Get locked up with friends or coworkers in the latest live-action game and team-building craze: puzzle rooms and escape games.

The Escape Club

Written by Jimmy Magahern Category: Lifestyle Issue: April 2016
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Escape rooms are the new paintball, the hot corporate team-building activity that’s quickly taking hold across America, including the Valley. Already there are at least nine locations around Phoenix, according to the authoritative website Escape Room Directory, offering some version of the experience – which, like karaoke and cosplay, started in Japan and is already a phenomenon from Budapest to San Francisco, where it arrived in the U.S. in 2012.

In a nutshell, the adventure involves locking a group of players, usually numbering between 8 and 12, in a room filled with objects that contain clues or keys to their escape. The time limit, typically an hour, is part of the appeal: It’s a fast-paced race through a series of puzzles that engages every player’s knowledge and abilities, set in a cleverly themed environment that invokes their inner actor. “It makes the players the characters in their own adventure,” says Lisa Radding, an NYC researcher who’s become a self-proclaimed “room escape artist,” playing and reviewing some 65 escape rooms across the U.S. in 2015. “Each solved puzzle accelerates forward motion, following the story structure that you would expect from a good book or movie.”

SOME OF THE VALLEY'S GREATEST ESCAPES

Phoenix Puzzle Room
Located just north of the Central and Adams light rail station, offers two games: The Pearled Pachyderm, where a team must pilfer a rare artifact in a study before being caught, and The Curse of Madame Lumina, where participants must escape a coffee shop haunted by a dead fortune teller. Phoenix Puzzle Room’s operators call themselves “Human Interactions Architects,” which points to an emerging respect for escape room runners by experienced gamers. “We consider the game designers of any of our favorite games to be artists,” Radding says. “Their art combines puzzle design and storytelling to create living sculptures that players interact with. The best rooms are art installations in and of themselves.” $30 per person. 

106 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, 602-253-0746, 
phoenixpuzzleroom.com

Escape the Room Arizona
Offers four themed rooms: The ApartmentWestern Bank HeistThe Rec Room (where players look for clues amidst stacks of old VHS tapes, Atari consoles and Walkmans to “escape the ’80s”), and The Dig, an archaeology-themed game based on the 2015 USA Network miniseries. “Think Indiana Jones meets The Da Vinci Code,” says Radding, who tried – and loved – the room at another Escape the Room franchise (there are now 18) in Philadelphia. $32.23 per person. 

7017 E. Main St., Scottsdale, 480-524-0393, 
escapetheroomaz.com

Epic Escape Game
Boasts the largest escape room facility in Phoenix, with four rooms: Blood Thirst, where players hunt Dracula in his lair; The Fortune Teller, involving a missing psychic reader; The Whimsical Library, where players search for the overdue Book of Fun; and Top Dog, where players must rescue a kidnapped show dog. $27 per person.

844 N. Fourth Ave., Phoenix, 602-258-0758, 
epicescapegame.com

At PanIQ Room
“Flow is king,” says owner Patrik Strausz. “This means that we strive to build escape games that are so immersive that people get completely involved in the activity.” Strausz stresses that their three games, Wild WestKidnapped and Aliens, are all Hungarian-style escape rooms, limited to a six-player maximum with no strangers mixed in. “We think that the experience is best when it’s shared with people you know.” $139 for a group of six on weekdays, $179 on weekends.

1638 S. Seventh St., Phoenix, 480-363-6566, 
paniqroom.com

ACT Room Escapes
Has just one room, but it’s a crowd-pleaser. In an odd partnership with Ahwatukee Children’s Theatre (ACT), the Ohio-based Room Escape Adventures offers Trapped in a Room with a Zombie, where participants try to escape a locked room while a zombie, played by an actor in full costume, becomes increasingly freed from its chains. “Because this game incorporates a live actor, it is different from the typical escape room experience,” says Radding, who tried the game in New York (it’s licensed in 26 cities). “If you get a good zombie, it can be a great time.” $28 per person. 

5047 E. Elliot Rd., Phoenix, 602-527-3009,
actroomescapes.com

Phoenix Escape Room
Presents a different pair of adventures at each of its two locations in Phoenix and Gilbert, from a race to find a grandfather’s pocket watch before a house is demolished to an Ocean’s Eleven-type heist of a Vegas casino. But corporate team-building is the focus, says Rick LeSage, development VP for parent company USA Escape Room, which also runs locations in California, Colorado and Oregon. “The experience allows you to learn more about your coworkers and how you all fit together as a team,” he says, “followed by a facilitated discussion to uncover even more takeaways that you can start applying in your office daily.” $30 per person. 

6040 N. Seventh St., Phoenix, 602-900-4111 and 1422 W. Warner Rd., Gilbert, 480-264-7512, 
phoenixescaperooms.com