50 Clues – The Leopold Trilogy (The Pendulum of the Dead, White Sleep, The Fate of Leopold)
- Designer: Jeppe Norsker
- Publisher: Norsker Games
- Players: 1-4
- Age: 14+
- Time: we took about 4 hours total to play all 3 games
- Times played: 1, with review copies provided by the publisher
(Note – while I will include some picture of some actual game cards, none of the things shown below should have spoiler information on them, especially with no context surrounding them. I did want to show a few illustrations as examples)
50 Clues is a very unique experience. In the words of the designer: “The Leopold trilogy is not a feel-good escape room game.” I did not know anything about this series until about a month prior to SPIEL 2019, and I was excited to get a chance to play the full set. I was sold on the promise that the game would offer a different take on the genre; which, while still quite enjoyable, is starting to feel very samey-samey. I can safely say that there is no other escape room game that I’ve played that felt anything like this.
The idea (from the publisher’s webpage): “The whole premise of the story is based on Mary, who has her own conception of reality. She believes that the soul exists and she also believes that a soul can transfer from a dead human being to a living human being or an object. You can even concentrate more souls in the same person and gain more power. One’s knowledge and memory can live on through a kind of reincarnation. Mary is also convinced that one of the world’s worst individuals, King Leopold II, has done just that. Mary has set out to stop him, whatever it takes. And it takes a lot. Souls can be good or evil, and she must concentrate enough good souls to fight Leopold, who is very powerful and alive. You are placed in the role of perpetrator and you cannot stop the action as long as you continue to play and solve the puzzles. You become an active participant without being able to change the outcome. 50 Clues is not even an interactive game where you decide to kill or not. It is a fixed narrative that you can only experience through riddle solving.”
The game comes separated into three boxes; each providing approximately an hour’s worth of gameplay – though the actual time will of course depend on how long it takes you/your group to solve some of the puzzles! The game requires you to have a phone or computer with Internet capabilities. Before you get started, there is a short 6 minute video that you can access that pretty much explains all the rules – which is good, because there’s nothing else in the box other than cards!
As you start the game, you must log into the website: http://50clues.com/ and input the serial number found on the inside cover of your box. This brings you to an interface where you have the options to combine red numbers, a place to input a code, and a button to hit when you need a hint. You flip over the first card and go.
As you play, it will start out like a Deckscape or Unlock game – you start with a single card, and as you read/look at that card, you might be instructed to reveal other cards (white numbers), you might find objects that you can use (red numbers), or you might be shown a puzzle (which you will need to derive a code to solve). All of the action goes through the webpage, and as you put in appropriate item combination and codes, the webpage will reveal more of the story or tell you to reveal other cards from the deck. As you move through the story, cards might tell you to remove others from the tableau. By doing this, you constantly have an updated set of cards on the table that pertain to the current stage of your game.
As the publisher notes, the story is linear. There is only one path through the games, and the story never changes. As you play the game, you simply reveal more of the narrative. The challenge here is in the puzzles; but your success on a puzzle simply stands as your roadblock to learning the next portion of the story. If you get stuck, the webpage has three hints for just about any stage of the game; and as the story is linear, it always knows where you are based on the last combination or code that you have inputted into the system.
The puzzles are of varying difficulty, and they provide a nice assortment for the group. I was also pleased to work with the many different types of puzzles provided in these three boxes. While we never needed to take a hint, there were a few puzzles that took the three of us a bit of time to work through to come up with the right solution. We definitely used the knowledge of the linear story to know that we had to simply work with the information that we had in front of us to come up with the solution to the current puzzle.
The story here is told via both thematic illustrations as well as text on the cards. There is a definite narrative here that has come from someone’s nightmares or at least from some horror movie script. The game comes with a clear warning that it is not for children, and I would have to whole-heartedly agree with that recommendation. This is not the sort of story I want a nine-year-old talking about at recess the next day at school!
While I did fine the story quite unique for the genre, the pacing of the storytelling was stilted and jumpy. There were plenty of transitions in the narrative that simply made no sense, and no segue was provided between those abrupt changes. It felt like reading a book, but only getting every third chapter – the story still kind of held together with some familiar things, but the gaps were pretty large in between some of the jumps. Our group was asked to suspend their disbelief on a number of occasions, and after a number of these shifts, it ended up giving our experience more of a laughable/farcical feel rather than the horror that the author is trying to convey.
Overall, I very much enjoyed the puzzles presented here, and I hope that there are more stories forthcoming from Norsker. We had a full evening of puzzling, and despite the disconnected story, I certainly enjoyed my evening and had participated in a unique story. (I’m not sure what James Nathan’s wife thought of it though as she only overheard snippets from the other room, and I can only imagine what she thought!) However, I do hope that the future stories to come are more believable and told in a smoother manner. For our group, the unbelievableness was a bit much.
Well, if you’re ready to find out more on your own; feel free to try the starter 18 card adventure that will teach you the mechanics behind the game and the webpage:
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
James Nathan: Dale is spot on above that what seemed like it was intended as an earnest horror story became more of a farce. I wasn’t the biggest fan of the puzzles as some of them could be brute-forced a bit, like an escape room puzzle that allows you to solve the digits of a number lock sequentially, and maybe the puzzles aren’t sufficiently engaging that you don’t just solve n-1 of the numbers and then try all 10 combinations for the last digit.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it!
- I like it. Dale (puzzles), John P (puzzles)
- Not for me. Dale (story), John P (story), James Nathan (everything)