In the time of corona, many escape room creators have been busy creating online games, and many of them have generously made their games available at no charge. I binge-played over 50 of them, and (after recovering) have put together a quick summary of each of them.
When a company puts out a game for free, particularly at a time when the entire industry is struggling, is it fair to rate those games in the (often harsh) way I’d normally rate escape games? I have no wish to belittle games created for our entertainment with no thought of profit. On the other hand, there are some real gems here and I want to make sure those aren’t lost in the crowd. So in this guide I haven’t put star ratings, and have labelled the games I enjoyed as ‚fun‘, ‚recommended‘ or ‚highly recommended‘. These are of course just my subjective opinions – if you disagree, click through to the game and leave your own review/rating.
Although I’ve listed these games as free, many are actually provided on a ‚pay what you can‘ basis. Please consider supporting their creators in whatever way you can – whether that’s by donating, putting something in their tip jar, buying a gift voucher, or just following their social media or sharing their game. Most escape room companies badly need every bit of support they can get right now.
Play time estimates are my guess at what enthusiast players should expect, not the game’s official stated length. I’ve stated what’s required to play each game, but haven’t rigorously checked each game for smartphone compatibility – let me know if you find games that don’t work on your device.
And of course we also have a full list of play-from-home games of all sorts.
Not interested in anything but the executive summary? Here it is.
Of 50+ games, these
four three games were my favourites:
A Lost Memory and Palace of Destiny are huge games and it’s rather amazing that you can access them without charge. And Alone Together is a very nice short game for two.
(Modern Fables‘ Medogan was previously listed here, but that’s now a paid-for game.)
Coffee break games (10-30 mins)
There are a great many games to provide a quick puzzle fix:
- Be The Escape: Devil’s Den
- Be The Escape: Pop Punk Pandemonium
- Clue Cracker: The Disappearance of DJ McDee
- ClueKeeper: Gnome Invasion
- Enchambered: Alone Together
- Escape From Home: A Pirate’s Problem
- Escape From Home: Global Gateway
- Escape From Home: The Egyptian Escape
- Escape Kongsvinger: Escape the Home Office
- Escape Room Herndon: Back To The Present
- Escape Room Herndon: Potter’s Escape
- Escape Room Online: Romeo & Juliet
- Fox In A Box: Like Father Like Son
- Salt Lake Mobile Escape Room: Free Escape Room
- Salt Lake Mobile Escape Room: Free Escape Room 2
- Secret City Trails: (eight different games)
- See Me Escape: Online Puzzle Game
- Total Escape Room: Marty and the Thief In The Night
- Trip Trap: Jean-Michel Fourette and the Secret of the Goose That Lays Golden Eggs
As well as Alone Together, I’d pick out DJ McDee and Marty and the Thief In The Night as browser puzzle games I particularly enjoyed; and Jean-Michel Fourette as a fun short retro point ’n‘ click video game.
Larger games (30-120 mins)
The games in this list are for when you want something more substantial:
- Escape Proving Ground: Home Training Challenge
- Escape Rooms Durham: Mr. X
- Flor Verhellen: A Murderer Is On The Loose…
- Lumi Pakele: Illa Labs
- Lumi Pakele: Missing In The Train
- Memphis Escape Rooms: Bitcoin Bandit
- ParadigmQ: Search of Sasquatch
- Porticada Games: Interception
- TrapGame: Escape from Alcatraz Island
- Valentine’s Anomaly
Of those I most enjoyed Bitcoin Bandit, Illa Labs and Interception. I’d probably add Escape from Alcatraz Island to that if I hadn’t got stuck midway. 😉
Huge games (2-6 hours)
Any one of these three games will keep you entertained for several hours, and all of them are worth discovering. They have wildly different game styles – see the mini-reviews below for more information.
- Creators United: A Lost Memory
- Escape Rooms of New England: Everyday Superheroes
- Palace Games: Palace of Destiny
Print and play
If you want to turn your home into an escape room instead of playing something online, these are the ones to look at.
