Rather than run another board game night we decided to host an escape room at our house. Ok, so we didn't really need an excuse to have mates round for pizza but it sounded fun.
Note: we didn't actually lock our friends in the garage, nor is this how to build a safe room in your garage, please don't fill the comments before reading the rest. Escape Rooms are puzzle games where you work together with other players to solve puzzles and unlock clues to find your way to a fictitious freedom. They're usually a bowling/movies style activity, but I like puzzles so designing one at home sounded fun.
After a few hours of searching for puzzles, I realized this is a lot of work and found a printable escape game here. I still wanted to add my own flare to it but it looked like it would save a bunch of effort (and it involved pizza).
WARNING: There're lots of spoilers here. If you're keen to play the game yourself bail now.
Step 1: Edit Puzzles and Setup Before Friends Arrive
First things first. Grab the download the kit and figure out all of the puzzles. If you have trouble with any of them, you'll find links in the kit to hints and solutions. Whether you want to share any of these hints with your players is up to you. The kit is full of extra and blank template cards, so you might choose to print some hints on them and hide them around the room to nudge your guests in the right direction if they get stumped. Or maybe you just let them tough it out. You know best how much of a challenge your friends enjoy.
Once you know how all of the puzzles are supposed to work, look them over to see which elements you want to keep as-is and which ones you want to modify. Don't worry if you're not a game designer—there are tutorials that will show you how to do anything you want to do to modify the kit.
How do you want your players to experience your escape room? We opted to have the whole room decorated and set up when the players arrived, but you could have them pick up a box or a briefcase full of clues as they enter instead. You can add extra puzzles for your players to solve before they gain access to their briefcases. The Escape Room Z kit comes with a full alphabet of bloody letters, so you can use them in combination with some basic ciphers to make any clues you want.
The kit contains printable versions of (and solutions to) all of the puzzles for your escape room. If you don't want to make any changes and you just want to print them and roll with it, you can be up and running as fast as your printer can go. But if you've got a little extra time and you want to make the experience unique to your friends, the game comes with all the puzzles and advice you need to customize the game for your friends.
Step 2: Playing the Game (A.K.A Rescuing the Pizza)
The storyline for this game is that you're all trapped on the 28th floor of a beach resort where everyone else has become a ravenous pizza-eating zombie. They need to work together to unlock the room, find a weapon to fend off the zombie horde, and dive for their lives, but they have their priorities straight. They can't leave their pizza. The intro video's pretty fun so I left this the same.
Before they can leap to safety, your players need to unlock the oven to rescue the last surviving pizza, and the only way to solve the lock puzzle is to find clues in the pattern of the light switches on the wall. Want to print some switches to put on your wall? It's right there. Want to change up the puzzle before you print? The kit walks you through it. If you've got a panel with multiple switches in your room (or multiple single-switch panels scattered around the room), you can totally use that instead. It's a free way to up the immersion for your players.
As for that lock puzzle, once again, you've got options. The kit comes with colored dials that you can print and set next to the oven for your players to arrange by following the light switch clues. They work great, but you can probably find some stuff around the house to use instead. Since the goal of this part of the escape room is to rescue a pizza from the oven (No oven? No pizza? Not a problem. There's a printable pizza in the kit, and you could always use a toaster oven or just a box as your oven), we decided to make a pizza since we were planning to feed our guests anyway—we won't judge you if you just order one, though.
We put red, yellow, and green peppers on the pizza, which gave us just the props we needed to tie the solution to the puzzle. Our players arranged the peppers in the right sequence and managed to bust their dinner out of prison.
If you don't have (or don't like) peppers, any red, yellow, and green props would do. We pulled out our copy of Zombie Dice, a great horror-themed dice game, and thought about using its red/yellow/green dice for the oven puzzle, but in the end we just played a few rounds with our guests to celebrate their escape.
Step 3: Find the Missing Piece . . . and Then Figure Out What to Do With It
To find the voice code that unlocks the room to the door, your players will need to assemble (literally) some clues. Escape room players are used to looking for hidden items, and sometimes they're hidden in plain sight. Make sure you have the items that make up your puzzle in plain sight, but not so near each other that the solution becomes obvious or trivial. Part of the fun of an escape room is working together to solve something difficult.
