The premise behind escape (or “exit”) games is fairly simple: a group of people are “locked” in a room, and given a certain amount of time (usually an hour) to get out. Escapees must solve a variety of logic puzzles to reveal clues which help them solve the mystery, and possibilities for themes are almost endless. There are currently three companies which offer escape games in the Czech capital: Trap Prague, MindMaze, and Cryptex.
I was quite surprised that representatives from each company were from Hungary! Curious if Hungarians are more logic-based than the average person, I asked András Gál of MindMaze for his opinion. He believes these games are so popular in Budapest because there are plenty of tourists and cheap property costs, necessary because the game requires a certain amount of space. According to András, there are dozens of escape games currently operating in Budapest.
Escape games actually first gained popularity in Asia. In a rare case of video games inspiring real life, rather than the other way around, the concept is based on computer games with similar objectives. Since real life is generally superior to virtual ones, escape games provide a fun, cooperative experience that simulations can’t replicate.
Each company was gracious enough to invite me to try their games. Along with two friends, I first visited MindMaze and we bravely entered the Alchemist’s Chamber (1,200 CZK per group). Our objective was to locate his sacred stone, which would then unlock the door holding us captive. Although we overlooked a few key details, we managed to get out just a few minutes after the hour had ended. András gave us a couple extra minutes since we were so close. Throughout the hour, he kept tabs on us via cameras and a walkie talkie, on which he would provide hints when necessary. András says only about half of participants are able to escape the room, which gave our bruised egos a bit of a boost.
András mentioned that he is always tweaking the game to find the appropriate difficulty level. Whatever he is doing, it is working. MindMaze is currently #1 on TripAdvisor’s list of Prague attractions. The vast majority of his customers are from abroad, so András hopes to attract more locals in the future. MindMaze will soon open their second game, “Enigma,” which takes place in a WWII-style interrogation room.
We next visited Cryptex, which officially opened in early 2014. While they also offer a “defuse the bomb” theme, we chose the “lost treasure” game in which we had to locate a misplaced stash of booty. Two things set Cryptex apart from the others: at 990 CZK it’s a bit cheaper than the competition, and according to Viliam Görföl, their aim is to be the most difficult escape game in Prague. Only about 10% of teams manage to solve the puzzle within an hour. Escapees can request help via walkie talkie, and you’re likely to need it. Viliam would also like to see more Czech visitors in the future, and he’s confident that escape games will continue to increase in popularity as more people become aware of them.
Since there were only two of us for this game, we were a bit nervous that the treasure would remain lost. Sadly our fears were confirmed. Viliam walked us through the remaining puzzles, and we needed at least another 15-20 minutes to solve it ourselves. Having another person or two would have helped greatly. That being said, we really enjoyed Cryptex. The room had an authentic feel to it that made you feel as if inside the story.
Coming in at 2nd place on Prague’s Trip Advisor page, ahead of such passé attractions like the Charles Bridge and Old Town Square, is Trap Prague, which already operates in Budapest and Berlin. Due to their success since opening in January, Trap recently opened a second location in Prague with two new games and they plan to expand to other European cities in the near future. Lukács Tóth of Trap explained that being a larger company has advantages. They already have many thoroughly tested games, although some themes are unique for each location. He says that Trap will continue developing and and opening new games as long as escape games are still popular, a trend that is just getting started.
Taking Lukács’ advice, we tried “the tomb room” as opposed to “the secret agent’s office” or “the bomb room.” The rate for groups is 1,200 CZK, but Trap has a special price of 1,000 CZK for pairs. Determined to escape in less than an hour, I brought three friends with me and a focused mindset. Despite taking awhile to solve the first few puzzles, we succeeded in escaping after about 50 minutes. Having more people allowed us to multitask a bit more, and by the 3rd game some of us were getting used to escape game logic. Regardless, it was still a fun experience that pushed our thinking caps to the limit.
After becoming familiar with escape games, I can definitely call myself a fan. Without getting into specifics, let me offer a few tips. Examine everything in the rooms, but keep in mind that some objects are merely distractions. Try to solve one puzzle at a time, because it’s easy to get sidetracked. It can be fun for two people, but having a larger group definitely helps. The last bit of advice is the most important: don’t get frustrated and have fun!