Escape rooms are becoming a trend in DFW. Here’s what fans love about them.

Can you escape from the Secret Chambers in Fort Worth?

A group of people search for the pieces of a pirate treasure map in an escape-room game at Secret Chambers in Fort Worth to see if they can figure their way out in one hour. (Star-Telegram/Rodger Mallison)
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A group of people search for the pieces of a pirate treasure map in an escape-room game at Secret Chambers in Fort Worth to see if they can figure their way out in one hour. (Star-Telegram/Rodger Mallison)

Preston Haley and his friends escaped from the Queen Anne’s Revenge with five treasure maps in hand well before Captain Blackbeard made it back from port to discover the misdeeds and betrayal onboard his ship.

Haley and his friends spent a recent Friday afternoon at The Secret Chambers in Fort Worth, where they spent an hour locked in a room designed to look like an 18th-century pirate ship. Taking the gaming experience to another level, they had to use their intelligence, imagination, communication skills and ingenuity to unlock the clues leading to the treasure maps.

Escape rooms, which count millennials and human resource departments among their target audience, have opened in Fort Worth, Mansfield, Southlake and Dallas. And one is under construction in Bedford.

Themes vary, but the catch is that players are locked in a room and have an hour to figure out the clues to escape and declare victory. It’s an immersion experience that goes beyond even the best video games.

“I’ve been to escape rooms in Oklahoma. I like the excitement when everyone figures out a clue,” Haley said. “I like the electricity and excitement of seeing everyone helping each other out.”

The Secret Chambers, near Ridgmar Mall, opened about a year ago and business is booming, said Adrian Santiago, creative director. He estimated that there are at least 100 escape rooms in the United States with more opening all the time.

Besides the pirate chamber, the Fort Worth business offers the Cthulhu chamber, where players must decode an eccentric billionaire’s study. The scenario is set in 1949 and is based on The Call of Cthulhu by by H.P. Lovecraft. Players must figure out a way to drive Cthulhu back into the “nightmares of history,” according to The Secret Chambers website.

In Bedford, Escape Pro is scheduled to open in March at 1825 Airport Freeway, where Texas 121 and 183 meet.

The demand is there, and the demographics are good in that area.

Alex Gradev, who is preparing to open Bedford’s first escape room in early 2017

“It’s exciting. The demand is there, and the demographics are good in that area,” owner and co-founder Alex Gradev said.

Escape rooms are popular with young adults as well as small to medium-size companies that want to help employees improve team-building skills, he said.

Escape Pro will have eight escape rooms with themes catering to children and adults. Exactly what the themes will be, he said, will be a surprise.

Solving the puzzle

When people visit escape rooms, they generally work in teams of three to four to solve a sequence of puzzles or riddles. Themes can involve just about anything from wizards to World War II to a tale from a Texas saloon, Gradev said.

A “game keeper” tells a story or poses a riddle, and as people answer each question, clues help them solve the mystery.

Gradev said the escape room concept started in Japan and Europe.

There are also global competitions where audiences gather to watch the “cyber or intellectual sports,” he said

Game designers pride themselves on custom-building everything from the bookcases to the boxes holding clues for the treasure maps, said Santiago, of The Secret Chambers.

He has a woodworker create the puzzle boxes and stage managers who create an authentic atmosphere. For instance, when one enters the pirate chamber, there are sounds of creaking wood and of the ocean.

All the items in the pirate chamber, from the ship’s log to the boxes containing clues, was made to look like they came from the 1700s, and the scenario of finding the treasure maps is based in history.

Finding the treasure

Once players are in the pirate chamber, they step back in time to the Queen Anne’s Revenge in the spring of 1718 and to the private quarters of Captain Blackbeard, aka Edward Thach. The captain wants to disrupt trade off the coast of Charleston, but his crew — the players — has other ideas.

The players on that recent Friday had to find keys to unlock boxes, check the ship’s log and unearth other clues to find the treasure maps before Blackbeard returned to the ship.

Haley and his friends escaped from the chamber with 12 minutes and nine seconds to spare.

Ahmad Barbar, who also escaped, said that he is used to playing games on his smartphone but that the escape room concept is more challenging.

“It was very well done,” he said. “It was exciting to solve the clues, and it took less time than I thought.”

Elizabeth Campbell: 817-390-7696, @fwstliz