Narrative puzzles and board games continue to become more and more popular. The continual run of the Thames and Kosmos EXIT franchise, Hunt-A-Killer and their move into single box puzzles, and PostCurious with their latest title The Emerald Flame. The Emerald Flame tries to elevate its narrative puzzle experience by choosing to sell "not just games but... experiences." With high-quality pieces and difficult challenges, does The Emerald Flame manage to pull off the experience that it's trying to deliver?
The Emerald Flame is a narrative puzzle game where you and your party, of unlimited numbers, receive a letter requesting your assistance. In this world, you're a renowned historical researcher with a particular flair for particularly puzzling finds. The Chairman and President of the Koschei Historical Society, Jules Redmond, has reached out to you asking for your assistance with some artifacts that have been revealed related to a master alchemist and his search for a potion of ultimate life and knowledge. Each puzzle is designed to either reveal an ingredient related to the mythical potion or steer you closer to the location of the Master Alchemist's laboratory hidden somewhere underneath Prague. First opening the box I expected the narrative portion of the story to be a means to getting to you solve the secrets of the Alchemist, but the narrative runs deeply throughout all of the clues. You'll get to read letters between the Alchemist and his friend/lover from before his journey, and even read over documents of his travels through the world.
The game is broken out into three separate chapters, each is contained within a different large white envelope, complete with postage stamps and date marks. These dates indicate the order in which to play the narrative adventure, beginning with January you'll get to complete three months as more is discovered in the search for the elixir. The box will also come with an instruction manual (important if you need a helpful hint along the way), and a refill box with duplicates of any of the props that you might need to write on, cut up, or set on fire (yes, you read that right). Even pulling out the different stained pieces of parchment you can immediately get a sense of the quality from the paper stock that PostCurious used for this narrative adventure. The game does a good job of being very clear with each box that you open as to the "win conditions" of each month, and how to go about submitting your responses.
The puzzles themselves are incredibly high quality, lots of fun to solve, and sometimes absolutely painful. Each envelope recommends that it might take 2-3 hours to complete and even with assistance each envelope was still almost a four-hour experience. The puzzles from the first box were mostly linear, you'd get whatever sheet you'd need that was related to the puzzle, you could read the clue found on the document, and then begin puzzling it out. One of the most impressive factors of The Emerald Flame is the variety of puzzles. In a box of 20+ individual puzzles, no one is similar to the next. You might be fitting together pieces like a jigsaw puzzle one moment, deconstructing a Venn diagram in the next, before studying stained glass windows for colors and patterns. For the most part, each of these puzzles, while difficult to solve, was linear and logical. There were a few exceptions where a somewhat illogical leap was required, but between thinking outside the box or using the robust hint system a solution was never too far out of reach.
As you progressed through the envelopes more and more elements would be added, whether it means a single document might have three or four different elements to separately solve, or that more props would be involved. The final box contains a candle, puzzle pieces, and a rotating diagram over a star chart. If you're finding the first box difficult then you're going to be wracking your brain for every ounce of processing power by the end of the combined 10+ hour experience. Each session I'd end up brain buzzing, but had a sense of pride and accomplishment in what I had achieved.
For a game that is so difficult and that you'll definitely spend hours pouring over a saving grace for when you want to move on from a puzzle is the robust infrastructure that has been set up around careful hint giving. You can access the fictional Koschei Historical Society website to find a list of hints for each puzzle. These hints are commonly broken out into 10+ parts allowing you to start with a very basic hint, such as "For this puzzle make sure you have the flower document" all the way through to solving the puzzle for you. It's in these broken-down steps that even if you do need a nudge in the correct direction all you'll ever get is that nudge. While a hint was definitely required from time to time never did it feel like the answer was getting handed to me, instead, it was just enough to overcome a mental block and solve the rest of the puzzle. If you don't want the answer given to you there's also an answer checker that saves you from spoiling the puzzle for yourself.
What are our final thoughts on The Emerald Flame?
PostCurious set out to deliver an experience, and an experience is what I received. From the moment you unbox this hefty container and open up the first package you are thrown into the lore of the game. Each puzzle will push players' puzzle-solving abilities to their limits, while still being extremely attainable. As I moved into the second and third packages and started running into more and more mental blocks the hint system was extremely conservative and while it would nudge in the correct direction, the feeling of success for reaching the solution would never be robbed from me. The Emerald Flame is an event for you and your friends to be able to work through.
Should I buy The Emerald Flame?
If you're someone who enjoys really flexing their brains figuring out a variety of puzzles then The Emerald Flame is definitely an experience that's worth picking up. Playing alone or with a variety of friends you'll all get to collaborate and put your heads together with this high-quality puzzle experience. On the reverse of that though, if you're not into puzzles, or your idea of puzzles is a light brain teaser this game will not catch you in the same way it might others. This is a formidable challenge of a box, don't underestimate it...
The copy of The Emerald Flame used in this review was provided by the publisher.