If you’ve never heard of an escape game, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Had it not been for some of the worst rain I’ve experienced whilst on vacation, I probably wouldn’t have known either, but their popularity is on the rise. Escape games, or escape rooms as they’re sometimes called, could be described as a hybrid of sorts. It’s as if your favorite video game met Sudoku, except you’re the main character and all of the problem solving happens in real time versus the clock.
One aspect of this type of game that’s really cool is that unlike most traditional puzzles you’re not doing it alone; you usually have a supporting cast. It’s actually a lot more of a dynamic and fun experience with a group of friends. So although my first experience playing an escape game was by myself, this time I thought I would bring some friends along and check out Nazobako–which literally translates as mystery box–a short walk from Asakusa Station.
When you arrive be ready to put your thinking cap on, both literally and figuratively as you’ll be asked to pose for a photo sporting a deerstalker, the type of hat made famous by super sleuth Sherlock Holmes. Be sure to choose a prop that complements your mystery-solving abilities to the fullest.
Nazobako has been operating since February and offers three different rooms ranging in difficulty from beginner, intermediate and advanced. We opted to play it safe with the entry level choice. These days you can find escape games with themes ranging from ancient Egypt to zombie apocalypses, and everything in between. The theme of all three rooms at Nazobako are centered around Japanese culture and ours was the beginner level “Zen” room.
Once you’re inside the real fun begins. You’re now racing against the clock with only your friends and your wits to guide you. This is where you’ll try to use logic, numbers, words and symbols to solve the challenge at hand. Each challenge you solve will unlock another challenge until hopefully you’ve escaped the room and beaten the game. Unfortunately, most people don’t have friends named Watson, sometimes you will get stuck, but that’s okay. There are hints that have been placed around the room in envelopes by the game masters that you can decide to open or not. However, each hint comes at a price, and the cost is precious time.
Sometimes though, even with the help of hints and the best sidekicks, not everyone escapes. Luckily, this is one of the few games where you can still feel great even if you lose. Aside from the thrill of hunting for hidden clues, solving puzzles and showing your teammates you’re the next Hercule Poirot, it’s a really exciting way to get to know people in your group better and how each individual interacts in a team environment. Seeing your friends geek out for the first time is priceless.
The game masters are the lucky ones though. Apart from making hints and congratulating (or consoling you depending on your outcome) they get to monitor everyone and see how different the interactions are between different groups of people like colleagues, friends, families or couples on dates. Which goes to show that these games really are for everyone – from the lonely traveler to groups of friends who just want to have some fun or are looking for new alternatives to drinking or going out to eat.
Nazobako also provides an excellent opportunity for team building and company workshops – a great way to get out of the office. They’ve even organized corporate events for up to 1,000 players.
Finally, a convenient aspect of playing an escape game is that it is in a controlled environment, in a very comfortable and cool room. With the onset of the rainy season, the summer heat and increasing mugginess, what better place to be than locked in an air-conditioned room. A nice little bonus is whether or not you escape at Nazobako you’ll be treated to some snacks and a drink at the end.
If you plan on heading there on the weekend be sure to book your room in advance as it’s their busiest time. You can book directly from www.nazobako.jp and if you mention Metropolis you can get a 10% discount plus a free gift for every participating player until August 31. The cost is about ¥4,000 per player but goes down for each additional player.
So, by now you must be wondering, did I escape? Well, that my friends, will have to remain a mystery.