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What Are We Playing? [June 2024]

Periodically on this blog we highlight a handful of tabletop and digital games to spread the word about interesting experiences and support other creators. Here's our June edition!

Tell Me Why is an episodic adventure video game with a well-written and compelling story. It’s an emotional family drama about siblings, separation, confusion, trauma, and loss.

The gameplay involved exploring spaces and making dialogue choices. The puzzles mostly revolved around reading pieces of the fairytales that were standing in for the lives of the characters. It was a thoughtful storytelling device, but it also involved a fair amount of reading, which isn't my favorite thing to do while playing a video game. Still, I enjoyed the overall story arc and uncovering what happened. The characters and world-building felt considered and thorough. If you’re a fan of Life is Strange, Gone Home, or Telltale games, Tell Me Why is definitely worth checking out. If emotional storytelling isn’t your speed, this game likely won’t be a good fit for you. (Take care if you’re sensitive to content related to trans identity, trauma, or PTSD as well.)

Time: 9-13 hours

Difficulty: 1/5

Strange Horticulture is a puzzle video game in which you play as the proprietor of a local plant store. The story is delivered in digestible, bite-sized pieces, with moments where your choices directly affect the storyline. While the phrasing of some decisions could be clearer, I enjoyed being able to shape the narrative. I also appreciated that although gameplay is sectioned into days, the player has some flexibility and control over the timeline, and I never felt rushed or like I was missing something important.

The majority of the puzzles involve identifying plants and finding locations, with occasional deviations. While not particularly complex, the puzzles are both soothing and compelling, making for an overall zen gaming experience.

A small nitpick—once you identify a plant, it would be nice if it was tagged automatically, instead of having to manually type out the name each time. (Though this would definitely be less of a nuisance on a PC versus a console.) The game mechanics evolved seamlessly, gradually adding complexity, and puzzles rarely outstayed their welcome. It also allowed a personal touch to the plant shop; you could name and arrange plants as desired. The plant list eventually became quite lengthy, and searching the entire book for details grew somewhat tedious by the end, but this was a minor issue overall.

This game surprised me, and I think I enjoyed its cohesiveness and relative simplicity—it doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles, but it is polished, and it accomplishes what it set out to do really well. That is to be applauded.

Time: 6-8 hours

Difficulty: 2/5

Open Roads is an interactive story video game about family dynamics, relationships, and uncovering secrets in an old house. It plays similarly to games like Gone Home and Life is Strange, almost akin to an interactive movie. In some ways, it’s like a shorter and less intense version of Tell Me Why.

Hand-drawn characters in a 3D environment was an odd choice, but lovingly done. Unfortunately, the 2D character art was not animated for the voiceover, though the voice acting itself was quite good. While the gameplay mechanics of point-and-click item discovery and dialogue choices are familiar, it’s a well-written story, and worth checking out for fans of the genre.

Time: ~3h

Difficulty: 1/5

Lorelei and the Laser Eyes is an adventure puzzle video game with strong artistic direction—think film noir meets David Lynch.

The puzzles varied in difficulty—some had straightforward solutions, while others were a bit trickier, and there were also a lot of mathy mini puzzles, though they were technically optional. I loved how non-linear it was, allowing you to explore and solve puzzles at your own place. However, at certain points, it was difficult to know if you had what you needed in order to solve a specific puzzle.

Given the wealth of information, the mental inventory system was really helpful and necessary. However, the lack of a back button added unnecessary friction to the navigation at times, and I would’ve appreciated an autosave function as well. It would help to have access to the mental inventory while solving puzzles, to decrease the need for memorization. Despite the extensive in-game memory, you’ll also need a pen and paper handy for notes.

I won't get into detail to avoid any spoilers, but there are lots of good aha moments, fun exploration, and surprises throughout. This game will make you want to dive in deeper and deeper to discover all of its secrets—Lorelei and the Laser Eyes is a must-play for puzzle game fans.

Time: 18-20h

Difficulty: 3/5

The Shivers is a pop-up tabletop mystery game that features light puzzle-solving and role-playing. The game is family-friendly, with a silly spooky flavor (think Scooby Doo), and there are funny recurring elements that pop up (ahem 😉) across multiple chapters.

It has vibrant artwork, and the pop-ups are unique and well-constructed. The magnets connecting the rooms together are a nice touch, though we did experience a minor polarity issue with one of the rooms. The modular elements of the different rooms that change from chapter to chapter are really neat. However, the cardboard character cutouts don’t seem in scale with the rooms, and are prone to falling over.

This game does require a game master, and while it’s relatively easy to pick up, it would also be nice if it were playable without one. Unlike with many RPGs, GMs and players need to do very little preparation, which is a nice feature. Another plus is while the chapters do build on one another, the simple plot would make it feasible to add additional players for single sessions, rather than having to maintain the same group for an entire campaign.

It’s occasionally frustrating that the dice are the sole reason for success or failure, but the game is fairly forgiving. It also offers a huge amount of content for the price: there are eight different episodes with 45-90 minutes of playtime each, plus additional expansions available. That being said, with rooms being reused throughout the episodes, gameplay may start to feel repetitive eventually. Overall, it’s an impressive game, and a great fit for folks interested in a light TTRPG without all the prep work.

Time: 8-10h

Difficulty: 1.5/5

What have you been playing lately?



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