Dale Yu: Review of Doctor Esker’s Notebook (Spoiler Free)

Doctor Esker’s Notebook

  • Designer: Dave Dobson
  • Publisher: Plankton Games
  • Players: 1+
  • Ages: 10+
  • Time: 45 minutes
  • Times played: 1, with review copy provided by Plankton Games

From the publisher’s description: Doctor Esker has vanished, leaving behind only a mysterious book full of puzzles written in his own hand. Nobody has cracked his cryptic codes yet. Are you up to the challenge?

The game provides a deck of 72 cards which contain nine devious puzzles to solve. You can play through the puzzles solo or together with family and friends. Great for a party, a game night, or a lazy afternoon.

Each puzzle is composed of a set of cards. You can solve the puzzle by reading, comparing, arranging and pondering the messages, drawings, and artwork on the cards. Solving the puzzle reveals a sequence of numbers. When you think you’ve got it, gather the solution cards corresponding to the number sequence and flip them. If you see a message or image, you’ve solved the puzzle. Persevere to the end and receive Dr. Esker’s greatest praise.

I received a copy in the mail from the publisher, and the game is a self contained affair in a single deck box.  All of the instructions fit on a single card – and I will summarize those here. Go thru the deck and separate the card by back art – this will give you nine puzzle sets.  There are also ten solution cards which should be kept separate. The players should start with the set cleverly labeled “START”. Those cards are flipped over and the puzzle is figured out.  All of the puzzles here are numeric in nature, and you have to work together to solve the puzzle. When you think that you know the answer, you flip over the solution cards that match the code that you found – and if you have done this correctly, the answer cards (in the right order) will tell you which puzzle to do next.

If you get stuck along the way, there are hints available online at the publisher’s website…  The hints are well designed – there are a total of 9 hints for each puzzle: 3 small, 3 medium and 3 large – with the final hint essentially being the solution to the puzzle.  In our game, we had three veteran puzzle solvers playing, and we ended up needing to take 1 small hint and eventually 1 medium hint over the course of the game. We later went back and looked at the clues, and they are well done to give you the nudge that you might need.

I know that it may be hard to visualize how this particular game works – and the publisher has put out a short video on YouTube with a sample puzzle (not one of the nine in the game): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5OFOygI5h-U

In short, you work on a puzzle, and when you think that you have the answer, you pull out the matching number cards from the number/answer deck and place them in order and then flip them over.  If you have the right answer, you will see a picture/word/phrase/something that confirms that you have done it right. This is a really neat way of having the game be able to self-check your answers.  I might wish that there were some red herrings on the answer cards because it’s hard to stop yourself from looking at all the different bits on the answer cards and unintentionally making notes of which cards seem to go together for another puzzle answer.  If there were some misleading images/words on those cards, it would be a lot harder to unintentionally (or perhaps intentionally!) spoil the answers to a later puzzle.

So, without spoiling it, what can I say about the puzzles?  The puzzles are varied in difficulty, with some being solved in just a minute or so, and others taking maybe 20 minutes (while needing a medium hint).  But again, though some of the puzzles are quite challenging, you can take as much time as you like with them, and then when you think you’ve hit the wall – look up the first hint and see if this gets you going in the right direction.  In our game, with one of the puzzles, which now looks simple in retrospect – our group had gone the wrong way in trying to solve it. We took a small hint, and the first of the nine hints got us back on track and we soon after solved the puzzle.

Our game took just over 80 minutes, though we were in no rush, and we were interrupted by a few phone calls and an Oreo break or two during the game.  It was a great experience for the three of us, and that number felt good – as the puzzles come on playing card sized cards, they were often held and examined closely, and with maybe more than 3 or 4, there just isn’t enough stuff to go around.

From the Plankton Games website – it appears that there are at least two further adventures planned (if this one does well) – and I hope to try out those other scenarios as I really enjoyed this one.

The game is available at Amazon https://amzn.to/2FqyQNo

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Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers


James Nathan: I was pleasantly surprised with this! I’m a judgy and cynical person, and was dismissive based upon the box art, but I should not have been. I liked that I knew what pieces went to which puzzle.  I liked how the system worked to check your answers (though I also agree there should perhaps be some misinformation as we did accidentally spoil part of a future answer, though not the exact number).

The puzzles were clever and largely they were both new-to-me and challenging-while-achievable. That’s pretty much what you want, right? For the most part I was engaged in solving the puzzle, putting things together in a new way, and appreciated how creative they were when I finished one.  

Looking forward to more of these.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it! Craig V, Dale Y
  • I like it. James Nathan
  • Neutral.
  • Not for me…

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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