Six Questions with Vincent Rubino: Fox in a Box – Chicago Escape Rooms
Solve a series of puzzles, complete your mission, and escape from the room before time is up! That is the challenge! Can you and your team do it? Vincent Rubino of Fox in the Box Escape Rooms, located in Chicago, was happy to chat more about these thrilling places of adventure and share how you can take part in these ultimate live player games!
As owner of Fox in a Box – Chicago, Vincent has witnessed the excitement and fun experienced by players who are trying to complete their missions. He knows these adventures encourage team building skills and provide just a downright fun time for all involved. I wanted to learn more about them and knew Vincent was the guy to ask! His story of how he started is a must read too! Enjoy!
- 1) I suppose, let me ask first, what prompted you to create the business Fox in the Box? And can you tell me a little about your Room Escapes and what you offer?
I came across escape rooms while I was on an escape of my own – a year long sabbatical traveling with my wife & kids through Europe while living in an American motorhome. After about 7 months of touring, we found ourselves in exactly my media-built image of eastern European winter weather (cold, grey, rainy), and the thought of another monastery or fortress in the second largest city of Serbia (200k people?) was terribly depressing. Fortunately, Trip Advisor listed Room Escape Novi Sad as the #2 thing to do in this city. So we went – It was the first thing that everyone in the family enjoyed.
Seriously. 7 months of touring most of Europe and we found this awesome experience in the most unlikely of places. As we looked forward to the next several months of our trip, we shifted our itinerary to add many more escape rooms to see what more games were like. As I neared the end of the trip, I realized that I would have to go back to “real life.” But I also realized that just because life was real, it didn’t have to be the same life. So, I rang up my favorite room location, had a conversation and just a short year+ later I was able to open doors in Chicago.
Our room escapes are European-styled. That means that you book the entire room and you’re only with the people you bring. And it also means that the designers had far more influences and challenge to create high quality rooms because escape rooms had started to become big in 2011 rather than 2015. Finally, it means that you’re on a mission. Sometimes the mission is to escape, but more typically you’re on a mission to break into something, or save the world – generally be a hero. Most US rooms are built for very large teams (10, 12 even 14 people) and the only way to get a private room is to buy out the whole room. This means that you’re inevitably with strangers that add a real X-factor to your success in the room.
Furthermore, when I first started looking around the US, most of the rooms were really boring compared to European ones due to the lack of influences and game balance. Fortunately, the US rooms have improved greatly, and I think in time will catch up and perhaps surpass the European ones. After all, we have Hollywood and Silicon Valley. Finally, most rooms in the US are still about escape which at this point I frankly find limiting. We’re stuck with the name Escape Rooms for the concept, but “missions” can be so much more interesting!
- 2) Are most of your participants able to complete their missions and escape from the room? How do you offer a balance to making it feel possible to escape; but yet, not too easy to be over confident of winning, nor too challenging to feel defeated immediately?
Our “escape” ratios are in the 30-50% range depending on the room. Tuning a room to be just right is an amazing challenge. Even now we can go through periods where success ratios will shift 5-10% because we move one thing, or an object is slightly different and therefore creates a new impression to the new observer. Another major factor is the skill of the game master or GM. At Fox in a Box we have a 1:1 GM/room ratio which makes our near-term economics not as good, but I believe makes a huge difference in the quality of the experience.
Having played some rooms where you finally begrudgingly ask for a hint only to get that hint several minutes later is IMHO dereliction of duty. With Fox in a Box, we have a 10 second goal from hint request to delivery, and if anyone does not experience that, I have a serious conversation with the game master. Our GMs work very hard to help the team without ever taking away that team’s agency or control over the situation. Players should always feel that they are solving problems.
- 3) I’m sure there has to be some funny stories with players working so urgently to fulfill their missions. Will you share a few with us? What would be the most memorable?
