Escape room games might be the biggest surprise hit of the decade. Who would have thought that trapping yourself in a heavily decorated room with your friends and family to co-operatively solve brutal riddles against the harsh ticking of a clock would be so much fun? Even better, you don’t even need to leave your house to experience the frenetic joy of trapped puzzle-solving, with many escape room games bringing that thrill to the tabletop.
You might be a little suspicious as to how well escape room board games can imitate the immersive frenzy of being physically locked in a room full of objects to touch and nooks to explore. Besides, you may ask, what have these upstarts really got over the best board games of all time; the rich challenges of coop board games; or hardcore strategy board games? But rest assured, through their mix of refined puzzles, code-breaking gimmicks, and thematically engaging brainteasers, these titles offer all the same excitement as the real deal.
We’ve picked out the best escape room games that you should lock yourself into now. Some do their best to recreate the single-room experience through illustrative picture cards, others lean wholly into the puzzle-solving, while a few place their focus on narrative and theme. So, check for clues and scour for patterns because…
These are the best escape room games:
- Exit: The Game
- Escape Room: The Game
- Escape the Room: Mystery at the Stargazer’s Manor
- Escape Tales
- Escape Room in a Box
- Curio: The Lost Temple
- Puzzling Pursuits
- Coded Chronicles
EXIT: THE GAME
A series of escape rooms games, each Exit: The Game box is themed to a classic mystery setting. Their variety is impressive, their themes baked into their riddles, and their mix of codebreaking, riddle solving, and logical deduction makes them the best tabletop escape room games you’re likely to find.
In true escape room fashion, each game traps you and your pals between four walls, handing you a puzzle book, a smattering of clues, and a solution wheel to help you through a deck of enigmas. Puzzles can range from word problems, to optical illusions, to physical brainteasers that will have you contort the game pieces to reveal a hidden message. It’s not a light game, so expect to be challenged, but the problems rarely feel unfair or poorly implemented. Handing you multiple ‘riddle cards’ at once also lets players split off into groups rather than bang their heads together over a single problem, and ‘help cards’ will give handy clues, should you find yourself stuck.
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Be prepared, though, each Exit: The Game box is single-use only. You’ll be tearing pages and ripping cards – whether to solve a puzzle, or out of frustration that your brilliant deduction wasn’t so brilliant after all – so be sure to make the most of each game. They hand you a lot of information upfront, and part of the challenge is deciphering the relevant tools at your disposal before cracking the code.
While each box uses the same puzzle system, differing themes spruce up each set. Start off with Secret Lab for an introduction to the series, and then pick up Dead Man on the Orient Express for the cream of the crop. Or, just go for whichever setting takes your fancy; there are no obvious duds.
ESCAPE ROOM: THE GAME
Like the biggest toymakers, Escape Room: The Game understands that one thing alone can reliably unite the excitement of kids and guilty elation adults everywhere: big lumps of battery-powered moulded plastic, fitted with flashing lights and rotating mechanisms. This escape room game fits that bill with its ‘Chrono Decoder’, a functioning lockbox featuring a digital countdown timer and key slots, which must be physically unlocked to complete the game.
It’s a gimmick, but a fabulously realised one that’s held up by substantive puzzles. You’ll be pulling at your cranial muscles to decipher maps, match shapes, and solve logic problems, all against the beeps of the countdown clock. The decoder not only ticks down before your eyes, but will emit ominous noises to keep you on your toes, and penalise you for any misguided unlocks.
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The box is split into four separate scenarios: prison break, virus, nuclear countdown, and temple of the Aztecs. All typical escape room themes, they have distinct riddles and are categorised by difficulty, letting you treat the whole box as a progression of scenarios, rather than a bunch of repeated rooms. Each one lasts an hour, too, so you’re getting some bang for your buck with this game.
There’s currently two main games in the series, and a handful of expansion packs. Pick up the first, see how you go, and then decide if you’re after more of the same.
