Exploring Escape Rooms… Give us a clue!

Welcome to a new series here on Brit of an Escape Habit, Exploring Escape Rooms. Every Friday we’ll take an aspect of Escape Rooms and delve a little deeper into the subject, exploring the pros/cons and hopefully instil debate and give more information to newer players!


Clues, Hints, Nudges… call them what you wish, but we all use them when playing escape rooms… even the best of the best need the occasional nudge along the way!

So, there are a LOT of different types of clues:

The screen based clues system seems to be the most prevalent in the games I have played (94/128 games)
A clear concise method of clue delivery, usually used with software that gives a direct link from Game Host to player.
This method with invariably contain your countdown timer too, so you always have an accessible place to see your remaining time and clues.
Screens require a dedicated game host to each game, this is beneficial as the experience is a personalised account of how your team is playing that game, at that precise moment
Whilst screens can be themed to an extent, some people think that they can detract from immersion. I see them as a necessity and can overlook them in terms of immersion. (Almost like a HUD in an immersive video game!)

Walkie Talkie:
Walkie Talkies have been used in 6/128 rooms we have played. An adequate measure to give clues, but can be misunderstood, often have problems with interference and are a pain to remember to carry round for the hour.
They’re decent that the hints can be perfectly tailored to the game in play
At a pinch, they’re fine and in some circumstances of theming perfectly acceptable… (Tomb Raider room anyone?!) But I would prefer a clearer clue system personally!

Paper Under the Door:
We’ve only seen this in 1 room, not ideal. The hints can’t be tailored to the team, unless handwritten there and then… and that would take a lot of time!
The notes we received were printed. There was no indication of when the note was placed under the door, so we often didn’t notice we had a hint until a little time after it was placed!
It got the job done, but felt a bit forced and cheap.

Mobile Phone:
Seen in 1 escape room, a fair concept of clue delivery, and could be used to great effect if within theme! Quick delivery, clear and concise.

Voice Over/Intercom:
Seen in 5 rooms I have played to varying degrees of success. In the worst situations we couldn’t hear the intercom over the soundscape of the room, so we constantly were battling that for clues, this didn’t help matters.
In other rooms the Voice Over has become part of the room and stopping to listen when the voice over came through was part of the game.
Overall, I feel that it can be hard to hear voice overs, and when you have to ask the hint to be repeated this can get tedious and frustrating.

iPad with scanned QR codes:
Seen in 2 rooms, and a terrible idea for cluing. The cumbersome nature of having to carry around an iPad for the duration of the game, the penalisation (we’ll get on to that in a bit) of getting clues. The way the QRs gave too much of the flow away (You’d see a locked box with number 7QR code on it, and know you didn’t need to go near that yet… this irritated me, it made the game TOO linear, and I love a linear game!)
The QR codes were difficult to scan considering the low light levels in some of the rooms.
The hints given were not hints but solutions… and cost 5 minutes of time added on to your escape.
Not a good system, bulky, cumbersome and an annoyance for the entire hour!

Host coming into the room:
Seen in 14 rooms, that’s 14 times too many… This is utterly the WORST style of clue giving.
You are put in the room and there is a button on the wall for you to call when and if you need a clue.
This is off putting as self cluing is a bad idea, the player has no idea how far along he is in the game, it’s not his prerogative to negotiate when to call for clues, it adds a layer of stress and tension onto what is supposed to be an enjoyable occasion.
It’s lazy, as most of the time the hosts are not paying 100% attention to your room (they can watch more than one game at a time) as on more than one occasion we have pressed the button, the host has come in and not had an idea of where we’re up to.
It totally breaks immersion to the point of no return.
It wastes valuable seconds (sometimes minutes) waiting for a pre-occupied host to finish what they’re doing, and come into the room.
The hints given are never very good, as generally the hosts are not fully aware of the game that they are “hosting”
Needless to say, I really strongly dislike this method and would discourage any Escape Room to not use it under any circumstance!

Other non-standard hint systems:
We’ve also encountered some very unique clue systems ranging from a period telephone to a Ouija board! In the most part these have worked OK, the telephone being a clearer version of the walkie talkie, it is fun to pick up a ringing phone to get a clue!
Some of the unique clue systems have been thoroughly immersed in the rooms, and have even been used to freak me out (to great effect!)

We’ve chosen our clue system (hopefully a screen!) and now we need to take a look at how to deliver those clues!

Unlimited, Un-penalised:
A great option, clues are delivered at the Game Host’s discretion as and when the team needs them. We always try and plump for this option, as the Game Host should know their room inside out… and thus should know at which puzzle we need to be at within a given time to give us the best possible chance of escaping.
This system can fall down if the Game Host isn’t good at their timing or seems to be deliberately against the players, which should NEVER happen! The Game Host should always be on the player’s side!

Unlimited – Penalised:
Not a great option, penalising hints often can leave the player reluctant to use the hint system, adding stress and panic to the game & making the player feel inadequate should they choose to use the clue system! Seen in the games with the QR codes, which adds 5 minutes onto you eventual escape time EACH time you use a clue.

3 Clues only (or some other arbitrary number):
Usually at the request of the player, again this puts undue pressure on the player and artificially inflates the difficulty of the room. For a clue system like this to work the game has to be incredibly logical and have a good flow.
We’ve experienced this where you can request 3 hints yet will still get “nudges” that cost nothing along the way… I don’t understand this method, why put parameters on a game then offer free nudges… just go to unlimited hints! Much easier.

Combinations of the styles above can be found in places and I’m sure there will be other hinting systems that we’ve not encountered before

3 free hints (then every hint there after costs +3 minutes) but sometime you get a nudge
iPad hints costing +5 minutes and a call button to call a host into the room (ugh – the worst of both world)
Free clues at the request of the player

As you can see, hinting is a vast vast topic, and there’s not 100% right answer. I do however prefer a screen and free unlimited hints!

What are your preferences over hints and clues?

2 thoughts on “Exploring Escape Rooms… Give us a clue!”

  1. Hi. I would tend to agree on all aspects here. Unlimited clues given at the hosts discretion, given through a screen or a telephone is in my opinion the best way.

    Liked by 1 person

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