It’s so hard to answer this question because so many of the times that are memorable stand out mainly because I know exactly how the room is put together or played – and I just cannot explain it without giving away secrets to the room. I will say the absolute highlight events are when we have one player propose to another player. I’m such a sucker when it comes to weddings, and the thought that people use our venue to move to the next phase of their life always has me on the edge of breaking into tears.
Another great story is when we had a group of older ladies (ie 65+ years old) who were going in together. I was collecting their cell phones (so they don’t take photos) and purses (so they don’t have to worry about their stuff) and one stopped me to pull out a measuring tape, screwdriver set and so on. She was totally prepared to escape! I explained that for the room she was going into she could just open the door. And yes, I confiscated her tools as well.
- 4) In what ways have you seen families, friends, and businesses gain from their experience in the room? Is this one of the benefits you enjoy most about the rooms? What else might you love about Fox in the Box?
It’s hard for me to know the long term benefits or impact of people playing our rooms, but I do know that I LOVE it when people have solved the room with a few seconds left, are completely pumped up with energy and just want to talk about it. It’s so hard to get them to shush up on a Saturday night when we’re packed. But I just love that energy. It usually takes me more than an hour to get to sleep even though I’m a total morning person because I’ve got all this energy flowing through me.
- 5) Who mostly visits your Fox in the Box escape rooms? Who do you feel this type of adventure is best suited for?
Our main audience is generally split between team building and people visiting friends in Chicago. The team building people love it because most team building events so often seem to be sporting oriented with a significant liquid component. Escape Rooms on the other hand really do not work out well when one is under the influence because full mental faculties are required. And though there may be kinesthetic aspects to solving our puzzles, it is much more about logic, pattern recognition, spatial relations, communication skills and so on. And as most teams are in the information age, doesn’t it seem more appropriate to actually be problem solving? And after they play, we’re more than happy to recommend various nearby bars to discuss their victories.
The other big audience are people visiting friends in Chicago. Chicago got into the escape game industry really late compared to the rest of the US (and the US is way behind most of the western world), so when people visit Chicago they already know about escape games, and the Chicagoans have no idea what it is. Of course, after visiting Fox in a Box – Chicago, we then usually see those same Chicagoans bringing their friends over the next 3-4 weeks. Running an escape room is such a cosmopolitan activity. I love it!
- 6) Do you plan on expanding at all? I see there are escape rooms all across the country. Is there a day/event where players from Room Escapes from different areas compete with each other to be the first out? Like Chicago Players are better than Boston Players?
The decision to expand or not and if so when is a constant thought. I’ve been to Hong Kong where people are a little over the escape game thing. But I also remind myself that Hong Kong is so very fad-driven. In Europe games were expanding like wildfire in 2013 and are still going strong in 2016. So, it gives me some faith that there are years rather than months on this. The most interesting trend will be how the haunted house industry gets involved. They have such wonderful production values, but it’s all so dark and dystopian. Not my bag.
As for competition between teams, I’m not a huge fan of it. I find the teams that are really focused on competition do not seem to enjoy the game as much as those who are trying to beat the room together. Sure there are exceptions, but most who are all hyped up about “beating the other guys” end up not enjoying it as much to my eye and often end up doing worse. The point of a good room is to beat the designer, to challenge yourself, to be Cortez and all his men, silent on a peak in Darien.
If you’re in Chicago, we highly recommend checking out Fox in a Box – Chicago (Facebook Page), and if you’re in LA, Miami, Tucson or pretty much elsewhere in the world I highly recommend looking up one of our sister locations. And failing that, look up escape rooms in your local town and see what you can find. They are awesome!
Thanks for sharing this exciting information on Escape Rooms, Vincent! I love it and will have to visit one soon. You offer such an intriguing and fascinating perspective on the thrills, challenges, and values these ‘MISSIONS’ give.
I also love your inspirational story on how you decided to open your own Escape Room. Your comment, “As I neared the end of the trip, I realized that I would have to go back to “real life.” But I also realized that just because life was real, it didn’t have to be the same life.”
Very powerful statement and a life changing one if taken for its worth like you did.