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Don't Let These 11 Clichés Ruin Your Escape Room Experience

Want to make an EPIC escape room at home? Well, make sure to avoid these clichéd game design mistakes!
Then, Follow This Guide
Shirley watson puzzle master
Take our advice: your game will generate more laughs, smiles, and "ahas" if you steer clear of some common pitfalls.

Clichés Can Be Fun... But Avoid These Ones Like the Plague!

So, you’ve got a once-in-a-lifetime idea for an escape room? Great, let's start building that idea!

However... to ensure that you give your guests the best possible experience, you'll want to avoid this list of common escape room flaws. For real, they're so common that they're cliché now! By avoiding these design failures, you will create one of the best escape room home games your friends have ever seen.

Remember, fancy props don’t make the escape room. True, they make it more fun. But even the best props don’t make up for a lousy story, impossibly hidden clues, or spending an hour reading blacklight messages. A good story and a robust variety of puzzles provide the best kind of escape room experience.
Playing Escape Room Z at home

Cliché #1 - A Boooring Intro

The intro sets the tone. The players need to know why they are being locked up. Are they running from a serial killer? Saving the world? Trying to win the neighborhood fantasy football league?

The players need to understand the game’s context. Because the clues will be tied to the context — you did tie the clues to the context, right? — the players will stand a much better chance of escaping your creation if they have a good understanding of the backstory.

A good intro will let players place themselves in the game from the moment it starts. An atrocious intro will leave the players wondering what’s happening, and they will often check out. This is why many professional escape rooms have actors record video intros to set the scene for eager players.

A good intro will:

  • BE SHORT. We know, this is your baby. But you can only hold the players’ interest for a few minutes. Resist the urge to have a 30 minute trailer. For a great example, our intro for 'The Lost Mummy' only takes a minute to read out.

  • Explain the theme of your escape room game. Why are the players here (free food and drinks, of course)? What do they need to look for? Try to pique their interest while you lay out the theme. Remember, they are escaping the zombie’s tomb, not inputting the six-digit code on the Bluetooth lock. Stay in character as you explain the theme.

  • Set the rules. What can they touch? Where can they look? Checking under the sofa cushions is fine but leave Aunt Esmeralda’s urn alone. By providing clear rules, you save them time and prevent damage to your house.

  • Let the players know how to ask for hints. I prefer, “oh, most benevolent and merciful Gamemaster, bestow upon your poor subjects your infinite wisdom to help us gain access to this lockbox.” But you do you. Also, let them know if there are time penalties for requesting hints and solutions and whether a generous bribe can erase those penalties.

Cliché #2 - An Anticlimactic Outro

Winning Envy murder mystery at home
After the game ends, whether they win or lose, players should be given a chance to ask questions. Even though we know you designed the fairest escape room in world history, they will have questions. Providing a debriefing allows them to get answers and facilitates discussions at the pot victory party. 

A good debriefing will:

  • Let the players know what happens next. If they didn’t escape your DIY escape room game, explain the consequences of their failure! If they did, assign someone to pick up the platter at Chick-Fil-A.

  • If the players failed to escape, show them how close they were to finishing and explain how they could have negotiated some puzzles a little more efficiently.

  • Give the players a chance to ask questions about the backstory, puzzles, or whether your guests have to play a Squid Game next.

  • Take the celebratory victory photo! Or, if they lost, take the celebratory “the zombies would have eaten our brains if we had any” photo!

Cliché #3 - Too Many Combination Locks!

Sure, you probably have loads of combination locks left over from high school. They’re easy to buy at the local hardware store. They’re wonderful for at-home escape room games.

But remember, variety is the spice of life. Players will not want to spend 60 minutes figuring out 4-digit combinations. They'll get bored quickly and may be tempted to (pad)lock you into the closet.

Make sure that you give them different puzzles to try. This involves using different methods of locking things up, from old-fashioned padlocks to directional locks, keypads, or even puzzle boxes. Be inventive and have fun with it! Or... maybe just steal a couple of ideas from this list of puzzles.

Cliché #4 - Props That Confuse Players

Puzzles should be challenging but solvable, and props can work together with your puzzles in a really thematic way.

Props can serve two purposes:
  • They can provide clues, or,
  • they can merely add to the ambiance.

What they shouldn't do is send mixed messages. It's easy to overlook the fact that your players will overanalyze everything. So, if a prop is purely ambiance, don’t call attention to it. Make sure to check whether any of your decorative props can be logically connected to your puzzles - if they can, you'll need to either get rid of the prop, include it in the puzzle, or give your players some in-game clue that instantly rules out the decorative prop.

Whatever you do, don’t make them believe the prop is critical when it only serves as decoration.

Cliché #5 - A Tired Old Plot

This one's actually quite subjective, so you'll need to make the judgment call here.

