Critical Play – Mysteries – Jason Ah Chuen

I decided to write about an escape room, which is full of mysteries, for this week’s critical play since our team is working on a physical escape room.


Name of game: The Father of Silicon Valley

Creator: Breakout Studios

Platform: Physical escape room

Target Audience: Anyone who is at least somewhat interested in puzzle solving.

Important Formal Elements of the game:

This escape room is a very technology-centered one. There is a time limit of 60 minutes and it could be played by 4-8 players. Like with all escape rooms, the objective of the game is to be able to escape within the time limit. More specifically in this escape room, we had to travel back in time and find out who killed the Father of Silicon Valley, and then find an antidote to save him in time. The escape room was set in Silicon valley in 1942 and during the WWII.

The rules and mechanics are pretty straightforward. We had to solve a bunch of puzzles to make progress and get to the next room and puzzle. Since the theme was centered around Silicon Valley, a lot of the puzzles were very logic-based. One puzzle involved following a map of Stanford. Another one involved figuring out how to match objects to a bunch of pictures. Another one involved some basic CS103 concept where we were told that this plane belonged to this country OR that country, another one belonged to a different country, etc, and we had to figure out which plane it was.

Type of fun game intended, and if it met its goals:

One type of fun intended is challenge. The puzzles were definitely challenging and we had to ask for some hints twice. They were also not too challenging that we would get frustrated. However, the CS103-like puzzle was very tedious and was not too fun. Overall, the escape room did a great job at presenting us fun challenges.

Another type of fun intended is sensation. The room was very well decorated in a technology and WWII fashion. The props used were closely related to the theme. Overall, they did a great job at making us feel immersed in that time period.

Another type of fun intended is narrative. Like mentioned earlier, the story was about going back in time to figure out who killed the Father of Silicon Valley and trying to save him. To be honest, I barely remember any details at all about the narrative. I feel like parts of it did not connect or did not make sense, and overall the narrative was not unique or special enough to be memorable.

We could also say that fellowship is another one. Like in all escape rooms, players have to work together to solve the puzzles and it builds fellowship amongst them. I would say this type of fun was somewhat, as I elaborate more below.

Moments of particular success or epic fails:

One particular success that we had was when we were able to figure out that one wood plank was making noise as we accidentally walked over it, which led us to more clues. Another one was when we were able to escape room in about 50 minutes, and we were all really proud of our time.

One epic fail was when my friend blew into a cigarette prop and it just didn’t do anything. That, and some other props, were distracting us too much away from the important parts of the puzzles. Another fail was when we were able to solve a puzzle without actually understanding it – I believe that should not happen in an escape room since it leads to a sense of fake victory.

Things you would change to make the game better:

First, I would make sure that the narrative is more strongly connected to the puzzles and the overall flow of the game. This will help players understand why they are doing this puzzle-solving and what they are escaping from in the first place. I would remove the distracting props. Another improvement is reducing the maximum number of players in the game. We had 8 players and it was definitely too many people for the number and complexity of the puzzles. Some of us would sometimes just zone out and feel like letting other people figure it out, which is not in the spirit of fellowship and cooperation for an escape room. Perhaps some of the puzzles could also be more collaborative, e.g. requiring people to do things together, communicate to each other, etc.

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