i got 99 puzzles
and I've played these ones
Hello, I'm Stephen Lockyer, a puzzle maker and puzzle player.
You can't make for a passion project without totally indulging too, so here are my collected write-ups for puzzle games I've played. you can find me online mostly on Twitter, either at work or play, or you can contact me here. I'm one half of Escapages, and 100% of Enigmailed.
In the drafts: Capsoole Island, Cold Case GB, Puzzled Reality, Hack Forward, The Horror Gamebook, Monsters In The Wild, Tell Me In Letters, The Resystance, Mystery Agency (Vanishing Gambler), et al.
Puzzle books in the drafts: 404, The Horror Gamebook, Mob Treasure, Tachyon, Ceiling Wax: Escape Yourself
Let me know which one you'd like me to review next! #makedecisionsforme
I make puzzles at enigmailed.com - use a variant of this review site name to get a discount code (hats off if you work it out - it isn't too tricky).
Somebody asked the other day how I come up with puzzles, and so I thought I'd explain how I scratch that itch.
I was thinking late last night about a Morse code puzzle that I wanted to use for a specific project. It had to be small and simple, and it occurred to me that Morse code only works one way around; the other way up, you just get a series of nonsense letters. But if a true puzzler was looking at these, they might think it was a Caesar cipher, or some other code, and spend a lot of time working on it.
So it made me think, was there a word that you could write in Morse where, if it was upside down the Morse code would make another word, or a different word?
I fell into this rabbit hole and couldn't get my head around it. This is how I solved it.
I looked up Morse code and found a chart which showed the patterning of the dots and dashes in order, so I could compare and see if there were dots and dashes that reversed, which made another letter. It turned out to be quite a few , as well as quite a series of letters which had reversible Morse patterning (S for example, with dot-dot-dot).
I then made a collection of the letters that worked with another letter upside down and put this through a anagram generator to generate words. I selected the 1400+ words put these into Word, then reversed these words and identified the letters they swapped with using Find and Replace and identified seven words, which read the same upside down in Morse code.
Now this might be two hours of my life that I'm never going to get back, but it did show me that you can still be playful with some of the most simple and yet elegant of codes, ie Morse, and still find new ways to explore.
Oh, those words? QUAD, WIGS, GOAS, AGES, OWNS, GNAW, SEWN
skeleton keys, hacking tools, puzzlation
The Vandermist Dossier
A beautifully-created game, set in the suspicious Cold War 70s, this first box has oodles of charm and a few delightful 'Aha' moments
I'll admit that I'm less a fan of retrospective theming, but the level of detail this game has is remarkable. From a torn and scrunched up Yellow Pages ad, to the heavily-folded photograph in the starting envelope, this is incredibly immersive from the off.
But as it should be, nothing is ever as it seems at first glance (This is known as Box One Theory). Puzzles and messages are hidden in all the usual places, and some of the most unusual places too. At one point, I even checked the large elastic band my box was bound with, just in case it had any codes.
The puzzles are challenging. Even with my puzzling partner George, we needed some nudges and hints along the way. This is done via a concertina menu, but with a sensible order, and photographs to illustrate too (which I think is a first).
Above all this, including several Aha moments (one which I spoiled, so I'd encourage you to go slow) was the narrative, which is superb. Even if you don't solve a single puzzle, or don't care to, here is a box of ephemera which takes you fully into a story, complete with characters, tension, small town fuss and Soviet menace. So much so, that when I completed it, I went back and enjoyed the story again. A new bar has been set.
I was kindly given this game as an advance copy ahead of an assured Kickstarter campaign.
The Custodian's Keys
Curious Correspondence club
A beautiful looking game, themed well, and with great elements at play
I rushed this game at first - I'll admit. I went all in, taken as I was by just how bespoke and beautiful all the various parts were. I then had to slow right down, back up and re-look at everything again. There's a lot to take on!
You can't really even judge this game by the photos - even the envelope it comes in is designed beautifully and part of the game. The inclusion of a 'container' card was really helpful too, and allowed me to check through all the different elements.
The theme was immersive, and many of the puzzles tied in particularly nicely, with vey few items of paraemphemera, and lots which were used more than once; several times in some cases!
The hints system was effective, if a little clunky on a phone.
If I were to offer an encouraging note for the makers, I'd wonder aloud the on-boarding of the game - it was a bit of a murky start (and this could be because I was too eager to get stuck in). I've subscribed for the next two, so it will be interesting to see what they are like - same mechanics an so forth - but I really enjoyed this one.
