The Story: “A top secret excavation did not bring any result for 28 weeks. It was on the 29th week at something unexpected happened. The team disappeared and the only thing that was left behind was this journal”.
Journal 29 is a game in book form, full of riddles and puzzles. It specifically asks you to have a writing utensil and internet-connected device before you start. You’ll solve the riddle on a page, visit a URL to submit the answer, write down the key and continue. There are 63 puzzles to solve and no time limit or rating scale.
Demo Riddle (+5)
Since this is a new take on a puzzle book, it’s helpful to ensure that the player can understand how to review the puzzle and how to submit a solution. While most games of this nature have a tutorial, there wasn’t anything very unique to a puzzle book — but they went out of their way to do this anyway.
Abstract Approaches (+4)
My pattern recognition for puzzles is intermediate, but I did encounter puzzles that required digging deeper into the hints. Luckily these hints are driven by the community, which is cognizant of subtlety rather than solutions…
Vague Hints available online (+5)
…Which gets me to hints themselves. I’ll need to double check whether submitting clues has specific criteria or rules to follow, but what I can confirm is that the community provides clues only in response to questions. The publisher also notes to hide spoiler text on the forums so I don’t believe that you ever stumble accidentally on actual solutions. Better yet, they may not even be provided.
Not Much to Work With (+4)
You’ll look at the page and wonder, “Where is the puzzle in this again?” For the most part, the puzzle will be on one page and the title page on the other. It’s a puzzle within a puzzle! How can you solve the puzzle if you don’t know what the puzzle is? It’s absolutely thrilling. This is especially true if you’re going through the journal with other people. The conversation of “How did you figure that out?” always leads to major ego boosts.
Satisfying Tactile Experience (+1)
The component — yes, book — quality feels nice to hold in your hand. The cover is smooth and the pages feel like rough, used paper. The concept is that you’re going through these old journal pages so the material is fitting. If you’re spinning the book around, holding it up, doing other weird things you think are solutions — but probably aren’t — it will retain its structure.
Hard to Distinguish Riddle vs Flavor (-3)
Some doodles and fun flavor art look like actual riddles and vice versa. I’ve spent some time in pain trying to review what possibilities there are when all I’ve done is just given myself more to work with, slowing myself down.
Some Puzzle Designs should not be in a book (-1)
Certain things that it asks you to do to the pages are technically doable but not comfortably doable considering they are bound to the book. If you’re like me, you fear ripping anything out of something that is clearly bound to other things. So while you could rip that sucker out, it’ll become a Trapper Keeper instead of a journal over time.
Boring Constructs (-0.50)
Along the lines of very difficult puzzles, sometimes it feels as though the journal gets lazy and sticks some very obvious puzzles in here. I would normally be okay with this but because the way you solve this is in numerical order, it doesn’t seem to indicate that you’re going from easier to harder. It’s all over the place, so when you just left the big ocean and are dunked back in the kiddie pool it’s a little jarring.
Distracting Repeat Graphics (-1)
As if it wasn’t enough that you can’t tell riddle from flavor, they often reuse similar but slightly different graphics across the puzzles in this book. When finally solving the puzzle, whether out of your own cleverness or from long threads of hints online, some of these were just red herrings and wasted time. In fact, there are some where it doesn’t even matter that it could be tied back to another puzzle!
Perspective Puzzles (-0.50)
How many times do I need to say this about every puzzle game before it’s not a thing anymore? Please, these puzzles are so tired, boring, and not even interesting. I would much rather have a brute force surprise guess than “Oh I tilted it right somehow?” ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Annoying Font you can barely read (-1)
Yes, I understand this is a journal. But if you’re trying to create a puzzle book, don’t include another perspective puzzle called How To Read Handwriting Like a Grade-School Teacher.
While I enjoy carrying over information across puzzles, this can be a red herring or it could be the right path. You are never sure whether it is intentional or not because the art is so similar across the puzzles. But you do need to spend the time trying it out, especially if you’re like me and you hate taking hints.
Lies, LIES on including all materials (-0.50)
You need highlighters, possibly skills and/or tools for tracing and cutting in this game. Without spoiling much more than that, I’m disappointed in the publisher for not considering this as pertinent to a heads up.
Not-to-thematic Solutions (-1)
Excavations imply old. There are solutions here that refer to words or concepts that are not old whatsoever. The game bothered to make the art look weathered or mysterious and then stuck in modern constructs. Why?!