- Big Escape Rooms: DIY Escape Room
- Black Key Escape Rooms: Loxstone Manor Part One
- Clever Kids Mysteries: Scavenge In The Attic
- Fox In A Box: Mr. Fox’s Easter Game
- Legacy Escape Box: Cold War
- Legacy Escape Box: Coronavirus
- Legacy Escape Box: Sherlock Holmes
- Legacy Escape Box: The Aviary
- Time’s Up Escape Rooms: Treasure Hunt
And if you want something for kids, these are aimed at younger players:
- Clever Kids Mysteries: Scavenge In The Attic
- Exit Theory: Hoppy’s Easter Party
- Fox In A Box: Mr. Fox’s Easter Game
- Secret City Trails: An Imaginary Journey across Europe for Young Adventurers
- See Me Escape: Online Puzzle Game
- Time’s Up Escape Rooms: Treasure Hunt
Be The Escape: Pop Punk Pandemonium, Devil’s Den
Approx. time: 10-15 mins
Pop Punk Pandemonium is a straightforward (but not too easy) series of five puzzles, where each step gives you two or three images and requires you to find a code to get to the next screen. Using images of real-world combination locks as a prompt for what type of code is expected is a very nice touch. It’s a pleasant brief diversion while having a coffee break.
Devil’s Den is similar in format, a cheerful homage to pot culture with interactivity in a couple of places to spice up the static images. It’s easy, irreverent and short.
Big Escape Rooms: DIY Escape Room
Requirements: colour printer, physical word lock
As the name says, this is a printable kit for you to use to create a short home ‚escape room‘, with a difficulty level pitched for kids. It needs one person to prepare it and set it up, acting as gamemaster. I’m assuming that’s probably not what most people browsing this list are looking for; still, I have to say their newspaper clue item is delightful.
Black Key Escape Rooms: Loxstone Manor Part One
Requirements: colour printer (28 pages)
Loxstone Manor should really be played with one person printing and preparing the components, optionally hiding them around the house, and then acting as gamemaster. My test game was fiddlier due to playing directly from the PDF, but they very clearly state that that’s not recommended.
The production quality is lovely, and the game is well-themed with a supernatural detective story. I struggled to find the puzzle flow, but that was at least partly because I wasn’t playing it as recommended – with printed components and a gamemaster to nudge, it would be more accessible. Note however that a number of the components don’t appear to be used in the game – I assume they’re to be used in the forthcoming Loxstone Manor Part Two. These components are marked with a particular symbol, so easy to separate from the items that are used in the current game; however, the result is a bit like playing half a game, and I feel I need to reserve judgement on this one until I’ve seen the rest.
Clever Kids Mysteries: Scavenge In The Attic for kids
5-15 mins (depending on players‘ ages)
To play this, you’ll want a printer (colour printing would be a lot better but you could just about get away with monochrome) and some bored kids – it’s very much intended as a family activity, and will be definitely too easy for enthusiast adults. It’s a quick set of four puzzles, provided as a taster experience for the company’s main games, and it consists of one main illustration page to set the scene, a few pages of clue information, and one page of hints.
While I had no kids to test it out on, I thought it was nicely presented and managed to slip in an educational edge with enough subtlety for that not to put young players off – although needing to anagram your final answer is a point of unnecessary confusion. I imagine it’ll depend very much on your kids‘ age and individual tastes, but if you’re looking for a puzzle game to play as a family, this seems well made and in any case serves its main purpose: namely, helping you decide whether their game style and difficulty level is what you’re looking for.
Clue Cracker: The Disappearance of DJ McDee
McDee is one of many short games in this list where each screen shows you a puzzle, and entering the solution unlocks the next one. Of the games in that style, this one might be my favourite. The puzzles are not challenging but are well designed, the whole thing’s slickly presented with videos and a deliberately silly story, and let’s just say they really didn’t hold back on the final ending screen.
ClueKeeper demo games (Welcome To ClueKeeper, Dr. Egghead’s Mystery Omelette, Gnome Invasion)
10 / 15 / 20-30 mins
Requirements: the ClueKeeper app
The first two are tutorials introducing the app. I found the app intuitive enough without instructions, but Welcome To ClueKeeper gives an overview of how to use it and Mystery Omelette is mainly for those thinking of making their own games on the platform.
