Designing an escape room starts with a game of scattegories

I mean, it only makes sense that designing and building your own game starts with a game….right? But this isn’t just an ordinary old game of scattergories. It’s called scattergories for designing an escape room!

Which sounds uber boring, so I like to call it puzzlegories

escape room tampa

Basically the rules are the same, but the catch is now you are in full control of the categories that your listing things about. So, for example, usually a common category in any scattergories box might be Beach stuff and your list after a minute might look like this:

escape room tampa

And for the above words you would get a certain amount of points for relevance based on what the “most common things” people think of when they think of a beach.

So, back to why scattergories will help you design an escape room better. You’re going to need a robust and strong theme with an equally good storyline (example below of great storyline and theme, I don’t know if you’ve heard of it?).

Escape Room Tampa

Then you take this theme like Pirate, Jail, Sky city, cave, or whatever else your big heart desires and put it as the main category. Then ask at least ten friends to write as many things they as they can think of when thinking of that environment in two minutes.


That’s it! Basically you want to find the “most common things” people think of when thinking of your escape room theme. This will allow you to build puzzles that immerse people in your room without even trying that hard.

Here ‘s an example using the theme Pirate Ship and below I will list four people and what their lists may look like after 2 minutes.

Tim’s ListTina’s ListFred’s ListGary’s List
Walk the plankParrotPeg legBarrel
SailMastCrows nestCannon
CaptainGunsScurvyShip wheel
BrigPrisonersEye patchCompass
ship wheelRopesBarrelsChest
Treasure chestFishparrotOrnamental front piece

Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. We have some common areas in these lists like treasure chest, mast/sail, ship wheel, parrot, and barrel. 

BAZINGGA! Now you have the beginnings of an immersive escape room. You just need a storyline to organize the elements above into a escape room that makes sense and FLOWS.  

Ok, let’s say the theme is as follows:

You, a member of the blackjack crew named John T. Scurvy-dog, caught wind that the captain was planning to turn the whole crew over to the British naval forces in return for a plot o land and a bucket o plunder. Attempting to stir up a mutiny the captain caught you and locked you in the brig and forbade all the rest of the blackjack crew to speak to you. Escape the brig and warn the crew before they become British prisoners and the captain rolls in his riches!!

So there’s your basic storyline. Now take the puzzles above and starting building some themed puzzles off them. For example, Coax the parrot to tell you the brig code by feeding him cracker.

The above method, which I have termed puzzlegories is how I start designing all of my escape rooms at Imagine Escape Games. It allows me to find what the general population thinks of most when they think of the environment that I am building.

Author: Mike Linquist, lead puzzle designer at Imagine Escape Games