Room-in-a-box, Jan 2019
This game is currently only available via Kickstarter.
Blowback, Enigma Emporium’s second play-at-home puzzle game and a sequel to Wish You Were Here, is at time of writing about to launch on Kickstarter. It works perfectly well stand-alone, though I imagine most players will tackle it having first tried the original game, and it does contain a couple of minor spoilers for Wish You Were Here.
As before, the game consists of an envelope containing a set of five postcards, each covered with ciphers and hidden messages. Most of the content on each card can be tackled in isolation, making it much more comfortable to share between multiple players than other home puzzle games. There is very little provided in the way of up-front instructions: the puzzles speak for themselves, and the story emerges as you discover the solutions.
Even more than WYWH, there is a clear structure in what you’re looking for, with the puzzles on each card revealing a consistent set of answer types. That regularity becomes a useful prompt when you’re not sure whether there’s anything further to be found on a card – although I still needed a nudge from the online help system to notice one of the more subtle hidden messages in the cards.
Blowback’s puzzle style is very much focused on ciphers, codes and hidden messages. The consistency there helps the game feel fair – once you’ve got a feel for it, it’s not going to throw any complete curve balls at you. The flip side is that there’s less variation in the game’s style. Or to be more accurate, the puzzles make imaginative and clever use of a variety of ideas, but those ideas are drawn from a relatively narrow palette. But although that might get a bit ‘same-y’ after five or ten games using this formula, for me the shine hadn’t worn off after this second game.
You could also criticise the game for involving quite a bit of grind along with the eureka moments, where you’ve worked out what to do but actually doing that takes notable effort. That’s not something I particularly mind, though one puzzle in particular outstayed its welcome. I also found less of a sense of uncovering a mystery, since I already knew the plot from the previous game, and Blowback’s reveals are more of a set of keywords than anything that really moves the story forwards.
If you played and enjoyed Wish You Were Here, you’re highly likely to enjoy Blowback as well. I’d give the edge to the earlier game for its narrative reveals and greater unpredictability, but it’s very similar in style and it’s hard to imagine anyone liking one but not the other. I hope Enigma Emporium experiment with other game formats in the future, but the one they’ve used here works for me: easy to get drawn into, easy to share between more than one person, suitable for playing in one intense burst or spread out over a series of days, and with a challenging but reliably fair set of puzzles to bend your brain cells round.