The Great Escape!

We pit our wits against some of Barcelona’s best escape rooms

By Duncan Rhodes Barcelona Life

Escape rooms have taken over Barcelona in a big way! We interview the men and women behind the craze, and challenge our grey matter to get us out in time..

What are Escape Rooms?

“It is a new interactive form of entertainment where you go on a real adventure for one hour. Each escape room has its own unique atmosphere, which you are part of. It is like a film, but everything is real and you are the hero…” 

So says Maria Khodykina, of Lock-Clock Escape Room in Barcelona, one of dozens of creative and enterprising locals who have helped established this global trend right here in the Catalan capital. Whilst the very first game of this kind opened in Kyoto in 2007, the trend really kicked off in Europe when a Hungarian video gamer created a real life series of puzzles using the ‘escape the room‘ dynamic that he used to play digitally, and then installed his labyrinth in the basement of one of Budapest’s legendary ruin bars. The concept proved so popular, with both locals and tourists, that the Hungarian capital now boasts well over a hundred exit rooms to try out, whilst many of those who fell in love with the experience turned themselves into entrepreneurs, opening their own businesses and taking the trend back to their own towns and cities.

“It is a new interactive form of entertainment where you go on a real adventure for one hour. Each escape room has its own unique atmosphere, which you are part of. It is like a film, but everything is real and you are the hero…”

If you’ve yet to try an escape room, the basic structure common to nearly all rooms, is that your team of up to six players (or sometimes eight) is locked in a confined space, and you have 60 minutes to try and get out of the room.

Standing in your way are a series of keys and codes that need finding, and clues and puzzles that need solving, if you are to crack the final conundrum that will allow you to leave. Each room has its own storyline that describes who you are, why you are stuck in the room, and why you need to get out (more on those below!) and they are decorated according to this fantasy scenario.

Can you get back to the Earth’s surface from Vault 27?

In other words, you might find yourself playing the role of one of Antoni Gaudi’s protégés trying to save his masterplans from his studio in the crypt of La Sagrada Familia before the building goes up in flames. Or perhaps you’re a family member of a rich art collector who stands to inherit millions, if only you can solve the riddles your eccentric uncle left behind in his office to guard his will? Maybe you’re trapped in a post-apocalyptic nuclear bunker, with only 90 minutes to get back to the Earth’s surface (as with Maximum Escape’s Vault 27 game pictured above!).

In the best adventures you’re almost certain to feel a bit like Lara Croft, Sherlock Holmes or James Bond…

In the best adventures you’re almost certain to feel a bit like Lara Croft, Sherlock Holmes or James Bond as you attempt to demonstrate your own hero material. After all, as Bertrand from 60′ Escape told Barcelona Life: “A great escape room is one that pushes you to your limits.”

Why Try an Escape Room?

There are dozens of reasons you might want to try an escape room, to begin with, enthuses Fabio Messina of Room of Riddles: “They are something very different to usual forms of entertainment, and they brings people to play together in the real world, not just on a games console or online.”

Maria Khodykina from Lock-Clock goes further and says: “It is a unique adventure where you forget about the real world and its problems. No internet, no routine, nothing common. You have to go out of your normal bubble and complete the mission with your team… I don’t know anything else that gives such bright emotions!”

In Mission Gaudi, you must rescue the architect’s blueprints…

Teamwork and communication are the two words that crop up in conversation time and time again when speaking to the passionate men and women behind Barcelona’s best escape rooms, and perhaps then it’s no wonder that companies are sending their staff to try out these puzzles as part of team building initiatives and to improve their in house communication skills. Some are even using them to assess potential employees (as they watch on!).

Whether you’re a professional team or an informal group of friends, having tried several rooms ourselves, the Barcelona Life staff can say that there’s  something very rewarding about pooling your skills and brainpower to defeat the dastardly challenges before you.

Why Try an Escape Room in Barcelona?

With its mostly sunny weather and billions of fun things to do, heading indoors into an escape room might not seem like the first thing you’d want to do when in Barcelona. However there are several reasons why it might be too:

1. Bonding

When was the last time you actually had to communicate and work together with the people you’re on holiday with? Sure there’s a small chance you’ll drive each other crazy and ruin the entire holiday (we’re kidding… we hope!), but most likely you’ll end up bonding over a highly memorable experience.