Gnome Invasion seems mainly intended to demonstrate the app’s augmented reality feature, but it’s an easy but cute and fun game to play through. Many of the puzzles have US-centric elements; if you’re in a different country you may have to rely on Google image search, in which case expect a game time closer to 20 mins than the stated 60.
Creators United: A Lost Memory
Requirements: name & email registration, printer recommended but not essential
Most of the free games available are relatively short distractions. A Lost Memory is a very different beast, a vast sprawl of puzzles that will take several hours to get through. (Their official estimate is 4-10 hours, and you’d have to be very fast indeed to finish in less than three.)
It’s created by a group of Dutch escape room companies working together. While its collaborative nature shows through in the varied style of puzzles (such as instances of two different puzzles that happen to use similar ideas), the overall experience is fairly seamless. In fact, it is both highly polished and gently sentimental, with a story that revolves around digging up the details of an event from the 40s.
There is a welcome checkpoint halfway through. I loved the compact, atmospheric first half and was less keen on the second half, in which the logic felt just slightly less tight and with one puzzle in particular that outstayed its welcome. There’s also a little more friction to overcome for non-Dutch players. But the size and sophistication of A Lost Memory puts it up there with the better paid-for games – when you have a larger space of time to fill with puzzles, you should give it a look.
Enchambered: Alone Together
Requirements: exactly two players, preferably each with a larger screen device
Do you enjoy communication puzzles, where each of two players sees a different part of the information needed to solve a puzzle and must combine what they know verbally? Your answer to that will also be the answer to ’should you play Alone Together‘, since it consists almost entirely of that sort of puzzle.
The implementation is simple but very highly attractive, both nice to look at and satisfyingly physical in feel. We accidentally shortcut two of the puzzles, reaching the victory page before we’d solved everything; but even if you do the same, it’s easy enough to go back and complete the rest. It won’t take you long but it’s absolutely worth playing.
Escape From Home: The Egyptian Escape, A Pirate’s Problem, Global Gateway
The three online games from Escape From Home follow the usual format of a sequence of webpages, each showing a puzzle, with the solution being used as the password to unlock the following page. A few questions are general knowledge style and require external research to find the answer. Story text links the puzzles, with a theme of going on adventures through a magical wardrobe.
Of the three, Global Gateway is the hardest, and adds in a couple more sophisticated elements; all three are pitched to be easy, though. I found the answer verification system persnickety, in requiring answers to be capitalised in a specific form, and sometimes expecting numbers to be entered as digits and sometimes as words – I suspect that’s a limitation of the the platform used to build the games.
Escape Kongsvinger: Escape the Home Office
This quick sequence of browser puzzles benefits from its enjoyably light-hearted tone and readily available hint system. I was a bit put off by the variable use of case required when inputting answers, and wasn’t entirely convinced by a couple of the puzzles.
Escape Proving Ground: Home Training Challenge
Requirements: a printer seems likely to help
I can’t really comment on this one because I, er, got stuck and didn’t finish it. The PDF of gnomic puzzles and clues gives very little hand-holding for how to start or what format of solution you’re looking for. Digging into it uncovered several interesting pieces of hidden information, but I failed to crack how to combine them. It may be a really nice set of puzzles – I can’t tell. One for puzzle enthusiasts who like a challenge, I guess.
Escape Room Herndon: Potter’s Escape, Back To The Present
Requirements: printer for Potter’s Escape (can be played without at a stretch)
Both follow the usual linear format with each solution unlocking the next screen. Potter’s Escape is built around the plot for the first Harry Potter book (and contains extensive spoilers for that book); Back To The Present is a gleeful homage to various 80s movies. Each has 12 puzzles (although currently BttP is still being made, and ends after #9). Potter’s Escape is fairly easy, BttP a bit less so.
There are plenty of games in this list with a similar format; these two from Escape Room Herndon benefit from clear guidelines on how answers should be entered, the two-tier hint system, and some straightforward but pleasant puzzles.
Escape Room Online: Romeo & Juliet
This puzzle sequence is framed as a set of tests Romeo must pass to win the hand of Juliet. All puzzles resolve to numerical answers, and the style is perhaps a little drier and a little more challenging than typical. Hints are provided as spoken audio clips; note that you’ll need to resort to external tools to solve a couple of the puzzles.
