Full disclosure: A preview copy of The Light in the Mist was provided by PostCurious. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game.
I’m actually a decent bit ahead of the game, here, somehow. I was behind for a while, then I got ahead, then I started publishing more reviews (I’m still trying to get to 1000!), and then I got behind again, and now I think I’m almost back. It means there’s probably room for me to publish more reviews again, at some point, but honestly three is working for me, right now. I don’t think people were honestly reading 10,000+ words a week on board games just from me. Maybe I’m wrong, but … I’m not entirely convinced that was a sustainable schedule, anyways. I spent so much time writing. Now I don’t spend … as much time. Anyways, it’s still Kickstarter season, so we’ve got some new ones dropping soon and some more coming up in the future. Last week it was puzzle games, so why not try another? We’ve got a new PostCurious title, and they’re always a hoot, so let’s see what’s going on in The Light in the Mist!
In The Light in the Mist, you’ve got a problem. Your friend, Sam, has gone missing, and you’ve followed after her. Unfortunately, all you’ve found is her backpack and a mysterious deck of tarot cards. You feel something beckon you towards the woods where she vanished, and a cabin with an old woman inside are your best clues moving forward. Do you have what it takes to find Sam and bring her back home?
Not much setup. Your cards start in a lovely tuckbox, so break those out:
You’ve got your Major Arcana:
You’ve also got your Minor Arcana:
Set aside the Journal / Backpack:
To start, read through the introduction at the beginning of the Rulebook, and then get ready for your first puzzle!
So The Light in the Mist is a narrative puzzle adventure, with roughly even weight given to both. You play as a friend of Sam’s, a woman who has been lost in a mysterious forest, and guided only by a mysterious tarot deck you need to find her and get her out of here. It’s a coming-of-age story, so expect some themes along those lines.
How you do this is by starting with The Fool Major Arcana and working your way through puzzles until you reach and complete The World. Those two are your only key lynchpin points in the game; you can work through the rest of the puzzles at your leisure and in any order you want. Personally, we found it fun to shuffle the Major Arcana each time and take turns flipping one, but you can also proceed sequentially. Each Major Arcana has a number of fruit at the top of the card which indicate which Minor Arcana cards correspond to it, as well as a symbol that shows which puzzle it is. Minor Arcana cards have one or more symbols, indicating they correspond to one or more puzzles.
You’ll likely want to take notes (you don’t need to draw on any of the cards or materials), and as you solve puzzles they’ll resolve to one or more English words. You can look them up in the back of the booklet to get referred to a passage. Read that passage out loud, and then move on to the next puzzle! Some puzzles have more than one answer, and the additional answers will just flesh out the story for you.
Play until you’ve completed the narrative! Then, there may be some bonus puzzles? Who’s to say?
Player Count Differences
Wouldn’t necessarily say that there are a ton, but the game is fairly nonlinear, so I think technically you could have 20 people all completing a different puzzle, reading whatever clue word they get, and then moving on. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that. For me, the kind-of-ideal player count is two, here. With more than that, you start to notice that the real estate of the cards is fairly limited, so it can be difficult for multiple players to see them at the same time to work on a puzzle collaboratively. This is easily solved by just splitting the puzzles up and giving multiple people multiple puzzles, but I think that detracts from the experience. You want to get the full story and solve all the puzzles as a group; it’s an experiential narrative game. If the cards were larger, I’d probably say this is best at three or four, but standard tarot cards make the game more immersive. It’s not really a big deal; I play most of my escape room / puzzle games at two players, and this was a nice fit for that.
- The game’s suggestions are light; treat them as somewhat binding. Generally, if the game tells you not to do something or to leave something alone, just don’t bother with it until the game explicitly tells you that you can. This includes the starting puzzle and the final puzzle. Don’t do those out of order.
- You’ll only ever need to rearrange letters one time, and the game will be very explicit about it. This is more of a thing worth noting so that you don’t waste time on solutions that aren’t valid. The rearrangement puzzles will be pretty straightforwardly indicated.
- Many puzzles have more than one solution. Not all of them, though! Try to keep an eye on whether or not the puzzle seems to be moving you in multiple directions. The puzzles that only have one solution are pretty explicit, I feel.
- Your solution will be an English word. This is just a helpful thing to know. No weird groups of numbers, no diagram or drawing or something. It’s helpful to be aware of the rough structure of the solution.
- If you’re not sure which cards correspond to the puzzles, there’s a reference guide at the back of the booklet. This can also speed things up. Each Major Arcana shows the number of cards that belong to their puzzle (along with a symbol to bind them all together), but if you’d prefer to go a bit faster, you can just check the booklet for the exact cards that compose the puzzle.
- Similarly, hints are a good way to overcome a mental block. Sometimes it’s just nice to check them and see if you have all the correct pieces of the puzzle together, not just to get the answer. I find using them as a way to set the stage can be useful.
