The whole point of reviewing is to guide people towards the “best” games. The problem is that when I say the “best” games, that’s just my opinion and it’s very likely it’s going to differ from yours. Sure, you can look at a few blogs and cross-reference the results but that’s slow and reliant on understanding their different rating systems. If they even publish ratings. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a simpler system? Well, The Top Escape Rooms Project has taken a step in that direction by trying to pull together a list of the very, very, very best games in the world. They’ve collected the opinions of some of the most extreme enthusiasts on earth and, with the use of some complicated Maths, they’ve compiled a list of the Top 25 games around the globe (well, at least the parts that those uber-enthusiasts have played in).
Many of those games are in North America but the great news is that there are plenty of them easily accessible in Europe so I thought I’d write a quick summary along with my opinions (based on playing and word of mouth) to help guide you towards the experiences that might suit you best. I’ve also delved a little into the games sitting just outside the Top 25.
The Top European Games
If you want to see the full list, you can head over to the Top Escape Rooms Project but if you’re only interested in the European games then here’s the run down covering those that made it into the top 25, with some brief commentary, and some edited highlights from the list beyond that.
Skurrilum – Ernie Hudson and the Wailing Woman, Ernie Hudson and the Zoo of Death (Germany)
First off congratulations to Skurrilum for winning the Top Escape Room Company and the Top Escape Room in the World awards. Those are remarkable achievements and I hope that everyone involved feels rightly proud to have been confirmed as a leading light in the industry. Getting one game into the top 10 is an impressive achievement. To get two games is unique – and well deserved! Of the 700 games I’ve played, Ernie Hudson and the Wailing Woman is my favourite experience and I was not at all surprised to see it win that accolade. The Zoo of Death is no slouch either and I’d highly recommend playing both if you ever get the chance. For that matter, there are five games at the venue and I loved all four of the ones I played. You can read my review of their games here.
Logic Locks – The Amsterdam Catacombs (Netherlands)
Coming in at #4 in the list, The Catacombs has a stunning reputation amongst enthusiasts. I’ve not played Logic Locks’ latest game but I was lucky enough to play the Secrets of Eliza’s Heart last year and they definitely know how to tell a good story. I’m excited that they’ve created something even better and I’m looking forward to returning. What’s more, it’s a 90 minute experience which almost always bodes well in escape rooms. If you want to read my review of their first game then you can check it out here.
THE ROOM – the Lost Treasure of Alexander Humboldt (Germany)
When Go West was launched four years ago, it was well ahead of its time and enthusiasts raved about both the decoration and gameplay. Two games and a couple of years later and The Lost Treasure got even higher accolades from its customers with the company paying so much attention to set decoration that it feels almost wasted on your average player (yes, that’s a genuine prop from the Indiana Jones film). It’s no surprise that it appears at #5 in the list.
With an interesting layout, this isn’t a game for extreme claustrophobes or, indeed, larger players as there are some pretty tight openings to navigate early on. With their latest game, Brandon Darkmoor, having just been released, I wouldn’t bet against THE ROOM getting a new entry into the top 25 next time round. You can find my full review of their first three games here.
Sherlocked – the Vault (Netherlands)
Coming in at #7, the Vault has one of the most stunning starts I’ve ever experienced. In truth, it’s not a traditional game and feels more like an immersive theatre-escape room hybrid. Expect more adventure than puzzling with a fantastic story, amazing interactions and a beautiful, beautiful set. What’s more, they’ve got a second great game at the venue, the Architect. Full review of both games here.
Time Run – Lance of Longinus (United Kingdom)
World-renowned for their immersive experiences, Time Run’s games create worlds of their own with a focus on immersion that binds together the puzzles, story, GM-ing and decoration so I was pleased to see it at #9 in the rankings. In some ways, I don’t really feel this should feature in the top games because it’s almost cruel to tell people about a game that they can no longer play – it closed in April of this year. The good news is that their next adventure, The Game is Now, opens in less than a month so we’ll soon be able to talk about them in the present tense again. Full review of Lance of Longinus here.
Golden Pop – the Catacombs (Spain)
There’s not much I can say about the Catacombs – despite coming in at #11 it’s the only game in the top 25 which I’d not previously heard of so I’m excited to find out more. Looking at the website, it seems to be an Indiana Jones-style adventure presumably with some creepy overtones given the catacombs theme. It’s worth noting that it’s got a four player minimum so worth taking some friends along on the journey!
Claustrophobia – An Avalanche of Oblivion (Andorra)
Claustrophobia has a great reputation in Russia and I’m sure we’ll see more of their games in the future when a larger number of enthusiasts are involved in the voting, but for now An Avalanche of Oblivion, coming in at #12, is one of only two top 25 entries. It’s a game I’ve heard good things about from a fellow UK enthusiast and I love that it’s a theme appropriate to its Andorran setting. What better thing to do after a hard day’s skiing?
