Twisty Little Passages Game Review (prepublished version)

Please Take Note: This is a review of the final game, but it might change slightly based on the success of the Kickstarter campaign. The game is being reviewed on the components and the rules provided with the understanding that “what you see is not what you might get” when the game is published. If you like what you read and want to learn more, we encourage you to visit the game’s website or Kickstarter campaign. Now that we have all that disclaimer junk out of the way, on with the review.


The Basics:

  • For ages 10 and up (younger if someone else does the reading and math)
  • For 1 player (or more if you want to team up)
  • Variable game play length (you can stop when you want to)

Geek Skills:

  • Counting & Math
  • Logical & Critical Decision Making
  • Reading & Writing
  • Strategy & Tactics
  • Visuospatial Skills
  • Hand/Resource Management

Learning Curve:

  • Child – Easy
  • Adult – Easy

Theme & Narrative:

  • To save the realm, you must solve the puzzles

Endorsements:

  • Gamer Geek mixed!
  • Parent Geek approved!
  • Child Geek approved!

Overview

Hungarian inventor, architect, professor of architecture, and the creator of the Rubik’s Cube, Erno Rubik, said “When you are studying from a book, lots of people go straight to the end to look for the answers. But that’s not my style. For me, the most enjoyable part is the puzzle, the process of solving, not the solution itself.” Suggesting that the path to the puzzle’s solution is the adventure. In this book of puzzles, you take on the role of a spy who must risk it all to save the kingdom from a powerful evil. Each step is a puzzle to solve and a danger to encounter!

Twisty Little Passages, designed and written by Mike Rimer and to be published by Caravel Games, will reportedly be comprised of one puzzle book. The puzzle book is laminated, allowing the user to write directly to its pages using the dry erase marker. The pages themselves are thick and very durable as a result. The layout of the book covers the rules of the game (explained in this review) and includes a level of each dungeon, with the continued story, monster stats and other pertinent information on the left page and a dungeon map on the right. Artwork is excellent, with just enough detail to give the reader a visual representation of what they are dealing with without cluttering the page. Overall, an excellent mix of information and eye-candy to keep you engaged and on track. The only items not included are a dry erase marker and a piece of cloth to clean the pages after they have been written on.

Entering the Dungeons

To set up the game, you only need to have a solid surface to write on and a dry erase marker. The player should start on the first puzzle and continue to the next once they solve it. However, there is nothing stopping a player from jumping to any of the puzzles if they so like.

Boom! Done! Time for an adventure!

Twists, Turns, and Puzzling Passages

Twisty Little Passages is as much a game as it’s a puzzle. Each page is a continuation of a story with interconnecting thematic and narrative elements. Each page is then best thought of as a chapter or two in the story of the hero. It’s up to the player to help solve the puzzle of each dungeon and continue the journey. The level of difficulty escalates the further into the story the player goes. This means the first puzzles are easy, more or less there to help the player learn how things work. As the story progresses, each page presents a new puzzle that builds onto the last and introduces additional problems to tackle.

How is this done? Great question!

On the left-side of each puzzle is the story, description of the enemies, and traps, as well as any equipment the player has available to them or can find. The right-side of each puzzle is the map itself. It displays the layout of the rooms, key locations, icons for specific elements, and a place to document starting inventory and character stats. It’s important to note that only what is needed is displayed. There is no surplus inventory to manage from one puzzle to the next.

Solving each puzzle is as simple as finding the starting position and – well – that’s where simplicity ends. The connected rooms through passages and halls is then “navigated” by the player in the order in which the player likes. Much of the maze to be explored is blocked, requiring the player to backtrack at times and use scarce resources to continue their journey. Anytime a player picks up an item in a room, they circle it, indicating it’s now part of their inventory. Any changes to the character stats are applied immediately.

A few examples of items you can pick up…

  • Elixirs and other potions restore health. Use of the item changes the character Life Point stat.
  • Keys that can only be used once to unlock doors and other portals. A mark is indicated on the character inventory when the Key is collected.
  • Portals and doors that are considered “locked” until a player spends a Key. When the Key is used, it’s removed from the inventory and the Lock icon on the map is marked to indicate it’s now open.
  • Various equipment can also be picked up such as weapons and armor. Weapons improve the character’s Attack stat and armor improves the character’s Defense stat. When collected, the item icons are circled on the dungeon map and any stat value changes are indicated, as well.

Enemies in rooms must be encountered and defeated if the player wants to move through them. A damage table is provided that shows the stats of the Enemy. Combat is quick and its outcome is determined by matching the character Attack stat and subtracting the Enemy Defense stat. This will determine the amount of damage the character suffers, but the overall damage is reduced if the character is wearing armor. Each round of combat is calculated using this simple method until the Enemy Life Points or the character Life Points drop to zero or less.

For example, the first dungeon (which is a prison) is guarded by a single Enemy. This Enemy (a mechanical golem) is blocking the exit (the goal of the puzzle). To reach the end, the player must find some means to attack it and survive. Luckily, there is a single weapon to be found that will do the job. However, take a look at the damage the character suffers and it will take at least two rounds of combat to take the Enemy down (Enemy has a Life Point value of two). This means the player will also have to find some means to heal their character by searching for other items in the dungeon maze.

Some enemies also apply effects during combat which are noted in the Enemy description.

Solutions and Beat-Downs

As the player works through the puzzle, their character’s Life Points will be raised and lowered. If the character’s Life Points ever drop to zero or less, the character is considered defeated and the player has failed to solve the puzzle. No worries, just remove the marks on the pages and start over. If the player reaches the Goal position, they have successfully navigated the dungeon and solved the puzzle. Onward!

