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What Are We Playing? [Jan-Feb 2022]

Every two months 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 a roundup to start off the new year!

Never House is a spooky narrative puzzle adventure that mixes physical components with in-game online elements (i.e. links are provided to the necessary websites and the game does not require googling or outside knowledge). Solving clues will lead you to discover the mysterious history of the Sterling Estate and what happened to the families who occupied it over the years. Overall, the Never House presents logical puzzles with a relatively smooth gameflow (look ma, no hints!) and although we solved some puzzles outside of the intended sequence, this didn’t create any issues in the narrative, as it was clear when those elements were meant to be used, and we actually appreciated being able to jump back and forth between different puzzles. The props are also high quality, adding to the immersion, and even include a couple of great reveals.

Time: ~2h

Difficulty: 2/5

Platforms: PlayStation, Xbox One, Steam (Windows)

Blackwood Crossing is a story-driven puzzle game with a dark and dreamy atmosphere. It explores the relationship between two orphaned siblings on what seems like an ordinary train ride that turns into an adventure full of mystery and emotion. I found that there were some "quality of life" elements that could improve the gameplay (adding the ability to run, highlighting clickable items, being able to select items from farther away, etc.) but those minor flaws don't take away from the meaningful narrative and unique mechanic. If you’re looking for a resonant story you can play through in a single sitting, this could be a good choice.

Time: 2-3h

Difficulty: 2/5

Sweet Witch Inferno is the third game in the Fairy Tale Files series, continuing the streak of charming and accessible gameplay. Like its predecessors, this game uses a web interface for submitting solutions through a "Magic Mirror" and allows you to send an agent to explore various locations in this fantastical world. This entire series is family-friendly while being equally fun for adults, and I always appreciate the embedded humor and colorful artwork. While experienced players may not find this game especially challenging, the puzzles still require some thought to solve and manage to maintain the satisfying aha moments rather than taking an overly simplistic route towards creating a lower difficulty game. Plus, it’s really darn cute and a great option for a quick puzzle fix.

Time: <1h

Difficulty: 1.5/5

This is the second Solve Our Shirts product from CU Adventures, and just like the first, it utilizes a web application to guide you through the game while you solve the puzzles using elements on the shirt itself as well as some supplementary materials. There are two stages to the game, each with several puzzles which can be completed in any order, granting you the ability to come back to a puzzle and solve it later in case you get a little stuck. The game makes use of the combination of t-shirt, physical elements, and web interface in a relatively seamless manner, and includes not only entertaining puzzles but original pirate songs that are relevant to the gameplay and add a good degree of whimsy to the whole experience.

Time: <1.5h

Difficulty: 2/5

This collection of 1000-piece jigsaw puzzles by Odd Pieces was enjoyable to solve, but didn’t feel like it quite delivered on its intended premise. When I first came across it on Kickstarter, I was a little put off by its similarity to the Magic Puzzles Company’s campaign, but winter was approaching, and my itch for some new jigsaws convinced me to back it anyway. Quality-wise, it is satisfying. The pieces fit nicely and the matte finished graphics are pleasant to look at. The “mystery” aspect, on the other hand, is a bit lacking. The gimmick is that the picture on the puzzle itself is subtly different from the poster, and some form of light narrative is meant to be derived through those distinctions. However, as some who prefers to puzzle on "hard mode" (i.e. without referencing the poster), this element gets a bit lost. I wanted something cool to happen at the end—to have some sort of realization or resolve—and it didn’t really deliver in that regard. It is also disappointing that a puzzle by a company called Odd Pieces actually contains entirely standard-looking pieces. (I knew this fact going in, but I can’t help but not want this to be the case.) If you want some fun and good quality jigsaw puzzles, these are not a bad option, as long as you don’t have expectations for a big surprise at the end.

Time: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Least to most difficult: Turbo 3000, Snack Attack, Beyond the Kelp (pictured)

Platforms: PlayStation, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Steam (Windows)

As someone who is still relatively new to RPGs, Dragon Age: Inquisition proved to be both an accessible and engaging way to continue exploring this video game genre. The story pulled me in right from the opening sequence, and the companion characters are all so varied that I had a hard time deciding who I wanted in my party at any given moment (you can only travel with 3 companions at a time.) Aside from the fact that there is a ton of content, dozens of quests, and even additional downloadable content, one of the highlights of the experience was being able to make decisions that actually affected the story, and having meaningful interactions with the characters. The battle sequences also have two modes you can access—the default is a real-time action mode, but it can be easily paused at any moment to enter a tactical interface in which you can choose every character’s next move. This was useful in more complicated battles that benefited from extra planning, as well as in desperate moments of near-death, allowing you to take healing potions before the enemy could cast a deadly strike.

My only real issues with the game are the world maps and the physical character mapping—it was often unclear which areas you can or cannot jump to, or how steep a hill has to be before you can’t walk up it. Plus, the actual maps were often unclear about the geography of the space, making navigation much more complicated than it needed to be. While those things were frustrating at times though, they never eclipsed the beauty and substance of the entire adventure, which proved entertaining enough to keep me up for many late nights while I explored landscapes, battled dragons, and even formed relationships with my companions. If you want to be immersed in a long-form fantasy game with a vast world and accessible mechanics, this is a great choice.

Time: Many dozens of hours. The total time spent will depend on your desire to explore and complete additional side quests.

Difficulty: Variable, including a story mode

What have you been playing lately?


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