Periodically on this blog I highlight a handful of tabletop and digital games to spread the word about interesting experiences and support other creators. Well, it’s been a busy fall, so this typically bi-monthly post is rather delayed, but... better late than never?
Mini Mysteries surprised me in the best way possible, and in all honesty, “mini” is not how I would describe this game. The Medieval Mishap will have you going into the past to hunt down a missing agent of the Ministry of Time, using a web app and a folder of paper materials. The narrative is mainly there to accompany the puzzles—this worked very well, but just don’t expect a deep story in this experience. The components were beautifully designed and fitting with the theme, as well as conveniently labeled Exhibits A through M so it was clear with each puzzle which materials were needed. The onboarding and signposting made gameplay a smooth experience that would be accessible to beginners while still entertaining more seasoned solvers. I also appreciated that the materials were of different sizes and that multiple puzzles made good use of a large map that ultimately felt like an anchor for the game. One stellar component was also particularly satisfying to use.
Although there was a fair amount of variation, a significant portion of the gameplay was based in logic puzzles. While this was right up my alley, it may not be for you if that is a puzzle style you particularly dislike. The only aspect of the game that I felt could really use some improvement was the web app—the interface was a tad clunky and not formatted to display well on mobile, there was an occasional delay when puzzles were solved, and although I appreciated the voiceover it sometimes felt like the wait between dialogue slowed down the momentum. Additionally, it could really use a back button. Despite these gripes, however, it functioned well enough to frame the experience and provided a sense of progression. If you want a self-contained puzzle game that can be completed in one sitting, I recommend giving The Medieval Mishap a shot!
Time: ~2 hours
I kept meaning to play through this cooperative two-player puzzle series at the height of the pandemic, but it was still a delight despite our current lack of isolation. If you’re a fan of Eric Berlin’s Puzzlesnacks book, you will likely enjoy these word puzzles as well—they are a little higher in difficulty, but still very solvable and don’t require knowledge of trivia the way many crosswords do. The ten print-at-home puzzles (plus an additional meta puzzle) each took my partner and I anywhere between 20 minutes to over an hour, and while we got tripped up here and there, the payoff was ultimately worth it. (That said, there were a couple of times where we were painfully close to finishing a puzzle, and some sort of hint system would have been greatly appreciated!) The best part is that this puzzle set is technically free, though it is recommended that you make a donation to Feeding America when you download them.
Time: 5+ hours
I realized a couple of years ago how much detailed artwork in a jigsaw puzzle can really increase the enjoyment of putting it together, and after running out of options by the Magic Puzzle Company and Odd Pieces, I needed to find a new set to fuel my addiction, which ended up being Night at the Movies and Mayhem in the Library by Big Potato Games. These 1000-piece puzzles are full of film and book-themed Easter eggs, and a poster is provided inside the box to help you find a slew of titles after assembly if you wish to get the full experience. In terms of the jigsaw board and overall quality, it felt better than most, but not quite as high caliber as the two aforementioned series (it also didn’t contain any non-standard jigsaw pieces.) Although I didn’t go through to try and find every title after I finished, I did enjoy the ones I recognized as I was assembling, and the artwork was still quite pleasing to piece together.
A strange phenomenon took place in the 16th century, where hundreds of people started dancing in the streets and seemed unable to stop. The Mysterious Case of the Dancing Mania is a puzzle book that is centered around solving the mystery of this incident, and although the event is real, the characters and story in this game are fictional. As far as puzzle books go, it was significantly shorter than others on the market, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. What puts it above the rest is not only the inclusion of an actual narrative with distinct characters, but the fact that the puzzles are well signposted and easy to engage with rather than being a collection of mind-reading exercises with no relation to one another. I have mixed feelings about the online scoresheet which guided the experience—it provided a place to enter solutions and gave a sense of progress, though some of the prompts were not really answers to puzzles as much as information provided in the text. In some ways, it felt a little more like a quiz than a way to round out the experience, but this framework is also one of the things that makes the game so accessible to beginners.
Time: ~2 hours
I backed Red Fox Playing Cards on Kickstarter partially for the cute artwork and partially for the puzzles. This deck features a short puzzle hunt spread out throughout the cards with clues revealed by using a set of glasses with a red filter. Some of the puzzle elements were relatively easy to see without the glasses, and others were hidden very artfully. It was easy to get started with a single “Quest” card, and while the puzzles were not particularly complex, they often contained several layers, which made for a more satisfying solve. This deck could be a perfect intro to puzzling, especially for younger folk, and would make a great stocking stuffer for someone who might enjoy the charming artwork and a little light solving. The plus side is that once you’re done, you’re left with a deck of usable playing cards full of cute animals.
Time: ~1 hour
Available on: Windows, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 & 5, Xbox One
KeyWe is a two-player cooperative game which blends a bit of puzzling with a bunch of jumping around a post office desk. Playing as adorable kiwi birds, your goal is to complete levels by pressing buttons, typing messages, placing labels, and sending out packages to their correct destinations. Some levels will hinder you by making you decode messages as you type, interrupt you with growing vines that must be removed, or impede your progress with pesky house flies. Each level is timed, and different achievements can be reached depending on your speed. Fans of Overcooked will likely enjoy this variation on a cooperative task game.
What have you been playing lately?