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Month: July 2017

Another “escape the room” board game

Some family members and I recently tried playing another “escape the room” board game, this time from different creators. ‘Twas called “Escape The Room: Mystery at The Stargazers Manor”.

I’m not sure if it was better or worse than the pharaoh’s tomb we played earlier.

Pros: The puzzles were a little less arbitrary and fit into the story a bit more naturally. The final puzzle made you search through all the material you had used throughout the game, which was a nice finale. Also, this one allows you repack all the material so that someone else could play through it again. (Whereas players destroy the gaming material in the pharaoh’s tomb game during the process of playing, so no one can replay with the same set.)

Cons: Like the pharaoh’s tomb game, the game mainly depended on finding the right symbols in the right order and using a sliding decoder disc to check your code. If your code is correct, you advance to the next puzzle (or set of puzzles). I wish they’d come up with something a little more creative, though I’m not sure what. Symbols just get boring very quickly, and seem so arbitrary. However, the main “con” of this game was that it was just too easy. It might be great for 10-13 year olds, but it feels way too childish for 30 year olds. The puzzles here are just way too easy, and the game is over too quickly.

Therein lies the challenge of designing a good puzzle. If it’s too easy, it’s not interesting, but making it more challenging by making more confusing or enigmatic doesn’t make it more enjoyable.

What makes a good puzzle?

I suppose a good puzzle has three (or four) attributes:

  1. Problem to solve is easy to understand.
  2. Problem is challenging to solve.
  3. Solution is simple.
  4. For story-based games like these “escape the room” games, I’d also add this: Problem relates well to the game’s overall story.

Of course whether or not those conditions are met by a certain puzzle is subjective. What’s simple to someone may be confusing to someone else. But everyone is different and special in their own way, so that’s OK.

Anyway, I think the pharaoh’s tomb game design had problems with attribute 1. They tried to make puzzles more difficult by simply making the instructions more enigmatic. This stargazer’s manor game, on the other hand, had problems with attribute 2, at least for adult players. The challenges were too easy for adults.

Both games had trouble with attribute 4. The puzzles are just sort of shoe-horned into the story and the setting. Perhaps most players are more interested in the puzzles than the surrounding story or scenario… but then why not just go print out some puzzles from the web for free? If you’re going to buy an “escape the room” board game, isn’t for the “escape” scenario? So I wish these games had spent more effort writing compelling scenarios, rather than just taking it a bit for granted. Both scenarios were just forgettable and dumb.

Some random July blather

It’s been over two months since I blogged anything, so here are a few random things I have to say.

I’ll admit I haven’t been terribly productive these last couple months. One sister is back from college and got a new kitten, another is on summer break from her job on the other side of the world. I spent a week at the end of last month visiting relatives in Tennessee and doing a little genealogy. I mentioned the Tennessee Archive of Moving Images and Sound in an earlier blog post about my 3x great uncle Bert Hodgson, the song writer, and we were finally able to visit the archive and listen to some of his old recordings. They actually had audio recordings he had made featuring himself playing the piano and singing. They were in rough shape sound-wise, but it was very cool to hear his voice! I can’t say he was that great of a singer though. Still, very cool artifacts!

Writing

I’ve been trying to get back to some fiction writing, but I’m having a good deal of trouble. (Maybe blogging more will get my mind thinking in words again?) I just can’t seem to get into the flow of it. Over the past couple months, I’ve started perhaps seven or eight different stories, some of them from complete outlines, some of them with no outlines at all. It seems like no matter what, I get bored with the premise too quickly and want to start another. What writing illness is this called? Trouble with commitment? Commitment-phobia? Oh well. I’ll keep trying. I still get very excited by story ideas and plotting out possibilities, so I really want to get my ideas into book form. I just get bored with them too quickly and am too excited to try something new.

Music composing

Music-wise, I know I still owe my Patreon supporters four pieces for the two months I delivered nothing. I’ll probably be on hiatus again this month. I can’t believe how quickly this month has flown by. But I still have a good number of melodies I look forward to forming into pieces, and I’m looking forward to finishing another album before the year is out, so those pieces are definitely on their way.

Speaking of music, I really enjoy this guy’s videos about music theory featuring video game music:

Definitely makes me want to try some of the techniques mentioned. He’s good at explaining things too.

A board game

Finally, tonight one of my brothers brought the family this game:

It’s a game you can only play once, and you all play it together as a team. You basically imagine that you’re stuck in a pharaoh’s tomb, and you use cards and a little book to solve puzzles and riddles to escape. The solution to one riddle leads to the next. It’s a bit like a computer game that you pay more for to play on paper.

Honestly, I like the idea of it, but the execution of this particular one was a bit… underwhelming. I just didn’t think the game / puzzle design was very well crafted. Rather than getting “Aha!” moments, you got “Could it be this? Let’s try it. Yep. Huh.” moments. Does that make sense? I guess the puzzles just seemed a bit too random, and what you had to do to solve them just seemed too arbitrary. It’s probably also not a great game for more than three people. Having to pass around the material gets annoying, and having someone else solve a puzzle before you even understand what’s going on isn’t very fun. (And these puzzles weren’t that great to begin with.)

Some of my other family members enjoyed it, though.

But, like I said, I was intrigued by the concept of it. It’s like a linear RPG puzzle game. I’d really like to try creating one myself.