Another series of escape room games, Unlock! is more visually driven than some of the other abstract puzzlers on this list. Using a deck of cards and companion app, Unlock! illustrates the rooms you’ll explore, and pictures the various objects of interest dotted around the scene. You’re tasked with scouring each room for hidden clues, and solving various puzzles by combining the items you find.
Cardplay takes centre stage. Combine your pick-ups to solve clues and reveal more cards, and enter numbers into the companion app to crack codes.
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The physicality of the game, from squinting at cards to uncover their secrets to tapping into your phone, does well to recreate the feeling of observing an escape room, and combing its many secrets.
There’s plenty of themes to choose from, including Egyptian tombs and Victorian detective mysteries, as well as some licensed settings, such as Star Wars. In our books, though, The Tonipal’s Treasure and The Adventurers of Oz are the best starting boxes, introducing you to the series’ primary gameplay through accessible puzzles that can be solved by a variety of age groups.
ESCAPE THE ROOM: MYSTERY AT THE STARGAZER’S MANOR
A rollicking adventure that will take you through the strange sights and weird rooms of an abandoned manor house, Escape the Room brings all the puzzling of an escape room game with the narrative flavour of a children’s adventure movie. Targeted towards a party crowd, the game regularly hands you new objects to sprawl over, including multiple ‘scene cards’ to visually represent the manor house’s interior, a puzzle wheel to fiddle with, and various envelopes to open as you progress on your adventure.
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The game is primarily targeted towards children and families, in both its theme and challenge. If you’re an adult or teenager, don’t expect to find this one tricky. But if you’re keen on a family game night that will get your brain juices flowing, this would be a good pick.
Of the many escape room games out there, Deckscape is the simplest. It uses a single pack of cards to serve up a series of puzzles, one after the other, across a linear adventure. There’s no fluff here. Pick the top card from the pre-constructed deck, read the question, and use the information provided to work out the solution. Check the back of the card once you fancy yourself correct, and see if you were right. If not, take a hit to your points, but continue with the next puzzle.
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Deckscape doesn’t try to recreate the physical experience of being trapped in a room, scouring for secrets and acquiring clues as you progress. It sits somewhere between an escape room and brainteaser, with a healthy dollop of storytelling to keep you engaged between puzzles. It particularly caters towards those who are after a cognitive challenge, but want to cut straight to the problem, and fancy quickly skipping over any puzzle they find too challenging.
There are a few sets available, but we recommend getting started with Deckscape: Test Time, the first entry in the series, and picking up the others if they take your fancy.
In a completely different flavour of escape room games, the Escape Tales series combines narrative focus, player choice, and classic puzzling, standing proud for its refreshing emphasis on storytelling. You’ll be navigating a branching plot to uncover a dark, supernatural mystery, choosing your route of exploration and carving out your own adventure. The series plays like a cross between a typical escape room board game and a Fighting Fantasy gamebook.
As such, Escape Tales dispenses with many of the genre tropes. There’s no time limit to your adventure, and you’re encouraged to play across multiple settings. There are few MacGuffins to collect, and no kind of novelty code breaker that’s used to overcome challenges. Instead, most of the puzzles amount to algebraic problems and logical deduction, so if you’re more familiar with word association or physical puzzles, be prepared to get those brain cells working.
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While the stories won’t earn any awards for innovative narrative depth, they lend a certain weightiness to the whole experience, and turn what is often an hour-long gimmick into a substantiated adventure. The basic operation of gameplay – pick an area to explore, read a flowery description of the environment, and draw a handful of cards presenting a puzzle and clues – bakes your choices into the narrative, and never strays far from the main plot.
If you’re curious, pick up The Awakening. The shortest Escape Tales game, it captures all the major elements of the series in a supernatural tale of a father trying to wake his daughter from a coma.
ESCAPE ROOM IN A BOX
A game that doesn’t hold back in the props department, Escape Room in a Box does its best to replicate the joy of physical puzzle solving. You’ll find little plastic lockets inside, which don’t metaphorically open through drawing solution cards, or spring wide after typing numbers into a phone app, but use functioning padlocks to keep shut. It goes some way to ensuring authenticity – there’s no possibility of cheating or giving up; if you want to know what’s in that box, you’ve got to play.
