PostCurious – Emerald Flame [Review]

💚🔥

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.
Continue reading “PostCurious – Emerald Flame [Review]”

Unlock! – Scheherazade’s Last Tale [Review]

Another Night, Another Story.

Location:  at home

Date Played: April 14, 2020

Team size: 1-6; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: about $15

REA Reaction

Scheherazade’s Last Tale felt like a marriage of the story of Scheherazade and Disney’s Aladdin. This story-driven puzzle adventure was a romp through a family-friendly take on Arabian mythology. It was a fun and fresh world for puzzling.

The initial card setup features Scheherazade sitting in a beautiful palace.

This installment of Unlock! shined in creating novel interactions between cards that only worked in this particular game world. Additionally, the Unlock! app elevated the narrative experience, something that this app rarely does well.

The shortcomings in this game were your typical collection of Unlock! criticism: the hidden numbers sucked, we were granted access to far too many cards at once, and a few of these puzzles were far more particular than the clue structure really justified.

Continue reading “Unlock! – Scheherazade’s Last Tale [Review]”

Vampire.Pizza – Chapter 1 [Review]

Hold the garlic.

Location:  at home

Date Played: May 1, 2020

Team size: unlimited; we recommend 2-4

Duration: variable; about an hour for the puzzles

Price: $32.99 per person (party of 2) or $27.99 per person (party of 4)

REA Reaction

Vampire.Pizza is an immersive game where pizza and puzzles are delivered directly to your door. Through online videos and paper game materials, Chapter 1 spun a story of vampire revolution that felt bigger than the average play-at-home escape game.

The puzzles weren’t diabolical, which made Vampire.Pizza family-friendly, aside from some allusions to the bloody business of vampirism. The gameplay supplemented a larger evening of dinner, light crafting, and creating our vampire personas. Hardcore puzzlers might crave more of a challenge, but there’s plenty for casual players to sink their teeth into.

A dossier reading "Vampires Only" with some game pieces shaped like pizza slices.

Vampire.Pizza’s creative mashup of story, puzzles, and takeout food was innovative. Acquiring puzzles via takeout/delivery added a personal touch, especially during a time when many of us are staying inside. 

Vampire.Pizza started in Los Angeles and expanded to Las Vegas and Philadelphia, with the possibility of other cities on the horizon. After playing Chapter 1, we’re eager to see how the story will unfold in future installments.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Pizza lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Themed puzzles
  • Feel like part of a movement
  • Pizza is included, for once
An envelope reading "Start Here" accompanied by a Fang Force Special Agent Profile sheet.

Story

By ordering a meal from Belle’s Family Kitchen in Los Angeles, we were part of a vampire revolution—spread via pizza delivery. Solving Belle’s puzzles could earn us a spot in the Fang Force.

Setup

Vampire.Pizza was a puzzle game delivered (or picked up) along with pizza, salad, and dessert. The game materials were well designed and evoked a somewhat gothic vibe.

Gameplay

Vampire.Pizza included a play-at-home puzzle game with a low-to-medium level of difficulty. Core gameplay revolved around pattern recognition, logic, and word puzzles (with optional role-playing and crafting).

The story unfurled via online videos, bookending the puzzles with narrative bites. The pizza, though related to the story, was separate from the gameplay. 

The puzzles were paper based, but more complex, colorful, and tactile than typical newspaper puzzles. We did encounter some tricky moments, but Vampire.Pizza included a handy hint/answer sheet in case we got stuck. There was no time limit; the puzzles seemed meant to be solved casually as part of the evening’s entertainment.

Some paper game materials, including a Hints & Answers booklet.

Analysis

➕ The IRL delivery method made Vampire.Pizza feel more immersive than the typical play-at-home game. The videos helped the story feel bigger. We appreciated those references to the outside world, especially during the current lockdown.

➕/➖ We enjoyed reimagining ourselves as members of the Fang Force by filling out the included profile sheets. However, we wished the sheets had been provided before the game arrived, to set the stage and help us get in character.

➕ At a couple points, we encountered a bunch of game elements at once. The nonlinear structure allowed multiple people to puzzle concurrently if desired. We considered sorting out these elements to be part of the challenge.

❓ With all the instructions at various steps, we sometimes wanted less hand-holding. However, players looking for less of a challenge may appreciate the guidance.

➕ The game flowed smoothly. We never got stalled while solving. All the puzzles felt fair and stuck to the theme.

❓At one point, we got tricked. Different players may have different feelings about this, but it made us chuckle.

➕ Puzzles aside, we enjoyed our meal. Pickup was fast and contactless. We appreciated that there were multiple menu options, including vegan pizza.

➕We never would have imagined a vampire-and-pizza-themed immersive puzzle game, but the unlikely combination worked. Everything pulled together into a unique, fun package that didn’t take itself too seriously.

A tag reading "Vampire Pizza" tied to a black box with red twine.

