Every once in a while, I try to design a board game. The first was a circular game where the whole idea was to land on spots to collect cards of a desired collection. Navigation around the board was tricky due to side trips not being well thought out. But it looked very cool! The next was the assassin game where players moved around a map trying to buy arms to then use to kill a moving target before it leaves the board. Great idea but it was a drag to play. The recent desert settlement game was a hex-grid game of farm and mine building that would play a bit like Terraforming Mars and a lot of something new with trade, factories, and some other cool features (road building).

The new game idea is to have a game work like some typical detective games (Detective, Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective) but with less deduction. This game would be a lot like The Da Vinci Code where players move from place to place on a map solving puzzles. Players will not need to notice things like a newspaper article that shows that girl A had an affair with boy B and therefore C killed D to steal the diamonds mentioned in the newspaper article on page 10 where the circus is shown to be in town. Instead, players will need to figure out that the stripes and spots of the animals in a list represent dashes and dots of a Morse Code message. The message will direct them to the next puzzle.

I designed a few real-world puzzle hunt events (that were never held) and the puzzles are not that hard to design. The board game would just need to provide all of the necessary information for the puzzle instead of using things in the real world like plaques on a statue or patterns of bricks in a wall.

The flow of the game would be something like this, after setup:

  • Follow instructions to the first puzzle location using the address book. this means finding a card in a deck that contains the address of the location.
  • Follow the card instructions to open and solve a puzzle.
  • Follow the puzzle answer to a new address.
  • Go back to the step where the address leads to a card and the card leads to a puzzle.

Of course, there will be some small and some big deviations from this flow. A simple difference might be to have a puzzle result in a phone number and that phone number is used lust like an address card but to get a phone message (written down) instead of a new address or puzzle number.

One of the interesting tricks used in puzzle hunt events is to make the instructions for a puzzle part of the puzzle. The Morse Code puzzle mentioned earlier might ask “Here are the animals in our animal parade. In what country is my zoo?” and figuring out there is a code and what code it might be, is the hardest part of the puzzle. decoding the Morse Code is easy. Another puzzle might just have a an address and state: “What’s my address?” and the players need to discover that the known address leads them to a business on the map that somehow has a different address in the phone book. They need to simply examine the information given and all of the things associated with it to figure out the puzzle. it could have been a matter of converting the address to the correct one after correcting a spelling error, decoding a semaphore signal, or any number of things that are not obvious. The point is that the nature of the puzzle is something to solve as part of the puzzle.

I plan on starting the game “in” a cemetery which should make it easy to retrofit a theme and story into the game later. For now, the plan is to make at least three or four puzzles that work with a map, an address book, and a few other bits of information contained in the game box.