Periodically on this blog I highlight a handful of tabletop and digital games to spread the word about interesting experiences and support other creators. Here's the latest roundup!
I've been excited for On Circus Grounds since it came out in Dutch as Meester 1883, and rightfully so. The story is presented as a dossier from an old case that was likely misjudged: the mysterious death of a circus master. The player is meant to find the real killer and learn their motives and methods. For starters, the contents of the box was absolutely beautiful. The materials were meticulously designed and packaged for a realistic-feeling experience. The gameplay leaned more toward the deductive mystery category, elegantly feeding you subtle details of the story until the pieces all come together. It was a little overwhelming to get started due to the sheer volume of materials, but the goals were clearly stated in the intro letter, and important information was often emphasized, which helped signpost the connections between items. Although one puzzle with ambiguous instructions threw me for a bit of a loop, the story was engaging and integrated well with the puzzling elements—it even included a whole series of encodings I enjoyed (a rare thing!) This will be a good choice for those who enjoy narrative mysteries and exploring historical artifacts.
Available on: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X and Series S, Xbox Cloud Gaming, Microsoft Windows
It Takes Two is a cooperative action game about a couple that is about to separate… before their daughter turns them into dolls and they must overcome a challenging adventure to return to their normal form. Gameplay mostly consists of platforming elements (running, jumping, the occasional flying) and shooting (in a family-friendly way—think throwing globs of wax at aggressive bees, not shooting human enemies with guns) as well as some light puzzling. Some sequences were more difficult than others, but even for someone without great reflexes, they were not too punishing. It is clear that the creators wanted the game to be enjoyed by casual players and they did a good job of implementing this intent—it is very forgiving when it comes to messing up, and allows you to start right back up where you were before you perished.
It Takes Two was a heftier game than I expected, with plenty of content for multiple sittings and a wide variety of flavors in the level design. Sometimes I wished there were more “break” points between areas, but at the same time, the smoothness of the game is what kept us going for hours. I wouldn’t have minded more puzzly challenges either, but the game made good use of the cooperative aspect, always forcing us to work problems out together to accomplish our goal. The subject matter wasn’t a downer, either; although I have mixed feelings on the story itself, there was plenty of humor to keep up the enjoyment. For those who enjoy a little friendly competition along their collaborative journey, there are also some cute (but optional) 1v1 battles along the way. Long story short, this is the couch coop I’ve been waiting for, and if you’ve been looking for the same, you likely won’t be disappointed.
Time: ~12 hours
Cantaloop has been described to me as a “point and click video game in book form,” and for better or worse, I have to agree. The gameplay felt like something between an Unlock box and a choose-your-own-path adventure game, and utilized an inventive and original mechanic. We appreciated that the story didn’t have to be linear, although at times this resulted in missing places we had to come back to. The writing was generally well done (especially if you enjoy puns), though the story felt a little generic. It would have been cool to see a deeper narrative explored in this special format, but hopefully this is just the beginning. It was also funny, sometimes even sassy, trying to make us feel dumb for taking a certain action—we had mixed feelings about this, because at times it was difficult to tell what could or could not be done, and some puzzles could have used better signposting to alleviate ambiguity. Nevertheless, we did feel that the overall gameplay was of good quality, and frankly, it’s worth playing for the uniqueness of the mechanic alone.
Who Framed Mr. Wolfe was a delightful final episode of the Fairy Tale Files series. Like its predecessors, it features a humorous and family-friendly mystery that can serve as a great bite-sized puzzle break or a warm up for a more intense puzzling session. We appreciated the effort put into the custom artwork and the creative solutions to some of the puzzles, which would not have worked outside the online chat system used by Society of Curiosities. If you’ve been considering picking up a Fairy Tale File though, we would recommend you just get the whole lot.
Time: <1h Difficulty: 1/5
Tale of a Golden Dragon is the seventh installment in Scarlet Envelope’s series, and is centered around the search for a dragon that burned down a village. As is typical for this series, there was a fair amount of content tucked into a small envelope, though a good portion of the interactions were done through the web. We appreciated the flavorful writing and the humorous tone of the experience, though at times it felt like the text had a long-winded way of telling us “there’s nothing here for you to find.” There were also some spots of ambiguous cluing, but we did manage to make it through most of the experience without any hints. There was also one physical interaction that particularly struck our fancy, and overall this felt like a strong episode in the Scarlet Envelope series.
What have you been playing lately?