All the ingredients are there, but too many leaps make this a frustrating solve
I was incredibly hopeful for this game. A lovely set-up, really nice presentation and what appeared to be some clever little touches.
It is however incredibly complex, and even after checking hints and contacting the maker, we left feeling more than a little frustrated. This is a game with massive potential, but needs a broader play test to really iron out any kinks. Vague can be good, but blind makes the game incredibly hard! A good puzzle will make you feel clever, not necessarily need to be clever!
I should also add that as part of the package, there is a small bag of teeth. I really can't work out if they are real or not, but trigger warning for those who CANNOT STAND TEETH!
Layered puzzles and the ultimate in puzzle totums - a tiny grater!
I was lucky enough to be given an advance copy of Funny Pages, by Logan Giannini, and have to say, it is a simple yet beautifully-presented puzzle game with a twist.
The story is set well - a mysterious cartoonist leaves behind a series of clues, each hidden in a standalone cartoon, and related to a day on a calendar.
It is up to you as the puzzler to join the dots on this game, and uncover a delicious kidnapping story.
The puzzles are hard, but there is a really effective hints booklet, complete with QR hints and ciphered clues too. And did I mention that it is beautifully presented‽
It is running as a kickstarter NOW, and I'd highly recommend you take a look.
Where there's a will, there's a lot of logical thought needed in this paper-bound game
Some people I imagine have perfect scenarios for playing a puzzle box or game. For me this would be cooped up on a rainy day, with a large table, a small wine and a roaring fire in the background. I want to be transported somewhere, and have small victories for my logical wins.
The Will came with a lot of hype, which can often cause pressure, and I will admit to being a little underwhelmed by the volume of paper initially. However, a grease pencil, protractor and more items not revealed at first (or here) helped.
The puzzles ranged from being quite challenging to actually very logical, but there were some leaps made which made the (incredibly generous) online hints page an absolute must.
This is a puzzle box game for that long evening with the roaring fire, and some scissors potentially (although we used a dice to help us). Although we found it incredibly challenging at times, the story itself and some of the mechanics made for a more pleasurable outing. We'd be keen to play The Island from Gruzzle next.
Did you like this game? Are we being unfair? Did we get this wrong?
the great game
A giant poster, billed as an escape room, except it really isn't
Concepts for games should be like elevator pitches - short and sweet. The rules should be similar, with guidance either clear, or revealed as you go.
I'm sure the intention of this game was clear and effective - make something big and fun - but we found it a big, hot mess of confusion and challenge. A vast number of instructions, various starting points and red herrings led us to wonder exactly what we were doing for most of the time we attempted to play this game.
It would be easy to say,'"ah but the confusion adds to the challenge," but to be honest, the design of this encourages more of a headache than adding pleasure to the challenge.
It advises to play the game in several stages, but after being completely perplexed in completing even the first stage, I think we will put this way for another time.
(Disclosure: I bought this as a family puzzle game, as that is the impression it seems to offer in the adverts and on the website. Perhaps my children are less patient than those who have played this game before.)
Drowning in detail, this online-heavy game will keep puzzlers on their toes
A small mysterious package arrived gift (wrapped beautifully), and in a protective bag that indicated it could be used again. This was just the start of an experience by the Enigma Fellowship, with them declaring their environmental support from the off.
This game was called the submerge Sentinel. Although incredibly paper based, there were still elements added like a small blacklight to read one code that we utilized very quickly.
There are lots of online elements to this game and you will need a computer, or at the very least, a phone. The online world that has been built around this game is immense, and it cannot be taken for granted, the efforts that the makers have gone into in producing such a vivid and scarily accurate online presence. I am still unsure whether I was using some websites that are actually exist or were created purely for this game. Some of the puzzles were incredibly hard, but the hint system operated successfully for us. We break broke this game down into several hours of play, and greatly enjoyed it. There are other games are available online in their store.
A soup-erb puzzling experience, filled with personal touches
Explaining to my family that the large padded envelope that had just been delivered was SOUP ended with a longer discussion than one might have expected. For those still unsure, SOUP stands for acronym, a puzzle from Crack-A-Nut-Mysteries. I'd seen a lot of chat online for this puzzle offering, and was keen to give it a go.
First impressions were off the scale. There was a level of personalisation in this package that my own siblings would struggle with on a birthday card. The level of attention to detail here is something I've not come across, and it continued throughout the game, which explains why this game would struggle (or want) to be refilled or resold.
