I give to each escape game three scores on a 5-stars scale, in the following categories: ‘Immersion’, ‘Puzzle’ and ‘Hosting’.
The ‘Immersion’ score takes into account all elements that contribute to make you feel immersed in the environment featured in the game: an adequate decoration, a rich scenario, the intervention of actors can all contribute to a higher immersion score.
The ‘Puzzle’ score describes the quality of the puzzles and the general puzzle structure: are they innovative, as well as interesting and fun to solve, or are they just taken directly from a riddle book – in which case you could have solved them by yourself at home for a much cheaper price? In case the room accepts large groups (6+ players), is the puzzle structure non-sequential, with a lot of puzzles that can be solved in parallel by different players – or are they sequentially organized, leaving some players without anything to do?
The ‘Hosting’ score is determined by all features that can vary a lot from one game session to the other and make for the quality of the experience. It is in particular influenced by all punctual human interventions during the introduction, the game and the debriefing that contribute to improve the experience. It also encompass the punctual abnormal problems you can encounter during a session, such as a puzzle that runs into some dysfunction on this day. It can vary significantly from one game to another, and is arguably more subjective than the two former categories. Elements that contribute to a high ‘Hosting’ score include the quality of the welcome and of the rule explanations, a convincing immersion by the gamemaster in the scenario, or a well-calibrated help from the gamemaster, making the experience neither too easy and short, nor too difficult and frustrating. To get 5* in Hosting, an escape game must not only have a great welcome and a flawless gamemastering, but also integrate some very convincing acting during the game.
(For more on the distinction between ‘Immersion’, ‘Puzzle’ and ‘Hosting’, see here).
I then give a general score, ‘Game experience’, which describes, all things considered, my subjective evaluation of the quality of my escape experience: it includes all dimensions mentioned above – immersion, puzzle and hosting (although I tend to give less weight to hosting than to the two other ones, because of its significant variability, and its arguably lesser importance) – as well as some aspects that are difficult to quantify, but contributed to make the experience pleasant, fun, interesting or exhilarating.
There might be some element of subjectivity in the ‘Game experience’ score: for example, I tend to give more weight to immersion than to the quality of the puzzles, and the presence of actors is a huge asset for me; I also prefer when the gamemaster helps us when we’re stuck, rather than spending 20 frustrating minutes on a single puzzle, so that we have time to discover everything the room has to offer (on the other hand, I don’t like when the gamemaster helps us although it is clear that we may still have enough time to escape the room). If you’re like me, then you might want to look above all the ‘Game experience’ rating; whereas if you have different preferences, you may want to give more attention to the individual scores (mainly ‘Immersion’ and ‘Puzzles’, which are more stable in time).
Currently, the scale for ‘Game experience’ is the following: ‘Excellent’, ‘Very good’, ‘Good’, ‘Entertaining’, ‘Average’, ‘Uninspiring’, ‘Bad’, ‘Very bad’ and ‘Terrible’. If the quality of escape games continue to rise in the future, I may add categories describing even better scores, such as ‘Fantastic’ or ‘Flawless’. As of December 2017, out of 76 games I have played, I have rated 14 of them as ‘Excellent’, 12 as ‘Very good’, 12 as ‘Good’, 18 as ‘Entertaining’, 16 as ‘Average’, 1 as ‘Uninspiring’ and 2 as ‘Bad’ – fortunately, most of the escape games in the world are very fun to play! (and I also pre-selected the games I played) Beginners should have fun in most of the rooms that have a score of ‘Entertaining’ or higher (watch out for the difficulty of the room though), whereas players with more escape experience might want to select those that have a score of ‘Good’ or higher.
More on ‘Immersion’, ‘Puzzle’ and ‘Hosting’ scores
To understand better the distinction between ‘Hosting’ and ‘Immersion’/’Puzzle’, here are a few examples. A proper decoration in the welcome hall will contribute to the ‘Immersion’ score; whereas a pleasant welcome will contribute to ‘Hosting’. A gamemaster acting as a character during your scenario will contribute to the ‘Immersion’ score; him being an especially good actor and giving adequate clues at the right timing will contribute to the ‘Hosting’ score. A well designed puzzle structure will count towards the ‘Puzzle’ score; a gamemaster whose help makes your progression either smooth, or challenging without being frustrating, will count in favor of a higher ‘Hosting’ score.
In particular, misplaced objects, or more generally a room that has been incorrectly rearranged, will count against the ‘Hosting’ score. For sure, they can spoil the puzzle quality (if they prevent you from solving a puzzle) or the immersion (in case the gamemaster has to enter the room to put some object back to its right place). However, they would not lower the ‘Immersion’ or ‘Puzzle’ scores, as such problems are due to punctual gamemaster mistakes, who misplaced them before your particular session – and they can easily be corrected for the next sessions. On the other hand, if a technical mechanism in an aging room becomes too visible although it’s supposed to be hidden, it will lower the ‘Immersion’ score.
In some case, the boundaries between the three categories are uncertain. For example, if an element can be detached when it’s supposed to be fixed, and consequently disrupts the immersion or puzzle structure, this may be a punctual problem due to the gamemaster not fixing it after the last session (in which case it should count against ‘Hosting’), or this might be a recurring problem in a generally ill-managed room (in which case it should count against ‘Immersion’ and/or ‘Puzzle’). In such cases, I will try to make an educated guess to determine which score it should impact.