Dale Yu: Review of Return of Doctor Esker’s Notebook

 Return 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
  • Affiliate link: https://amzn.to/3M6uQFH

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? This fun puzzle game provides a deck of 83 cards which contain a variety of 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. The puzzles use numbers, words, geometry, logic, symbols, pictures, and many other intriguing challenges. No two puzzles are alike, and you’ll need to think in many different ways to complete the entire deck. The game works equally well as a solo challenge or as a fun activity with a group. Many folks have played through a whole deck in one game night as an escape room-style event. Some people like leaving it out on a coffee table and coming back to it day after day with new insights, using it more like a tavern puzzle. Some can power through unassisted, but most have needed to use the extensive and easy-to-use online hint system, where you can get small hints or big hints tailored to whatever help you need.”


This is the third entry in the Doctor Esker line.  In this small box, there are 83 cards which contain ten puzzles to solve.  Each puzzle is composed of a set of cards; each set has a unique design 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.

I received a copy of this latest edition in the mail from the publisher, and the game is a self contained affair in a single deck box.  This game follows the tried and true method of its two predecessors.   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 ten puzzle sets.  There are also ten solution cards (numbered 0 to 9) 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 two veteran puzzle solvers playing (my wife and I), and we ended up needing to take 2 small hints and then 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, but not so much as to give anything away.


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 still 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. But that being said; it’s a really neat system that uses the same 10 cards to give you ten different solution checksums/directions.

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.  We did this over the course of a few nights; we left the deck out on the coffee table and did one or two each night.  

Our trip through The Return of Doctor Esker’s Notebook took probably a cumulative 100 minutes, though we were in no rush, and split it up over multiple nights.  We had made a pact that we would let each of us try to solve the puzzle, so that added a bit of time to the total as there were a few puzzles where one of us solved it nearly immediately, but it took the other a few minutes longer to get through it.

It was a great experience for the two 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.  Nothing is destroyed in the game, and we plan on passing it on to other puzzle solving members of our local game group.


From the card in the box, – it appears that there are at least on more adventures planned (the name is TBD, but surely it will be called Son of Doctor Esker’s Notebook!) – and I hope to try out those other scenarios as I really enjoyed this one.


The game is available at Amazon – https://amzn.to/3M6uQFH


Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it! Dale Y
  • I like it. 
  • 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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