I’m a big fan of puzzles and puzzle type games so was very interested to check out the curious little box of cards called Dr. Esker’s Notebook.
As implied above, Dr. Esker’s Notebook is a series of puzzles presented via a deck of cards. There are 73 cards total, made up of 58 puzzle cards, 10 solution cards, and 5 instruction cards.
The solution to each of the 9 puzzles in the deck is a 2-4 digit numeric code. The solution cards are numbered 0-9 on their backs, and when arranged in the correct order for each solution they will identify the next puzzle to be played (via seemingly random elements on the answer cards coming together to form words, pictures, etc). It’s a very clever, elegant way to handle solving the puzzles and is well implemented.
The puzzles themselves were quite good, with decent variety to them and some really inventive elements. There were a couple I thought were exceptional, and only one I didn’t really care for. I played this solo, but it feels like it would also work well with a small group (I’d probably cap it at 4 players rather than the “1-6, or more” the box suggests).
There were some minor execution issues that hindered my enjoyment just a little here and there, but nothing that was impossible to work around. For example, when several puzzles depend on lining things up properly having white borders on the cards is a particularly poor choice. There were other small things that I’ll avoid discussing in detail due to spoilers, but again largely things that in my opinion kept some good puzzles from being great puzzles rather than anything really problematic.
There is a decent hint system available with several hints for each puzzle, allowing players to choose how much help they want. I like the approach a lot, but it’s worth mentioning that the hints and solutions are strictly available online so if players get stuck on a puzzle visiting the website is required to continue on.
Dr. Esker’s Notebook felt somewhere in between board game versions of escape rooms like the Exit series and puzzle books like Journal 29 to me, and that’s a pretty favorable place to be. The deck of cards approach is creative in the way it was done and keeps this cost friendly, portable, and reusable. Overall I had fun with this and would welcome more puzzle games in this vein.