The game itself took us a comfortable couple of hours. A real mixture of puzzles, a few of which needed some photocopying (as I wanted as many of the tribe to contribute as possible). What struck me most was how well old/classic puzzle mechanics had been repurposed in an immersive storyline. The first envelope was the longest and probably the best, combining several puzzles into one, and kept the whole family engaged.
There was a very definite 'aha' moment which we all loved. Sometimes puzzle games provide a little magic in your own hands, and this had a lovely moment where we all gasped and wanted to repeat it!
The Hints were operated online, and had a large dose of humour in them - they are worth reading even if you don't need them (and a lot of the time, we didn't - just the odd nudge here and there). The answer mechanic was simple and effective, and the only suggestion we would put in the development pipe was to have a bigger resolution ending - something I know a few puzzle games (including my own) find a tricky at times.
I know that Crack-A-Nut Mysteries have a few games; this seems by far the most family-friendly. Have a look at their website here.
Disclaimer: I was given this as a review copy in return for a full and unbiased review.
the voc treasure
modern treasure hunt
Diving the depths of a true story, this puzzle game requires time and focus
Who doesn't want to solve a treasure hunt that is based on real life? Who else doesn't love great resources and fantastic ephemera that was waiting to arrive (and smells great to boot1)?
This was one of the first non-paper based puzzle boxes I had experienced, and boy did it not hold back. There were lots of intriguing items inside, with lots of very interesting connected resources. Although some of the puzzles were a little basic at first there were some that did catch us out.
We played as an adult team and it took about an hour and a half. The hint system is rather unusual in that it operated via text message, but the responses were quick and effective guiding us towards the correct answer. The wine bottle challenge was particularly perplexing.
Overall, we enjoyed playing this game, and only hope that future games could potentially use some of the resources within the package itself as the fairer ephemera was so wonderful to look at in us.
Disclaimer: We were sent this for no cost, or expectation of review.
A world of possibilities and puzzles, if you know your way in
I'd seen and heard about Hincks for many months before curiosity finally got the better of me and I bought, sorry, auto-subscribed to the Gazette.
A beautiful personalised envelope came for me in a matter of weeks, with a single A3 newspaper of the gazette enclosed.
I'm afraid I found the route into the Gazette incredibly hard. It was either a lack of onboarding (which, full disclosure, I've been guilty of in the past) or my irrational concern that I was an outsider to this game, but it took going through quite a few of the hints to realise that this used a narrative breadcrumb mechanic, which by this time I'd effectively self-wrecked half the puzzles, which seemed challenging but comfortably brainteasery.
I do have a second copy that I'd like to get my teeth into, and can see how this could be one puzzle format that you 'get' then enjoy far more, as you play.
I should add that the hints are online, fairly easy to find, but again are linear, which works if you are from the start, and will confirm if you are on the right path if not.
A paper puzzle with a delicious edible reward? What's not to like!
When I saw that one of the questions when ordering this puzzle box was 'Do you have any allergies,' I was immediately interested, as was my stomach.
A bright coloured box, personalised to us, arrived. When we started playing, we were entranced by the colourful and vivid paper puzzles included, although it took a little while to work out exactly what we had to solve. Included was a small bag with a treasure inside, and a three digit combination padlock outside. The game itself didn't take too long at all to play, and isn't really replayable, but it did have some lovely elements to it, and looked incredibly pretty (I played with a puggler, and even she enjouyed it).
The prize of winning the escape puzzle itself was quite impressive, but unfortunately didn't last longer than about 10 minutes. It was delicious...
I would look forward to seeing other versions of this game, especially if they have the same prize.
Sadly I think this is only for UK residents. You can order one from the code Bakers.
Thought you'd never ask! I'm Stephen, one half of The Escapages. Lots of our puzzle escape books are on Amazon, but we are particular proud of our Non-Everything-Store books, Flatpak a puzzle game disguised as a Scandinavian Furniture Catalogue, and Full Deck, a serial killer trilogy book and Crime Board compilation.
I prefer puzzle escape games which are mostly analogue, and have a large, young family, so play either solos or family puzzle games. I'm obsessed with narrative and plot, and teach this. My brain very much has too many tabs open. I read more than is healthy.
For disclosure, if I am given any games for review, I will declare this at the bottom of the review, and will only accept items for a fair and unbiased response. Some links are affiliate, and I will mark these with a *.
Want to get in touch? Use Twitter, or email me using this email: email@example.com (Caesar cipher, L=S - earn your keep!)
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