We’ve all been there: trapped in a small, slightly dingy room, systemically lifting any item that’s not nailed down and peering underneath in hopes of discovering a code. Tugging strings to try and unhook an out-of-reach key. Frantically jiggling the dials of a padlock looking for that one magic combination.
There’s a unique pleasure to escape rooms - and it’s one that, by this point, pretty much everyone is familiar with. After first emerging from the darkness sometime in the early 2000s, escape rooms have spent the past decade pushing through cracks in high streets the world over and blossoming – at last count, there were over 1,500 escape rooms in the UK alone according to Exit Games.
Actually visiting an escape room in person isn’t always an option, though, whether because of a lack of local escape rooms or because they’re fully booked or because, say, your entire country is currently on lockdown.
If any of that sounds familiar, well, you’re in luck. There are plenty of escape room games out there that’ll let you escape a room inside your own home, without having to ask someone to lock the door from outside and wedge a chair under the handle.
Best escape room games
- Unlock!: The perfect entry point - or should that be exit point?
- Escape Room in a Box: Expect padlocks aplenty in this release from master of plastic Mattel.
- Escape Room: The Game: Featuring possibly the single greatest toy in board gaming.
- Deckscape: A light, portable option with a nostalgic storybook vibe.
- ClueQuest Print+Cut+Escape!: One of London’s finest escape rooms makes the leap onto paper.
- Exit: The Game: Test your brain with these best-in-the-business riddles.
There are numerous escape room board game series out there, each offering multiple ‘rooms’ that use their particular ruleset. As with the real thing, there’s a remarkable amount of variety between them. They’re all roughly an hour long, and have you and anywhere from one to seven companions solving puzzles, but some do that entirely using a deck of cards, while others involve a companion app or website or physical components. And they’re all good at slightly different things. Which is where this list of the best escape room board games out there comes in.
Think of us as the voice that gives hints over the intercom when you’re stuck and points you towards that one vital thing you’d somehow missed the whole time - in this case, being the right escape room board game for you.
The perfect entry point - or should that be exit point?
The magic of Unlock! is the way it manages to conjure an escape room right there on your dining table, with nothing but rectangles of card and the occasional input on your phone or tablet using its companion app. Each set consists of a single deck, with numbers on the back and bright illustrations on the front.
You start with a room card that establishes the theme (there’s everything from dusty temples to cartoon circuses on offer) but, more importantly, is littered with numbers and letters. You find the corresponding numbered cards in the deck and lay them out, building the space up as you explore it. Cards might represent a locked door, a mechanism solved with a digital puzzle on the app or an item you’ll need to escape. These items are the heart of the game. To combine them - shoving a videotape in an old VHS machine, for example - you simply add together their numbers and check if there’s a card that matches the sum.
Between shuffling desperately through the deck and peering closely at cards looking for hidden numbers, it’s easy to imagine you’re searching a physical space for clues. When the door does finally swing open to reveal a whole new room, it’s just as thrilling as the real thing.
Unlock! makes a good starting point for escape room games, because publisher Space Cowboy offers print-and-play demo rooms you can sample for the cost of a few sheets of A4 and a splash of printer ink. These are generally shorter adventures and you’ll need to make sure you print them in colour at a high resolution so you don’t end up squinting at an indecipherable visual puzzle, but it’s a great way of trying the game before you buy.
2. Escape Room in a Box
Expect padlocks aplenty in this release from master of plastic Mattel
At the other end of the spectrum is Escape Room in a Box, which brings an escape room to your table by piling it high with chunky components: heavy envelopes, building blocks and miniature cases held shut with actual padlocks. As fun as it is to fiddle with the assorted bits, it wouldn’t mean a thing without equally chunky puzzles to go along with them.
Escape Room in a Box’s components allow the designers to think a little more, ahem, outside of the box. There’s one that involves… well, we won’t spoil it, but it requires you to use a household item you’re unlikely to have ever used for any other board game. Plus, because everything’s right there on the table, there aren’t many external rules to learn - meaning you can drop this in front of pretty much any escape room fan without explanation and they’ll be able to get stuck right in.
It’s a big (and pricey) box for a single hour-and-a-half experience, but - like most of the escape room games on this list - Escape Room in a Box can be packaged back up with the help of an eraser, some careful folding and an online guide, then passed along to a friend. Yes, it’s technically secondhand, but a box of plastic will always feel like a gift to us.
