David Kwong’s Enigmas [Hivemind Review]

Enigmas is a puzzle hunt produced by David Kwong, Dave Shukan & Chris Chelko.

The ace of spaces from David Kwong's Enigmas deck.

Format

Style of Play:

  • Play on demand
  • Puzzle hunt
  • Print-and-play

Required Equipment: computer with internet connection

Recommended Team Size: 1-4

Play Time: There’s no game clock. Expect upwards of 30 hours play time.

Price: $18

Booking: purchase and play at your leisure

Description

This deck of cards has embedded puzzles that lead you to an online web portal, where you can download a pdf of a much longer puzzle hunt.

The puzzle hunt consists of 8 self-contained puzzles and 1 metapuzzle. Each puzzle comes with a brief enigmatic explanation of what to do with a provided set of clues, diagrams, and/ or pictures. The explanation isn’t complete on its own, though; you must either analyze the information and deduce the full set of instructions yourself or consult the extensive set of hints. Indeed, you are encouraged to use hints liberally. Each puzzle yields a word or phrase that you enter into the website for verification.

The elegant blue and grey box art for David Kwong's Enigmas deck.

Hivemind Review Scale

REA's hivemind review scale - 3 is recommended anytime, 2 recommended in quarantine, 1 is not recommended.

Read more about our Hivemind Review format.

Matthew Stein’s Reaction

Rating: 2 out of 3.

The Enigmas are exactly what they claim to be: “premium playing cards with puzzle cards that lead to a puzzle hunt.” As regular playing cards, they are well produced, have a beautiful, intricate back design, and classic face designs. I greatly enjoyed seeing David Kwong’s The Enigmatist in NYC in 2019, and the card backs perfectly capture the cipher-filled set from the show. However, what impressed me about the show, and about most of David’s work, is the way it elegantly introduces classic puzzle mechanics to the yet uninitiated. With this established audience in mind, I’m perplexed by the harsh difficulty spike in this project.

The deck contains two extra cards with four short, accessible puzzles (with no meta, oddly enough) which then lead to a website with a full eight puzzle + metapuzzle puzzle hunt, designed by the brilliant Dave Shukan. As an experienced puzzle hunter, I found these puzzles are densely filled with satisfying ahas and clever wordplay, and they are also really difficult and require a significant time commitment (up to multiple hours per puzzle) to solve. I’d highly recommend this puzzle set to puzzle hunters, for whom the difficulty level will be a positive, but novice or casual puzzlers—precisely the target audience of The Enigmatist—will hit a wall pretty quickly.

Viewed as a whole, the Enigmas confound me. Other than a loose thematic tie-in to The Enigmatist, the actual puzzle hunt has absolutely nothing to do with what’s on the playing cards, or playing cards in general. The playing cards and the puzzle hunt are completely disjoint elements, and even the two extra puzzle cards in the deck feel randomly tacked on. Having the same back design on every card and zero puzzle content on the faces feels like a major missed opportunity. I’m still waiting for true “puzzle hunt playing cards,” and the Enigmas disappointingly are not them.

A royal flush of spades from David Kwong's Enigmas deck.

Cara Mandel’s Reaction

Rating: 2 out of 3.

If you’re a puzzle hunt enthusiast, I’d highly recommend this game. While there isn’t much of a narrative thread that I could follow, the puzzles contained both in the deck and beyond were very challenging and clever. The deck is still a normal functioning card deck with two additional inserts each containing challenges on both sides. Once these four puzzles have been solved, players gain access to an online continuation of the game. In full disclosure, I’m still working my way through this part so I can’t speak to how this game resolves, having only solved about half of the online portion of puzzles. Each puzzle was averaging me about 1-2 hours to solve which made for several fun play sessions with puzzle friends. So, if you’re an enthusiast or an avid puzzle solver, this should be pretty good return on investment. At $18, I’d say it’s a more than reasonable price point for me to recommend this. Happy solving!

Sarah Mendez’s Reaction

Rating: 2 out of 3.

As a puzzle hunt newbie, I chose to play this as an experiment in my tolerance for challenge, and a worthwhile experiment it was. This game is orders of magnitude more difficult than any other Hivemind game I’ve played; I probably spent 30-40 hours on it over the course of a month. I survived, sometimes thrived, and sometimes cried a little.

As an escape room player, the parts of this game that resonated most with me were the opportunities to make connections to figure out what we were even supposed to be doing in each puzzle, a process that often took us an hour on its own without using hints. Because this was my favorite part (rather than using these discoveries to grind through the 20+ component answers to each puzzle), I was indeed reluctant to use the hints, making the game much more difficult. For the “grinding” portions of the game, I most appreciated the puzzles that left room to craft my own strategies and organizational approaches for understanding the information. For these, I was eager to spend the requisite hours deducing and decoding and refining and sense-making. For a couple of puzzles with more grating mechanics, I cringed at the thought of spending an evening on each one and opted to rush through them with hints. I certainly enjoyed more puzzles than not, but I imagine this may vary significantly among individual preferences.

For the price, the sheer amount of content here is a steal, and you get a beautiful deck of cards! For the time, I’m less inclined to recommend it to people who prize the efficient sense of accomplishment that comes from escape rooms. The immersion here is the kind that comes from getting lost in your own thoughts for hours, and completionist players may feel obligated to trudge through lengthy activities that they don’t fully enjoy. Overall, though, the pandemic is the perfect time to explore a game like this for the first time, and I suspect that this game is a high-quality way to do so.

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