The Enigma Emporium – Blowback (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 2-4

Price: $15.00

I don’t trust the process.

Theme:

From The Enigma Emporium’s upcoming Kickstarter (Edited for brevity/errors):

Last you’d heard, J.C. was safe in witness protection. You even knew where, although you weren’t supposed to. The FBI wasn’t forthcoming with information, so all you could do was scour the internet for some mention of your friend, his family, or even The Ouroboros… (although you were careful not to attract too much attention on that front). Still, you had heard nothing, and somehow nothing was worse than something, in this case. 

A gentle shuffle told you that Alice, the mail carrier, was approaching, and your ears proved prescient as the soft thud of letters hitting the floor was followed by the squeak of the mail flap closing.

Your breath caught in your throat. You recognized that handwriting. An assortment of postcards–familiar yet entirely alien–tumbled into your hand. Your brow knitted unconsciously as you read, eyes flicking across the back of the first card. 

“…Please help me one last time” it ended. You sat up straight, pulse-quickened. A drop of fear fell like a pebble in your gut, rippling outwards. And you smiled. This was something, and something was better than nothing. 

First Impressions:

I’m honestly very conflicted about writing this review, so I’m going to use this section to explain a couple things, since it’s sort of an outlier. You see, it took me weeks to complete Blowback, when usually I spend a few hours with my fiancée solving at home puzzle experiences. This isn’t due to the level of difficulty or length of content, though I’m sure dedicated folks who eschew hints may take as long as I did. No, the reason Blowback took me so long to finally get around to finishing is that I actively despised working on this game. No bones about it, I hated it, and actively felt worse while I was playing it. I picked it up several times to push forward with my task, but almost every time, I would shake my head, say, “Nope,” and shove it back in a drawer as a problem for future me.

Now, with that vent out of the way, my revulsion towards Blowback is extremely easy to pinpoint, and if you wanted the long and short of it right away, here it is. I cannot stand process puzzles. If you’ve read my previous review regarding Wish You Were Here, you know this. Process puzzles are those which require you to first, solve the puzzle, (which is generally enjoyable,) and then apply that process over and over, (which is incredibly tedious.) Not only does the tedium grate my nerves, but it feels like homework. I finished doing homework over a decade ago, I’ve served my time! This game is almost strictly process puzzles, and therefore, I can definitely say this game is not for me.

And that’s the thing, isn’t it? This game isn’t for me. It was designed with a completely different type of puzzle solver in mind, so keep that in mind when reading this review. If you are the type that likes deep google searches, applying processes to puzzles, and doing research to solve games, and that doesn’t sound frustrating to you, you can ignore almost everything I’m about to say, Kickstart this game, and have a wonderful time. If that, however, sounds like a grind to you, first, you and I are going to get along swell, and second, this review is for you.

High Points:

It cannot be denied that The Enigma Emporium are masters at packing so many puzzles into so few postcards. Blowback contains five ordinary postcards that are filled to the brim with codebreaking and puzzles. The price is a very low barrier to entry, and you definitely get your money’s worth, quantity of puzzle-wise. There are a few clever puzzles that provide a highly satisfying break from the process based and google focused research ones, and I really appreciated those during my time with Blowback. One particular puzzle that really triggered a nice ah ha moment came after being completely puzzled by the whole interaction. Unfortunately, the rest of that process was not well clued, stymieing progress. The puzzles are easily identifiable for the most part, and aren’t hidden obtusely, you just have to derive the meaning behind them.

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The beginning of the end?

Low Points:

I was sent Blowback after completing Enigma Emporium’s previous venture, Wish You Were Here. While there were points of frustration and bits from that game I generally did not like, it was overall very clever, and packed with mostly enjoyable, satisfying to solve puzzles. For Blowback, unfortunately, the problems with Wish You Were Here are doubled down on, and the things that made me ultimately enjoy the previous adventure are minimized if not totally absent. For example, one of the best parts of Wish You Were Here was the slowly evolving and mysterious story that was conveyed via solving each of the cards. Unfortunately with Blowback, the story is presented at the beginning, but does not continue until you’re already at the final puzzle.

I’ve already explained how process puzzles and research tasks dulled the luster of this game, so I’ll just mention again that they are copious and that will be that. Many points of the game do not give great feedback due to the method of solving. Without spoiling anything, I had successfully solved certain puzzles to a certain stage, but was completely unaware of this fact due to a deficiency in my background knowledge. Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon deficiency, and throws several of the puzzles into a tailspin. Luckily, the clues will point you back in the right direction, but for a game in which I already felt over-reliant on clues, going back to the well began to dull my enthusiasm for puzzling further.