Locked in Edinburgh – the Secret Lab (UK)
Ranked at #13, the Secret Lab has a fabulous reputation among UK enthusiasts as a game with a good story in a great venue and for being packed to the gunnels with puzzles. It seems an age since I played it (2016!) but I continue to hear great things about the experience from more recent visitors. Expect to be rushed off your feet with solving from the moment you enter the game to the dying seconds! And with two other highly-rated games, why not make a day of it! You can read my review here.
Escape Room Nederland – The Girl’s Room (Netherlands)
Escape Room Nederland (and the Girl’s Room in particular) has long had a reputation in enthusiasts’ groups. While I’m not particularly into horror rooms, it’s great to see a game that people describe as genuinely scary making it to #16 because it shows that even games that divide players can be highly rated. I’ve not visited yet but everything I’ve heard is good… assuming you’re brave enough…
Teorema Escape Rooms – Atlantis (Bulgaria)
This game has had enough plaudits in the enthusiast groups that it’s put Sofia high on my list to visit and being rated at #17 in this list has moved it up yet another notch. A fellow reviewer described it as a set worthy of a Hollywood film and whenever people ask for recommendations for the city, Teorema is consistently the first entry on the list.
Escape Barcelona – Alien: El Origen (Spain)
I don’t know a huge amount about Alien: El Origen but I’ve been repeatedly told to play it by a variety of Spanish enthusiasts so even before it got ranked at #18 in the world, I already knew it was good. It’s worth mentioning, if you’re thinking of travelling for it, that it’s another game with a minimum of four players.
Quest Art – Insane Paranoid (Russia)
Russia has a great reputation in the enthusiast world but wasn’t well represented among the enthusiasts that voted and I suspect that’s the main reason its highest ranked entry was #19. Insane Paranoid, by all accounts, seems to be a game that is more experience than traditional escape room with an emphasis on actor-interaction. With three actors, two different fear levels and a “contact level of your choice”, this game doesn’t seem to be for the faint-hearted!
Escape Challenge – Honeymoon Hotel (Netherlands)
The Netherlands seems to be packed with great games and Escape Challenge is another company that I keep hearing good things about. The Honeymoon Hotel, ranked at #20, is one of two games at their Zoetermeer venue but I’ve heard good things about all four of the rooms. As seems to be more prevalent with Dutch venues, there’s a distinct horror feel to the experience.
Cubick – The Interview (Spain)
With venues in Madrid and Mataró, The Interview from Cubick is the only game in the top 25 to be found in two locations. At 80 minutes long, for me it’s already moved into the category of room where the owners are thinking about experience over profit and the website description has certainly intrigued me, with a hint that the immersion starts before you enter the room.
Claustrophobia – Alice in Nightmareland (Moscow)
The second Russian entry comes in at #22 and I’m particularly pleased to see that Claustrophobia managed a “home” entry on the list given how strong their reputation is. I’ve often said that Alice in Wonderland provides a great theme for a game with lots of iconic imagery and a whimsical story so I’m very curious to see a horror twist on top of that.
Project Escape – De Ramkraak (Netherlands)
One of the real surprises of the rankings, at least for those who hadn’t visited, De Ramkraak is an amazing experience which sees you take part in a ram raid. Again, there’s immersion from the moment you arrive at the venue, but there’s so much more to it than that so I’m very happy to see it come in at #24. A cool introduction, some great puzzles, an interesting layout, a stressful middle section to the game, complete with multiple goals to ensure enthusiasts are pushed to their limits, and then a wonderful finale to finish it off. It really does tick all the boxes when it comes to escape rooms. Full review here.
Other notable UK rooms
Time Run and Locked In Edinburgh weren’t the only UK companies to do well. While they might have finished out of the awards, the following games all ranked highly and should be on any UK enthusiast’s bucket list.
- #31 Locked in Edinburgh – the Cutting Room (Edinburgh).
- #53 AI Escape – Project Delta (London)
- #55 Extremescape – Lost Tomb (Stockport)
- #59 MARVO – MARVO induction (Bournemouth)
- #66 Escapologic – Curio (Nottingham)
Also, honourable mentions to Bad Clown from Escape Quest and Celestial Chain from Time Run both of which have now closed but were still remembered fondly enough in enthusiasts’ hearts to get a top 50 place.
Map of the top 50 games
Often, enthusiasts are looking for more than just a great game or a great venue and instead are looking for a city where they can play a series of good games. After looking through the top 100, these locations stood out for me:
For me, this is THE European destination for escape rooms. With Hamburg’s history of theatre, I suspect that they had a headstart on most cities and that certainly seems to show in some of the games they’ve produced. As you can see from the results, Skurrilum has world class games but add in Hidden in Hamburg and you have five of my all time favourite experiences. Throw Escape Diem, Big Break and Adventure Team into the mix and you have probably fifteen thoroughly enjoyable games to play. You can read the full breakdown of my city recommendations here.