The game doesn’t rest on its novelty. The puzzles are fair and varied, and cater to everyone from young players keen to lend a helping hand, to brainteaser veterans up for a challenge.
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Avoiding massive information dumps that might overwhelm you at the start of the game, it makes for a pleasant ride that paces its clues, and even has a few unexpected twists to throw up along the way.
The game comes in a vanilla variant, as well as a Werewolf Experiment and Walking Dead edition. The themes are surface deep, though, so go with whichever appeals most, or whichever is cheapest at the time you’re buying.
CURIO: THE LOST TEMPLE
While not an escape room game per se, Curio captures the co-operative puzzle-solving and frenetic rhythm of the best four-wall breakout games around. Taking the role of intrepid archaeologists attempting to escape the hostile depths of a forgotten temple complex, you’ll be breaking codes and cracking clues in quickfire 15-minute matches.
Your objective is to solve a handful of puzzle cards dealt to each player. If you can muster up the correct strings of letters, you’ll win, and earn extra points for your speed. But solving these finicky tasks isn’t as simple as pooling your minds together.
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Players are handed individual clues and puzzle-solving pieces to keep for themselves, and must share information with their fellow code-breakers succinctly and quickly if they’re to win.
The game’s emphasis on co-operation through clear communication and collective thinking does well to imitate the often strained problem-solving of escape rooms. There’s no semblance of narrative, and its theme doesn’t make much of an appearance. But if you want to recreate the frenzied puzzle-solving of escape rooms on the tabletop, this is a solid pick.
An accessible hybrid of Escape Room game and mail-order true crime detective game, Puzzling Pursuits box sets present you with two big folders full of printed materials – letters, maps, photos, newspaper clippings, and more – each of which offers five separate puzzles, and one ‘meta-puzzle’ connecting them.
Similarly to many Exit: The Game titles, there’s a good amount of variety among the puzzles, with word and image associations, ciphers, hidden shapes and symbols, and even a limited amount of outside-of-game research included in the mix. Few of them are truly fiendish, but all are well-made and entertaining.
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In our testing, one envelope (so six puzzles – half the content included in one boxed game) provided six people ample brain-busting after-dinner entertainment for a good couple of hours.
Compared to most retail Escape Room boxed games, Puzzling Pursuits‘ materials feel quite impressive and immersive – newspaper cuttings, for example, are printed convincingly on thin, newsprint-y paper. Plus, the games’ themes (while hardly subtle) do a solid job of creating a narrative atmosphere for your puzzling. If you tend to prefer letters, wordplay, and detective work to logic and code-wheels, these are well worth a go.
Coded Chronicles is a series of escape room board games that combines at-home puzzle-solving with famous franchises. Each box has players exploring a map, solving individual puzzles to facilitate their eventual escape.
Puzzles come in sealed envelopes, and a large part of the gameplay is reading extracts from provided books in order to investigate objects and use your character’s abilities on the world around them. This is a Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective amount of reading, so it helps to get a group together who know how to have fun with narration duties.
There’s no time limit on a Coded Chronicles game, and it’s a cooperative experience. This may sound low-pressure, but the games present you with the opportunity to use clues when stuck – how many clues you end up losing will have a big impact on your group’s final score.
Our favourite entry in the series by far is Scooby-Doo: Escape from the Haunted Mansion. It’s fun and family-friendly while also providing a reasonable level of challenge.
However, not every box has the same level of quality. The Shining: Escape from the Overlook Hotel makes great use of its theme and iconic setting, but our copy came with game-breaking errors that may mean you want to wait for a reprint before picking it up. We’ve not yet tackled The Goonies: Escape with One-Eyed Willy’s Rich Stuff, but we’re hoping it’s closer to Scooby-Doo than The Shining.