Bluefish Games – Hincks Gazette [Review]

“Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Puzzle newspaper is surprisingly satisfying!”

Location:  at home

Date Played: June 7, 2020

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

Duration: 1-2 hours

Price: $22 for 3 months, $39 for 6 months

REA Reaction

Quick, affordable, and surprisingly fun… with an emphasis on the surprise.

A copy of the Hincks Gazette being held up in front of a fireplace. The frontpage headline reads, "Talking plants now talking back. House plants sassing families all over town."

I don’t typically enjoy the writing in tabletop puzzle games, but The Hincks Gazette was humorous and well written.

The puzzle types that Bluefish Games used throughout this experience fell into categories that I usually dislike, but Bluefish Games managed to make each and every puzzle intriguing and exciting.

I didn’t really know what to expect going into this, and each time I started thinking, “this isn’t going to be for me,” my expectations were subverted in the best kind of way.

Quick-hit subscription games are tough. It’s hard to sustainably produce quality content on an ongoing basis. Will The Hincks Gazette maintain this level of quality over the long haul? I cannot say. For now, however, I’m really happy with this product and wholeheartedly recommend it for word puzzlers.

I doubt that The Hincks Gazette will blow your mind, but for the price and the level of commitment, like The Curious Elevator of Mr. Hincks, this was easy to recommend.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Smart puzzling in an elegant and inexpensive package
  • It’s funny

Story

We picked up a newspaper with a curiously incomplete story about sassy talking houseplants and how to make them stop being mean. The catch was that the last part was missing, and we really needed to fix our talking houseplant. The negativity was getting to us.

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Bluefish Games – The Curious Elevator of Mr. Hincks [Review]

Going up!

Location:  at home

Date Played: May 31, 2020

Team size: 1-4; we recommend 2

Duration: 3-5 hours (we took considerably less time)

Price: $35

REA Reaction

The Curious Elevator of Mr. Hincks was structurally innovative and filled with strong, crafty puzzles with a robust hint system.

Bluefish Games had been working for years to develop a product that they were happy with… and I know for a fact that they threw away at least one idea that they had gone deep into development on.

Initial opening of the box shows a wide variety of paper components.

Were there a few areas that could have been improved? Sure. The totally fine, but not-on-the-level-of-the-rest-of-the-game final puzzle comes to mind.

Overall, years of quietly testing ideas and honing their product seems to have paid off for Bluefish Games.

If you’re new to tabletop puzzling, this is a great place to start.

If you love tabletop puzzling and you’ve been around the block a few times, I’m betting that The Curious Elevator of Mr. Hincks will still find a few ways to surprise and delight you.

Recommending this game is an easy decision.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Some innovative puzzle design
  • Smooth gameplay
  • A strong self-service hint system

Story

Eccentric inventor Mr. Stephen P. Hincks had spent years developing his bepuzzled elevator. He was finally ready to show it to us.

Each floor that we visited had a “gift” in the form of a puzzle for us to untangle.

Curious Elevator of Mr Hincks box art, on a card board box.
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DarkPark – Conspiracy-19 [Review]

Playfully Grim

Location:  at home

Date Played: May 10, 2020

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

Duration: 2.5-3 hours

Price: about $53.13

REA Reaction

The appeal of Conspiracy-19 was its unusual structure, well-designed components, and engaging interactions, but it wasn’t an entirely refined package.

DarkPark’s first foray into the play-at-home escape room market can be summed up with 3 words: interesting, bumpy, and fixable.

A collection of blood samples and an open bottle of pills.
Image via DarkPark

From its subject matter and name, to the bumps in on-boarding and hinting, it was clear that Conspiracy-19 was finished during quarantine… and produced remarkably well, given the added constraints.

In its current state, Conspiracy-19 was a fun, yet flawed game. However, it could be dramatically improved with 2 easily remedied changes:

  • Adjusting the introductory letter to point the player towards a starting place that resolves more quickly
  • Swapping the Facebook-based hinting for a structured, self-service website

At its price point, I’ll happily recommend Conspiracy-19 to diehard tabletop escape room players with disposable income. It’s a cool game. If the price point is a stretch for you at the moment, I’d sit this one out in its current form. It isn’t bad at all; it just needs a few tweaks.

DarkPark is one of our favorite escape room companies in the world, and one of the things we can tell from their work is how much they care about their products. We’re betting that DarkPark iterates on this one.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Prop fiddlers
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • A few standout interactions
  • An unusual structure

Story

We were in a race against time to save the world from a deadly virus.

Pomotional image displaying the contents of the game box.
Image via DarkPark
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idventure – Cluebox [Review]

Laser cut conundrum.

Location:  at home

Date Played: December 2019

Team size: we recommend 1-2

Duration: 45–60 minutes.

Price: β‚¬29.99

REA Reaction

Cluebox was a curious and delightful object.

Laser cut out of wood, this resettable puzzle box felt like a happy marriage of mechanical puzzle box design with escape room elements.

A wooden puzzle box with a spindle of gears.

It didn’t take either of us too long to solve it, but the process was lovely. There were plenty of great aha moments, and no two challenges felt the same.

If you enjoy tangible puzzling, Cluebox is a stellar product unlike anything else that we’ve encountered.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Tangible, elegant design
  • Smart puzzling
  • It’s resettable

Story

It was SchrΓΆdinger’s Cat puzzle box. That’s it. That’s the story. You wish that you’d thought of it too.

A box with a steampunk mechanical cat.
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PostCurious – Emerald Flame [Review]

πŸ’šπŸ”₯

Location:  at home

Date Played: Spring 2020

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

Duration: 2-3 hours per chapter with 3 chapters

Price: back on Kickstarter at $69 or more to receive a copy of the game

REA Reaction

Emerald Flame is in a class of its own, from its art direction to its gameplay. Its three chapters had tight, creative puzzles. They varied in complexity, while feeling fair and innovative.

Emerald Flame felt like a successor to Post Curious’ first product Tale of Ord… but tighter and more refined in virtually every way.

An assortment of puzzle content and components with beautiful art.

Emerald Flame’s story was less ambitious than its predecessor’s but was still well structured and conveyed quite a bit of nuance. There was less content, and there were fewer tangible props than in Tale of Ord, but the overall level of quality was much higher… and at a far lower price point.

In short: Emerald Flame smoked Tale of Ord. It wasn’t even close.

The gorgeous gold and green stained glass box art of The Emerald Flame.

The art was beautiful, like, “I feel kind of bad writing on this” beautiful… and “I want a poster-sized version of the box art to frame on my wall,” beautiful.

Emerald Flame just went up on Kickstarter, so if you want to play this, head over there and back it. We played a nearly final prototype. There will be differences in the production version, so I cannot speak to the exact quality of what will be shipped. That said, I can assure you that the game exists, it’s incredibly refined, and it’s comfortably Lisa and my favorite tabletop puzzle game to date. For what I look for in a play-at-home puzzle game, it has no peers.

Who is this for?

  • Art lovers
  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Approachable yet deep and beautifully designed puzzles
  • The best hint system in the business
  • The art, the art, the art

Story

Our assistance had been enlisted in the study of alchemy. We needed to retrace the work of a medieval alchemist from Prague in order to solve the mysteries of his work and how they related to an unusual celestial event.

All Emerald Flame packages laid out. They seem to have been mailed from Prague.
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