Amsterdam (and the Netherlands generally)
With Sherlocked and Logic Locks, Amsterdam has a couple of great flagship companies but don’t think that’s it. Judgement Day from MyEscape.club is another game that I thoroughly enjoyed and there’s a long tail of fun experiences in the city such as Questomatica, Save Amsterdam and Locked.Amsterdam. Even the relatively mass market Escape World produces solid games that are worth a visit. If you want to know more, then you can read about it here.
It’s worth reminding you that the Netherlands as a whole has a great reputation with five games in the top 25 and a host of other popular experiences beyond that such as Freakshow and Kamer 237. If you get the chance, it’s worth making a trip round the country – it’s only a couple of hours from top to bottom so a driving tour isn’t out of the question and if you’re into scary games, it’s a fantastic destination.
Ironically, for the overseas city I’ve probably visited most in the world, I’ve hardly played in Barcelona. I did recently play La Mina (the Mine) and was seriously impressed by what they’d created. Given that there are four games ranked higher than it and a host of other games in the top 50, I have to think the city is well worth a visit. It’s worth mentioning that there are a fair number of great games well within driving distance – Mataró and Badalona, for instance, both have top 50 games too.
They don’t feature heavily in the enthusiast rankings but I’d personally also recommend Warsaw, Prague and Budapest. Perhaps they miss out on the top quality games (although Prague has the Chamber which boasts three fantastic experiences) but they certainly have strength in depth at a price that won’t hurt your wallet so much as Western Europe. If you want to read my write-ups, I’ve posted a series of travel guides which can be found here or via the menu above.
Methodology and weaknesses
Let’s start by making this absolutely crystal clear. What they’ve done with this project is phenomenal. I attempted something similar in the past and gave up because it was too painful to get something I truly believed in. The methodology they’ve used is based on sound mathematics and genuinely gives a ranking that I have faith in. That’s not to say it’s perfect of course. There are still a few quirks that mean, while I think the results are really useful, I’d still take them with a pinch of salt…
“Top” Escape Rooms
First off, the voting mechanism likely rewards “mainstream” games. If your game is loved by two thirds of the population but hated by a third, you won’t do well. In particular, horror games are unlikely to come out on top in this ranking (although several creepily themed rooms did do well). In an ideal world, people would rate them on their (to be a little pretentious) “artistic merit” trying to remove their personal preferences. I don’t particularly like horror but when I review, I try to put that to one side as best I can. It’s perfectly reasonable not to in this project. I guess it all depends on what you’re looking for – the room that best executes on its goals or the room that will appeal to the most people. I, like many people, generally prefer blockbusters to arthouse films but I’d kind of like the Oscars not to show that bias.
More to the point, many games aren’t represented in these results at all. None from China, hardly any from Russia, none from Israel and none from Greece. Most contributors were from the US and from Europe and few people had played in both locations to help provide the key comparisons that integrate the results across continents. While the number of games played by all these enthusiasts is impressive (70 enthusiasts, averaging over 300 games each), it’s still only a small proportion of the world’s rooms. Think of them as the best games we know of and take pleasure in knowing that there are probably more amazing experiences yet to be found.
Small sample sizes
The second issue is the, relatively, small sample size with only ~70 enthusiasts taking part. That’s great because I can trust the people in the ranking not to manipulate the results but it presents two issues. First, shared experiences. I played 18 of these games with Mrs Logic and 14 of them with S², the well-known UK escape room couple. Those shared experiences mean that unusually good or bad GM-ing or failures in the room are magnified. Even within a normal game there will be influences – perhaps we got past a particular skill challenge easily or solved a difficult puzzle that would usually frustrate because of a talented team member. I’d argue that we also influence each other’s opinions after the game – not quite the Emperor’s New Clothes but bigging up or dissing games we’ve played.
In some cases, the team I played in may be the majority of the people rating a room. The algorithm, out of necessity, treats all experiences as independent but they’re not and that can skew the results significantly until a lot more people vote.
The other problem is what I’ll refer to as bridges. By that, I mean people (or small groups of people) who connect two very separate sets of games. Let’s imagine that a pair of enthusiasts from Israel had taken part and the only game they’d played outside of Israel was the best in the rest of the world. Further, imagine they’d had a really bad experience there. That would give rise to all the Israeli games they’d played being considered as better than the best “rest of the world” games. Now, there’s some penalty given to games with fewer comparisons but it’s a relatively small factor and I’d warrant that those games would still be overrated. I don’t know the detailed breakdown but I’d guess there are a few games that fall into this category although hopefully none in the Top 25.
It’s not yet clear where this will go – in part I think that will be determined by the enthusiast reaction – but it looks likely it will become an annual event. Perhaps in the future there will be per-country versions, perhaps specific categories. What it will definitely do, is guide enthusiasts to some of the best games in the world and, hopefully, help to reward those companies that are pushing the boundaries of what escape games can be.