London, Oct 2019
When I played Modern Fables’ first game they were based down in south Bermondsey, but they’ve since moved to the east side of Shoreditch. Our confirmation email came with extensive instructions for how to find their entrance, and yet we still ended up wandering a deserted building in an industrial yard for a considerable time before eventually finding the right door – when visiting you might wish to scout it out in advance to avoid the same problem.
As with their original game, Modern Fables plunge you into their game universe right from the start, with a briefing done entertainingly in character. That doesn’t simply mean the gamemaster playing a role; they work hard to put you and your teammates in the world too. Other than being some kind of sci-fi premise, exactly what world that is isn’t spelled out on the website, and the setting and story is something you only discover a piece at a time during the game.
The game is built around story from start to finish, with puzzles designed around what might plausibly be found in the setting; the process of solving something often smoothly provides another piece of narrative without interrupting game flow. Rather than giving you a jumble of puzzles, each step fits into two or three sequential meta-tasks.
Some details of what’s going on are left intentionally vague, the better to let the players fill in the gaps with their own guesswork. That worked far better than a laboured plot dump, but I felt that it went a little too far. Not really being clear on what the stakes were weakened the game’s climax; its artful ambiguity left me less invested in how the story ended.
Hypersomnia shares with the venue’s first game a rather cluttered environment which gives a good visual effect but may be off-putting to the search-phobic. But the only hitch worth dwelling on was that the final puzzle could do with giving clearer feedback in response to the players’ progress.
Even so, that final puzzle was a thoroughly satisfying complex, multi-stage task, the kind where various cryptic, apparently unrelated items yield answers bit by bit until everything clicks into place like a jigsaw coming together. It’s not wildly difficult, but that extra complexity should be particularly pleasing for more experienced players.
The game’s puzzles were interesting and often unusual, and also showed some little touches of humour and a subtle nod to their first game. Perhaps the signposting could be tightened up a little; but it’s an excellent game full of creative ideas and which particularly stands out for its focus on story and immersion.