Puzzle Postcard Series (Vol. 2): Cycle Of Learning
Puzzle Postcard Series (Vol. 2): Cycle Of Learning
- Played January 2021
- $50 USD
- What People Say
From the puzzle masters at Enigma Emporium comes another collection of mind-bending, puzzle postcard challenges. Cycle Of Learning is the name of their second box set and includes four game envelopes: Trial By Cipher, Migratory Patterns, Cryptic Cryptids, and Veritas. These can be purchased individually or together as a whole box set just like their previous box set Predator Or Prey (aka Wish You Were Here Series). The ERA team had an interesting mix of reviewers heading into this review. Two hard core escape room enthusiasts, one hard core puzzle enthusiast, and one person who enjoys puzzle games of all varieties. Would this play a role in how the game was experienced? Read on…
The component quality is straight forward. Each game envelope in the box set comes with five puzzle postcards and requires you to extensively use the internet and Enigma Emporium website for research purposes. The box is small but sturdy and thankfully comes with a cipher key for many of the common cipher styles you encounter within the game (Morse code, Caesar cipher… etc). The artwork was well done, and we could tell there was a lot of detailed work with the envelopes. Some members one our team didn’t enjoy the amount of internet and website integration (the Enigma Emporium website is a HUGE database of information), whereas others enjoyed the liberal use of technology alongside the limited tactile experience of the postcards. For a simply designed game, we agreed this was well done.
Cycle Of Learning’s immersive experience was a bit of a head scratcher. On the one hand, The Enigma Emporium team has created a fantastic backdrop to accompany all their games through their website and resource database. But at the same time it never seems to be connected to an in-game story, or even a meta-story arc between games. There were a couple times we used and ‘unlocked’ information from the Enigma Emporium website, but again, the information didn’t connect to a story… they were puzzles with no attached purpose. To the game’s credit, the theming was always present and we felt like amateur cryptographers trying to become members of this secret society (by passing test… after test… after test). The best way to describe the immersive experience of this game is like the proverbial donkey chasing a dangling carrot. It often felt like there was something potentially great about to be revealed but then… nothing… no story component. Again, The Enigma Emporium team has clearly put a lot of hard work into the backdrop of this secret society, but in the end it was just a box full of puzzles and a missed opportunity for immersion.
Speaking of puzzles… Our team fell into two camps. The camp of classic puzzle enthusiasts who appreciate mind-bending, several hours of researching, MIT/Cal-Tech level challenges… versus… The camp of narrative-based (aka escape room) enthusiasts who prefer puzzles at a quicker pace, with less thinking, and no research required. Ironically in BOTH cases our team agreed on what the scores should be. The puzzle enthusiasts loved the amount of in-depth thinking required, the level of research needed, and the complexity of figuring out ‘how’ to solve the puzzle. What they didn’t like was the amount of loose associations in how to correctly solve the puzzles (and as any classic puzzle enthusiast will tell you, loose associations are close to blasphemy because there’s too much room for interpretation). At the same time, the escape room enthusiasts on our team didn’t enjoy most of the puzzles because the pacing and amount of research needed was too much for them. But they did appreciate the level of detail, the amount of puzzles, and the manner in which they were presented throughout the postcards. One comment summed up how we all felt: “This game probably won’t have a ‘middle-ground’. People will either enjoy these kind of puzzles, or they won’t.’’ What had us puzzled (yes, yes, pun intended) was how some of us played (and enjoyed to varying degrees) Enigma Emporium’s previous postcard series Predator Or Prey so we partially knew the style and format to expect. Somehow it didn’t have the same impact though. Again, the puzzlers felt like there were too many loose associations involved in finding the answers, and the escape room enthusiasts felt the level of difficulty and required work was too high. Not to be outdone, there were some positives that shined through however. The puzzles were inclusive and mostly non-linear which allowed people to work together. The puzzles were also thematic and often tied into the Enigma Emporium website which was nice to see also. And heck, if you want several mensa-level puzzles because you feel you need to be pushed, then this might also be the type of puzzle game you’re looking for.
And of course the most pressing question… did we have fun? First let’s put this game into context. It isn’t completely fair to say this is a game that should be played like most in-home escape games. We all agreed we probably would’ve enjoyed it more if the whole ERA team came together, as a larger group, over several dinners with these postcards on the table to work on. Cycle Of Learning clearly wasn’t meant to be played in a four hour (or even twelve hour) window. It’s best played over several weeks of thinking, reflecting, researching, and with some trial and error. Those who enjoyed Predator Or Prey felt this second volume wasn’t quite as intuitive or fun, and those who had never played a game like this before felt it was too much of a mental grind. Is there an audience for this game? Definitely. Like we said, our experience of trying to play this game over several nights, and without the advantage of our team being able to congregate together, is a good lesson in how this game shouldn’t be played. It’s almost certainly better when you have a group to collaborate with, and when you have a LOT of time and patience to give. It’s a shame because we always try to make sure at least one of our members fights for the honour of every game we play, so we’d love to hear from those of you who’ve played this box set and really enjoyed it. We want to know how to best enjoy the experience, and how people can capitalize on all the hard work The Enigma Emporium team has poured into creating it. Be sure to comment in the section below or send us a message via ERA’s email, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, or Twitter… As always, happy escaping!