I’ve been asked many times for other tabletop puzzle game recommendations, so I’ve finally decided to write out a list of some games I’ve enjoyed in recent memory! Please note that these are not in any order, it’s not a ranking. :) And if you have any recommendations of your own, I would love to hear about them!
Escape Tales: The Awakening is a card-based game, at first glance not too dissimilar from an Unlock! deck, but offers a deeper narrative and some player choices that will result in different endings. The player chooses cards by “exploring” different areas in a location, playing a father who is trying to wake his daughter up from a coma by traversing through a different reality and performing a ritual called “The Awakening.” The cards can be objects, puzzles, or occasionally, nothing. The player has only a certain amount of energy to explore each location with, so the empty areas can feel like red herrings at times, but the overall elegance of the gameplay mostly made up for the snags we hit. Since the player has the opportunity to make some choices, the game is technically replayable, but with 3-4 hours of gameplay we felt pretty satisfied with just one run through. Escape Tales has also just released a new game in this series, called Low Memory -- it’ll be on my To Play list!
Pros: Captivating narrative and smooth gameplay mechanic.
Cons: Movement limits can feel a bit punitive, a couple red herrings.
The Catacombs of Horror is a new “double-size” release by EXIT. It presents itself as having two parts, though there isn’t really a break in narrative; it just takes about double the amount of time as a standard EXIT game (about 2 hours). The player is led into the catacombs to search for a friend who had gone down there and never returned - perhaps he was taken by a demon? The story was pretty standard -- cohesive, but not particularly different. We did have to resort to hints at times, but we found the puzzles in Catacombs of Horror to be consistently clever and interesting, and occasionally even surprising. If you’ve enjoyed other games in this series, this one is a must-play.
Pros: Great quality and variety of puzzles. Cons: We accidentally bypassed a climactic part of the game because the solutions to two different puzzles were one number off… double check your answers before you input them!
Cryptogram Puzzle Post Cryptogram Puzzle Post is pretty singular in the world of tabletop puzzle games. The creator, Jack Fallows, comes from a comics and illustration background, and leverages those skills very effectively in this work. The monthly installments each consist of an envelope and eight pieces of paper, seven of which are part of the puzzle to be solved. The story follows the adventures of a young witch exploring the mysteries of the world, and is not only refreshingly conceptual and well-written, but also interweaves well with the puzzles as you progress through each envelope. The puzzles often feel like a breath of fresh air away from the usual number/letter ciphers, but… sometimes the clues feel a little too subtle, and there are often not enough hints to get past the point you’re stuck on. That said, they are delightfully clever once you do get them, but I’ll be trying to solve the rest of my collection with a second pair of eyes.
Pros: Very portable, gorgeous artwork, unique story, and creative puzzles. Cons: High level of difficulty, needs a more robust hint system.
Wish You Were is the first installment in a 3-part series by Enigma Emporium. It consists of 5 postcards, each jam-packed with details and information, revealing little bits of the mystery as you solve through the cards. This one plays a little more like a puzzle hunt, requiring some online research, deciphering, and solution tracking. It may not be as big a pleaser for the more narrative-hungry players, but the puzzle quality was consistently good, and it took us a good few hours to play through.
Pros: Lots of puzzles in a small package. Can be passed on to other players. Cons: A little process-heavy at times, hints could use more granularity.
This is the first installment in a play-at-home series by the national escape room chain called The Escape Game. While it can be said that their escape rooms are good quality, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this envelope, but I was pleasantly surprised. The player is tasked with tracking down an art thief and part of the gameplay involved using a digital interface, both for investigative purposes and for answer submission. The components were of good quality, but felt under-utilized. A couple of them were used so briefly that it almost felt silly that they were included, and there was a nice big map I was excited to get to, but it didn’t quite deliver in its function. That said, this game used some deductive reasoning and was fun to puzzle through. The gating mechanic on the digital interface worked well, allowing us to solve multiple things at once without being overwhelmed. Overall, this game might not blow you away, but it’s definitely a good one when you need to satiate that puzzle craving!
Pros: Fun, logical puzzles. Good for a quick play. Cons: Under-utilized some components, digital interface use was a bit confusing at times.
Doctor Esker’s Notebook is a light puzzle card game in the form of a single deck of cards (great stocking-stuffer in my mind). The premise was that Dr. Esker was missing, and we had to use his lab notes to find out what happened. It takes about an hour to play and isn’t terribly challenging, but the challenges it does pose are enjoyable and surprising. A couple puzzles felt like a stretch, but they were made up for by the majority, which felt fair and playful. It also had an innovative solution check mechanism, and we liked that there was no ambiguity as to which puzzle we were meant to be working on next. The graphics and theming could use improvement, but it was great to see this new take on a card game.
Pros: Great for a quick play and can easily be passed on to a friend. Cool answer-check mechanic. Cons: Light on theme and story, visual design could be improved.
I realize the majority of my audience is English-speaking, but I just couldn’t leave Het Boekanier Dossier off my recommendation list. This game was a delight from the packaging to the very end. The story is about a woman named Helena who is looking to find out what happened to her sister in 1979. It unravels organically as you solve more clues, and offers a deeper and more original story than most tabletop games; even the introductory letter is written in character. The puzzles were varied, challenging, and enjoyable to solve. The components were beautifully designed, nice to handle, and even contained some unexpected surprises! If you understand Dutch, this is a must-play.
Pros: Beautiful components, great puzzles and unique story.
Cons: It’s only available in Dutch :(
Okay, this is another tough one, because it’s out of print (ALTHOUGH, it’s not impossible to find someone reselling their copy...) but again, it merits being on this list.
The Wilson Wolfe Affair is a story about an animator, presented as a box full of old cartoon memorabilia, that slowly unravels to reveal all sorts of secrets about the studio and its clandestine activities. It plays a lot like a puzzle hunt, and comes with a lot of content. (I would recommend tackling this one as a small group, unless you enjoy hours and hours of solo detective work.) The creators even made actual animations, and it was clear how much work and thought went into the overall design of this game. It was a bit overwhelming not knowing where to start or which pieces went together, but they were a pleasure to rummage through, as the illustrations, production design, and component quality were some of the best I’ve seen.
The puzzles were a little inconsistent; some were good clean solves, some felt underclued (or requiring big logic leaps) and some were really clever but required tedious extraction methods. There was one puzzle I was excited to have cracked, but after the aha moment and extracting about half of the solution, it became such a drag that I ended up looking up the rest of the answer just to avoid another half hour of work. Thankfully, Simulacra Games built a functional hint system that included solutions, and the majority of puzzles were interesting and unique. This is a good one for anyone that likes a challenge.
Pros: An original premise that leaks the story into the real world. Impressive illustrations, clever puzzles, and well-designed components.
Cons: A few puzzles felt like a big logic leap, and a few others involved tedious extraction. Also, it’s out of print. :(
What are your favorite tabletop puzzle games?