escape rooms

Patrons are monitored so that no one gets too frustrated when they can’t get out of one of the rooms.

Five themed rooms filled with brain-teasing puzzles and clues await game players at San Tan Village near Williams Field Road and Loop 202.

Orlando-based Escapology with 56 locations around the world opened its first Arizona franchise in Gilbert at the open-air mall next to Victoria’s Secret. A grand opening is scheduled for Sept. 10.

“We didn’t want a party scene,” said Anna Stovall. “We were looking for a family-oriented location – good people, responsible. Gilbert checked all those boxes.”

 Anna co-owns the Gilbert franchise with her younger brother Cody Stovall and his wife, Leah. The trio in 2019 opened their first Escapology franchise in Farmington, New Mexico, where they live.

They have plans in 18 months to open a second Arizona location, possibly in the Desert Ridge neighborhood of North Phoenix.

Before embarking on their new business venture, Anna worked in real estate, Cody was a pastor and Leah, a teacher. 

Anna brings her financial background to the table while Code oversees the construction and Leah handles the payroll and staffing.

It was Leah’s idea to try their hand with the real-life adventure games where people must solve their way out of a locked room in an hour.  

 :“When we are traveling, she likes playing escape rooms,” Anna said. “Leah is probably the most enthusiastic. She’s always looking for the next game.”

Leah said she’s gone through 25 escape rooms so far.

“I love puzzles,” she said. “I love to be challenged and I like the idea it takes one hour away from your story and put it into someone else’s.”

What piqued Cody’s interest in the escape rooms is seeing the different perspective emerging from each player in a group. 

 “It’s a completely different experience,” he said in comparison with his prior career as a preacher. “It’s nice.”

The Stovalls researched all the franchise offerings for escape rooms and Escapology was the best fit for them as it was “more professional and polished,” Anna said. 

“There’s a certain level of quality and standard,” she explained.

The company boasts a pioneering technology, innovative systems and a low investment and high returns.

“One of the biggest stand-apart features of Escapology is that we don’t force peel to play with strangers,” Anna added. “You only play with the people you come with.”

In each game room, private groups of up to eight people can play. The games are ADA accessible.

The Gilbert location features five games ranging in difficulty with 10 being the hardest: Antidote, 6.5; Scooby-Doo and the Spooky Castle Adventure, 7.5; Lost City, 7.5; 7 Deadly Sins, 8.5 and Mansion Murder, 9. The games are geared for high-school age and older.

The target audience is people in their 40s, Anna said, adding their clientele also will include companies that use the rooms for corporate-team building.

A volleyball coach completely changed who was selected as captains after having the team work their way out of a room, Anna recalled.

The original team captains quit and sat on the floor while two other girls rallied the team together to try and solve the puzzles, she said.

“An enthusiast can come in and play all the games within a year,” she noted. “The general public will do a couple (games) a year.”

She anticipated the games changing out over time.

 A children friendly game, Saving Santa, will be offered from the end of October/beginning of November through January, Anna said. Although the business will open with five game rooms, a sixth is planned for a game that Anna declined to discuss.

Two weeks before opening the doors, it was all hands on deck for the Stovalls, who were trying to finish up the rooms in the 3,800-square-foot space. 

They had the help of Jamie Birch, a contractor for Escapology who builds the Lost City rooms for all the corporate stores – he can put together the room for Lost City in a week’s time. Anna said they were able to find some of the props such as an organ on Facebook Marketplace.

 Another stand-out feature: the game rooms  comprise three separate smaller rooms. For example, in the 7 Deadly Sins room, the first room features a tool shed, the second room the inside of a church and the third a tomb.

“You don’t just stay in one room,” Anna said. “People like to feel they’re progressing.”

 The management staff is on board for the Gilbert site and hiring was still ongoing recently for gamemasters. They’re the ones who from a control room help players with clues and support throughout the game.

“Escapology isn’t just about escaping a themed room, it’s also about escaping reality for a little while, too,” Anna said. 

IF YOU GO

What: Escapology is holding a grand-opening celebration

When: 5 p.m., Friday, Sept. 10

Where: San Tan Village, 2218 E. Williams Field Road, Suite 109, Gilbert

Details: The first 100 players who line up beginning at 5 p.m. will have the chance to sign up and reserve a date and time for their free experience or they can choose to receive a free voucher.

The venue will be open on Mondays through Thursdays from 3 to 8 p.m., Fridays from 3 p.m. to midnight, Saturdays from 11 a.m. to midnight. and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Information: Escapology.com/en/Phoenix-(santan), 480-944-5434.