Escape Rooms Durham: Mr. X
Mr. X challenges you to follow a trail of clues to discover the titular character’s true name – effectively the final keyword needed to complete the game.
This is a digital scavenger hunt involving extensive use of Google and other online resources – each step provides a set of cryptic clues that must be decoded using a mixture of research and intuition. We needed to resort to the game’s hints during the last two steps, but everything made sense once solved, and it’s always clear when you’re on the right track.
Solving this stretches a slightly different set of brain muscles, and the style will appeal to some more than others; but the difficulty is well-judged and it’s an enjoyable piece of sleuthing.
Escape Rooms of New England: Everyday Superheroes
A collaboration by over twenty New England escape room companies, this rather epic puzzle hunt consists of one puzzle from each company, each resolving to a key worker occupation. You can tackle these puzzles in any order, and although most of the puzzles are fairly short, in total it’ll keep you busy for some time. Completing the lot provides a set of discount codes and lets you enter a prize draw, though those rewards may be less relevant to players living far from New England.
The puzzles are very varied, and also a bit variable. But although some were duds, the majority are not, and both the structure and the theming are good. Spend an afternoon binging the lot or dip in and out over a longer period, it works well either way.
Exit Theory: Hoppy’s Easter Party for kids
Requirements: children, printer.
This game for children combines a sequence of browser puzzles with a printable PDF to use in a couple of the puzzles. The interface for entering answers was a little slow for me, but it’s a perfectly nice game with cheerful illustrations.
Expedition Escape: Bank Heist (no longer free)
As of Sept 2020 this game is now offered on a paid-for basis, and is also restricted to players who are geographically close to the venue.
This too gives you a sequence of puzzles, each with a couple of ‚items‘ to look at (click on the item picture to get a full size / in-focus version) and a visual image of a lock, as a prompt for the solution format.
Several of the games in this list share this design, and if you like one you’ll probably like them all. Bank Heist has a slightly more mathematical edge, and a particular puzzle that you might find hard on the eyes; but each of the seven puzzles are clear and logical.
Flor Verhellen: A Murderer Is On The Loose…
This home-grown game is a detective story where you have an hour to find the correct suspect from a choice of six. This uses a set of Google documents to provide victim profiles and other information, and a custom UI used for entering answers and uncovering information in other ways; it also provides your game timer.
Despite some nice ideas, my main impression of this game was that the puzzles required a great deal of mind-reading – I’m doubtful that anyone can realistically make progress on them without extensive use of the hints and/or solution, and in a couple of cases I didn’t follow the puzzle logic even after looking at the answer.
Fox In A Box: Like Father Like Son
Approx. time: 20-30 mins
I would classify this as a digital scavenger hunt. It consists of a series of questions, several of which involve outside knowledge – unless you’re disturbingly well informed about the Zodiac Killer murders, you’ll need to do a little internet research to find the answers.
It’s perfectly well executed but puzzles based on external research tend to be less interesting to me, and that goes double when that research involves details of real-life murders. This game wasn’t for me – your mileage may vary.
Fox In A Box: Mr. Fox’s Easter Game for kids
Approx. time: 10-20 mins
Requirements: printer, eggs, various other props (see game PDF)
This is a PDF containing a set of instructions for setting up a simple home escape room for kids, with some printable components. It’d take a certain amount of effort to set up, but looks nice and the game steps are tailored for a young target audience.
Legacy Escape Box: Cold War, Coronavirus, Sherlock Holmes, The Aviary
Requirements: printer, padlocks, lockable boxes, transparencies, etc. (full list on the game website)
Legacy’s four games are for you to print out and set up at home. You’ll need to supplement the PDF clues with quite a few props, such as numeric padlocks, and you’ll need one person to do the setup instead of playing.
The instructions are very clear and detailed, and could of course be customised / personalised if you wished. Most of the puzzles are classic escape room fare, though Cold War and Coronavirus add in external elements that would be harder to create if you were creating play-at-home puzzles yourself from scratch. None of the puzzles will give experienced players much pause at all, so these are best used with non-enthusiasts / younger players.
