Building an Escape Room at Home
Escape Rooms are an increasingly popular party activity, but sometimes going out to an escape room venue isn’t possible. Maybe you’ve got too large a group, maybe it’s outside of your budget, or maybe you’ve already played all the available escape room games in your area. Whatever the case, sometimes you want to play an escape game, but you’ve got to stay home. What to do?
Well, you’ve got a couple of options. The first, and most straightforward, is to purchase one of the many “Escape rooms in a box”. These are pre-assembled games that aim to provide the general escape room experience for a group of players. You will of course miss out on the set and certain interactive elements only possible inside a dedicated space, but despite that you can have a surprisingly immersive experience. We haven’t personally tested many of the escape games in a box, but we can recommend “The Werewolf Experiment”. This game is the only escape room in a box we have played that actually featured combination locks and other standard escape room elements. Many of these products are content to drop a bundle of papers and maybe an app on you – The Werewolf Experiment goes beyond this and is a better experience for it.
What if you don’t want to buy someone else’s escape game in a box though? What if you want a completely custom escape room? Well, it’s going to take a bit more work on your part… But it’s certainly doable. We’ve put together a general guide here to help you in your quest to make your own escape game at home. Keep in mind, this type of room would be best used for a kid’s birthday, a classroom activity, or for a group of tipsy friends with relatively low standards. We’re not designing the next breakout escape room product here.
First – what story are you telling your players? Some people will do puzzles just because, and they don’t need any motivation. But most folks want to know why they’re solving puzzles. What’s the end goal? You can go crazy here, the world is your oyster. Maybe a supervillain broke into your home and stole all the presents, scattering them about the house. Many escape rooms already use elements of a scavenger hunt, so creating a scavenger hunt in your own home, and augmenting it with puzzle elements is an easy way to create a fun and interactive challenge for your players. For an older group of players, a mad bartender has broken into your liquor cabinet and replaced all your ingredients with water. He’s demanding that you mix three specific cocktails for him within the hour, or he’s going to burn your house down. (He’s a very mad bartender. However much you commit to this theme is up to you. We do not recommend actually burning down your home for the sake of immersion).
Once you’ve determined the story you’re telling, it’s time to assemble some puzzles. For an at-home escape room we would recommend googling for some premade riddle or puzzle ideas. You don’t need to design your own original puzzles, that’s a lot harder than you might be thinking right now. Here are a few ideas for general puzzle types that you could use at home.
- Team communication. One simple example would be to run three extension cables to three lamps, with each lamp having a unique color assigned to it. One player needs to go into the next room over where they can plug in the lamps, but they don’t know which cable goes to which lamp. The players in the room with the lamps can see which ones are illuminated, but they do not know which cable goes to which lamp. Each plug can have a number tied to it. So, the players seeing the colors light up could shout “Blue” and the person would know then that “Blue” is equivalent to plug “2”. This can serve as a simple cypher. Once the players have a number for each color they can then find a pattern of these same colors over a lock, and they can use that pattern of colors to determine the number code for that lock. (Combination locks can be found at low cost at any hardware store. If you don’t want to buy locks, just have your players tell you the code, and then when they are correct you can give them their next item).
- Things in obvious places. Often players will be concerned with checking in/under everything. Place an item in such a way that if a player sits in a chair the item is immediately visible to them, see how long it takes them to find it.
- Unusual methods of unlocking. Give the players something like a credit card, or any hard plastic card, that they can use to pop a locked door by sliding the card between the door and the wall. Remove the handle from a drawer, and leave a screw loose on the front of the drawer, the players can remove the screw allowing them to open the drawer without the handle, or maybe they can find the handle somewhere and reattach it, giving them access to the drawer.
- Hide visual information inside something like a map. Maybe highlight or draw along streets in such a way that if you unfold the map and look at it from a distance the map markings form a code or word.
- Putting items together. You could reveal a clue when players return a computer monitor to a computer that is currently missing a screen. Upon plugging the monitor back into the computer you can have text already loaded up on the desktop that will display, giving the players some new information. If your players are on the older end maybe a challenge around finishing all of a certain type of drink in your fridge in order to have more information revealed. (Maybe a note stuck to the outer bottom of a pitcher, concealed so it will only be revealed once the pitcher is empty and they can look down through it to the bottom.)
These are just a few broad puzzle ideas to get you started. There are plenty of puzzle guides and lists online if you’re looking for more specific ideas to utilize in your homebrew game. Throw enough puzzles and a basic story together and you’ve got a game that will keep your friends/party goers entertained and looking for what comes next! Add some party favors or drinks to the mix and everyone is sure to have a great time with this unique twist on the party scavenger hunt. If you put together an escape room at home we would love to hear about it! Grab a couple pictures and send us an email over at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re always happy to see people exploring their own creative escape room potential!
For anyone looking to play an escape room at home, but not necessarily wanting to create their own, our friends over at Puzzling Pursuits have some ideas you may find to your liking.
The Clue Chase Team