Enigma Emporium – Puzzle Postcards Series 2: Cycle of Learning [Review]

Insufficient Postage?

Location:  at home

Date Played: January, 2021

Team size: we recommend 2-4

Duration: 8-15 hours

Price: about $50

REA Reaction

I really like Enigma Emporium. From the moment that they entered the scene, I found myself taken by the amount of content that they crammed into a few postcards. I’ve also truly respected their sustainable business model. I think what they do makes sense.

It’s with that in mind that I say that Puzzle Postcards Series 2: Cycle of Learning was just ok.

The puzzles were fine, and if that’s what you’re looking for, then I think you’ll find them enjoyable… but this many installments in, it felt like the product line had stalled.

Puzzle envelopes for the 4 games.

Cohesion & Creative Direction

Each of the 4 standalone envelopes within Puzzle Postcards Series 2: Cycle of Learning had a unique theme. Let’s focus on the most eye-catching of the bunch, Cryptic Cryptids. There was an opportunity to pull us into a story by using the postcards, prose, and puzzles to make something cohesive and distinctive… and that didn’t happen. There was a brilliant concept to work with, but that concept felt more like background noise.

Puzzle post cards fanned out.

Postcards are an incredibly inexpensive medium to work with. When I look at the price of these puzzles, we are paying for the art, the writing, and the puzzle design. The puzzles were the only portion that carried its weight.

Puzzle Integration

As I said, the puzzles in Puzzle Postcards Series 2: Cycle of Learning were good. Reasonable people could disagree about some of the cluing, but where I really felt let down was that a week after solving these, I couldn’t remember which puzzles went with which installment.

Ultimately, the entire game felt like a puzzle book in loose-leaf form. Another page, another puzzle. And again, that’s not inherently bad… but for the price, this needed more to grab and hold my attention.

I say this knowing that the folks from Enigma Emporium are capable of pushing their products into a cohesive and coherent direction. We’ve seen them do it.

Cycle of Learning game box has a 3d mobius strip

Tips For Players

  • Space Requirements: A small table
  • Required Gear: An internet-connected device, pen, paper

Buy your copy of Enigma Emporium’s Puzzle Postcards Series 2: Cycle of Learning, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Enigma Emporium provided a sample for review.

Enigma Emporium – Carte Rouge [Review]

Loaded Deck

Location:  at home

Date Played: Summer 2019

Team size: we recommend 2-3

Duration: 8-12 hours

Price: $25

Publisher: The Enigma Emporium

REA Reaction

We’re big fans of Enigma Emporium’s postcard-based puzzles… so we were eager to dig into their larger, more elaborate, and beautiful deck of puzzle cards.

We ciphered through the cards in two extended sessions and found the experience mixed.

The Carte Rouge deck.

We loved the concept, the art, and a lot of the early puzzles… but as the mystery pressed on, it got repetitive. Then it got really repetitive.

Overall, Enigma Emporium absolutely delivered when it came to production value. From a gameplay standpoint, there was a lot to love and we’re happy that we played through it. At the same time, it’s hard to keep ourselves from imagining other things that could have been done with such a gorgeous deck of puzzle cards.

If you’re into cipher-play and have the patience to buckle up for a 6 – 12 hour mystery, then Carte Rouge is worth exploring.

Who is this for?

  • Code breakers
  • Story seekers
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Beautiful card art and high production value
  • An interesting story hidden behind ciphered messages
  • You enjoy progressive discovery

Story

A mysterious and strange deck of cards had arrived in the mail. A note was included asking us to investigate its origins and purpose.

The King and Queen of Hearts from Carte Rouge. Both have clearly have ciphered messages around the boarders and on their clothes.

Setup

Carte Rouge was an actual deck of 52 cards plus a pair of jokers. Embedded in the card art (particularly the face cards) we found hidden messages and puzzles.

They were printed on quality card stock. If one wished to purchase this deck and use it exclusively to play card games, that would be a viable option.

The cardback from Carte Rouge.

The art itself looked fantastic. Enigma Emporium managed to maintain that classic card art, while hiding loads of messages.

Gameplay

Enigma Emporium’s Carte Rouge was a play-at-home escape game with a high level of difficulty relative to most tabletop escape games.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, deciphering, making connections, and keeping organized.

The Jokers from Carte Rouge are covered in intricate ciphers.

Analysis

➕ We were captivated by the puzzle-in-playing-cards concept. This setup also facilitated collaborative gameplay. We could spread the cards out among players and work through the puzzles as a team.

➕ The cards were beautiful and intricate. They looked and felt like the real deal. The artwork was exquisite.

❓ The puzzling in Carte Rouge was almost entirely deciphering. If you enjoy ciphers, this is your tabletop game; it’s great. If you don’t want to solve ciphers and translate passages, this will not be for you.

➕ Our favorite ciphers were clued brilliantly by other patterns. For us, these ciphers were the pinnacle of the gameplay in Carte Rouge. Most of them appeared earlier in the experience.

