So back to the recap...
Day #2: Big Escape Room B
Unbeknownst to us, Big Escape Room B is all private just like us. We didn't know this when we booked and didn't even figure it out until between rooms 1 and 2 when we asked. I even went back to their site afterwards and the fact that they are private isn't obvious. In fact you have to go into their faqs to find any indication. Not sure why you wouldn't shout this from the roof top? Offering private games without either jacking up the ticket price or requiring all the spots be purchased is not something most ER's do. We do and apparently so does Big Escape Room B, nice!
Scenery was great, again! Some really good puzzles in here as well. One big exception though. There is a jigsaw puzzle, not like pictures of cats or beer bottles. It's a hand made wood jigsaw puzzle with a poem/phrase on it. The issue is that multiple pieces fit together even though they don't go together and there are sections that don't have anything on them so you can't be sure if you have the right pieces together. Well, we thought the puzzle was a one row taller than it actually was. At a grinding halt we asked for a clue. The clue said we needed to find all the puzzle pieces except one. Now to us, that clue meant we were missing pieces so back to searching and searching and searching. After about ten minutes, we clue again cause we can't find any more pieces anywhere. The GM asks how many pieces we have and we say eleven. He says you have all the pieces you need. We had eleven pieces fifteen minutes ago!!! About a minute later, as we are putting the pieces together again, our "host" walks in the room, says oh, ok and walks out. I really don't know what the deal was. Was our GM not watching us? I mean we had the puzzle laid out on a table in the center of the room (not a big room) and there were two cameras that should have been able to see the table. If they were watching, they would have known, before we asked for a clue, that we had the puzzle put together wrong. End result was we didn't escape. we were on the final puzzle and I think that ten to fifteen minutes we lost would have given us plenty of time but....
Again, very good build out here. no major snafu's, pretty decent game. Only one thing that caught us as odd, It shared, essentially, the exact same puzzle as the room we just played. The only difference was the result. Now this particular puzzle did technically fit the theme of both rooms so I'm totally fine with that. It was just weird seeing it used again. Now had we not done the rooms back to back, it' wouldn't have stood out so much, just weird.
It may seem like we're being critical of these two ER's, we certainly are not trying to be. We would and most likely will go back to both places in the future. We did learn a few things, just not in the areas we expected.
So what did we learn? A few things, well really more of a reinforcing of some ideas.
#1 Private escape room experiences are the only way to go.
When we went private here at Escape FLA, we did it for several reasons. The biggest was that when you join two groups together, usually only one of the groups has fun. That was certainly the case for us on day 1. It really helped drive home the point that we are and will continue to be only offering private games.
#2 Red herrings should not exist.
If you want your room to be more difficult, add a puzzle or two. Now people do some funny things in escape rooms. They quite often fabricate their own red herrings by latching onto some small thing and thinking it's the most important part of the game at that moment. That is pretty hard/impossible to avoid. In this case though, (Day 1, Room 1) it was there from the start of the game and we carried that "fish" around the entire time. Come to find out, it used to be a puzzle in the room, it isn't any longer and they didn't bother to remove that part of the story or all the props that go with it, and there are quite a few. Around 50% of the visual of the final room is directly related to the no longer used puzzle. That just seems crazy to us.
#3 Watch the game being played, no really, watch the game being played.
Again, not sure if this is what happened in this instance (Day 2 Room 2) but we sure felt like that's what happened. Having run a ton of rooms ourselves, we know that it's easy to become a bit complacent. It's easy to get the feeling that you know exactly what the players are doing/going to do next. It's easy to think that you can run a game with your eyes closed or with your phone in your face, you can, but not very well and it shouldn't happen.
#4 Give good clues then follow up if needed.
Maybe we were wrong about #3 happening during this game. Maybe it was just a terrible pre-typed clue that, in some cases, would have been appropriate. It wasn't in this case and cost us a bunch of time. Having a good list of pre-typed clues ready to go is very important. As game masters, we are already ready with a clue before the players even ask Sometimes we have to scramble last second and change it or even go off script but if you really know what your players are up to, it should always be helpful. We tell our new players that if you ask for help on a puzzle, we will get you through that puzzle. You ask for a clue, we give you a piece of information that hopefully will help you figure it out on your own. We watch and listen to see if that's got you going down the right path. If, after a minute or two, you're not going in the right direction, should we just sit there and wait for you to ask for another clue? Absolutely, positively, NO! We follow up with more information until you get through it. That's how we do it at Escape FLA because that's how we think it should be done.
