By Joe Southern
Get off the games and get into one at Escape Room Games of Missouri City and Sugar Land.
The global phenomenon that encourages teamwork and super sleuthing skills has finally arrived in the Southwest Houston area.
Owners Bob and Jenny Bailey discovered escape rooms two years ago while on vacation in Utah.
“We had no idea what an escape room was,” Jenny said. “I had no idea what I was getting into.”
Basically, an escape room is a themed room where a team of about four to six players enters and search for clues, puzzles and ciphers to solve the problem, usually within an hour time limit. It’s live-action and interactive and helps participants stretch their minds and imaginations along with their legs.
Bob said that even though escape rooms are popular video games, the virtual reality can’t compare to the experience of playing live.
Escape Room Games opened two weeks ago and has two of its four rooms open for business with the other two to follow soon. Players can try to discover the secrets of Area 51 or find Leonardo da Vinci’s lost diary in Da Vinci’s Workshop. Soon, local gamers will be able to solve the puzzle of Yin Yang, where everything but the gumball machine is black and white, or prevent a murder on Baker Street as you search for clues in the office of Sherlock Holmes.
The week before opening, the Bailey’s invited groups of players to come in and beta test the rooms. Some of the players were experienced and others were beginners. With the clock ticking, the adrenaline started pumping and the players started hunting, solving and guessing in their quest to find da Vinci’s diary.
“Newbies tend to stick together in a pack,” Bob said.
It doesn’t take long, however, before leaders emerge.
“You’ll find your alphas show up,” he said.
The Bailey’s said the game is a great team-building exercise for businesses, as well as a fun way to interact with family and friends.
As the beta testers from Clements High School hunted for clues, solved problems and unlocked more mysteries to solve, the Baileys and their game master, Davis Dunham, watched on monitors in a control room where they got about as excited as the players. There is a flat-screen monitor in each room that displays the countdown clock and also allows the master and participants to communicate. Each team is allowed to ask for three hints.
The master can also provide tips if he or she sees the team is reaching a dead end or going down the wrong trail.
Bob said the search for clues can be challenging. There are obvious clues and multiple ways to start the game. Eventually, all the clues funnel into the same direction, leading all paths to the same point at the end. Bob said some players try too hard to find clues in objects in a room, finding some where they do not exist, while others overlook even the simplest things.
“You don’t see what you’re not looking for,” he said.
He said the game isn’t meant to be physically challenging, so clues will not be hidden on or behind things that are too heavy to move or permanently secured in place or on a wall. Even so, players can quickly dismantle a room as they rush to beat the clock. The beta testers in Da Vinci’s Workshop managed to leave the room in disarray, but found the diary with just scarce minutes to spare.
As the players left, they were talking, laughing and rehashing their hour-long event. They were fully engaged and without a single person using their cell phone. Jenny said that was a big part of the appeal to them when they decided to open Escape Room Games. They want people to interact and engage without electronic gadgets.
“There’s a motive for them to get along,” Bob said. “They have a common goal.”