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“I haven’t been everywhere but it’s on my list” - interview with Heiner Stepen

“I haven’t been everywhere but it’s on my list” - interview with Heiner Stepen

Hanna Kwaśniewska |

The community of escape room enthusiasts is constantly growing. No wonder - every day more people around the globe discover the world of escape rooms and get interested. Thanks to this, there are also more and more sites available that bring together fans of this form of entertainment and make their exploration of this world easier.

One such place is the blog of Heiner Stepen - an enthusiast from Munich, who can be boldly called an ambassador for the entire industry.

It’s difficult not to know Heiner. He has been running his Escape Roomers DE blog for many years, where he publishes the rankings he has constructed, which he constantly updates and reviews the rooms he has completed, thus helping all users from all over the world to reach new rooms and explore the industry. In addition, Heiner is always there to help any player choose the right room and answers all questions on his Facebook group. His contribution to the community is therefore enormous, and I am very happy that it was possible to have this interesting conversation.

Hanna: I'm very glad that you agreed to answer my questions, so that many enthusiasts will get to know you even better. So, let's start with the first one. Many people wonder (probably with a little jealousy) if you live only for escape rooms. How much of your life is occupied by escape rooms?

Heiner: I already devote a large part of my free time to my favorite hobby. Maintaining the website, the community on Instagram and Facebook, writing reviews, creating rankings, planning trips and so on. All this takes a lot of time. But I like doing it and I can still really look forward to the next escape trip with friends.

Heiner and his daughter, London 2018.

Hanna: There's no denying that you've become a very recognizable person in the industry - in addition to being a "regular" fan, you run a thematic blog, contribute to many events (such as TERPECA and Escape Room Awards), and are an organizer of EGOlympics. Your contribution to the industry is huge. How do you feel about it? Do you feel, in your daily life, that you are an opinion leader and authority for many players?

Heiner: I notice my contribution to the industry mainly in my wallet, but also in the fact that I get more and more requests from players asking for recommendations for a city, state, or country, or wanting to know from me whether a certain game is worth playing. Also, because I am often one of the first international frequent players to play a new room abroad, even if the English translation is not yet perfect. However, it is always good to hear several opinions and not to rely on the review of a single person or blog. That's why I like to refer to our Ranked Playlists, where the final table is made up of the individual rankings of many experienced players.

Hanna: True, all your work on the blog and reviews must cost a lot of time, so it must be well organized every time you travel somewhere. I would like to know your way of organizing a standard escape room trip. How many rooms do you try to escape? When you visit a new place, such as another country, do you spend at least some time sightseeing? Do you and your team push through as many rooms as possible, or do you do, for example, 3 per day?

Heiner: If I find enthusiasts who tick similarly and play everything along, it makes itinerary planning straightforward. But if fellow players only want to play a subset of the rooms because they don't like horror rooms, for example, it makes organizing an Escape Trip much more difficult. Provided there are enough worthwhile Escape Games, we usually play from "first vendor opens" to "last vendor closes". I don’t plan any time for sightseeing. After all, we travel to play Escape Games. Even though there are persistent rumors that there are no food breaks at all, no one has ever gone hungry on one of our Escape Trips. A little tired after a few days of "all you can play", that can happen, of course.

Hanna: How do you balance your lifestyle dedicated to escape rooms with your professional and private life? Is this even possible?

Heiner: To be honest I envy the players who share this hobby with their life partner because it makes everything so much easier and of course you spend more time together than when you travel alone. But I can't complain about that either, because my partner gives me all the freedom here and, when I go on an escape games weekend trip, pursues her own leisure activities. Of course we also spend holidays together, where no (or hardly any) escape games are played. Regarding my professional life, there is currently a change. I have reduced my job as a freelance software developer so that I can also pursue my passion part-time. I am in the process of setting up a business renting out transportable escape games and puzzle boxes. My website The Puzzle Box has just gone online, and I hope to expand my portfolio soon to offer enthusiasts another form of this entertaining leisure activity at home.

