The Emerald Flame (Prototype Version) • PostCurious • Tabletop Narrative Puzzle Game Review
PostCurious (Based In The United States)
◣ GAME'S SPECS
💪 Includes "puzzles of varying difficulty, designed to engage players of all...levels", as quoted from company.
⏲️ 6 to 9 hours of total game duration expected from company.
🔢 Suggested for solo or group cooperative play (up to 4 players) by company.
💬 Hint system via hint page. Helpful nudges reveal one at a time to assist players to solve as much as possible.
📝 Game requires box contents, internet, or more. Check for details.
🛒 If you PREORDER GAME due to this blog, please give EscapeMattster.com a shout out! ;)
◣ MATTSTER'S TAKE
💪 Difficulty: For Matt's team of 1, the most difficult puzzle ranks 10/10 (!!!); more manageable ones average around 5/10.
🔢 Ideal Team Size: 2-3, if at all possible. Complexity of several puzzles will really perplex just 1 brain. Utilize teamwork!
🤷♂️ Best Fit For: Those who are already familiar with the general idea of puzzle hunts, and also have been exposed to other similar puzzle boxed products, will clearly have an edge at solving these beautifully produced headscratchers.
😀 Overall Takeaway: The sheer amount of contents, and the obvious and copious amount of effort, packed into the gorgeously illustrated packaging box is overwhelming. Equally overwhelming is the difficulty of some of the most intricately written, designed, and executed puzzles I've ever encountered. "The Emerald Flame" is the very definition of a premium, artistic, and mind-blowing independent puzzle creation, best fitted for those who are ready for a lengthy but rewarding and challenging journey. Prepare to enjoy this for a long haul; it'll probably take days to fully complete!
OOOH. ME LIKEY.
THIS JOINS "RECOMMENDED" RANK!*
(*Best experienced by and most suited for non-entry-level puzzlers.)
Commissioned by the Koschei Historical Society, you will take on the role of a historical expert and embark on a quest to piece together a recipe for a transformative elixir by deciphering messages, interpreting alchemical diagrams, and manipulating mysterious artifacts. (Like a blend of escape rooms, board games, and interactive fiction, The Emerald Flame tells an exciting story over three distinct episodes, each packed with puzzles of varying difficulty designed to challenge and engage players of all experience levels.)
"The Emerald Flame" is the second major narrative puzzle adventure from PostCurious, the company that has brought the puzzles-loving community the well-received "Tale Of Ord". Though I have not personally played "Ord", and in fact, "Emerald" is my first true exposure to this brand's work, PostCurious's reputation precedes itself. Hear me out.
Having followed PostCurious's Instagram since forever ago, the account's contents, particularly its signature watercolor style artworks, have been regularly appearing in my social media feed. And though I would pay little mind to the company's name at the time, the illustrations made a lasting impression:
The repeating motifs often inspired by Mother Nature, the ample usage of cryptic symbols of mythological origins, and the strangely unique brushstrokes coupled with a rainbow spectrum of colors--when a PostCurious post casually scrolls by, I always know it, and I am often fascinated by it.
Fast-forward to months later, when owner-designer Rita graciously invited me to experience her upcoming creation, "The Emerald Flame", something in the back of my mind clicked. Not only did I instantly recognize the game artworks, it finally dawned on me that this is it--this is the game abuzz with crowd anticipation, this is the "Emerald Flame" that I've heard much about among my peers. And I thought, "I am about to see something really special, aren't I?"
Having dug a little deeper behind the game's development, I've come to learn that "Emerald" is a product of nearly two years in the making, a fact that becomes strikingly conspicuous when unloading contents from the packaging box. There is just... so, so, SO many materials. Out of every single product I've reviewed to date, this ranks objectively on top in terms of physical prop items in several aspects:
Although I would, in reality, unpack the game contents on several separate occasions, as dictated by intended game flow, the sheer total number of tangible parts overall is overwhelming. Each initial reveal would often send my brain into a frenzied disarray of excitement, for there is just, honestly, a prolific volume of information to process.
Of the tens of pieces of game artifacts used in-game, most printed media features the aforementioned signature artworks, and they are every bit as exquisite as I've expected, except now I get to really witness them in person, first hand, and up close. Because these illustrations are meant be hand-drawn correspondence from over a century ago, I especially appreciate the techniques employed to make each document look authentically hand-made. There's nothing "commercial" or "printer-esque" about them, and thereby deepening the immersion further.
The remaining prop pieces comprise of what I collectively call special "magical" key items, and they usually play a significant role in the more hands-on portions of the game, especially during the climatic finale of each sub-section. Nature and format of these distinctive objects vary greatly, ranging from amulet necklace, to entomology glass slides, rosary beads, to even a legitimate candle that you may or may not have to burn (but it certainly will light up should you need it to). In short, there are surprises aplenty--often extraordinary ones--for you to discover.
And if this isn't already made abundantly clear, please allow me to emphasize... production value is top-notch!
"The Emerald Flame" is a self-proclaimed narrative puzzle quest, and I agree. Much like a novel, there is a rich and complex plot that arguably rivals with the puzzles as the main attraction. Also much like in a book, "Emerald" cleverly utilizes a literary technique known as the framing device, setting up a story within a story that brings layers of intrigues and sophistications, culminating to an effective universe that engulfs players for hours to come.
The game opens with a letter from President Redmond of Koschei Historical Society, inviting you, an expert researcher, to assist in the investigation of a fabled elixir once concocted by a master alchemist ages ago. Many secrets surround the elusive potion, rumored to possess great restorative and empowering properties. The exact recipe is thought to be long lost--until a collection of ancient artifacts is recently unearthed.