All of these things are cornerstones to the way we run Escape FLA and have been for awhile. Sometimes you kind of forget why you started doing things a certain way. Luckily the universe has a way of reminding you from time to time.
We thought we might learn a few things on our recent trip to the big O. We did, but, it's not what we expected.
We had some family going to see the Mouse for a few days so Jen and I took off for Orlando to see them and do some escaping. When we play escape rooms, we usually try and hit the "small" shops. That is to say, we like to give our business to the "mom and pop" escape rooms out there. That's for a few reasons, #1 that's what we are and that's what we like to support, #2 it's usually a better experience overall. See if you own it, your heart and soul is usually in every drop of it, and that makes the visit better overall. You also get to meet the owners most times and chat with them about business and the like. Heck, maybe even make new friends.
Well we broke from our norm this time and hit some of the "Big Players" in the escape room world. You know those mega escape room companies with locations through out the country. It was...kind of a mistake. A mistake in one sense, a learning/reassuring experience in another.
We've done quite a few escape rooms so when we pick random games to play, we look for things you don't see everywhere. They are usually little things we notice in the descriptions or reviews. We've never done a room where "X" happens before, that kind of thing. With that in mind, we chose two rooms at two different "Big Players" on two different days.
Day #1: Big Escape Room A
Just Jen and I in this room. The scenery was really good, there was a logic leap or two but overall, a pretty good room. It didn't blow our minds or anything but it was fun and kept the two of us busy for most of the hour.
As we finish the game, we realize something strange. From the beginning, through the rooms story, we were told that there were several of two types of items that were really important. We found those items in different places through out the game and carried them with us thinking they were going to be key to solving the final puzzle. One of the sets of items was unusual in that each one was magnetic, normally they wouldn't be magnetic so we figured those were super important. Guess what, none of those items did anything or had any sort of importance in any way shape or form! I hesitate to call them red-herrings but. Nope never-mind one of those sets was a huge red-herring and towards the end we could have wasted a bunch of time trying to work with them based on other things in the room that related. Thankfully we didn't or I would have been less than thrilled. More on red-herrings later.
This room was the real reason we came to this place. The room was reported to be loaded with tech and it's stated to have "0 locks used". Again, great scenery. This time Jen and I were joined by a nice lady and three young boys...see how I said the lady was nice and only mentioned the boys were young, can you see where this is going? Let's just say that this was not a good "playing with strangers" experience. I think the design of the room played into this quite a bit. Due to all the tech and the way it was laid out, it was very much a stand directly in one spot and figure it out while entering the solution in the same spot. Most of the "puzzles" were done in a way that no more than one person could be involved in even attempting to help with the solution at any given time. So lots of tech, yes, no locks....eh, no pad locks but..... More on non-private games and making claims that aren't exactly true later.
Check back in a few days and we'll sum up our day at Big Escape Room B. Then we'll go over what we learned as both players and owners, I mean I'll rant about some things.
Keep on escaping!
Ryan and Jen
Jen and I are not only owners, we are also customers. We love playing escape rooms and though we don't have the time to do as many as we would like, when we do go, it's usually just three or four in our group. With a smaller group we don't fill up the room. Since we don't, we are completely aware that we may end up playing with strangers. It's common practice in the U.S. escape room industry and it happens frequently, but why?
As we see it, there are only two possible answers to this question.
One is money. (Spoiler alert, this is the real reason)
The other, One puzzle in the room requires X number of people to solve. The puzzle is usually physical in nature and just isn't possible to do without a certain number of players. You don't come across this very often though and we only know of one escape room near Largo where this is the case.
So we're back to chasing the almighty dollar again. We get it, we're business owners. No matter how much we love escape rooms, love doesn't pay the bills. But, trying to suck every dollar out of every minute of every day, that, well.....sucks.
As players we've been paired up with strangers before and as owners we've paired groups up. Fortunately, we never had a bad experience in either scenario however we also know it didn't allow for the best possible experience.
Something happens when you get stuck playing with even the nicest group of people you don't know. Everyone becomes at least a little reserved, they don't act how they normally would, one group dominates most the room. One part of a mixed group has a lot more fun than the other. This means that the other part didn't have very much fun.
For us, escape rooms are always about having fun. We know they aren't exactly cheap but when you play a good one with people you enjoy being around it is totally worth it.
We listen to our customers here at Escape FLA. Not only do we listen to them, we have become pretty good at hearing what they aren't saying. We also try and listen to ourselves from time to time!
