Son of Doctor Esker’s Notebook Review

When I finally finished the sequel to my 9th favorite game of 2018 I had four entire pages of notes sprawled across the table, full of random words, numbers, equations, and musical notations. Looking back through what would be complete nonsense to anyone else, I could chart my progression through the 10 fantastic puzzles in Son of Dr. Esker’s Notebook like a journey to the past. Coincidentally, I had created my own madman’s notebook.

If you like puzzle games along the lines of the popular Exit and Unlock series, you owe it to yourself to order a copy of Son of Dr. Esker’s Notebook. Get the first one while you’re at it, as it’s nearly as good. But Dave Dobson has really hit it out of the park with this second go. It is undoubtedly the best puzzle/escape room game I’ve played.

The basic premise is the same as in the original: you’ve found a notebook with a series of 10 puzzles, each one giving you a 2-4 digit number that when plugged into the number cards indicate which puzzle is next. By themselves these cards are nonsense, but when put in the correct order a pattern emerges. It’s succinct and lovely.

See? Nonsense

But the meat of this puzzle feast are the puzzles themselves, and there’s not a dud among them. The first iteration was excellent but a bit more uneven. Here, every time I flipped over a new set of cards I could feel the anticipation of a new challenge rising in me. There’s even a single-card puzzle and I must confess it stumped me. I slept on that stupid puzzle only to return to it the next evening where Amber heard my pained moaning, walked on by, and figured it out in twenty seconds.

I am bad at puzzles. But the trick to making a good puzzle is to ensure that a bitter, impatient critic like me can’t accuse you of cheating. I can’t find a blemish, but be sure to keep an internet-connected device handy (juuuust in case) and plenty of paper to scribble on. I journeyed through the puzzles over the course of three evenings, mostly by myself, and every time I abandoned them at the point of frustration only to wake up the next morning with a thought of, “what if I tried that?

The challenge of a good puzzle is largely one of endurance, and not the kind of gradual physical endurance that wears you down to the point where the body simply stops functioning according to your desires. A puzzle will completely brick wall a line of thought and it’s up to you to push past that thinking and open your mind to genuinely new ideas. I have to physically step away from it for a while to keep my mind from returning to incorrect patterns. Others, I presume, are better at segmenting them away. The endurance required by puzzle solving is the ability to confront an intellectual “NO” over and over and not let it bother you. It’s a peculiar kind of masochism.

As I mentioned in the last review, Dobson works with the english language in very clever ways, but “Son” has more of what I would call “strict logic” puzzles–particularly the finale–which I am particularly fond of. I fondly recall Dr. Trammell’s brutally difficult logic tests in college. It was his favorite course to teach, according to the syllabus, because “it is here that the suffering of my students is most directly observed”. I left those tests with the most glorious, wonderful headaches. Son of Dr. Esker’s Notebook gave me a brief moment of nostalgia for those delightful pains.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Score: 8/10

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