Full disclosure: A review copy of Son of Doctor Esker’s Notebook was provided by Plankton Games.
Alright, I’m done with EXIT games for a bit but not quite done with escape room games, you know? I need to eventually start trying the Unlock series, you know, since I’ve got all of this free time. Anyways, the latest game in my queue is Son of Doctor Esker’s Notebook, a sequel to the escape room game Doctor Esker’s Notebook that I reviewed like, 150 games ago. Or, horrifyingly, earlier this year (April!). I really thought it was in like, 2018. Scary. Anyways, lemme process my existential dread and you can process this review. Sound good?
In Son of Doctor Esker’s Notebook, the eponymous doctor has vanished once again, frustratingly, and left behind another notebook of clues and riddles that may help you ascertain his location. Thankfully, he didn’t lock you in a dungeon or on a scary roller coaster; he literally just left the notebook and bounced. So you’ve got that going for you. Can you figure out what Doctor Esker wants only you to know? Or will you end up clueless?
The game’s pretty simple to set up. Set out the Solution Cards:
Then set out the puzzle cards:
Take the Start Puzzle and you’re ready to go!
The game’s pretty much the same, gameplay-wise, as the original game. What you do is work through puzzles by revealing all the cards for that puzzle and then coming up with a 2 – 4 digit combination. The puzzle cards don’t require cutting or destruction or anything terrible, but you must get the combination in the right order to have solved the puzzle.
The reason why this is important is that you take the Solution Cards in that order and reveal them. They’ll usually spell out or indicate the next puzzle to do. This might be C O W, indicating that you should pick up and work on the Cow Puzzle, or something else. If it doesn’t make any sense, it’s possible that you might not have the correct combination of digits.
If you’re stuck or need some help (you probably will), you can check this website for puzzle-specific hints.
You’ll know when you’ve completed the puzzles! You’ll need to solve all ten to get there, though.
Player Count Differences
I think player count doesn’t really matter until some of the later puzzles, where it helps to have more people taking a look at a more spread-out problem. Similar to some of the EXIT games, the Esker games are pretty linear, so there’s not a whole lot of potential for branching pathways in the game. You kind of just do the first puzzle and then move on to the second one. It’s fine, but it means there’s often not a lot for people to do after the second or third person. I think the final puzzle makes it a bit more useful to have additional people, though, so your mileage may vary on the initial puzzles. Either way, I enjoyed playing it at two, but I don’t think that I’d be particularly bothered at higher player counts.
- Make sure you read the cards thoroughly. There are often useful pieces of advice (or an entire unit of Music Theory?) available on some of the cards, and you might need that information to advance. Some of the cards are going to be a bit vague, but use the information you’re given.
- Small hints are never a bad idea if you need to get a bump forward. Like I said, some of the cards are a bit vague. I find that starting small is really nice, but there are definitely puzzles that I basically went straight to Large Hint and was like “yes, please let me have the good stuff”. I think at least one of the puzzles in this is a bit too hard for me.
- You’ll know if you got the puzzle right. Seriously; it’s going to be almost immediately apparent. There won’t be much debate about it; literally just “oh that’s it” and then you can move on and try the next puzzle. If it’s even slightly unclear, you’re definitely not on the right track. Try changing some numbers.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I liked a bunch of the puzzles in here. Don’t want to spoil any of the solutions, so I won’t, but there are some mathy logic puzzles in here and those types of puzzles are always my favorite; it’s part of the reason I love The Shipwreck Arcana so much. Just a really satisfying puzzle arc.
- Very portable. It fits in a tuckbox, so you can throw it in a purse, backpack, or Quiver; basically whatever you want to do. I like that! Makes it easy to take it places.
- I appreciate that you don’t have to destroy it after you’ve played it. I really like reusable games (after playing so many EXIT games that are absolutely destroyed after one use), so it’s nice to play the occasional puzzle game that I don’t have to throw away after I’m done.
- I really like that every question has 9 hints rated by amount of help that the hint provides. I think the hint system for Esker is one of my favorite hint systems in the puzzle game space. It doesn’t totally give you the answer, but it allows you to gradually approach the solution in a way that works for you. I wish other puzzle game systems had a more gently sloping hint system; usually it’s two hints and an answer.
- Honestly, I think the solution card system is a bit crackable but is generally ingenious. I just kind of like it! It means that you only need 10 cards for every configuration, but it is possible to reverse-engineer some solutions if you see too many. You just may not know what the correct answer matches up to, which is probably something close enough to a security method that it’s fine? I’m fine with it, at least.
- In general, a number of the puzzles seemed to require something to “click” in order to get it, or you needed what felt like one more step than the starting clues were giving you. It’s not as bad as it could be, because the game has a much more robust hinting system than, say, the EXIT games, but that can still be a bit frustrating. Thankfully we can just use hints to get to the point that we need to start from, so it also didn’t end up taking us three hours. If you like, say, really hard puzzles to crack, though, this might be something you enjoy; we just got a bit frustrated. I did feel like we relied on fewer hints to progress than the previous instance, though, so there’s that.
- Still really don’t like tuckboxes. They’re portable, yes, but they’re pretty flimsy. I prefer some of the boxes I’ve seen for the doujin games I’ve been reviewing; two-piece boxes are always preferable to tuckboxes, for me personally. But what can you do.
- At least one of the puzzles requires domain-specific knowledge that I’m not really convinced that you can just “pick up”, even with the aggressive hints they give you. We ended up just looking up the answer, to be honest, and we had someone who actually studied that thing with us. I assume she could have gotten it with more time, but I’m maybe a bit impatient and felt kind of locked out of the puzzle because I didn’t have the domain knowledge. Not the best overall experience, there.
Overall: 7.5 / 10
Overall, I think the Son succeeds at surpassing the original. I think there’s a word for that feeling of pride when that happens in another language, but, I’m an American so my worldliness takes an automatic -2. Anyways. Where this succeeds is providing a variety of different and interesting puzzles with a wide array of themes and solutions. Seriously, it’s a veritable menagerie, and that’s awesome. Some of the puzzles are a bit ridiculous, but I think generally this shoots to be more of an “enthusiast’s” puzzle game, in that I find the Esker series to be generally harder (not always in a good way) than the EXIT series. In my opinion, though, that’s a good thing! I appreciate that there’s a wide range of puzzle difficulty out there so that there’s something for everyone. I appreciate that these are flexible, reusable puzzles with a robust hint system (that I wish EXIT implemented, to be honest), and that’s a different type of game than the app-driven Unlock series, the very physical Escape Room in a Box, or the EXIT games. Variety is good for players, and I think the Esker series has that. Particularly, I think Son of Doctor Esker’s Notebook is a marked improvement on the original, and if you’re looking for a challenge with your next escape room game, I’d recommend checking it out!