Tips For Players

Dim the lights and throw on a Castlevania soundtrack to get into the vampire vibe.

The party size you choose determines the amount of food and certain game materials included in the box. The key puzzle components are playable by groups of any size.

A portion of the Los Angeles proceeds go to the League of Experiential and Immersive Artists emergency fund, which provides relief to artists in the immersive community.

To be notified if Vampire.Pizza starts delivering to your area, you can fill out a form on their website.

Crack a Nut Mysteries – Root of All Evil [Review]

Sinfully Entertaining

Location:  at home

Date Played: April 12, 2020

Team size: we recommend 2-3

Duration: more than 60 minutes, length of play depends a lot of your play style

Price: about $130 plus shipping for the US; more internationally

REA Reaction

Root of All Evil delivered deep dark storytelling, beautiful props, ciphers, and an atmosphere reminiscent of the movie Seven, if it had been set 70 years earlier. Playing it felt like we were unearthing something that had long been buried.

Closeup of the box contents includes a Holy Bible, newspaper clippings, and other items.

This was a game world worthy of exploration. While it had a lot of written materials, we were eager to read them because the writing captured our attention. This so rarely happens in the puzzle gaming world.

Root of All Evil culminated in a climax that was truly worthy of the experience. It was strange and bold.

I’d love to see Crack a Nut Mysteries build a far more robust self-service hint system to couple with this experience. This would ensure that everyone gets everything that this experience has to offer.

Root of All Evil was a high-commitment game. It was noticeably more expensive than many play-at-home game, but for the price point, it delivered a lot of value that players can sink their teeth into over time.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Cipher breakers
  • Collectors of beautiful objects
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Fantastic writing
  • Gorgeous and aesthetically compelling
  • There was a lot of depth
  • Surprising moments

Story

We’d received a cryptic wooden crate filled with evidence of a series of unusual murders. We had to unravel the string of religion-fueled slayings.

An old wooden box with latin enscribed on its face.

Setup

Root of All Evil was a detective game.

The crate of evidence was filled with articles, journals, and physical evidence to examine, interpret, and decipher.

Closeup of a wooden box sealed with a nail. Grass hands off of it like it had been buried.

A lot of the magic of this world came from the objects. They were beautiful and felt like they truly belonged.

Gameplay

Crack a Nut Mysteries’ Root of All Evil was a story-driven, puzzle-based mystery game.

It was more challenging that a boxed escape room game, but not as challenging as a typical puzzle hunt.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, observing, making connections, reading, engaging with the story, and deciphering.

A postcard with a crucifix that reads "Root of All Evil."

Analysis

➕ We enjoyed reading a lengthy journal in Root of All Evil. There. I said it. The writing was honestly compelling. The more we read, the more we were drawn into the story.

➕ Crack a Nut Mysteries hid a lot of secrets in Root of All Evil. We found some of these immediately. We really had to work for others. The payoff was worth it. They hid some brilliant reveals that we wouldn’t have expected from a boxed play-at-home game.

➕ The gameplay was woven around a narrative. Each solve and each reveal made sense in the game world… especially as we read more of the journal.

Root of All Evil relied heavily on ciphers. Your enjoyment of the puzzles will depend on your interest in deciphering.

Root of All Evil needed a stronger, tiered hint system. It’s currently presented as a mystery that you more or less solve or don’t. It would be a better experience for more people if it allowed them to engage on whatever level they wanted.

➖ Additionally, Root of All Evil would benefit from a dedicated website (beyond the Facebook page linked to below) that sets expectations clearly for the subject matter, content style, and commitment level.

➕ The late-game interactions and ultimate conclusion were intense and creative.

Tips For Players

  • Space Requirements: a table… small will work ok, but you might prefer larger
  • Required Gear: pen and paper. We also recommend a computer for quicker deciphering.

Buy your copy of Crack a Nut Mysteries’ Root of All Evil, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Crack a Nut Mysteries provided a sample for review.

Statik [Review]

Quarantine Your Hands

Developer & Publisher: Tarsier Studios

Dates Played: Nov-Dec 2019

Platform: Playstation VR

Duration: about five hours

Price: $14.99 on Playstation Store

REA Reaction

From the comfort of my living room, my hands have deftly escaped a series of excellently designed escape rooms… or rather, escape boxes that my hands were trapped inside, while a blurry-faced man analyzed my progress…

Through the ingenious use of Playstation’s Dualshock controller, Statik expertly captured the spirit of real-life escape rooms in a seated VR game. 

While I’d seen some of its elements before in real-life escape rooms, the box-on-my-hands mechanic made them feel fresh. Statik mixed in whimsical elements, an immersive environment, and unique puzzles that would only work in the virtual space. 

Everything about the puzzles felt tactile. For a virtual medium set in a realistic environment, this is essential. Proper sound design and accurate movement of the boxes’ mechanics worked together to complete the illusion.