So after watching this play out in our escape room here in Largo and after really listening to ourselves and what we wanted from a customer perspective, we came to a determination.
All our rooms are now private.
It just makes sense for us because we want all our guests to have the best time possible. Are we going to loose money? Maybe. Will we have a group who didn't have a great time because the "others" were controlling, dominating, rude, etc? Nope.
Can you get a private game at other escape rooms in the Tampa Bay area? Sure you can, just buy all the tickets. If your group happens to be the same size as the room maximum then that's great. If it's not, then you've just spent more money than you needed to. Our prices did not change when we decided to go private, we just tweaked the experience to help ensure you have the best possible time.
Hope to see you sometime,
Ryan and Jen
Escape FLA Puzzle Pop-Up at Arkane Aleworks, not an escape room but still a lot of fun!
One of the great things about our location, other than the fabulous weather, is our neighbors. We have some awesome ones for sure. Just two doors down are our friends at Arkane Aleworks, Joe and Dan. They have been super helpful and supportive since we began our quest to build our escape room here in Largo, Florida. They recently had their 1st Annual Smoke Out and Bake Off. Because Joe and Dan are so great, we decided that we wanted to partner up with them on some things, luckily they felt the same! We are working on several event's, special promo's etc. with them and this was the first of, what should be, several fun and productive partnerships.
No a "puzzle pop-up" as we call it, isn't the same as an escape room but it is similar-ish in that we created an environment where players use many of the same skills needed for a successful escape. Logic, critical thinking, observation, team-work etc were all required. The differences, no locks to unlock, no scavenging through stuff for hidden items and no time limit. Well there was a time limit but you had 2 1/2 hours to work out a puzzle that took most about 30 minutes.
We had initially considered placing some items around the brewery but rejected that plan because I know how, shall we say, exuberant, experienced escape room players can be. We didn't want to encourage people to go routing through Arkane's stuff plus there is some outstanding local art in the place and sure didn't want anyone messing with that.
We did have a little bit of Arkane worked into the puzzle and there was an element, near the end that did involve having to combine some Arkane information with the puzzle we provided to come up with the final solve. This did add a bit of, at least, "discovery" to the event. The Arkane information was in plain sight, not out of the ordinary, and it wasn't apparent that it was needed until almost the end of the puzzle. I think it was a great way to tie the two businesses together which is what most of our upcoming combined ventures are about.
There was a great crowd, not everyone participated but a good number of people did. We got to hang out with some super nice people, talk puzzles and escape rooms. Promoted our business at Escape FLA a bit, brought some new people to Arkane Aleworks so it was a win win. Also had some great food, some great beer (after the puzzling of course) and met some great people. Gave out some awesome Escape FLA and Arkane Aleworks prizes to three lucky winners. What more could you want for a Sunday?
If your near here or visit here be sure to check out Arkane Aleworks on Facebook or www.arkanebeer.com
We have some more events coming soon-ish so follow us on Facebook to learn more and if your in the area, stop by and play our escape rooms, or just come by and chat.
Ryan and Jen
Every day we run into someone who asks the question "What the heck is an escape room?"
A basic answer to that question goes something like this:
"It's an interactive group gaming experience where we lock you and your friends in a room and you have to solve puzzles and riddles to try and get out in 60 minutes."
That's a very quick way of attempting to explain an escape room but it leaves out, what we feel are, the two most important parts.
Fun and excitement!
Think Clue (you do remember Clue right?) meets Da Vinci Code with a little treasure hunt and a sprinkle of magic on top. For an hour or so you get to be part detective, part explorer and, if you make it out, part action hero! Who didn't want to be one of those things at some point in their lives?
We work very hard here everyday at Escape FLA to make sure our guests get to have a total blast while they're here. Fun is the whole reason we're here.
I think we covered the whole "why would I want to do that" question. If not, stop by and see us, give us a call or shoot us an email firstname.lastname@example.org
A few other questions we get asked:
Do you have to be super smart?
Nope, you just have to know how to have fun.
What type of people can play?
Everyone can. We see young people, people of, shall we say, "Mature" age, Mostly groups of families and groups of friends looking for something fun to do.
Am I really locked in? That seems scary.
You can get out whenever you want. It's totally safe.
I'm afraid of small spaces. Will I be scared?
Only if you have claustrophobia in your bedroom. There's always plenty of space to move around.
We hope to see you soon,
Ryan and Jen