Workshops at RECON ‘21

The workshops gave us the chance to get hands-on experience on various aspects of creating and running an escape room. 

There were four different workshops:

  • One on game design
  • One on storytelling
  • One on creative puzzles, and
  • One on hospitality

We attended the workshop on hospitality.

“Why, if the workshops were so great, did we attend only one?”

I’ll come to that in a bit.

How the workshops…worked

Every workshop was done twice – once on Sunday and once on Monday.

As a limited capacity event, it made sense to run it twice so more people could join in. 

A total of 20 to 25 people attended each workshop.

It started with a talk on the topic, given by the hosts.

Then attendees were broken up into small groups, and given a few small tasks, giving us the chance to have hands-on experience with the topic.

Why I feel the workshops are so important 

As we will see, each workshop was hosted by thought leaders and experts from highly successful escape room franchises.

At the moment, the escape room industry is mostly fragmented, with small, mom and pop ventures dominating the landscape.

These smaller escape rooms are owned and run by highly enthusiastic people no doubt, but practically, most of them would lack the time, the experience…and the data…to meaningfully think about game design, or storytelling, or creative puzzles or hospitality. (no shots were fired in the writing of this paragraph)

The workshops gave us all an opportunity to tap the brains of the masters of the craft, for clues on how to rev up the escape room experience to bring in more players. 

The RECON Campus

Fittingly, a separate server called the “Campus” was created for the workshops.

So, why did we attend only one workshop?

Because of…

The Hospitality Workshop

Limited availability!

I guess logistics made it difficult for any workshop to host more than 20-25 participants, because these workshops are interactive and rely on individual attention from the host. 

Even though each workshop was held twice, it just wasn’t enough to meet the demand.

Which is why, I presume, each RECON ticket holder could claim access to only one workshop.

Presented by: Emily Zini and Brian Mandel from The Escape Game (Nashville, Tennessee, USA)

Topic: How can escape rooms find staff who’re good at making players feel welcome throughout their experience?

And how can escape rooms create a company culture based on happiness and hospitality?

The core of the workshop revolves around this unique and intriguing formula: 

‘Logic’ already comes from the games. Where as ‘Magic’ is all about bringing the experience of a 5-star Hotel into an escape room. 

It proved fascinating to go behind the scenes and see for ourselves how arguably one of the most successful escape room franchises in the world…

Develops processes on acquiring and retaining employees, 

Constantly improves their code of conduct for dealing with customers (or guests, as they like to call them) and

Creates systems and processes around bringing the experience of a 5-star hotel to a small escape-room

Overall it was a fascinating experience that unlocked a lot of ideas on how attendees could take their customer experience to the next level. 


The storytelling workshop

Presented by: Manda Whitney from Room Escape Divas

Topic: The storyline, and the characters of an escape room are key to the experience. How do you develop a killer storyline that keeps players hooked?

If you think about it, an escape room without a gripping storyline is simply a series of puzzles.

You might as well have told the players they’re sitting for an extra aptitude paper for the midterms.

This workshop took a deep dive into storytelling and narration in escape experiences.

How can you use storytelling and narration as the secret sauce to make the experience one the players will remember?

About The Host: Host Manda Whitney is a very well-known escape room reviewer, consultant and script writer for theatre, podcasts, and webseries.


The creative puzzles workshop

Presented by: Bizzaro, Krystal, and Greg from The Test Subjects

Topic: How to turn an ordinary puzzle into an extraordinary experience that fits the theme.

Puzzle creation demands careful attention.

The line between an enjoyably difficult puzzle and a stubborn obstacle is subtle, and it’s very easy for a puzzle to become unreasonably difficult and a mood killer.

The puzzle also needs to gel with the overall theme of the escape game.

That was what this workshop was all about.

I really like their approach of starting with a standard puzzle and improving it – it seems a great way to really make participants appreciate what works and what doesn’t.

About The Hosts: The hosts are a trio of magicians from Las Vegas, with an impressive portfolio stretching from Duck Dynasty to Penn and Teller’s Fool Us to being Resident Magician at the Golden Tiki Bar.


The game design workshop

Presented by: Charlie Bond & James Hamer-Morton from Deadlocked Escape Rooms

Topic:.Exploring a ‘bad’ escape game and try to understand what goes into creating an awesome escape experience.

The approach is similar to the creative puzzles workshop.

Here, participants were asked to playtest a ‘bad’ escape room, and then invited to brainstorm on what its shortcomings were and how it can be improved.

All of us – enthusiasts, owners, vendors, designers and so on – may have played an escape room that we felt was bad.

How many of us decided to analyze the experience, to gain insight into what made it bad and how it could be improved?

Think about it – if you were given such a chance to brainstorm over a terrible escape game with others, couldn’t you have come up with a few ideas on how to improve it? This is the spark that many participants took away from the workshop. 

About The Hosts: The hosts have a background in filmmaking and performance, and generally try to focus on creating narratively immersive experiences.