- Less of a strategy recommendation, but try not to read the other words in the solution guide if you can avoid it. This is mostly just to avoid impairing your enjoyment of the game. If you’re browsing the solution guide, you’ll see other words that you can potentially find, which is a bummer. Just try to focus on the one word that you got as a solution and see what happens.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- There’s a good chunk of puzzle, here. You’ll be busy for a while. I was initially a bit shocked by the “5+ hours” time box on what was otherwise a small card game, but, it’s a pretty on-point recommendation. We spent the better part of two days working through all the puzzles in here. There are a good amount of them!
- I have a known soft spot for tarot-themed games. One of my all-time favorite games is The Shipwreck Arcana, but between that and playing a bunch of the Persona games I’ve developed a fondness for tarot and tarot themes. So, this game is very much appealing to me. I’m not really ever going to like, read tarot or anything; I just like the aesthetic.
- This one’s significantly easier than The Emerald Flame, which, while I liked, was tough as nails. This is right around my ideal difficulty level, which is about where the EXIT games oscillate, as well. I think many escape rooms I’ve done are perhaps around this level, as well, which is good. Emerald Flame was tough, and while I liked it, it was very hard. This seems like the kind of thing I’d buy a bunch of my friends as a holiday gift, especially given its size and portability.
- The nonlinear narrative is interesting. I like how it plays into the idea that you’re wandering through a forest and through scattered memories. It gives you an interesting sense of dread when you see a scene that you just wandered through the aftermath of, like you’re witnessing a train about to crash or you’re seeing fragments of something that will become a much worse problem down the road. It allows the players to experience the story in some interesting ways, even if the nonlinearity can occasionally be confusing. The game sets up some good anchor points and guideposts, but you may not notice them straight away.
- It’s also kind of satisfying to have the option to choose Major Arcana puzzles depending on either random chance or where you want to take the story. It gives me, the player, some agency in the puzzles I solve, and that’s satisfying. I mean, you have to solve all of them. I just like that the choice is yours. It’s a very cool way to tackle the puzzles and I like it quite a lot.
- The art is absolutely incredible. I’m looking at it now and it looks like Jack Fallows did it? Their art is wonderful in this game. It’s right at the intersection of cozy and spooky, depending on which the narrative needs to be. It’s evocative of a haunted cabin in the same way that Illimat is evocative of an old and possibly haunted card game or Umbra Via is evocative of an overgrown tomb. I think it’s an incredibly strong pairing, and the art does a great job of not getting in the way of some good puzzling, which I think is something I’ve come to expect and appreciate of PostCurious offerings. Honestly, I’m really looking forward to getting this game for my tarot-interested friends as a gift. As I mentioned, there’s a lot to do, puzzle-wise, and even more story to consume as a result of the puzzle.
- I also appreciate the theme of the game, and I love how the art accentuates the theme. It gives me a lot of Gone Home vibes in a lot of ways, but with a bit more mystic spookiness to it. I’d say that they feel like narrative companions, without getting too much into spoilers for either, but I quite enjoyed both of them and I think that they both complement and compliment each other. The art does wonders for the theme, though; it truly has that “spooky wood tarot” vibe, to it.
- The hint system remains extremely good. I’ve been a fan of the hint system since The Emerald Flame, and I think PostCurious has one again returned strong with this one. There’s a good number of hints that cover right up to the solution, as well as a warning before you actually swipe to it. I think that’s great! Makes it very difficult to accidentally spoil yourself while still being helpful up to the very end.
- Some of the puzzles are just fantastic. I legitimately think that several of my favorite escape room / puzzle game puzzles are in this one. There’s a bunch of absolutely fantastic word puzzles, and there are puzzles that deal with reflectance, maps, grids, genetics, and all kinds of stuff. It all also feels like it’s within the theme of the game, and the connection between the theme and the puzzles is super strong, here. I’m frankly loving this.
- I particularly like that many of the cards are used for several different puzzles across the Major Arcana. It’s slick. I like that because you get to experience the preemptive fragments of upcoming puzzles as you encounter others. When you get to come back around to them, maybe you’ve already solved parts of them or you have some sense of what the puzzle is looking for, but you don’t know exactly because you haven’t seen how the Major Arcana binds all the Minor Arcana cards together. Plus, in my opinion, they did all this puzzle overloading without compromising the cards’ aesthetic. You could very easily use this as an actual tarot deck and it would still look super good even with the puzzles embedded everywhere. This game’s really a work of art, both aesthetically and as a puzzle box. I’m genuinely impressed.