I recommend this to anyone looking to slip into the PSVR puzzle world and escape their quarantine reality.

Who is this for?

Why play?

  • Solid, well-clued puzzles
  • A wholly unique concept
The first room of the game. The player examines the puzzle box around their hands as Dr. Ingen looks through a window.
The first room I woke up in. Dr. Ingen studied me from afar.

Story

In Statik, I played as an unnamed test subject of the Statik Institute of Retention. Every day I woke up with a new puzzle box strapped to my hands. My only guide was Dr. Ingen, who often sat in on my sessions, but he wasn’t there to give me hints. His official role was just to observe, make notes, and whistle tunelessly every so often. As his unofficial job, he saw fit to mock me.

In truth, my goal was not to free my hands. Just as each box had been solved and the feeling of satisfaction had washed over me, I looked down to see my permanent IV line inject me with a sleeping agent and the test was over.

Another puzzle room, darker, with four indistinct monitors in the distance. The IV line is seen on the left arm.
What does all this stuff do? Step one: push every button.

Setup

Statik cycled me through three different types of rooms: the main puzzle rooms where I solved the box locked to my wrists, an underwater room where I progressively assembled a puzzle cube each time I returned, and the psychological testing room where Dr. Ingen recorded my responses to various visual and auditory stimuli. 

This last kind of room simply displayed an image on a screen and asked me to respond “happy” or “sad.” A lie detector of sorts was bolted to my hands for this room and occasionally the needles flew all over the place. I later learned that these answers had no bearing on the game and this room was simply a fun moment of distraction.

The overall vibe of Statik borrowed from games like Portal and Bioshock. Think 1980s technology with the forced-smile aesthetic of Soviet-controlled Eastern Europe.

Yet another puzzle box, this time with a rotary dial on it. A computer monitor is on the table in front of me and Dr. Ingen sits in a chair, his face blurred out in my vision.
Phoning a friend did nothing. Dr. Ingen soon became bored of me.

Gameplay

Core gameplay centered around experimenting, observing, and making connections.

The puzzles were mostly linear with easy to moderate difficulty. Non-gamers can approach Statik without apprehension; there was only one room where I had to input commands quickly in order to be successful.

Analysis

➕ Given the limitations of PSVR, where movement was mostly limited to turning and leaning. Statik did an excellent job making the world feel large and giving me a lot to do.

➕ The VR interactions felt tactile. Boxes contained audio cassettes, robot arms, and laser beams. Switches and knobs were the most common components. Every element worked just as I expected it would have in real life.

➕ The character of Dr. Ingen was well written and professionally voiced. Like Portal’s GlaDOS before him, he was a master of subtle, funny digs at my intelligence, and they came infrequently enough that they didn’t get annoying.

➖There’s no hint system. It seemed like a missed opportunity to use Dr. Ingen as a hint device, marveling at my lack of aptitude and giving me some attitude along with three levels of hints.

➕ There was a non-standard use of blacklight! I had to leave myself a reminder note to mention it here.

➖ In between the box-on-hands levels, there were some underwater rooms (my “stasis chamber”?) where I was asked to manipulate holograms of shapes to make a cube. It was progressive — with each visit, I completed more of the cube. It simply wasn’t very fun compared to the clever boxes. While I came to learn there was a narrative reason for this series of puzzles, the break in the flow was unwelcome and felt like filler to me.

➕ There’s no way I could fail, and no way I could die. As strange as it sounds for someone who was imprisoned and tested upon by an unknown entity, it was actually pretty relaxing just to work through the puzzle knowing I wasn’t about to be killed by a deathtrap if I didn’t do it in time.

➖ Occasionally the PSVR system got confused about the position of my hands and placed them in a wrist-breaking upside-down orientation or extended my arms way out to the edge of the room. Tarsier Studios was apparently aware of this bug, because they suggested in-game that I shake the controller at the Playstation Eye camera if this happens.

My arms stretch impossibly out in front of me, demonstrating the bug mentioned just above.
Whoa! Stretchy arms! What did they give me…?

Tips For Players

  • Space Requirements: Best played seated, because your character is. You should be able to turn a bit and look around.
  • Required Gear: PSVR unit, PS4
  • Don’t forget that you can press in on the DualShock thumbsticks.
  • Feel free to look behind you, but there’s no reason to turn your body physically all the way around. The hand-orientation bug seems to happen when your body blocks the PSVR controller.
  • There’s no hint system but there are walkthroughs on YouTube if you’re seriously stuck. My favorite was by “Polish Paul VR”, who is hilariously self-deprecating.
  • There is a difficult meta puzzle throughout that leads to a secret ending.
    Spoiler: Meta Puzzle Hint

    Keep your eye out for clues that seem to belong to levels you’ve already completed.

    [collapse]

Buy your copy of Tarsier Studio’s Statik, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Buy Statik