Looking for ideas about how to create a DIY escape room? I have to admit, when I first heard about the concept of an Escape Room, I got really geeky and excited. Just me and a few of my best friends solving challenges and decrypting riddles. Throw in a clock, and the event becomes exciting. A race against time. I couldn’t wait to experience the Escape Room concept. My wife, knowing I was excited about the concept, purchased an Escape Room experience for me as a birthday gift. However, the practical experience left a lot to be desired. So, I tried another. I then tried another. I purchased kits through Amazon. To be brutally honest… they all really sucked. So, this article contains tips on how to create your own DIY Escape Room.
A Few Reasons Why Most Escape Rooms Stink as “Team Building Events”.
- Most Teams are Bigger than Five People. Most in-person escape rooms are designed for groups of four to six people. So, if you want to conduct a team building activity for a larger group, you’re kind of out of luck.
- Most Rooms are Designed to Keep the Group In. Most designers make the rooms very difficult. As a result, you aren’t actually supposed to get out. If groups have a 60 minute time limit, and most teams get out 30 minutes, the concept wouldn’t work. As a result, designers often make them almost impossible to conquer within the time limit. Most teams feel like they failed when the event ends. (Not great for team building.)
- We Aren’t Sure How Close We Are to Finishing. The biggest challenge, though, is that there typically isn’t a finish line. Most designers start with a puzzle. The first puzzle leads to another puzzle. That one leads to another. Then another. Then another. After a while, the team gets frustrated. There is never a light at the end of the tunnel.
After searching for the perfect team building escape room, I never found it. So, I decided to create my own.
The Easiest Way to Create a DIY Escape Room
If you really want to Do It Yourself, but you really don’t have time to create an entire escape room from scratch, you can always purchase one.
Dr. Gravely’s Retreat – An Escape Room Experience in a Box
If you have 10 or fewer team members or players, a good option is Dr Gravely’s Retreat through Amazon. This board game is inexpensive and actually quite fun. It is also pretty challenging. This is a family style board game, so it is best for small groups of three or four people. However, you can purchase multiple games to create a competition for more fun. We liked this one for a couple of reasons. First, the puzzles were challenging, but we didn’t have to cheat and look at the answers to solve them. Second, the puzzles were sealed in multiple envelopes, so we knew how many more puzzled needed to be solved to finish it. Finally, the story was, at least somewhat, realistic.
By the way, if you are looking to build a challenge on your own and don’t know where to start, this game can help. It will give you some good ideas, and it is inexpensive.
My Rich Uncle Team Escape Room
After being really let down by the activities not living up to the hype, we created our own. The My Rich Uncle Team Escape Room is a fun, challenging, and interactive way to build teamwork on a budget. We designed this activity from the ground up to make it fun and competitive. It is also specifically designed to be used as a team building activity! The story is that your rich uncle has sadly passed away. The good news is that, before he passed, he liquidated his entire estate. The proceeds of that entire estate are locked in his briefcase. All you have to do is figure out the six digit lock combination on the briefcase, and you win. However, it will take teamwork to acquire each digit!
Each kit is designed to challenge a team of up to six people. You’ll also need to purchase the briefcase as well. However, you only need a single briefcase for the entire group. So if you have a 20 person group, you might want to purchase four kits and a single briefcase.
Other Kits that Are Available.
Under no circumstances would I suggest that you buy the “Werewolf Experiment”. Again DO NOT buy The Werewolf Experiment. Out of all of the boxes and kits that we tried, this was, by far, the absolute worst. Half-way through, my team was so frustrated that we just stopped to look at the answers. Even looking at the answers, some of the challenges didn’t make a lot of sense. Even with a fairly challenging activity, when the answer to a challenge is figured out, the automatic response should be, “Oh yeah, that makes total sense.” With this game, though, we were like, “What? I wouldn’t have ever figured that out in a million years.”
However, the Mystery at Stargazer Manor was a little better. Not quite as good as Dr. Gravely, but somewhat entertaining. The reason that I didn’t add it above is that the story for this one isn’t great.
Want to Create the Entire Activity from Scratch in True DIY Fashion?
If you want something truly customized for your group, you can always DIY (Do It Yourself). This takes some time, effort, and practice. However, if you do it well, you can use the activity over and over again with different groups. The following are the steps that we took when we created the My Rich Uncle activity.
- Create a Good Story Line. The puzzles are challenging, but it is the story that makes the activity compelling. Don’t shortchange this step. It is the biggest mistake that most every escape room designer makes. Without a good story, it just a series of unrelated challenges. For the My Rich Uncle activity, since there are six digits in the combination, there are six different locked boxes. Not only does each box contain one of the digit, but it also tells more of your uncle’s story. We find out how he made his millions, how he fell in love, and how his life unfolded with each critical decision that he made along the way. The participants feel like they are really a part of the family.
- Set a Goal for the Group: The best stories have an ending. Make sure to set the goal for the group. Let them know what the end game is. Set milestones along the way. This way, they know that they are getting close to the end. We tell the participants in the My Rich Uncle Event that the end goal is to get all six digits of the combination. So, if one team has four digits, they know that they are closing in. The energy of the group increases.
- Gather Materials for the Room. Before you start designing challenges or puzzles, determine what type of locks you will use. In some of the board games listed above, the manufacturer just used sealed envelopes. These are inexpensive and easy to create. However, the only way to know if you’ve solved the challenge is to look at the answer. If you are wrong, you can’t undo looking. So, for our games, we invested in a few combination luggage padlocks. If you will be padlocking boxes, well, you also need some lockable security boxes. However, you can use small suitcase or backpacks as well. Anything that you can lock will work. You’ll want to choose containers that mesh well with your story, though.
- Mix Up You Puzzle Types: I’ll give you a few ideas below on different types of puzzles that you can use. Just make sure to mix up the types of puzzles. Otherwise, the game will be repetitive.
A Selection of DIY Escape Room Puzzles that You Can Use.
- Hide the Key: One of the simplest puzzles is to hide a key somewhere obvious. We do this in all of our escape room activities. We are always surprised how few participants discover the key, though. If you want to use this idea, try this mini brass padlock. (Just click the image for details.)
- Hide the Combination in Text: Another thing that you can do is type up a text document with more of the story. However, include numbers within the text. We include a business card sized photo with a hole punched in it. Then we made colored boxes on the page. When the card is lined up with the boxes, a number appears in the hole.
- Invisible Ink: You can buy invisible ink on Amazon as well as a portable black light. You can either write the combination in invisible ink or write a puzzle in the ink. For instance, Warren Moon – Bret Farve – John Elway would be 1 – 4 – 7.
- Dot-to-Dot: Get creative with a connect-the-dots puzzle. For instance, on one mini-puzzle, have numbers to connect in order. (1, 2, 3, 4, etc., just like when you were a kid.) Do a second mini-puzzle with Roman numerals. Do a third with letter. When each of the three are completed, though, the image created is a digit in a three digit luggage lock combination.
The key is to make the puzzles challenging, but not impossible. If you have fun creating them, your participants will likely have fun solving them. These ideas will get you started, but we can’t give away all our secrets. So, if you decide that sourcing the locks, boxes, materials, and puzzles and coming up with a story that does seem cheesy is too complicated, feel free to purchase a few Pre-Made DIY Escape Room Kits from our online store!