- Having a nonlinear narrative and a puzzle for each Major Arcana does also mean that you can pause the game and take breaks without really needing to put a lot of work into saving your state. Unless you’ve got unparalleled stamina, five hours of puzzling is going to eventually wear you out. The game is pretty easy to store and save, even if you aren’t using the journal to record everything (for photography reasons, we wrote everything on a separate sheet of paper). Here, you can just set the Major Arcana you’ve used aside and you’re ready to start again as soon as you want.
- It’s a very portable game. You really only need the deck and the journal (to keep track of where you are in the deck). The box is very small, and I appreciate that.
- It seems like there’s some value to replaying the game or solving the puzzles in another order than you originally solved them? At the very least, trying a new order and seeing how the narrative unfolds could be interesting.
- I appreciate that they include a reference guide of which cards apply to which puzzles, as well. Honestly, by the end of it I was pretty sure we had seen every card a few times, and we were trying to finish up so that we could do another thing, so it sped up the last couple puzzles for us to just be able to quickly lay out the cards we needed. Finding them is, honestly, more fun, but sometimes you’re in a hurry.
- You may find some of the story elements hard to follow, given that they may be presented temporally out of order. That’s the trouble with nonlinear narratives; the fact that they’re out of order makes them hard to track. If you’re not sure, listen for states, other characters’ names, and structures. Those are good ways to ground yourself in some of the time periods that the stories take place.
- Similarly, the puzzles vary in difficulty, so doing them in a random order may mean the game may feel more or less challenging depending on which puzzle you get. This isn’t necessarily a problem, but is just something worth knowing. You may get a progressively increasingly difficult game, or you may get a game that becomes easier over time, or you might just get a game that wildly changes in difficulty with every puzzle. If you want to get warmed up, the booklet indicates a few good starter puzzles to get your sea legs.
- Hopefully they’ll have some audio version of the information available as a stretch goal; it’s a lot of reading, otherwise. I ran into this problem with a few of KOSMOS’s Adventure Games, as well. When I first got them there was no voiceover option, so we had to read everything out loud (which I’m not really into). They added that functionality later, so, probably gonna revisit those, at some point. I’m hoping a similar option gets added to this one; it would be nice to not have to read the entire narrative myself (or pass it to my housemate to read, since she’s better at it than I am).
- Obfuscating the possible solution words by a single step (having a web form that you can enter them in to get a resulting number, for instance) would be nice; otherwise it’s possible to reverse-engineer solutions. I ran into this a few times; it’s difficult not to read other words on the page since they’re all kind of compressed together. Once you’ve seen one, it sticks in your brain and makes its relevant puzzle easier. If you see a few jumbled letters that can be unjumbled to spell SOLUTION and you’ve seen SOLUTION on the Solutions Guide, you’re more inclined to try that one out. Something like a quick web form that lets you enter a word and it replies with the correct passage or “not correct” or something if you’re wrong would be great. For offline play, though, it’s nice to have the solution book as well.
Overall: 9.75 / 10
Overall, I mean, I think The Light in the Mist is easily one of the best puzzle box games I’ve played. There are a few things keeping it from being a 10, for me, but I’m reasonably convinced that there’s a good shot of those getting addressed before the final shipping, in some way. I would love something like a voiceover option, but that’s because I just really hate reading things out loud. One of many reasons I hate being the “rules guy” for my game group, but that’s the price I pay for forcing my friends to play my review copies with me. I seriously think this is great, though. There were a few puzzles that I legitimately “ooh”-ed, just because of the quality of the puzzle. The Hermit, for instance, was one of my favorites, but The High Priestess, The Empress, The Tower, and plenty more puzzles were standouts. They ranged from clever to interesting to convoluted, but almost always in a way that I found deeply satisfying. That would already put the game pretty high on my list, but they also did the work of weaving in a nice coming-of-age story that’s split across the puzzles and their many solutions that culminates in a journey through a friend’s past in a very good way. I thought the story was actually pretty compelling! Especially for one split into random chunks. That’s also big, for me. But what sealed the deal is the art and presentation of The Light in the Mist. It just looks great. Each card is a work of art in its own regard, and each card is either a puzzle in its own right, or a piece of one or more distinct puzzles. The amount of work that has to have gone into planning and sketching and crafting and designing this game as an experience is staggering to me, and they seem to have pulled it off pretty incredibly. I’ve been impressed with PostCurious since I got to try The Emerald Flame, but if that was a ground triple, The Light in the Mist is a home run. I would love for this to become a series, of some kind. The tarot, the art, the narrative, and the experience were amazing. We could barely put the game down. If you’re looking for some of the most interesting (and beautiful) puzzle games on the market, I’m pretty sure PostCurious is making a run for the crown, there, and if The Light in the Mist is any indication of their quality, it’s hard not to give it to them. I was genuinely, deeply impressed by The Light in the Mist, and I can’t wait for you all to play it and hear what you think.
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