10 Most Popular Escape Room Themes & Objectives
There are hundreds of escape room themes to choose from, spanning everything from prison escapes to Old West train robberies. If you’re thinking of gathering up your savviest group of friends and braving one of these unique attractions yourself, you’ll need to decide ahead of time which theme appeals to you the most. Most escape room facilities will have multiple themes housed under a single roof, and you’ll often need to book your appointment in advance.
We’ve broken down the most popular escape room scenarios to give you a better idea of what to expect and hopefully make your decision-making process a bit easier.
The 10 Most Popular Escape Room Themes
Looking for escape room ideas? According to the 2018 Escape Room Industry Survey, these are the most popular themes you’ll find in escape rooms across the U.S. and around the world (in order of popularity).
Mystery-themed escape rooms might have storylines that surround Sherlock Holmes, a murder mystery dinner event, or another type of police or detective narrative. These attractions can take on an array of different forms, but they commonly involve solving a murder with deductive reasoning.
Fantasy-themed escape rooms often incorporate elements of magic. These rooms may be inspired by popular series like Harry Potter or Game of Thrones, or they may feature original narratives.
3. Science / Laboratory
These complex escape rooms are perfect for science buffs. You may be required to conduct chemistry experiments, find the appropriate chemical mixture, create an alternative energy source to unlock a motorized exit door, or use the periodic table of elements as a cipher to decrypt a coded message.
These escape rooms are not for the faint of heart. As with fantasy escape rooms, they’re sometimes inspired by popular films like the Saw series. In most cases, though, they involve an original story and require the game players to escape a house of horrors or evade a deranged serial killer. These rooms may include live actors, jump scares, and disturbing imagery and are generally not recommended for younger participants (don’t worry; the game masters won’t let the monsters get you…or will they?).
5. Future / Technological
Sci-fi escape rooms are gaining popularity as they’re able to incorporate virtual reality (VR), touchscreen puzzles, holograms, and other cool technologies. Whether you’re trying to prevent an imminent disease outbreak in a dystopian future or escape a space shuttle that’s careening toward Earth, there’s never a dull moment.
The premise here is pretty simple: execute a successful prison break before time runs out. It’s the classic escape room model, but it’s still extremely effective. In most cases, all of the action takes place in your prison cell. In some of the more elaborate escape room experiences, you’ll need to first break out of your cell and then find a way out of the cell block before making your way to freedom.
Some escape room facilities will offer seasonal attractions related to Christmas, Easter, Halloween, and other major holidays. In some cases, non-seasonal escape rooms are modified with seasonal touches for a limited time. Often, the rooms are completely transformed with a brand-new storyline and new puzzles.
A military-themed escape room may require participants to escape a POW camp, rescue hostages, or evade enemy capture in an active warzone. You might encounter puzzles that involve morse code (or other coded messages), military time, espionage, and foreign language translation.
Steampunk escape rooms are similar to fantasy and sci-fi rooms, but they’re centered around common steampunk conventions like Victorian-inspired designs, steam engine technologies, and the melding of science and magic. Expect puzzles that involve lots of elaborate gears and clockwork—and in some cases even alchemy.
If you’ve ever dreamed of being the bad guy for a day, a crime escape room might be up your alley. A crime-focused escape room might allow you to simulate the experience of carrying out an elaborate heist, breaking into a bank vault, or destroying incriminating evidence that could put you away for life.
There are countless other themes for escape rooms as well, ranging from school-themed to anime to Western. And new options are constantly emerging. Whether you dream of exploring ancient pyramids or traveling back in time to the 15th century, there’s an escape room out there for you.
The 10 Most Popular Escape Room Objectives
The escape room objective refers to the actual role, task, or goal. This is separate from the theme, as different themes can carry the same type of objective. For example, if your objective is to locate a missing person, you may be dealing with a mystery-themed escape room, a horror-themed escape room, or a military-themed escape room.
When you know the type of objective that appeals to you the most, you can narrow down your choice of escape room more easily. The following are the most common objectives you’ll find in local escape room attractions, according to the 2018 Escape Room Industry Survey:
1. Locate or Create Something
You might have to locate an ancient artifact, a stash of gold, a dead relative’s missing will, or some other form of treasure. Alternately, you might be tasked with creating something like a magic potion or a liquid antidote.
2. Escape From Captivity
Depending on the theme, you might be required to escape from a prison, an asylum, a dungeon, a haunted house, a bunker, a pyramid, or even a school. The clues may be isolated to one room, or you may have to escape from multiple rooms, each with its own mysteries.
3. Be an Adventurer
This objective often overlaps with other objectives (such as locating something). If you’ve ever dreamed of walking in the footsteps of Indiana Jones and braving exotic locales in the face of certain danger (whether to collect an ancient amulet or rescue captives in distress), this may be the objective for you.
4. Carry Out a Heist
A heist escape room may involve capturing a priceless work of art, breaking into a bank vault, or slipping past increasingly complex security measures to access a millionaire’s hidden fortune. It’s a great opportunity for you and your confidants to live out your Ocean’s Eleven fantasies.
5. Solve a Murder
This is the classic whodunnit setup. You’re provided with the clues and the list of suspects, and your job is to then comb through every detail in the room and determine who committed the heinous crime.
6. Diffuse an Explosive Device
Common in military-themed escape games, this setup typically requires you to sort through clues and figure out the numeric code (or arrangement of wires) that will deactivate the bomb before time runs out. The visual countdown and incessant ticking sounds allow for maximum tension in this situation.
7. Locate a Missing Person
The missing-person trope lends itself to most escape room themes. You’re provided with basic background information about the individual, as well as key details surrounding their disappearance or capture. Your mission may be to rescue them outright (such as by opening a locked bunker) or to solve the mystery of what happened to them.
8. Gather Intelligence or Espionage
Some escape rooms are rooted in very specific information-gathering: Find out the name of the spy. Discover the coordinates of the terrorist cell (longitude and latitude). Find out which of your superior officers is making backroom deals with hostile foreign leaders. These escape rooms require meticulous attention to detail and can be tough to crack.
9. Just Survive
In horror-themed escape rooms especially, sometimes the objective is simply to run down the clock for 30 to 60 minutes before you get captured by hostile pursuers. Not every player can handle it, but if you’re up to the challenge, this type of attraction can offer quite the adrenaline rush.
10. Solve a Theft
Sometimes you’re the thief (e.g. heist rooms), but other times you’re the person catching the thief. This objective sometimes overlaps with the popular “locate something” quest noted at the top of this list, although in this case, the objective can sometimes be twofold: find the stolen goods, and discover the identity of the thief.
Other popular objectives include connecting with the supernatural, conducting military operations, and even carrying out an assassination.
How to Choose an Escape Room Theme for Your Team
Depending on where you live (or where you’re visiting), you might not have many choices in escape room games. If you’re lucky enough to be near a major city, though, you might have access to every type of escape room under the sun. For example, if you’re looking for a Los Angeles escape room, there are over 250 options to choose from.
When deciding on an escape room:
- Consider the interests of everyone in your group.
- Don’t just consider the themes that appeal to you; think about your preferred objectives as well.
- Try something new; if you’ve already completed a mystery-themed escape room, it might be time to mix it up and try a horror or adventure - room.
- Decide whether age appropriateness is a factor (or office-appropriateness); some escape rooms have recommended minimum ages.
- Consider the level of difficulty; some facilities will include a difficulty rating or score for each escape room, and certain themes tend to be more challenging by design (like science and espionage, for instance). Whichever attraction you choose, you’re sure to have an unforgettable time as long as you gather your best crew, come in with a game plan, and just have fun with it.