And among the discovered are letters exchanged between a couple named Marketa and Hannah. It is through their written conversations that the true plot unfolds: From Marketa's persistent interest in alchemy mastery, and her dedication for the pursuit of the miraculous elixir, to the unfortunate consequences resulting from her stubborn and evermore seeking of such knowledge, every twist and turn of events adds more flavors and higher stakes to a story that could otherwise be more straightforward and therefore more plain. And I am so glad that is not the case!
Bringing the story full circle is the ending that determines the future of Koschei Society. Without spoiling much, let's simply state that the player has the ultimate say of not just the fate of the Society, but potentially far, far beyond. Certain plot ambiguities invite players' open interpretation of what events truly transpired, though for those of us who prefer a clean-cut explanation, an unsettled feeling may linger on--there's potential for a sequel here!
The overall structure of "Emerald" is divided into 3 main chapters, coupled with a much shorter fourth "bonus" chapter that brings closure to the comprehensive story. (Or does it?) Each chapter sees a package delivered from Koschei Society to the player, a subtle direction for the player to open and reveal only one package at a time per chapter, or game session.
In general, one would first examine an instruction letter from the Society to establish main objectives, then proceed to inspect letters from Marketa and/or Hannah for further (hidden) directions, and then finally delve into the rest of the objects for relevant clues. Slightly similar to a puzzle hunt, there is really no explicit guidance on how or where to begin. A high degree of freedom and non-linear play options grant players broad control on how to approach these challenges.
And due to that exact high degree of freedom and therefore a lack of handholding, really, I would imagine this could prove daunting for novice players to get started, as it was the case with me, (but I'll get into that more in-depth later).
Once you find your footing, there are roughly 5 to 8 detailed puzzles to conquer in each of the three main parts, and it is said to take about 2 to 3 hours to complete (per part) according to PostCurious. However, because each brainteaser is so intricately written with utmost deliberation, I actually recommend solving one single or maybe two puzzles per day, instead of cramming all of them together in one 2-to-3-hour contiguous session, to prevent likely brain burnout.
For me personally at least, I've found my gaming experience exponentially more pleasant, and magnitudes less frustrating, if I do not rush myself, and choose to actually enjoy the contents at my own comfortable pace. Depending on your own background and experience level, the projected 9 total hours of game play may very well expand into the course of a week or two, and in this way extending the longevity of your purchase.
And now, the real meat of any puzzle box games--the puzzle themselves. There is a reason why I've saved this aspect for last, as I've learned much about not only "The Emerald Flame", but also about myself as a puzzle hobbyist.
Part 1 is heavily logic puzzles based, which initially gave me much anxiety about the game's overall direction. Having been primarily an escape room player, I am more accustomed to and favor puzzles that are designed to be solved within a relatively short time, the almost polar opposite to logic puzzles. Traditionally, I see a problem, get some clues, bada bing, bada boom, done. Shouldn't take much more than 5 minutes.
In contrast, in "Emerald Flame", there is a real time investment, and it's definitely not something meant to be easily burned through in the matter of minutes. The early parts of "Emerald" require and reward careful observation, critical and deductive thinking, and a bit of common sense and a leap of faith. What I mean by this is, there is sometimes no surefire way to confirm if you're on the right track with 100% certainty, though common sense tends to lead me to the correct answer anyway. Once fully warmed up to this unfamiliar approach, I find myself enjoying the game more and more.
Luckily for me, as the story progresses into Parts 2 and 3, puzzle styles start to vary, and difficulty relents. It departs from an over-reliance on logic games, and more escape-room-like challenges start to pop up. Entering a comfortable territory, I've blazed through the final portions like the titular flame with confidence and finished strong.
Undeniably worth mentioning is that each individual chapter features a sort of "boss level", if you will, an extra hands-on, extra challenging, multi-layered activity of a puzzle in each chapter's final moments. These puzzles always involve usage of special tools, cool gadgets, and very out-of-the-box thinking. I've consistently fallen defeat to these expert-level brain workouts, and if it wasn't for the neatly crafted hint page, I don't think I would've completed Koschei's assignment!
If you want a real crucible for your puzzle-cracking capability, this absolutely delivers.
Perhaps the one single most intricately designed puzzle product I've encountered to date, "The Emerald Flame" defies every preconception I've had about independently produced at-home entertainment. This is so much more than your typical tabletop board games--rarely would you find something this unique off a retailer shelf.
And even though I was initially unconvinced of its brilliance, my own exploration and gradual evolution as a relative newcomer in the puzzle games community have helped me realize and appreciate that "Emerald" is a creation targeted at a more seasoned demographics. By no means is this an entry-level gateway toy for the mainstream public, and that's a good thing. This is a piece of art, fit for even the most jaded puzzle pro.
Having finally experienced the PostCurious hype, I can now step back and declare with clarity: I may not be intelligent enough to solve all of the puzzles fully on my own, and for that, there are sobbing and regrets; nevertheless, even with a slightly bruised ego, I can fully embrace and endorse a designer who strives her absolute best to build a unique experience like no other, and congratulations to her--and to us puzzle lovers--"The Emerald Flame" achieves exactly that.
★ Something's hidden in plain sight on the packaging box art... maybe a secret puzzle and/or message?! Just maybe.
⤻ Full disclosure: Complimentary prototype access was provided for review purposes.
⤻ All media credited to and provided by contents owners. No copyright infringement intended.
⤻ Speed code for on-site search: PCEmerald