➖ Much of the ciphering resolved to narrative embellishments, but didn’t advance the plot of the game. We translated brutally long passages, working through them long after the aha moment. In the end, a lot of it was flavor. This got repetitive.

➖ Multiple puzzles used the same cipher. Once we’d worked out that particular system, we had to work through a number of different instances. This was repetitive and seemed like a missed opportunity.

➖ While sometimes the ciphers were subtly clued in the artwork, other times they weren’t clued it all (as far as we could tell). As we played, we found that there were limited encipherment options. We’d just hack at different possibilities until a passage resolved to something meaningful.

➕ Enigma Emporium crammed a lot of game into only a little space. This was impressive. They fit an incredible amount of information into a card.

The 2, 3, & 4 of Clubs from Carte Rouge. They look normal except for an "R" printed in the middle of the 2.

➖ The deck of cards itself felt like a missed opportunity. We were anticipating mechanics involving magic, placement, math, poker hands… really anything that one does with a deck of cards. Yet, it didn’t matter how these cards were held or arranged. In fact, there was little interaction between the cards at all. Additionally, most of the cards were barely used. The gameplay revolved around only a small portion of the deck and we didn’t need to do much beyond regard and rotate.

➖ The hint system lacked sufficient granularity. We’d be hinted at the same thing repeatedly and then be provided the answer. Furthermore, the hints for some key puzzles were buried in the sequence of hints for the final puzzles. In an effort not to spoil later puzzles for ourselves, we didn’t find them until well after we needed them.

➖ All these ciphers begged for an interesting extraction, hidden within the cards. Instead, the game resolved with a narrative quiz of sorts. This felt out of character with the rest of the experience.

Tips For Player

  • Required supplies: a small table, an internet-connected device, paper and pencil
  • While you don’t need a laptop, we found keeping track of solutions in a spreadsheet to be helpful.
  • If your reading vision isn’t great, you’re going to want a good magnifying glass.

Buy your copy of Enigma Emporium’s Carte Rouge, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Enigma Emporium provided a sample for review. 

Enigma Emporium – Blowback [Review]

Puzzle across Europe. 

Location:  at home

Date Played: January 29, 2019

Team size: 1-4; we recommend 2-3

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $12 on Kickstarter (plus $3 for international shipping) / $15 when it becomes available in their store

Publisher: Enigma Emporium

REA Reaction

Enigma Emporium is back with another postcard puzzle game. Our hidden hero from Wish You Were Here has mailed us 5 more postcards, each jam-packed with puzzle content. 

Blowback played well, with clean and entertaining solves. If you enjoyed Wish You Were Here, this is more of the same… and should be an easy impulse buy. 

If you didn’t play Wish You Were Here, you should start there. It’s available at a reduced price as part of the current Kickstarter (and if that has expired, it’s available on the Enigma Emporium website). 

If you weren’t fond of Wish You Were Here, or you’d like to play a game that does something dramatically different, then you’ll want to take a pass on Blowback

We had a lovely time puzzling our way through Blowback. The game took our minds off of an otherwise abysmal day… and that’s saying something. 

The "Blowback: Wish You Were Here Part II" envelope depicts a black hoodied hacker in front of many computer monitors.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level (experienced puzzlers will have a significant advantage)

Why play?

  • Puzzle quality
  • Puzzle density
  • Low price

Story

Enigma Emporium’s second chapter Blowback picked up where Wish You Were Here had left off. We had previously helped save the family of our main character and now he needed more help from us. 

He had sent us 5 additional postcards, each with hidden and enciphered messages explaining the details that he had uncovered about a nefarious organization. 

5 different post cards. The top one is England.

Setup

Structurally, Blowback functioned similarly to Wish You Were Here.

We received 5 post cards, each packed with puzzle content. We had to use our wits and a computer to crack the codes and help the unseen hero. 

The back of the England postcard, has parts of coordinates, stamps and a message about the danger that Ouroboros poses.

Gameplay

Enigma Emporium’s Blowback felt like a light puzzle hunt. It was challenging relative to escape rooms, but fairly easy relative to puzzle hunts. 

Core gameplay revolved around observation, deciphering, puzzling, and a bit of internet research. 

Analysis

➕ As with Wish You Were Here, we were impressed with the puzzle density of each postcard. Enigma Emporium did a whole lot with a compact format.

➕ For the amount of content, the price is quite fair.

➕ There are quite a few brilliant puzzles in Blowback. Most of them involved multiple layers of meaning.

➕ This go-around, Enigma Emporium did a really interesting thing to internationalize their game. 

➕ The structure of Enigma Emporium’s hint system is great. It’s easy to use and intuitive. We used it only minimally. The puzzles came together cleanly and we rarely found ourselves reaching for a hint. 

➖ The hints would benefit from a greater degree of granularity. Although we didn’t use it much, we encountered moments where the hints jumped from “vague” to “there’s nothing left to figure out” in a single step. 

