This month, NM Escape Room turns 6 years old and is still the original and longest running escape room in the state! To kick off the coming days to celebrate our anniversary, we thought we’d take a trip down memory lane to look at where we started, what we’ve accomplished, and how we’ll grow.
In 2015, escape games had already been spreading throughout Asia and Europe into the Americas since 2008, but there weren’t that many in the USA at the time much less any in the state of New Mexico. It was a crazy notion that most folks did not think would take hold as firmly as it has now in the entertainment industry at the time. The owners, Carie and Darren Guido, had been in the haunted house industry for 5 years prior to becoming the trailblazers for escape rooms in not only New Mexico, but the Southwest region.
While we weren’t planning to go through another season of running a haunted house, we decided to take a trip to the annual haunted house convention, TransWorld Haunted House Attraction Show, March 2015 in St. Louis, MO, and it was here that we first encountered the concept of escape rooms. There amidst the flashy props and interactive booths was a small table set up by a haunted attraction owner from Tennessee, with locked up boxes strewn about. Something about this interesting concept caught our attention. After a few conversations, we knew our next step forward from haunted houses was to bring escape rooms to New Mexico; we were so taken and excited with this idea that we wrote most of our business plan while traveling back from the convention.
With fresh ideas brewing and an innovative drive, we set out to find a location in Albuquerque to bring our vision to fruition. We actually signed the lease for the location at Carlisle, (still up and running) before ever actually playing an escape room. We went to work right away developing the space (previously office space) to be functional for hosting groups and operating immersive games out of.
Within a handful of weeks, we had their first game up: the Blood Map. This scenario had individual puzzles provided by the Owner / operator of Extreme Escape Games in Franklin, TN to help us get started. We came up with the theme, storyline, some props, game flow, and overall design for the escape room itself, including the secret door in the bookshelf. While it was suggested that we just stick with a generic theme, we really wanted to create an experience for players to not only work through puzzles but have an immersive storyline guiding them along. The first weekend was a little slow, but after that, we were full with bookings left and right. We didn’t stop from there, building out the infamous scenario, the Cabin, three months later, and then the Unpublished (now retired) four months after that, having three fully operational scenarios up before the end of our first year.
From our humble origins at our Carlisle location, we have significantly expanded upon our skills, allowing us to provide more immersive and memorable experiences. Just over a year into being open, we set their sights on finding a second, larger location to open up. Something we wanted to have with the second location was the space to build our scenarios on site rather than in what little spare area we had or even out of our garage. We also wanted enough space to have a conference/party room for larger groups to have meetings or celebrate any number of occasions. The scenarios at the McLeod location are larger with much more experiential elements and have high set production behind them.
Our logo even changed during the first year of being open. The original concept was orange and grey with a bit of a maze/labyrinth to it, but it wasn’t as strong as it is now. We felt that it didn’t fully encapsulate the vibe and energy of our company, as the first escape room business of New Mexico. The new (and current) design is sleek, subtle, and effective, incorporating the concept of open/closed doors and a keyhole. Despite its simple imagery, it is powerful and captivating, fitting for a front runner escape room business in this region.
We have dabbled in a handful of booking styles and approaches, adjusting what we offer based on overall experiences, business needs, and global situations. Upon first opening, we used an open style booking system, filling up any and all available spots, resulting in multiple groups at times working together in the same session. This was the standard across the country at the time. We soon learned that this might not be the most enjoyable experience for groups wanting to just stick with folks they were familiar with; we branched out to a private booking system before our two year anniversary. This worked great for a while, but we noticed this frequently left out groups of two’s and three’s from booking in advance. We switched to a semi-private system allowing for smaller groups to book up front, knowing they may be paired with others, or booking for four or more up front to ensure a private session. This worked wonderfully until the pandemic hit, in which case we adopted a private system across the board for groups of two or more, keeping folks safe while allowing them to escape the chaos of the real world.
How we give hints has altered and changed over the years, adapting to the theme and setting for a given scenario. Traditionally hints are given out at most three times upon request of the players usually through a typed format sent to them through a TV monitor in the scenario. We had this in place for 5 of our scenarios (and still do for two of them), but wanted to play with this convention. We broke free from this style with Nefertari’s Tomb, where the game master comes in to the scenario to guide players through whatever puzzle(s) they are working through. With Bombshell, we wanted to dive deeper into the immersive element and theme by adding a phone in the scenario for players to pick up and “call” the assistant (their game master in character). With Blackwell Manor and Super Secret, we utilized the voice actors for the characters in those storylines to have audible hints to give to players upon request. Recently, we implemented an automated hint system in both Nefertari’s Tomb and Blackwell Manor, whereby players ask for as many hints as they want through a tablet in the scenario with them that plays a video hint showing them how to work through the puzzle either at hand or that they request depending on the scenario. At the end of the day, our philosophy with hints is to help players through so that they can experience more of their game at hand.
Since opening in June 2015, we have hosted 9 full escape games, one mini escape game, and one little table top escape game, adjusting our style and approach to designing and building escape rooms. We learn from the numerous groups and individuals who have played our games, allowing for us to create smoother game flows and utilizing crowd favorite tropes.
The escape rooms that we have created in recent years are full of immersion, story lines, theatrics, and themed puzzles and tasks to interact with and complete throughout the duration of your game time. We strive to include thematic puzzles and interactions within each scenario so that you have a well rounded, challenging, and in-depth experience. Yes, our rooms do incorporate common tropes, but we try to expand upon how those tropes are utilized and how they can differently present puzzles within the scenario.
We pride ourselves with our outstanding customer service and have been blessed with enthusiastic and cordial game masters over the years, who strive to make each experience engaging and memorable regardless of the outcome of the game. Our staff are driven and passionate about any multitude of mediums for art, which have been integrated within several of our escape rooms. Two of our game masters spearheaded the original concept and design for Super Secret, another became the animator and digital artist for Bombshell, Blackwell Manor, and Super Secret, while others have contributed with prop design, painting, and construction. It has been such a joy to see how much our game masters have grown and expanded upon their creative and technical skills beyond that of working as your game masters.
Oftentimes, charity groups, schools, non-profits, etc. have reached out to us for assistance with fundraisers for their cause. We have been delighted to contribute gift voucher donations to over 150 groups and organizations over the past 6 years! Beyond that, we have worked fairly closely with the 4 Legged Race over the past 5 years with fundraising efforts for Viva NM Animal Rescue. For this particular endeavor, we have created compact versions of existing escape rooms, utilized our mini escape room, and as of this year revamped our table tap escape game for their fundraiser. We recently ran a puzzle drive to collect jigsaw puzzles to redistribute to homebound members of our community via Joy Junction and Alta Mira, and hope to embark upon future community support efforts soon!
This past year and the forced change has been rough in so many ways, but we are honored to keep providing an escape from the real world for folks in the greater Albuquerque area. Your patronage for this small local business has helped us muster through these times. We hope to start back up again with designing rooms on top of providing top tier escape game experiences. As a thank you for your continued support, we are offering a discount for sessions scheduled throughout the entire month of June 2021: use the promo code 6YEARS for 6% off any booking.
Cheers to 6 years and to many more!