at succeeding or spending time with friends during a long evening, the point is always to escape reality for a while and immerse yourself in another world. In some ways, that adds a new meaning to "escape" in escape room! Regardless of what avenue you go down and try next, enjoy it and keep puzzling.