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What are we playing? [Jan 2021]

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. (If you've been following along previous posts, I thought it was time to fix up the title to better reflect the content!)

Although I am always looking forward to getting my Society of Curiosities package, this installment made me sort of glad that the subscription runs quarterly instead of monthly, because it’s hard to imagine someone would be able to put this amount of thought and effort into something in a shorter amount of time. It got an immediate “wow” just for aesthetics -- the documents looked authentic and the illustrations were beautiful (hello, adorable sloth!) Although we felt a handful of puzzles could have used a little more clarity or additional cluing (thankfully there was a great hint system to rescue us), the overall cleverness and originality of this package is hard to deny. It also put a fun spin on a commonly used decoding device and blended deductive reasoning into the narrative in an interesting way.

Time: 2-3h

Difficulty: 3.5/5

Welcome Home is a narrative mystery experience created by a women-led theater collective in L.A. Having just moved to a new neighborhood, you receive a welcome package from your neighbors, including a box of (actual) brownies, along with the belongings of a person who used to live in your house. It’s up to you to unravel the mystery of two disappearances by following clues on the physical objects in the package as well as in audio recordings you find by calling the phone numbers of other people in the neighborhood. It was really interesting to see how an immersive theater collective translated their ideas into an at-home experience, and the narrative was definitely the star. There was a little puzzling and deduction involved, and while it wasn’t difficult, it also didn't feel generic or irrelevant--everything made sense within the story. A lot of phone calls were made (keep that in mind if you're outside the U.S.) but I was pleased not to have to whip out my laptop to enjoy this experience. I would recommend this for couples or solo play, and for those who enjoy a good spooky narrative. Note that the baked goods, while delicious, are not necessary to the game itself.

Time: <2h

Difficulty: 1/5

Hue is a quick and elegant card-laying game for 2-5 people. Players lay down cards to create colored sections and essentially bet to themselves on which colors will end up getting them the most points at the end. Extremely portable and easy to learn, Hue is a great "filler game" that you can whip out and enjoy at any time. It is also simple enough to play with kids and short enough for those with a limited attention span.

Time: <10m

Difficulty: 1/5

Available on: Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

The Gardens Between is a relaxing puzzle game with a simple yet tricky mechanic. Consisting of about twenty abstract levels, the player navigates through the memories of two friends by moving time forward and backward. The characters encounter various obstacles, objects that move differently through time, and devices that allow them to manipulate the flow of time in order to create further interactions. The solutions are usually not immediately obvious and often require an extra stretch of the imagination to uncover. Fans of Braid, Monument Valley, and Where Shadows Slumber will undoubtedly appreciate the elegance and ambience found in The Gardens Between.

Available on: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, Linux

Okay, so this is not a puzzle game -- sometimes other things are fun too! It often feels like there is a dearth of cooperative video games that don't involve murder, so I was pleased to find a lighthearted coop in Overcooked 2. Players work together through various kitchen scenarios and race the clock to prepare meals and send out customer orders. This includes chopping, cooking, frying, cleaning the dishes, and often throwing things across the room to the other person when there are obstacles in the way. The settings are dynamic -- rafts floating downriver, hot air balloons shifting in the sky, train tracks turning parts of the room around -- and levels also involve making different foods such as pizzas, burgers, and sushi. The challenge is to find a good work flow with your partner to prepare meals efficiently (and not burn down the kitchen, which also can happen!) The game moves very quickly and can be rather chaotic, so if you get easily stressed, this may not be the game for you...that said... I typically don't enjoy games with time pressure like this either and still found it to be loads of fun, so maybe it's worth a try anyway -- just don't take it too seriously.

What have you been playing this month?


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