Worcester, Jun 2019
I love the concept for Operation Deluge. You’re trying to stop a crazed terrorist before his bomb goes off, which is standard enough – but the bomber is called Noah, and his aim is to blow up the dams of the world and thereby unleash a cataclysmic flood. Okay, so that premise doesn’t really stand up to close inspection, but it’s an amusing twist on a defuse-the-bomb style of game.
After the venue’s very pretty Alice game, Deluge was fairly plain: straightforward decor that mixed boat and animal theming as a grab-bag of puzzles rather than any cohesive story. For the most part I found the content not hugely memorable but pretty unobjectionable; but the big exception to that was unfortunately a major part of the game structure.
Operation Deluge is quite an open game, in the sense of being non-linear with plenty of puzzles that you can tackle in parallel. Like many such games, the many separate strands all feed back into a single meta-puzzle, which you solve by combining answers to many different steps. Importantly, you don’t have any way of verifying those earlier answers except by solving the meta-puzzle – unlike, say, a design where you have multiple locks on a single door. That’s a perfectly reasonable approach and can be very satisfying when everything comes together in a single solution, but it’s essential that each component step is unambiguous.
A small ambiguity in one puzzle is inelegant but not a huge problem; if nothing else, the players can always just try both options. But when you have three possible answers for one step, and two possible answers for some of the others, and you need to combine those answers for a final solution, the number of possible options rapidly becomes unfeasible.
That was exactly what happened here. What was worse was that the venue appeared to have deliberately introduced ambiguity at several points, presumably to make the game harder; and then used a type of lock which freezes you out for multiple incorrect attempts. Our gamemaster warned us in the briefing not to guess on that lock, and to only enter an answer once we were confident – but the puzzles were much too open to interpretation to have that confidence.
In the event, we didn’t incur any lock-outs, and we escaped with one of the faster times for the room, but only for one reason: instead of attempting to guess at all, I immediately resorted to asking our gamemaster to confirm whether our current set of answers was correct or not. That avoided what would probably have been a painful slow end to the game, but it’s a nasty bear-trap in the path of players’ enjoyment.
Deluge is listed as Cyber Q’s hardest game, something I’ve found can be a red flag; in most respects the game was very accessible, and the difficulty rating seems very likely to be based on the trouble teams will have getting past that one metapuzzle. It’s too fundamental a feature of the game to be addressed with a tweak or two, but even if the venue found a way to improve on that section, I’d still be recommending the other one I played there ahead of Deluge; with little that stands out, the most enjoyable thing about it is the story premise, and that’s not sufficient reason to book a game.