Heiner and his main teammate Santiago during their visit in Athen.

Hanna: How does it feel to play so often with random people in the rooms? You seem to be quite comfortable in the company of strangers, as you do recruitment for your groups when you go on trips of all kinds. Is this because you share a common passion?

Heiner: I don't have a fixed escape team, which is also difficult when you want to play as much as I do. Luckily, I'm not afraid of contact and now have a fairly large network of like-minded people. I've played with a lot of different people - from first-time players who just want to try it out to addicts like me - and I've really met a lot of nice people and friends as a result. I even keep statistics on it. So far there have been 369 escapers from 15 different countries with whom I have played between one and over 400 rooms. The advantage is that you can also play rooms that are not (yet) playable in English if you have a local enthusiast on your team who speaks Spanish, Greek, Polish, French, Italian or Hebrew.

Hanna: Let's go back to financial issues for a moment. When talking to enthusiasts, you can quite often hear the opinion that this is an expensive hobby. There is no denying it - the cost of rooms combined with the cost of travel can make your head spin. How can you optimize the costs of such a trip?

Heiner: First, the prices for escapes in Europe vary greatly. Greece, Poland, Spain, and the Czech Republic are certainly among the cheaper travel countries (with good rooms). It gets more expensive in the UK, Italy, Austria, Germany and France, and the highest prices (especially for small groups, as they often use the "per game" pricing model) are found in Belgium, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. An escape trip for couples in the latter countries can be expensive. I always recommend a group size of four people. On the one hand you can usually play all the rooms that require a minimum number of players, on the other hand you have a good compromise between costs per capita and a good gaming experience, which in my experience can get significantly worse as the number of people increases. Escape rooms also have the advantage that you are independent of the weather. That's why I don't necessarily have to travel during the high season, for example during the summer holidays. In this way you can save costs for accommodation and travel to and from the destination.

Hanna: Where or how do you look for info about rooms in new, undiscovered countries? Do you have any advice for those going to such places? For example, the pretty huge and undiscovered escape room market for most Westerners is the Asian market. Perhaps you have aspirations to become the explorer of the escape room world and expand your ranking to include eastern rooms?

Heiner: I use different sources to get information about rooms. Of course, when it comes to undiscovered countries, it's a bit more difficult. I try to find local enthusiasts first. Somehow, about 1-2 corners, you can usually find someone who has played quite a lot in the country and can give recommendations. Often there is also a local Facebook community about escape games where you can ask for tips. Or, after you've already found a few rooms that you're definitely dying to play, you can ask their operators about other good rooms in the area (if they recommend you crap, it falls back on them). For countries that have been traveled to extensively, there are of course more sources (Terpeca, our ranked playlists, websites of local bloggers, etc.).

Heiner with his team, with which he won the competition “Escape Together Championship 2019”.

Hanna: One last question. If you, as a Heiner with almost 2,000 rooms to your credit, met a Heiner from before you started your escape room adventure, what would you say to him?

Heiner: Escape Game can be addictive! But I have no regrets. Make sure you play a good room to start with so you can understand why I enjoy this hobby so much. Best to get tips from my website - I would have been glad to have had such a reliable sources as the Ranked Playlist you'll find there.

“I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list” - Heiner often uses this quote by Susan Sontag. And it's not surprising - after all, in the context of escape rooms and his lifestyle, it has great significance. And I wish that one day he could mark all the rooms on this list as completed!

Hanna Kwaśniewska

Hanna Kwaśniewska

All-in-one

Lock.me team member. Germanist and scholar of German literature - German language is also her superpower. Besides escape rooms and board games, she loves Dragon Ball, Star Wars and cynology. After work she likes learning foreign languages, writing texts and planning her next trip to escape room, probably with rap music in the background. Totally extrovert.

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