Dale Yu: Winter Puzzles #1 – Deckscape: Behind the Curtain (game), 404 (book), The Cult Experience (book)

OK, well it’s been a surprisingly temperate winter so far, but this is still the main time to stay indoors and keep myself busy.  There are a lot of different forms of entertainment, and I’m going to run down the different things that have kept me busy this winter so far.

Deckscape: Behind the Curtain

  • Designers: Martino Chiacchiera, Silvano Sorrentino
  • Publisher: dv Giochi
  • Players: 1-6
  • Ages: 12+
  • Time: 60 minutes
  • Times played, 1 – with review copy provided by dv Giochi

The Deckscape series is one of the first escape room series that I played, and we have reviewed previous iterations of the series in the past.   In this cooperative game, everything is contained in a single card box – think the old traditional Amigo sized card game boxes.  Contained within is a single deck. These cards are double-sized – that is each is 3.2 x 4.4 inches in size – like two traditional playing cards that have not been cut apart.  The larger size of the cards helps accommodate all the graphics and text needed for the game. As I mentioned earlier, the game is played cooperatively – all the gamers are on the same team trying to solve the puzzles presented in the box.  When you open the box, there is nothing but a sealed deck of cards – with careful instructions on both sides telling you how to open the cards and which side to hold face up. Once you get started, the rules to the game are explained on the first few cards.

In this game, you are invited to the final magic show of a prominent magician, but when you get there, some strange things happen – “will you be able to unveil the magician’s secrets and amaze the audience by performing something unbelievable yourself?”   The goal of the game is to solve puzzles, understand the plot of the story, and make intelligent use of the items provided in order to get through all the cards in the box as quickly as possible.

All of the information needed to solve the puzzles are found on the cards themselves, though you might want to have some pen and paper handy to make notes, etc. The solution process is fairly simple – when you think you have solved a puzzle, and all of the teammates agree on the possible solution, you flip over the card with that particular puzzle on it to see the solution. If you have solved it correctly, you simply keep reading the directions on the card and move on.  Sometimes, the game will just have you go to the next card. Sometimes, the puzzle will provide you with an item which remains in your possession for the rest of the game. The item will probably be used to solve a puzzle later in the game, but you’ll have to figure out where/when to use the item. If you are wrong, you still get to progress to the next challenge, but you must make note of your failed solution on the scoring sheet. You’re on your honor to decide whether you’ve solved the puzzle correctly or not.  

When you make it through the deck of cards, there is a scoring rubric that you can use to determine how well you did.  Essentially, you take the time needed to solve the whole set of puzzles with some time penalties added in for any incorrect solutions. Some of the puzzles are stand-alone affairs while other require you to have solved previous puzzles first.  But, of course, the game doesn’t tell you when you need this extra information, so you have to be constantly on your toes looking for information to help you on your way.

The level of difficulty here seems to be on the easier side for the Deckscape games, but it provided us with about 45 minutes of fun.  Sometimes, it’s actually pleasing to be able to get through the entire game without needing a hint! We played this with just two players, and I’m starting to feel like this is my optimal number for the Deckscape games.  As all the information and clues are on the cards themselves, it’s hard to have too many people working on them at the same time. 

I’ve already passed the game onto another local game group, and that is one of the things I like about this series – they can be shared on with others.  You generally do not need to deface, destroy, eat, mangle, or do anything else to the components in a Deckscape game. If you are looking for a puzzle game that is maybe a bit stronger in the story department and maybe a little less complicated in the difficulty department, this could be a good choice for you.


404 (book)

404 is labelled an Interactive Puzzle Book; though I think this is somewhat misleading as you really need nothing other than the book to enjoy it.  It is a print on demand book that has 60+ puzzles on the pages in the book. All the information you require is contained in the book, though there is a website that you can access to check your answers.  You are in the Kingdom of States, and there is a shadowy organization called The Republic which keeps being mentioned. But, are you a loyal citizen? Are you a prisoner? Are you for or against the Republic?  It’s totally unclear at first. You’ll have to solve the puzzles to learn more of the story.

In this book, you are really not given much guidance.  The intro to the book lets you know that each puzzle (or code) is made up of one or more words – and the book will tell you how many words are required to correctly answer each code.  There are no instructions given on how to solve the puzzles, you just have to work it out. Each puzzle has a QR code on it which you can scan to go to the associated webpage for it.