2. Cultural Tie-ins

Many of Barcelona’s escape rooms have cultural tie ins with the city, and you’re likely to learn something and get a flavour of the Catalan capital as you frantically race against the clock.

3. New Challenges

There’s also a very practical reason why it’s a good idea to do an escape room whenever you’re abroad, as Fabio Messina points out: “Every escape room is a one time time experience, meaning you do not do it twice. In the city you live in the number of escape rooms might be limited, so on holiday you can try a new one!”

4. Quality & Variety of Rooms

Finally, we don’t like to boast, but Barcelona has some of the best games anywhere in the world. Marta Lopez from Maximum Escape says it best: “Escape rooms in Barcelona are very popular in comparison to other European cities, and we offer more quality, adventure immersion and innovation than in most countries.”

…article continues after photo.

The Best Escape Rooms in Barcelona

There are now scores of rooms in Barcelona, but let’s start with some of the ones we’ve tried first hand – and loved! Here they are, in no particular order. All of them are available in English.

1. Room of Riddles

This story starts in Amsterdam, where Fabio Messina played his first ever escape room one New Year’s Eve and enjoyed it so much he brought the franchise over to Barcelona. Here in the Catalan capital the Room of Riddles team have devised two games, both tied in with the city’s cultural and geographical identity. The Art Collector is a perfect entry level game, with great decor, tough and varied puzzles and a little bit of Spanish and Catalan art and architecture history thrown in. The Harbour Master is arguably a little tougher, with excellent themed puzzles (prepare to decode lighthouse signals and a Morse Code message) and a twin room where your friends and colleagues can play the exact same game at the same time (perfect for larger groups, such as stag parties or corporate groups). The philosophy of the company is based around the whole experience, starting with a friendly welcome from your games master, followed by a free drink afterwards and a chance to evaluate your performance. Right by the beach, this is a good one to combine with some sunbathing or before a night out on the Port Olimpic.

2. Lock-Clock

With three different challenges on one set of premises, Lock-Clock has a room suitable for everyone. If you’re not too confident to begin with, or looking for something suitable for the whole family, their Aztec Treasure room is the perfect fit. In this fun, fast and furious adventure you must discover the treasure of Captain Pablo Sangria before the ship sinks and your body becomes shark food. Mission Gaudi is trickier, but a great one for anyone who wants to enjoy a connection with the city at the same time as challenging themselves, and this room comes with some nifty special effects that keeps the tension riding high. Perhaps the most irreverent and fun escape room in the city is their Afterparty storyline. If you’ve been overdoing it on the nightlife scene then this scenario might seem all too credible (think of the movie Hangover and you get the gist!), whilst the range of multimedia puzzles infused with a ribald sense of humour means you’re in for a wild hour.

3. Maximum Escape

They only opened in 2016, but Maximum Escape’s pioneering approach has won them many plaudits, and they now run a total of eight games, in two locations (round the corner from one another). Each of their games is an attempt to break the mould, and you won’t find any of the padlocks and number codes that are ubiquitous in 90% of rooms around the world. Rather the emphasis is on immersing their guests in a fantasy (or nightmare!) reality, that challenges them and provokes their emotions. Their stories include Prisoners of Alkaban, where you play shackled wizards attempting to escape the dank and dark dungeon of Alkaban, with a touch of magic and dexterity; Gangsters: Money, Guns & Whiskey, in which you play Prohibition-era gangsters locked in a blood feud; and the groundbreaking Darkness, where you will have to rely on just four senses to get out in time. Their flagship game is Vault 27, a 90-minute challenge that took a year to build and is one of the toughest quests in the city.

4. Xcape Room BCN

This large complex opposite the wonderful Hospital de Sant Pau, just up the road from La Sagrada Familia, boasts three distinct rooms. Two of them mix murder-mystery and horror to great effect, and if you’re squeamish or easily scared then perhaps give Gallery of Corpses and Miko’s Diary a miss! Otherwise put on your detective’s hat, and prepare for some spine-tingling sleuthing. Their third room is a personal favourite, as you’re charged with robbing Barcelona’s Casino Royal. This game sprawls over five rooms in a tense race against the clock, and employs many of your favourite movie-heist cliches, including cracking safes, hacking computers and hot-wiring doors. The difficulty levels are pitched just right, although you’ll need almost every one of your sixty minutes to get out alive.