Lumi Pakele: Illa Labs
Another sequential browser game, this is more challenging and time-consuming than most. It’s translated from Spanish and the different cultural context might make one of the puzzles harder, but it’s not insurmountable. The story has you trying to save a poisoned scientist at a laboratory; the puzzles start easy and get more interesting; it’s a solid game worth playing.
Lumi Pakele: Missing In The Train
The other free game from Lumi Pakele is similar in style to their first, but I found the puzzles more obscure. Two specific points will be much harder if not impossible if you don’t know any Spanish – in one case the correct answer may not be recognisable as a meaningful phrase, and in the other a correct answer is rejected until you translate it to Spanish. It’s also frustrating that if you can’t solve a step, the ‚I give up‘ button skips the puzzle without explaining the solution.
Memphis Escape Rooms: Bitcoin Bandit
Requirements: email registration
This browser-based game initially looks like it’s going to be the usual sequence of puzzle pages, but then rapidly escalates into something that uses external websites and a ‚realism‘ style of gameplay.
To be honest, to start with I disliked this game, which may have been something to do with being completely unable to complete the second puzzle even with a hint – but after finally getting past that step, the rest was clever and enjoyable. Be warned the difficulty level is somewhat uneven; one step requires you to think to look in a far from obvious place, and it would be easy to get stuck there until you take a hint.
Palace Games: Palace of Destiny
Requirements: provide name and email address for access
Palace of Destiny is a linear game played in-browser, where each stage takes the form of one or more rooms viewed top-down. It has a clean, attractive visual style and a good number of challenging puzzles (currently 14, with more on the way).
I’d describe this not as an escape game but a light puzzle hunt. The difference is nothing to do with whether the story has you trying to ‚escape‘ something or not – rather, it’s the style of puzzle. Puzzle hunts tend to be significantly harder than escape room puzzles, so while Palace of Destiny is fairly easy by puzzle hunt standards it’s tough compared to most of the games on this list.
The puzzle style often involves external knowledge / outside research, and more ‚process‘, so feels like harder work; but the puzzles typically resolve in a very elegant, satisfying way that justifies the effort needed to get there. In all honesty I was initially put off by the first puzzle of this game, because it’s of a type that I’m pretty bad at – but once past that I struggled to tear myself away. (I’d recommend tackling it in sessions instead of binging all the way through – spread the enjoyment out over several days.)
If you haven’t tried a puzzle hunt, then the difference in style might be disconcerting – then again, this could be the perfect gateway drug to get you hooked.
ParadigmQ: Search of Sasquatch
Search of Sasquatch is a more sophisticated game than many of the other free ones available, with a non-linear structure and some sections spread out in locations other than the main puzzle website. It’s themed around the search for Bigfoot, tracking down a vanished professor, and also acts as a prologue to one of the company’s physical games.
I struggled a bit to get into the puzzles – but maybe they just didn’t click with me, your mileage may vary.
Porticada Games: Interception
Designed for play on a smartphone, Interception also works fine on a larger device (and in fact it’s helpful to be able to open multiple tabs). In this WWII-themed game you’re an Italian spy infiltrating the US embassy (!) for vital information that’ll help the Axis win the war (!!). Dubious premise aside, it’s a very solid attempt at recreating a classic escape room feel inside a browser, with an inventory management system in the game’s menu to help keep track of what you’ve found.
I found the game occasionally got confused in such a way that I had to refresh to continue, but that wasn’t particularly a problem. The biggest downside for me was the somewhat arduous external research needed for a couple of questions, plus one puzzle that’s an deliberate ‚gotcha‘. Even so, it’s both substantial and involving.
Salt Lake Mobile Escape Room: Free Escape Room, Free Escape Room 2
These are both ’solve the puzzle to get the code to reach the next screen‘ games. The instructions state that each should be about an hour, which implies they’re expecting you to spend more time per-screen than most such games. The combination of external research and searching on their website didn’t do much for me, and, in the absence of a hint system, once I hit a question I couldn’t answer I didn’t persist.