Though it is not required to do so, you can type in the answer to see if you are correct on the associated page.  You can also go and get hints for that puzzle if you are stuck, though I’ll admit that some of the hints were not particularly useful as some of them simply repeated things which I felt were obvious (but things that weren’t helping me solve the puzzle).  However, as you keep taking hints (sometimes as many as 7 or 8 hints per puzzle), it will eventually walk you through anything that you’re truly stumped on.

An example puzzle – well, the butterfly is pasted on top to preserve the puzzle – there is no butterfly in the book; but as I did not get an answer on whether I could post a puzzle, I thought it best to hide some of it….

But… the nice thing about this book is that it’s just a book, and the puzzles can be done in any order. You do not need to succeed on the first puzzle in order to move onto the next one.  You can solve them in any order. Thus, this was a perfect companion for a couple of short trips. I could work on the puzzles on my own, write the answers in the book, and go back and check them later.

The one advantage of being online at the same time is that you can get instant gratification when you are told you have solved a puzzle correctly – also, there are some narrative elements to the overall story which are only given to you online.  I didn’t get the impression that I needed to know the story though to solve the puzzles…

The difficulty of the puzzles is hit or miss. Some involve lateral thinking, some are pattern recognition, some use tried and true puzzle-hunt tropes.  There are all sorts of puzzles here, and I think the variety is nice. There are still a few puzzles which I haven’t solved, but I’ve made a note of those code numbers, and I’ll get back to them eventually.  It hasn’t stopped my enjoyment of the book, and after about 3 hours, I think that it was a great way to keep myself busy in some downtime on my travels.


The Cult Experience (book)

Website: https://thecultexperience.com/product/the-cult-exp/

this is another puzzle book that was sent to me from across the pond – per the website: “Your investigation into the disappearance of two young women leads you towards a mysterious cult-like organisation known as “The Enlightened”.  Delve deeper into their sinister workings as you follow clues, solve puzzles and interact with various characters along the way. With only 2.5 hours to complete your investigation, race against time and stay alive long enough to solve the mystery!”

When you buy this product, you get a physical book in the mail.  Enclosed in the book are pictures and text that will help you solve the puzzles, but the bulk of the material is found online.  First, you have to figure out how to get to the right place online, and then when you do, most puzzles are solved in the process of watching videos that both give you clues to the current puzzle as well as provide the backstory into the Enlightened and their cult.  The story is…. Weird. Not quite as weird as the 50 Clues series, but this is maybe the next most weird. The campy acting is something that I think you’ll either love or hate. It was… not for me.

As you go through the puzzles, you’ll enter the solutions online, and if you give the right solution, the next webpage will automatically come up and you’ll move onto the next puzzle. The entire time that you’re playing, there is a clock which will continually count down as you only have 2.5 hours to complete the whole book.

A few words of warning though.  First, the website is a bit dodgy.  I have had a couple of occasions where I could not access the videos on the website.  As the videos are required for solving, this means that you can’t do anything if it’s down. I know it wasn’t me. I tried it on multiple browsers, multiple devices, with and without ad blockers, flash blockers.  I had other gamers try it as well to no avail. However, as of 24 Feb 2020, I can confirm that things are working. Second, don’t poke around too much on the webpage. In the FAQ, there are hints, some of which are total spoilers, printed in plaintext without any warning at all!   It is really quite astonishing that these hints/spoilers wouldn’t be placed via links in the individual pages where the particular hint is needed. It’s hard to unread some of these hints, so I’d simply recommend never looking at them. Even if you only need one, it’s still hard not to over-read the page and get hints on things you haven’t yet encountered.  Simply amazing that this isn’t somehow better hidden.

The puzzles are, for the most part, on the simpler side.  Though you need to watch the videos to learn the backstory, you also need to keep your eye out for clues in the videos that you need to solve the puzzle.  As far as depth of story goes, this one is at the top of the charts. There is a lot of video narrative to be had here. The puzzles aren’t hard, but this one may have the most immersive experience.  For me, (not being a movie or TV show person), it didn’t grab me. I want to solve puzzles, not watch 30 second to 4 minute videos before I can solve the next puzzle.

As far as I can tell, this is made in the UK, and the only way to buy it is through their website. Given some of the issues I’ve noted above, I’d be less likely to recommend it over the other options I’ve played this winter.  But, if you’re into creepy stories and campy acting, this one might be your thing. It was not for me.

Until your next appointment,

The Gaming Doctor

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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