Room-in-a-box, Jan 2019
The boom in physical escape rooms has brought with it an increasing range of play at home puzzle products in various formats. Enigma Emporium’s first such product, Wish You Were Here, is notable for the efficiency of its design: an envelope containing five postcards. The outside of the envelope gives a brief orientation message, but after that it’s up to you to find the puzzles, work out solutions for them, and discover how everything fits together.
Not that you’ll have any difficulty finding puzzles to work on – each of the five postcards is packed with enticingly cryptic images, symbols, letters and numbers. There’s no starting point indicated, and in fact you can dive in pretty much anywhere, since this is an extremely non-linear game. I found this instantly appealing. You glance over the postcards, one of the puzzles catches your eye, one thing leads to another and two hours later you find yourself surrounded by frantically scrawled notes and deciphered messages.
This non-linearity also makes it unusually well-suited to a larger group. Most home games are best played with 1-2 people, maybe 3 at a push, and any more than that end up bottlenecked as everyone fights over the same few components. Wish You Were Here genuinely works with up to five, since each person can tackle a different card, and swap over when stuck.
Other than the intro message, the main feature of the game envelope is a lookup table converting between letters and numbers, and that reflects a style of puzzle that’s less escape room and a bit closer to a puzzle hunt, which deals very much in ciphers and ways of hiding messages in pictures, or in numbers, or in anything else that can be printed on a postcard. The escape room convention of ‘no outside knowledge’ does not hold true here – you should expect to need to resort to Google to work out some of these clues, and may need to use technology in other ways too.
I’d quibble over a couple of the puzzles that seemed to me to require slightly bigger intuitive leaps to find the right path. However, the game structure meant I dived in on the easier puzzles, and by the time I was left with a couple of particularly difficult ones, I was invested enough to happily persevere until I cracked them. In any case, an online hint page provides help per-card and per-puzzle, as a sequence of increasingly less cryptic hints followed by an outright solution (though the solution is often in the form of telling you how to get the answer, not what the answer is).
Because of the non-linear design, and the lack of external guidance, you end up with an assembly of decoded information fragments and need to work out how they fit together and what to do with them. As a result, there’s a genuine danger here of missing the game’s conclusion. As long as you do find it though, there’s a good finale that wraps up the game, confirms your success and gives the story a clear conclusion.
I liked Wish You Were Here from the outset. The compact, attractive format is deceptively simple but packs in enough puzzles to keep you busy for considerably longer than the 1-2 hours advertised, managing to be both immediately accessible and satisfyingly challenging. It wisely doesn’t impose an artificial time limit, and lets you dip in and out instead of blasting through it in a single session. Using stand-alone puzzles that can be printed on postcards perhaps limits the variety somewhat, and players who have experience with Puzzled Pint or similar events may find it easier to tackle, but finding another hidden message remains a thrill each time.
It’s harder work than a typical home escape game, and you’ll need to be happy to hypothesise and turn to the internet to make sense of the clues, and sometimes grind through the solving process once you’ve worked out what to do. But it’s a substantial and satisfying game in a small envelope, and priced cheaply enough that it’s good value for money even when shipped from the US.