Each month on this blog we highlight a handful of tabletop and digital games to spread the word about interesting experiences and support other creators -- here is this month's roundup! Fairy Tale Files: The Cinderella Murders by Society of Curiosities
The Cinderella Murders is the first of a series of four fairy tale-themed mysteries by Society of Curiosities. In this first installment, players are tasked with solving a murder committed with a glass slipper. Along with the paper components, the game is played through a user-friendly digital interface with a text adventure vibe, as players direct a proxy character to accomplish in-world tasks. Aside from one puzzle which contained some ambiguous imagery, the game flowed smoothly and contained several fun moments. I was especially impressed with the meaningful deduction of evidence that was achieved despite the relatively low level of difficulty. This game would be a great way to introduce younger folk to concepts of logic and critical thinking, but the humor and elegant gameplay should satisfy more experienced players as well.
The Cyphstress is a point-and-click style digital adventure created by Deadlocked Rooms in collaboration with a local brewery. It is played through a browser interface, supported with some use of google translator and social media searching. (I am not normally a fan of the latter, but it did not overstay its welcome in this game.) With the exception of one end-game puzzle, we found the challenges to be varied, clever, and well-produced. The narrative was rather refreshing and contained some ARG-like elements. The digital components were also quite user-friendly and in some cases reminiscent of Enchambered’s online games, which I have thoroughly enjoyed.
Time: ~1h for chapter 1, ~1.5h for chapter 2
I had some serious catching up to do on the Hincks Gazettes this month, and after declaring the December issue my favorite so far, January quickly overtook it with a certain brilliant puzzle sequence. Generally speaking, the Hincks Gazettes are kind of what I wish newspaper puzzles were actually like. The humor easily eclipses most (un)funny pages and the puzzles are clever, joyful, and never punishing.
Time: ~45m each
Escape Mail offers nice bite-size puzzle envelopes that can easily be completed in one sitting. There is not much to dive into in terms of the narrative, but the puzzles were generally satisfying and well-executed. Some clues in Ancient Mysteries were mildly confusing, but I really appreciated how the paper components were used in a way that facilitated the creation of something dimensional and unique. The other two chapters felt a bit more straightforward in terms of the gameplay, with On the Run probably being my favorite of the three. While I personally yearn for a little more meat on my puzzles, this series would be a perfect choice for those new to the genre.
Time: <1h each
The Warp Core is planned to be a four-part series (with three currently available) of online escape rooms played through Telescape, where players navigate real 360-degree environments with superimposed digital elements. Clue HQ not only did a great job of onboarding players but also used Telescape in an innovative way--it felt like the closest I’d gotten to playing an actual escape room virtually without an avatar. Although it was a tad overwhelming at times moving through different rooms and investigating so many elements, it was never unmanageable, and the collaborative nature of the game makes it an excellent choice for remote play. Both parts were equally fun and can easily be played in one sitting or split up.
Time: <1h each part
Escape from the Science Lab of Shifting Rules is an online avatar-led game created by SCRAP, an escape room company based in Japan. The best way to describe this game is a real-life version of the video game Baba is You, in which the player is continuously changing the rules of the game itself in order to solve problems and make progress. SCRAP’s adaptation of this concept resulted in a clever, funny, and unique experience. Despite the relatively bare-bones setting, the production design overall was actually rather impressive, and our team was excited and engaged the entire way through.
Disco Elysium - The Final Cut Available for: Windows, Mac, Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox One (and currently 20% off on Steam!)
After briefly starting this game on PC last year, I’ve been eagerly awaiting the Playstation release of the “Final Cut” version of Disco Elysium, a groundbreaking role playing game. Although I am not normally a fan of RPGs, the dialogue-driven and exploration-based gameplay appealed to me significantly more than the combat-driven games in the genre. Taking on the role of an amnesiac detective with a substance abuse problem, the player is tasked with solving a murder mystery in the run down district of Revachol, accompanied by another detective on the case.
It is worth noting that the world-building in this game expands far beyond the map area--there is not just a narrative but also a deep history of the region and nuanced (and often funny) political commentary embedded into the game (which you can choose to ignore to some degree, but it is part of what makes the game so interesting.) It is honestly a little hard to describe Disco Elysium without going on for paragraphs at a time (as you can already tell), but the brief of it is that the plethora of meaningful choices, side quests, and quirkiness are what make this game truly unique. The character building is equally robust--investing your experience points into certain skills can open up new opportunities or cause events to play out in different ways. Not only that, but you have the freedom of playing as any combination of weirdo characters: a composed, physically strong, and empathetic communist organizer, a consistently drunk right-wing nationalist with a wacky bow tie, or an apologetic, politically ambivalent disco freak with a tendency to take bribes.
This character-building is also what offers the game tremendous replay value. As I was about halfway through the game I thought “I can’t imagine replaying this whole thing,” but after finishing the run it wasn’t long until I was ready to try again with a focused intent on doing things a little differently, just to see what happens. This second playthrough has been rewarding so far, allowing me to complete several new side quests and be consistently surprised and amused by what the creators have put into the game. My biggest complaint is also ultimately the best compliment--once I solved the case, all I wanted to do was keep going… I wanted to go back to my station and embark on a new adventure using the skills I already earned.
Time: 20+ hours