Secret City Trails: Puzzling Around Europe and other seven games
Requirements: you need to ‚buy‘ a ticket for zero money, providing name and email address
Secret City Trails normally provide location-specific games which I believe lead you around a city by asking questions that can only be answered by going to whichever attraction is next on the itinerary. They now have a set of games to play at home, which mostly use riddles and brain teaser style questions. (Easter Traditions and Discovering Europe’s Capitals are general knowledge / external research instead; Puzzling Around Europe is probably the closest to ‚escape room‘ in style, though still not very close.) Their answers maintain the tourism theme with answers related to the theme, and by providing a snippet of historical or cultural information about that city between questions.
With 8-12 questions each they won’t take you long. I thought the games were quite constricted by the format, where each puzzle and its solution is presented as a piece of text; and several of the questions were ones I’ve seen elsewhere. One nice feature that other online games could learn from is the way it accepts correct answers in a variety of formats, even if slightly misspelled.
The games try hard to inject the voice of a cheerful tour guide, and many of the info snippets are genuinely interesting – but without being there, and without even some images to set the scene, few of them stuck with me beyond the end of the game. They’re nice enough, but I’m not sure their game style is a good fit for this post’s intended audience.
See Me Escape: Online Puzzle Game for kids
Another browser-based game consisting of a sequence of puzzles, where each solution is the password you need to access the following page. This one is themed as a scavenger hunt from your grandpa; when entering non-numeric answers, note that you must do so using uppercase letters.
Time’s Up Escape Rooms: Treasure Hunt for kids
Requirements: you need to ‚buy‘ a ticket for zero money, providing name and email address
This PDF of puzzles, themed as a pirate treasure hunt, seems a bit fragmentary – there’s nothing provided to verify your answers, the four short puzzles are somewhat confusing, and in one case the PDF resolution seems to be too low to be usable even before it’s printed out.
Total Escape Room: Marty and the Thief In The Night
Requirements: larger screen recommended but it works perfectly well on phone
A game where the main character is a sunglasses-wearing hooch is already off to a great start. The four steps of this brief puzzle sequence won’t take you long, but it’s charming and the puzzles are solid.
TrapGame: Escape from Alcatraz Island
Unknown duration (I haven’t reached the end) but probably in the 30-90 min range if you don’t get stuck
This is a point ’n‘ click adventure game where, having escaped from Alcatraz Prison itself, you need to find a way off the island and back to safety. Like traditional point ’n‘ click games I thought it had a tendency to degenerate into ‚try everything with everything‘, but it’s cute and nicely done.
Trip Trap have produced, not an escape game as such, but a point ’n‘ click adventure game straight out of the 90s. They’ve captured the genre perfectly right down to characters‘ way of moving and speaking, and the sometimes slightly slapstick puzzle style. It’s amusing and nostalgic, and though it’s short I had a great time playing through it.
(until 31st May)
Requirements: you need to ‚buy‘ a ticket for zero money, providing name and email address; not smartphone-compatible
Valentine’s Anomaly was a physical escape room that ran for a limited period in a mansion in East London – with the original game now permanently closed, the designers have created an online version of the same game. This consists of photographic images of the original rooms and clue items; where the original game presumably had number locks, this version instead prompts you to enter your answer into a form.
The digital forms technology used is fairly back to basics, and I’m not sure the reliance on four-digit codes does the setting and story justice; but it does a good job of conveying what the original game was like.
If playing this, note that you can switch between the different rooms by clicking on their names at the top – I spent embarrassingly long stuck in the first room unsure how to proceed, due to not noticing that!
Still want more?
The games above are of course not a complete list of the free escape games available! Here are some more games that I’m aware of, mostly ones created in Google Docs or other such platforms, and while some of them have rough edges there’s plenty to enjoy here too.
- Caesar’s Cave
- Shrek Escape Room
- The Detective
- Welcome to Ducky World
- Hogwarts Digital Escape Room
- Spy Apprentice
- Oscar’s Stolen Oscar
- PB&J Online Scavenger Puzzle
- AdventureRooms‘ Lockdown 21 (puzzles embedded in YouTube videos)
- Tick Tock, Tick Tock (also YouTube)
- YouTube Escape Room (multiple games in Korean but with English subtitles)
- Escape The Room Alexa Skills