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

Son of 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: 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 74 cards which contain ten 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. Play time 1-3 hours. The puzzles are of many different types, none of which are standard puzzles.

I was a pretty big fan of the first incarnation in this series – reviewed on this blog back in March 2019 – and I was thrilled to receive a copy of the second (of a planned three) decks in this series.

Each puzzle is composed of a set of cards (differentiated by a picture on the back). 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.

Like the original, this 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, it was me and my brother (both veteran puzzle solvers), and we ended up needing to take a few medium hints over the course of the game.   Either we were not as good at solving this time around, or the overall level of the puzzles was a little higher than the first game.  The clues are well done to give you the nudge that you might need, and in one particularly tough puzzle, we needed the first clue to get started (somehow we just didn’t see the hook to get into the puzzle) and then the second clue was necessary as we were still fumbling around after 20 minutes – though, this may have been the multiple German beers helping at that point!

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):

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 as many as 30 minutes (though we were distracted a bit by jet lag, a few beers and some folks walking by our table in the hotel lobby wanting to chat).  What I like about this series is that while 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.  Just like last time, we had gone completely the wrong way in trying to solve one of the puzzles. We took a small hint, and the easy hints got us back on track and we soon after solved the puzzle.

Again, the use of the solution cards is a neat way to get to the right answer, and generally there isn’t any doubt as to whether or not you have solved it correctly.  Our game this time took just over two hours, but we had plenty of interruptions and beer and whatnot, and we certainly enjoyed our time puzzling over these 74 cards.   It was a great experience for the two of us, and honestly, we probably could have used a third person, as there were a few puzzles that took us awhile to get, and having some extra brain power wouldn’t have been a bad thing.  As the puzzles come on playing card sized cards, they were often held and examined closely, and with maybe more than 3, there maight not have been enough stuff to go around as you’re only working on one puzzle at a time – so if someone needs to closely examine the cards, everyone else can only twiddle their thumbs or rely upon their memory of the puzzle in the meantime.

The game is a nice compact package, and at a low price of $15, a good value for your puzzling dollar – https://amzn.to/34qVPm4. You can get Prime shipping on it, so there’s still time to get this under the tree if you need a last minute gift!

Until your next appointment

The Gaming Doctor

(note that the Amazon links here are affiliate links and we might make a commission from said link)

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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1 Response to Dale Yu: Review of Son of Doctor Esker’s Notebook (Spoiler Free)

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