There’s also a pretty high barrier to entry for this particular entry. Though many seasoned Puzzle Hunters and at home Sleuths will recognize many of the ciphers and codes presented herein, most folks just starting out with their puzzling career are going to have a very hard time cracking this nut. At a few points within the game, the cluing that a particular cipher is meant to be used is very vague, and is sometimes absent. New players are then pretty well set adrift without taking additional clues.

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Oh thank the gods.

Verdict:

As I’ve said, Blowback was not for me. It’s like Fortnite or fighting video games; possibly highly enjoyable for a certain group of players that I just don’t belong to. And that’s fine! You might be the type of person that would love this sort of experience, so definitely take that into account if you’re pondering whether to give this one a shot. If you’re like me, though, definitely give Blowback a wide berth, your sanity depends on it. While Blowback isn’t currently available for purchase, the Kickstarter is set to begin in February. You can keep abreast of the upcoming news via The Enigma Emporium website here.

Update: Blowback’s Kickstarter is here.

3/10 (Poor)

Full Disclosure: The Enigma Emporium provided a complementary envelope.

The Enigma Emporium Presents: “Wish You Were Here” (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 2-4

Price: $15.00

Having a great time, wish you were here!

Theme:

You, a well known codebreaker and private detective, have been sent a envelope of mysterious post cards, the first of which is a taunt from a highly confident criminal, and the rest seem to be full of cryptic messages or the garbled ranting of an incoherent madman. It’s up to you to determine which, and follow the leads wherever they may take you!

First Impressions:

Compared to other mystery mailers and boxes we’ve received, this one seemed very slight. With the main experience containing five postcards (kickstarter backers get a special sixth epilogue card,) we weren’t expecting it to take overlong. Appearances can be deceiving however, as with an average of 4-5 puzzle on each, there’s quite a few puzzles to explore within each postcard.

High Points:

There’s definitely a good 1-2 hours of puzzling involved with the cards depending on your experience level, and for the most part, once you surmount the initial learning curve, the game flow rolls along pretty well. An excellent hint page is set up to help should you get stuck, though in our case, we decided to plow through as many enigmas as we could, and sweep up the leftovers later. This seemed to work pretty well, and the hints gave us a good push to get us back on track for the most part. Each postcard works within an intuitive theme, and makes researching the puzzles and figuring out how they interact with each other a delight. In fact, some of the initial puzzles we solved deliver some really awesome ah ha moments, proving that with even a few simple props, The Enigma Emporium can provide an amazingly satisfying solving experience.

My favorite postcard, for example, is the science based card. Working through it flows so perfectly, as each puzzle stays within a concise theme and hints each other one phenomenally. Some clues are cleverly buried, but when everything clicks it does so in such an intuitive fashion, it feels as if the pieces of a jigsaw are falling together perfectly within your mind. The storyline for the experience is fairly standard mystery fare, but reveals itself at pace perfect for keeping your attention fastened to the cards. The final system for solving the mystery is fantastically done, and finishing the meta puzzle is climatic and gratifying.

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6 cards, infinite* puzzling possibility! (Infinite puzzles not guaranteed.)

Low Points:

Anyone who knows me (or has talked to me about puzzles for longer than five mintues,) knows that I abhor process puzzles. It’s unhealthy, really. There are a few contained within Wish You Were Here, and luckily, most of them are painless. However, one puzzle was painfully similar to one from Dispatch by Breakout’s On the Run series. This style puzzle really kicked off my hatred of process puzzles, so seeing it and knowing what we had to do was a bummer. Luckily, it was nowhere near as ubiquitous and mind numbing as Dispatch’s version, but at the same time, that particular postcard felt like a slog during an otherwise brisk run of ah ha producing puzzles. While most of the puzzles included were fairly consistent, there was one in particular that felt overly random, lost within a sea of red herrings. The only other gripe we had was that one style of puzzle tended to show up overly often, losing it’s luster rather quickly even though it was dressed within differing riddles.

Verdict:

Wish You Were Here is a fun experience for intermediate to veteran puzzle solvers. I feel like most folks who are new to code breaking games or puzzle hunts will get lost quickly, but the sweet spot of difficulty will challenge those who have enjoyed this type of mystery before. (And have a code sheet handy!) I recommend this one as a gift to the mystery game lover in your life, (especially if that’s yourself!) and for the price, these jam packed postcards cannot be beat! Get lost in the mystery here!

8/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: The Enigma Emporium provided a complementary envelope.