Read the Whitefish Pilot article here.
October 24, 2017 at 2:33 pm | By Daniel McKay
Night grows dark, and a search-and-rescue team wanders inside an abandoned cabin in the forest for shelter. Something feels off, and once the first booby-trap is discovered, survival means escape.
That’s the premise of HiddenKey cabin, an escape room game that recently set up shop outside Whitefish.
Located on Highway 93 South next to Montana Coffee Traders, HiddenKey has had its doors open for just a month, owner Sandy Welch said. It’s one of several escape game rooms in the state, she said, including in Missoula, Billings, Belgrade, Great Falls and Helena.
The game takes teams of two to 10 people into a room, where they have to search for clues and solve puzzles to escape in 60 minutes. Players must be age 12 or older.
Right now two puzzle rooms are offered at HiddenKey, with plans for two more in the works. Welch said so far, she’s hit her initial month’s goals of 10 groups a day.
Escape games have been growing rapidly in the U.S., Welch said. In 2014 only 22 companies operated games like hers. By 2017, that number is at nearly 2,000 and growing fast. Originating in Asia, the games have been popular with locals as well as tourists, who check in at different vacation destinations to look for new games once they’ve been hooked.
While her games are geared for anyone in the area who hopes to try out the puzzles, the flow of tourists in Whitefish will keep bringing new, interested visitors into the escape rooms.
“Whitefish has a lot of tourists, and actually playing escape games is something that tourists do — once you find one you move around and try others,” she said. “In the winter, folks are here on a ski vacation, but at some point you get a little sore and you need a couples hours off, you need another diversion and this is a nice thing for that.”
Welch said her games are designed at the beginner level. Of the multitudes she’s played, she said she’s seen games that are easier, more difficult, and some that are designed to be nearly unsolvable.
Just as she hopes vacationers in Whitefish will get sucked into the game, Welch explained the draw of her own first experiences with escape games.
She and her family stumbled on the games while on a two-week vacation Florida. They tried it out, needing a break from the beach, and they were hooked.
“By the second week we were looking for something to do, and we found escape games. We played like three different games, we’d play one and say, ‘Maybe we should do that again tomorrow,’” she said. “We left and we couldn’t stop talking about it for the next hour. We spent as long talking about it as we did playing. It was just that exciting.”
At HiddenKey, players are only stumped as long as they choose to be, Welch said. The rooms are equipped with cameras, microphones and speakers, allowing the staff — called game masters — to offer up hints and clues to stuck visitors.
Most of the time players can get the game solved in the 60-minute time period, or at least get very close. Sometimes she’ll see players whiz through the puzzles in 20 minutes, and other times confident visitors will be humbled by the game.
The fun part about the game is the teamwork, Welch said. Each player gets to contribute a different perspective in solving the game, noticing clues that another member of the group might not pick up on.
“You have to use teamwork and communication while you’re playing, so you get this really great shared experience, which is nice when families are on vacation or for a group of friends. You now have this one thing you all did together, but it’s still something that there was enough going on that you still have to talk to each other about it afterwards. It’s an experience that lasts longer than just the actual experience lasts,” she said.
The games are for anyone, she added. It doesn’t matter if one is young or old — anyone can come in and give the game a shot.
“We’ve had a 12-year-old’s birthday party, we’ve had teams from law firms and healthcare companies play, we’ve had three generations play together, so it’s such a great mix,” she said.
For more information and to book game times, visit www.hiddenkeyescapegames.com or call 406-823-0564.