➖ Although Enigma Emporium has proven that they can deliver a ton of content in a few postcards, this second chapter felt like it was missing something new and special. I’d happily solve my way through one more of these games in this structure because the puzzles and game were well crafted, but without something to shake up the format, this concept will feel predictable and turn stale. 

❓ There’s a lot of deciphering. I believe it’s less then in Wish You Were Here… but if translation grates on you, some of the puzzles will overstay their welcome.

➕/ ➖ We played a media copy of Blowback in advance of its Kickstarter launch. We encountered a few puzzles that lacked adequate cluing and felt less than intuitive, or became overly tedious. Enigma Emporium was interested in feedback and continues to iterate. We commend them for this. We anticipate that you will have a smoother experience than we did at a few junctures.

Tips For Player

  • You will need an internet-connected device. We recommend a computer. We don’t think a mobile device would be adequate.
  • Keep yourself organized while solving this game. Details matter. You will have a lot of puzzle paths open at once and as you solve them, you’ll need to hang on to the solutions.
  • While not necessary, you ought to play the first chapter before beginning the second chapter. 

Back Enigma Emporium’s Blowback on Kickstarter, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Enigma Emporium provided a sample for review. 

Enigma Emporium – Wish You Were Here [Review]

Enigma Emporium – Wish You Were Here is included in our recommendation guide for Tabletop Escape Games – Advanced Challenge & Commitment. For more of the best games of this style, check out the recommendation guide.

A good thing in a small package.

Location: at home

Date Played: September 6, 2018

Team size: 1-¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ; we recommend 1-4

Duration: 2-3 hours

Price: $12 for Kickstarter backers in the US, $15 for international backers

REA Reaction

Enigma Emporium’s Wish You Were Here took us by surprise. Although the small package of five postcards initially seemed unimpressive, as we began to solve it, we realized how much love and care went into cramming these cards with quality puzzle content. It felt like there was always another thing to solve on the cards.

While some of the puzzles turned a little too process-focused in order to have us extract more narrative, most of this game revolved around ah-ha moments.

If you’re into puzzles, we wholeheartedly recommend backing Enigma Emporium on Kickstarter. We eagerly await their next product.

The Enigma Emporium envelope and a UN postcard.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level (experienced puzzlers will have a significant advantage)

Why play?

  • Puzzle quality
  • Puzzle density
  • Low price

Story

We received five encoded postcards from a fugitive accused of stealing a valuable piece of art. We had to peel back the layers of obfuscation from his messages to solve the mystery of his crimes.

The assortment of Enigma Emporium cards and the envelope.

Setting

The entire mystery was presented on five 6 x 4 inch postcards. Each card had a distinctive theme and contained a slew of puzzles.

The cards looked like postcards that you’d expect to find in any tourist trap… with some puzzley additions.

There were some additional discoverable materials and a structured hint system, all available via a web browser.

Gameplay

Enigma Emporium’s Wish You Were Here played like a mini puzzle hunt. It had a high level of difficulty relative to most tabletop escape games… but a low degree of difficulty relative to puzzle hunts.

Core gameplay revolved around observing and puzzling.

Analysis

+ I’m still shocked by how much puzzle play Enigma Emporium crammed into 5 standard postcards. They made just about everything matter.

+ The puzzle quality was generally stellar. We liked some more than others, but overall, the consistency was impressive.

+ Each card had a consistent theme and vibe.

+ The US Presidents postcard contained a brilliant cipher.

– The literature postcard dragged relative to the rest of the game.

+/- We pulled a fair amount of cohesive story from these puzzles. That said, if you’re the type of player who seeks narrative, this story won’t surprise anyone.

Earth Shaking Story Spoiler

He’s not really a bad guy. I know… it’s shocking.

[collapse]

– After an aha moment, some of these puzzles turned into hefty process puzzles to facilitate the extraction of story.

+ The structured hint system was easy to use and generally helpful.

– One puzzle didn’t seem like a puzzle… it just seemed faded and broken. We ended up circumventing it, and only realized the right way to solve it after we finished the game and dug into the hint system.

? Outside of the hint system, the game didn’t really provide a means of verifying answers and checking progression as we went. We always knew when we had a puzzle solved because it resolved cleanly… but we didn’t know if we had found everything that there was to solve on a card. Ultimately everything came together all at once at the end.

+ The solution submission process was a neat concept, even if it was a little cumbersome.

+ At $13, Enigma Emporium’s Wish You Were Here is more than affordable.

Tips for Playing

  • You will need an internet-connected device. We recommend a computer, but a mobile device will work fine.
  • Keep yourself organized while solving this game. Details matter. You will have a lot of puzzle paths open at once and as you solve them, you’ll need to hang on to the solutions.

Back Enigma Emporium’s Wish You Were Here on Kickstarter, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Update: The Kickstarter funded. Buy Enigma Emporium’s Wish You Were Here.

Disclosure: Enigma Emporium provided a copy for review.