5. 60′ Escape

A slick and gritty storyline underpins The Infiltrators, the name of 60′ Escape’s only challenge, which is bit different to other escape rooms in the way you have to think and interact with your teammates… so much so that the designers say you’re in fact more likely to succeed if you’ve never played before, than if you’re a veteran. In this scenario you and your amigos have been sent to infiltrate a secret society that threatens national security, and your task is to first free yourself from your shackles – you’ve been sent in as prisoners – before escaping with a list of enemy agents. The decor is stripped down to a minimum and virtually everything in the room plays a part in the game. The puzzles don’t present themselves quite as obviously as in other games, and if you love spy thrillers and fancy yourself as the next Jason Borne this is definitely the challenge for you. Best of all, The Infiltrators is twinned, meaning two separate groups can undertake the challenge simultaneously to determine which is the A-team and who gets left on the brain bench.

Tried all of the above and need some more suggestions? Well no need to turn to Tripadvisor. We’ll continue to update this page with some more options soon. If we make it out to tell the tale.

What Is The Future of Escape Rooms?

Evolution is fundamental to the escape room craze, as without it these challenges will no longer be able to surprise their players. With a total of eight rooms, each attempting something completely different to the others, few companies in the industry are pursuing the future more doggedly than Maximum Escape, as Marta Lopez explains:

“Escape rooms are gaining popularity throughout the world and Barcelona’s 200 escape rooms are proof of that. People are demanding more innovation and immersion, and Maximum Escape is working on new concepts, which include action games, city games and seasonal events, etc. with the most advanced technology.”

People are demanding more innovation and immersion, and Maximum Escape is working on new concepts, which include action games, city games, and seasonal events…

Her colleague, Jaume Àvalos, offers a tantalising glimpse at challenges that won’t be confined to rooms, and might resemble something more akin to live roleplaying. “Now we are Maximum Escape, but in the future we don’t want any limits. In the future we want to be Maximum Experience.”

If the current second generation of games meant dispensing with locks and ‘no touch’ signs that broke the illusion of immersion, then we’re excited to see where technology and creativity can take a third generation of challenges!

Tips for Escaping The Room!

Everyone loves a winner… but what does it take to beat the room and make your exit before the 60 minutes are up? We asked some game owners and designers to share their tips, and add a few observations from our own experience.

1. “Think it simple and work together! The most obvious solution is almost always the correct one,” says Fabio Messina.

2. “Listen to each other and you will find the right solution. It works like magic in 100% of situations. And also, even though it sounds obvious, relax and enjoy the experience. Doing an escape room is like meditation, if you are relaxed and focused on the game good ideas will come on their own,” says Maria Khodykina.

3. “First, your motivation in the story is very important. Then, listen always carefully to the briefing. Look everywhere, be curious and stay simple. Don’t overcomplicate everything or you will end up frustrated,” says Bertrand of 60′ Escape.

4. In Barcelona Life’s experience, all of the puzzles you encounter are within your mental abilities to solve. Getting stuck happens when you approach the puzzle from the wrong angle. This is where having several brains, instead of just one or two, can really help, as there’s more chances to see the puzzle from a different perspective or with more clarity. In every room you have the opportunity somehow to communicate with your games master, and if you find you’re stuck on one puzzle for more than 10 minutes don’t be afraid (or too proud!) to ask them for a clue, because otherwise you’re going to spend the majority of your time frustrated by one riddle you’re approaching incorrectly, and not get to experience the rest of the conundrums. You only have one hour and getting stuck sucks. Getting a few clues along the way is part of a better experience and, by the way, still does not guarantee that you will succeed!

5. Another piece of Barcelona Life wisdom would be don’t bother interacting with props that you’re not sure are part of the game. If that book doesn’t reveal a secret compartment within a few seconds of examination then you can be 99% sure it’s just there for flavour and not an integral piece of an unrevealed jigsaw.

6. Finally don’t waste any time. At first glance it might only seem that you have four or five conundrums to solve to exit the room, but most of the time there are a few tricks and surprises along the way that will make the challenge bigger and harder than it appears at first glance. We’ve said enough already.

About the Author

Duncan the Author

Duncan established Barcelona Life in 2009, whilst freelancing for the likes of Conde Nast, The Guardian, Easyjet Magazine, CNN Traveller and many more. From interviews with Ferran Adria to revealing the secrets of the city’s poetry brothels, he knows the city inside out… and shares all his best tips right here.

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