If you want to print each of the pictures from the kit and give them to your players in an envelope (maybe as part of a packet of "evidence," or stashed in their briefcases if you go that route), go for it. If you want to print out a picture of the string of Polaroid pictures that serves as a clue to the puzzle, that's another option. We decided to use the Polaroid template in the puzzle pack to create photos that we put on a bulletin board and strung on a clothesline across the room. If you want to add to the creepy factor for your guests, replace the zombie-themed actor photos in the kit with pictures of them—maybe even use some of the blood splatter graphics to zombie them up a bit so they know what horrible fate awaits them if they fail.
Another piece of this puzzle is embedded in the graphics on a Sprite box. This is a perfect opportunity for a little crafty trickery. If you print the puzzle at full size, you can stick it on a regular box of Sprite in your kitchen so it really blends in. Make your players hunt for the puzzle. The kit comes with a regular Sprite "box side" that you can print, too, so if you have any old cardboard box, you can make your own.
Make sure there are scissors handy for when your players solve the other piece of the puzzle. You might even want to print the "cut this out" icon from one of the kit slides and put it near the zombie portrait as a hint. Hanging the scissors right on the picture might be a bit on the nose, but you know your friends better than I do. Plus if they turn into zombies, they might like things being a bit on the nose.
Step 4: Find a Weapon and Escape, Guns Blazing
Tough puzzles really bring your players together, and the puzzle for finding the weapon you'll need to fend off the zombies is a doozie. As with everything else in the kit, you can modify every piece of it. Of course, you can just print the stock puzzle pieces, which are incredibly challenging on their own, but if you want to up the difficulty or slip in an inside joke for your players, you can change the whole thing. All of the backgrounds and individual red zombie "hieroglyphics" are available for you to create your own postcards and coded messages.
Since the only way out of this zombie-infested resort is diving from the 28th floor balcony, part of the puzzle is a parachute—of course, the kit comes with an image of one that you can print, but you can also print the individual "hieroglyphics" (yellow this time, and textured to look like they belong on fabric) and decorate the strap of any backpack you have lying around the house. Let your players throw them on and jump for their lives. Just make sure nobody plummets to their injury. Or drops the pizza. Know your limits and your priorities when escaping marauding zombie hordes.
Once your players work out the pattern to the puzzle, they'll need somewhere to enter the code. Lock Paper Scissors gives you a great tool for players with smart phones—just scan a QR code and input the code on the image that pops up on their site and you're good to go. Otherwise, you can use a resettable bike lock like we did. Just set it to the combination that corresponds to the solution to your puzzle. You can reset it later for another game.
As for a weapon, a Nerf gun is a perfect choice, but everyone doesn't have one of those around the house. A package of rubber bands is a perfect substitute. We nudged our players in the right direction with a card in the lock box showing how to make a rubber band gun with their hand—for added emphasis, we put a QR code (you can use a site like this one to plug in any URL and spit out a code) on the card that links to a YouTube video showing how to make and fire one.
Step 5: Last Stand
This was surprisingly the funnest part of the game. It's basically a party game where you shoot little zombie targets. Either print out build the little zombie targets or grab some action figures from your kids stash.
Whether you gave them a Nerf gun, a pile of rubber bands, or some wadded up paper, your players will have a blast gunning down the zombies on the way out of the escape room. After all that mental heavy lifting, it's a nice change of pace to pump a few rounds into a shambling undead horde.
Once that's done, enjoy your well-earned pizza. Keep the mood going with more zombie-themed games or head to another house for yet another escape room.
Step 6: High Tech or Low Tech? It's Up to You
At-home escape room kits like Escape Room Z give you lots of options. How do you want to set up your puzzles? Do you want to use printed props from the kit, online resources, props you have around the house, or a mix of all three? This kit gives you plenty of options. If your players have smart phones, you can give them QR codes (either the ones included with the kit or ones you set up yourself) to check their solutions. You can use physical locks with resettable combinations that you can change based on your puzzle. If you decide you love running escape rooms so much you want to invest some money into it, you can pick up small safes or briefcases with combination locks to make your event immersive and memorable.
Step 7: Suspend Disbelief and Have Fun
No matter how big-budget or high tech an escape room is, at some point, your players will need to play along and accept that it's a game. You might not have a two-foot thick blast door with a security keypad, but if you set the right mood your players, you can create a memorable escape room with nothing more than a ream of printer paper, some tape and rubber bands, and an old bike lock.
My crew had fun, and I enjoyed modding the game. And the pizza. Always enjoy pizza.
Some useful stuff:
- See the attachment for the blank kit
- Here're the downloadable kits: Lock Paper Scissors
- Here's a list of escape room puzzles and here's still another list and a bunch on Pinterest
Love to see some pics of stuff anyone else makes.