If the player solves the puzzle on the page, they continue to the next and so on until they have the final confrontation with the Boss Enemy at the very end. At which point, the player will or will not defeat the final encounter and win or lose the game as a whole. If the player during the puzzle solving gets stumped, there are some helpful hints found at the very back of the book. These are written backwards, requiring the player to use a mirror to read. The hints will give the player suggestions, but they do not specifically tell the player “hey, do this in this order”. As such, the player is given tips, but not solutions. If the player is still stumped or they want to review their solution to the puzzle to the “real solution”, the last pages of the book provides a picture of each dungeon floor and the order in which each room should be visited.

To learn more about Twisty Little Passages, visit the game’s website or Kickstarter campaign.

Final Word

The Child Geeks liked this a lot. They would sit down by themselves or grab a friend and discuss how to go about moving through the dungeon. Several times we had to remind the Child Geeks that they were note following the rules exactly right. For example, they would sometimes ignore the fact that a room was blocked by a locked door for which they had no key. The inventory spot on the each page does a great job of helping the player keep this straight. As far as visiting rooms the right way, that is nothing more than tracing the passages with your fingers. The Child Geeks got this pretty quickly and then followed the simple rules without issue. According to one Child Geek, “I really like this. It’s a puzzle with a story and also an adventure.” Another Child Geek said, “The first puzzles was easy, but I needed a friend to help with the next one.” While Twisty Little Passages is meant to be a solitaire experience, there is nothing stopping two or more players from tackling the puzzles together. When all the votes were in, the Child Geeks agreed to fully approve the game.

The Parent Geeks were also impressed. According to one Parent Geek, “I’ve seen puzzles like this in the past and thought they were pretty interesting. This book does a great job of bringing puzzles and story together. Great stuff that allowed me to play from the start – or if I wanted to – jump to a particularly difficult puzzle towards the end.” The Parent Geeks were even more pleased when they saw that they could engage the puzzles with their kids. As one Parent Geek put it, “Where this game really got interesting was when I was at the kitchen table with my eight-year-old and she and I were solving the puzzles together. Talking through our decisions, reasoning out the order in which to encounter each room. So much fun for both her and me!” When the last monsters were defeated and goals reached, the Parent Geeks all decided that Twisty Little Passages got their highest marks.

The Gamer Geeks liked how the book was written and thought the layout and puzzles were interesting, as well as engaging. The issue they had was that the puzzles, once solved, reduced the value of the game overall. As one Gamer Geek put it, “Like most puzzles, it is a one-and-done kind of experience. Once you solve it, you know how to do it again, but faster. This reduces the game’s overall fun for me, because I won’t be able to play it again until I forgot how I solved it. Which will mean years or sooner if I suffer some sort of head trauma.” Yikes! Don’t want that! Another Gamer Geek said, “I liked it, would recommend it, and then after I played it, would Goodwill it. Once solved, a puzzle no longer remains interesting.” When the Gamer Geeks voted they gave it a mixed endorsement. They highly approved of the game itself, but without any real motivation to play it ever again, it lost a lot of value.

When I was a kid, I enjoyed spending time with pick-a-path books (in fact, I wrote a review on my favorite series if you are interested). The puzzles they provided kept me coming back until I was satisfied with the solution I found. Like the books, once you solve the puzzles in Twisty Little Passages, you don’t need to visit it again. Unlike the books, each puzzle is up front about its difficulty and leaves the rest for the player to figure out. This makes for a much faster and engaging experience. Yes, you lose some of the theme and narrative of the adventure, but that never subtracted from the enjoyment of solving the puzzle.

And speaking of puzzles – yikes- some of these are downright difficult. The first puzzle does an outstanding job of teaching the player to consider their path carefully, not to spend collected items too hastily, and always be aware that there is a final enemy to defeat with no initial means to do so. As the puzzle is solved, so too are the rules of the game explained and reinforced. When the player goes to the next puzzle, the proverbial training wheels are off. More rooms means more difficulty. More locked doors means more inventory management. Each enemy is a hurdle to jump, but without the right equipment, the player will never get high enough to proceed. Simply excellent.

I am most pleased with Twisty Little Passages. I agree with the Gamer Geeks that the puzzles, once solved, don’t have much value. However, the experience of solving each puzzle and the order of difficulty that steadily increases, kept my family and me engaged and excited. Frustrated, sure, as there were a few puzzles that I had a really difficult time finding a solution to, but finding a successful out always felt like I ran a race and won. Wonderful use of logical and critical thinking throughout. Do try this puzzle book when time permits!

This is a paid for review of the game’s final prototype. Although our time and focus was financially compensated, our words are our own. We’d need at least 10 million dollars before we started saying what other people wanted. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek which cannot be bought except by those who own their own private islands and small countries.

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About Cyrus

Editor in Chief, Owner/Operator, Board Game Fanatic, Father of Three, and Nice Guy, Cyrus has always enjoyed board, card, miniature, role playing, and video games, but didn't get back into the hobby seriously until early 2000. Once he did, however, he was hooked. He now plays board games with anyone and everyone he can, but enjoys playing with his children the most. Video games continue to be of real interest, but not as much as dice and little miniatures. As he carefully navigates the ins and outs of parenting, he does his very best to bestow what wisdom he has and help nurture his children's young minds. It is his hope and ambition to raise three strong, honorable men who will one day go on to do great things and buy their Mom and Dad a lobster dinner. Cyrus goes by the handle fathergeek on Board Game Geek. You can also check him out on CyrusKirby.com. Yes, he has a URL that is his name. His ego knows no bounds, apparently....

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