If you've got a group of new players, they probably won't mind running through a standard 'escape the ancient tomb' storyline. After all, these are only clichés because they're popular!

However, escape room veterans will have come across more mummies, voodoo queens, and vampires than a football game has commercials. The themes are overplayed. Try to find a fresh new idea. Perhaps you could base your game on a heist where the players are the thieves! Think Money Heist, but condensed from a season into 60 minutes.

There's nothing wrong with using common characters and themes, but try and add just a little bit of your own spin to it. Even a tiny tweak to a clichéd formula can make it feel fresh and exciting!

If you need ideas, try stealing your favorite theme from this list, and then add one little twist.
Stuck playing Envy

Cliché #6 - 'Worksheet' Puzzles

Four players solving an escape room mystery with the Envy kit
Remember solving crossword puzzles, sudoku, word searches, and worksheets in high school? Wasn’t that fun? You could literally do it all day! Right? ...  Ok, real talk, don’t overload your homemade escape room with worksheets. That's boring.

Paper puzzles can actually work really well, so long as they're not all presented like a school worksheet. A fun cipher or series of journal entries with hidden information makes great paper puzzles. But save the algebra and crossword puzzles for your kid’s teachers.

Cliché #7 - Bad Hints

When the players in your escape room request a hint, give it to them! Don’t critique their problem-solving skills or question how they manage to tie their shoes in the morning. Don’t take too long to respond (unless they fail to invoke you properly, in which case you can take an extra second or two).

Make the hint useful. The players are struggling. That’s why they, usually reluctantly, requested your intervention. You know the solution. Set them on the right path.

You don’t have to wait for them to ask. The best gamemasters we have encountered were kind enough to give us gentle nudges to help us negotiate a tricky puzzle. Besides, your friends will remember the kind favor.

Cliché #8 - Broken Props and Aids

The players don’t know what’s intentionally broken in the room or what is accidentally broken. If you have a clock in the room that is supposed to work, make sure it does! Otherwise, players may try to impart some meaning to the decoration.

This shouldn't be a serious problem in an escape room game for your home. Presumably, this is a one-time setup. Your partner may not appreciate having the living room permanently converted into a 1920s country jailhouse. But make sure that everything works like it should before the guests arrive.

Cliché #9 - Lots of Blacklights and Mirrors

Everyone loves a blacklight. Reading the words, “You need to look elsewhere” in the spooky lights revs up the entire team. But 60 minutes of blacklights may give players headaches. Try to limit yourself to one blacklight puzzle.

Excessive mirrors should be avoided too. If you want the players to read backward language once, that’s great. Using them more than once will frustrate the players. Remember, there needs to be variety in the puzzles of your escape room. Don’t fall in love with one technique to the exclusion of all others.

Cliché #10 - Impossible-to-find Clues

You have to hide the clues. Some can be hidden in plain sight, such as the page numbers of a book or information on a poster. Some will be in lock boxes, drawers, or other less obvious places.

Don’t make the search for clues the main point of the game. This isn’t a scavenger hunt. If hunting is what you want, design a geocaching game rather than an escape room.

If your game is 60 minutes long, the searching should consume no more than 5-10 minutes. If your game is shorter, reduce the hunting time. Your players’ focus should be on solving puzzles, not determining if you taped a sheet of paper to the top of a ceiling fan or placed it in the cat’s litter box. A little searching is good, but the bragging after will be about the solving, not the finding.

If you want to have one securely hidden item, go for it. Just make sure that the players have a clue as to its location! Solving the clue to find the hidden piece of the next puzzle will excite your players!

Cliché #11 - Red Herrings and Distractions

Red herrings are clues designed to send players down the wrong path. We hate red herrings! We hate them so much, we mention them in our list of advanced tips for escape room designers.

You see, players go down the wrong path on their own often enough without help from the game designer. They don’t need to guess whether every clue they find is a “real” clue.

Props are great. But not every prop needs to be a clue. Avoid using props to distract the players from the clues you need them to focus on.

For example, if you’re designing a detective game and need the players to pay attention to a particular report, don’t put ten other reports on the investigator’s desk. The players will not know which report to spend their time on. The players only have 60 minutes. Don’t overwhelm them with irrelevant detail.
red-herring-puzzles decal

Now You Know, Go Ahead And Design An EPIC Escape Room Home Game!

Playing Escape Room Z at home
So there you have it. Just make sure to avoid these common pitfalls, and your at-home escape room game will be the hit of the escape room season (what, you don’t have an escape room season? You do now). 

You may want to come up with more than one idea though. Once your friends finish the first one, they will expect another, better game. Have fun!
Build your game with this step-by-step guide

Don't Start From Scratch (boo!). Modify One of These Printable Escape Room Kits:

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