3. Escape Room: The Game
Featuring possibly the single greatest toy in board gaming
If having something you can actually touch is an important part of the escape room experience for you, try Escape Room: The Game, which comes with possibly the best toy in all of board gaming: a proper chunky ‘batteries not included’ Christmas-morning hunk of plastic known as ‘The Chrono Decoder’. There are decoder guides engraved on either side and an LCD countdown timer that helps give things a tense bomb-defusal vibe, but most important are the four slots on top.
Each room - there’s three included in the box - requires you to crack three codes in an hour, which you do by slotting plastic keys into the decoder. Each key is marked with a mixture of numbers, shapes, letters and directions, so it’s more than just a novel way of inputting a four-digit code (though it’s definitely also that) and the process of getting to those codes involves hefty multi-part puzzles where you’ll have to combine logic, deciphering skills and a dash of lateral thinking.
This structure makes Escape Room: The Game perfect for larger groups, because every player can be working on a different aspect at once, without treading on each other’s toes or hitting a progress-gated dead end. The only problem is fighting over who gets to put the keys in.
A light, portable option with a nostalgic storybook vibe
Keys or padlocks or no, a lot of escape room game solutions - both out in the world and in their cardboard equivalents - ultimately boil down to short sequences of numbers or, if you’re feeling spicy, letters. Deckscape sidesteps that in the simplest possible way: each puzzle card presents all the necessary info and a question. Once you think you’ve got the answer, you just flip the card over to see if you were right. Any incorrect answer gets marked down as you go, then adds a two-minute penalty onto your score at the end.
This avoids the frustration of getting snagged on a single puzzle, resulting in a smooth escape room experience that’s a little more linear and story-led, with twists and branching story decisions and even multiple endings. Deckscape is halfway between an escape room game and Usborne Puzzle Adventure book - if you remember those from childhood library trips - but the puzzles are still more than fiendish enough to trip up a tableful of grown-ups.
5. ClueQuest Print + Cut + Escape!
One of London’s finest escape rooms makes the leap onto paper
Our next escape room game is a slightly different proposition to the others on this list, but just as fun. ClueQuest is an actual escape room, based in London’s King’s Cross. Faced with lockdown, the team leapt into action and started working on a crowdfunded escape room game people could play at home.
The first episode is out now, with two more due to follow soon. You can buy the print-and-play game version, or if that’s not an option (fair warning, it does involve a lot of cutting out - after half an hour of prep, our table looked like the site of a paper doll massacre) you can pay a little extra to have it posted out to you.
Either way, you’ll end up with a pile of paper-based puzzles, plus access to a companion website where you enter your answers and watch videos to introduce and advance the story. It’s got a neat found-footage aesthetic - grainy CCTV videos, newspaper cuttings and photocopied satellite photos - that suits the sci-fi spy story beautifully.
Plus, because it’s ultimately a load of A4 sheets, it’s easy to pass on or post to a friend once you’re done. Recycling is important!
Buy ClueQuest Print + Cut + Escape! on the ClueQuest website.
6. Exit: The Game
Test your brain with these best-in-the-business riddles
We come to the escape room game generally considered the gold standard of play-at-home escape rooms - and for good reason.
Each Exit: The Game set - there are now well over a dozen out there - contains a single ‘room’, with a variety of difficulty levels and themes across the series. Whether you’re exploring a creepy cabin or solving a murder aboard the Orient Express, the real star of every Exit game is the puzzles. Or, as the game insists on calling them, ‘riddles’. Fair enough - there are some real brandy swishers here, problems that’ll have you cursing the designers one minute and applauding their genius the next. Expect optical illusions and building puzzles, as well as solutions that use your entire body and test those scissor skills you honed preparing ClueQuest.
Exit: The Game is the only non-reusable escape room game on this list - every set has you cutting up cards and ripping out pages - but, as with a legacy board game, it’s totally worth it. Its puzzles use every part of the buffalo, pushing at the limits of what you can do with a box full of cards and paper and the occasional extra component.
You know that feeling after an escape room, where you’re walking down the street and everyone’s excitedly comparing notes on what they did and enthusing about kinds of puzzles they’ve never seen before? Exit is the escape room game most likely to give you that feeling.