“Something odd was delivered to your mailbox. The items in an envelope seem to be from different times…and worlds! Slowly you realize that a mysterious secret society is watching you as you try to pass this unusual test. Will you accept this challenge”
I think it was inevitable that I was going to subscribe to Scarlet Envelope at some point, there was just too much good buzz and intrigue about it for me not to give into temptation sooner or later. For me that moment came in early March after listening to a review of the game on the Puzzling Company podcast. Their review of the game was positive, of course, but it was the interview with the game’s creators that finally pushed me into subscribing. Scarlet Envelope is the brainchild of Lisa Levina and Anna Lysova and their brilliance and passion for crafting narrative and puzzles was on full display in the interview—I subscribed before I even finished listening to the interview! Then I began the long wait for international mail to arrive.
Flash-forward to this morning, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that my wait was over and there was a Scarlet Envelope in my mailbox! Morning coffee still in hand, it went straight to my table where I promptly sat down and began solving it.
The subscription offers you two levels of play: Beginner and Experienced, I went with experienced, and it definitely lived up to that title; the game gives you its pieces and tosses you right into the deep-end leaving it up to you to figure out what to do. I’m not sure how much extra signposting the beginner levels offers, but I appreciated the difficulty level of the game; just hard enough to make me feel clever.
As the name of this chapter implies, this was an introduction to the a selection of the various mysteries the Scarlet Envelope universe has to offer. I say “universe” very intentionally here, as the envelope was packed with bits and bobs from a number of intriguing different realities and storylines, including a fantasy world with dragons, a far future with spaceships, a serial killer, a murder mystery, and more. It was a bold and confident declaration of intent and was immediately intriguing!
The only real knock I had on this game, was that I wanted more of it! I was able to get through this chapter in 40 minutes, leaving me immediately wanting more. I’ve read that the shorter runtime is due to the introductory nature of this chapter and that future chapters will be longer. Overall though, I really enjoyed this intro and am impatiently waiting for another red envelope to makes its way to mailbox.
As an introductory chapter, this envelope focused more on developing intrigue for future stories than on telling a story of its own. It was quite successful at that, leaving me excited for the future storylines and to learn more about the aims and mission of this mysterious organization that has recruited me to solve the multitude of mysteries in the multiverse.
As mentioned, the game offers a preview of future stories which span a truly diverse variety of genres. In a nice, immersive touch, the game components for each genre are tailored to that particular genre. For example, the pieces representing the fantasy genre was stylized like a hand-written note on torn parchment, whereas the sci-fi mystery integrated QR codes and websites. This seems to promise a diverse array of experiences in the months ahead!
The puzzle play for this experience was pretty neat, featuring a central meta-puzzle that required you to solve a handful of mini-puzzles in order to derive the solution. The mini-puzzles each tied to a different one of the future game previews and, I imagine, were designed to give you an idea of what to expect from each of those experiences. Each puzzle featured a different type of puzzle, which lead to a fun and diverse solving experience.
The puzzles were cleverly constructed and varied in difficulty. I found the difficulty to be right in the sweet spot for me, but your mileage may vary, depending on your puzzle-solving expertise. I was able to make it through without any hints, but there is a nice hint-system in place if you need it. In a fun twist, you had to solve a (fairly easy) puzzle to access the hint system at all!
Starter or Experienced?
(This section was added on June 22nd, 2023)
Scarlet Envelope is somewhat unique in that they offer two levels of difficulty for their experiences: Starter and Experienced.
After playing Chapter V, I was curious what the differences were between the Experienced and Starter difficulty levels. I reached out to Scarlet Envelope to see if they would give me some examples, and they were happy to do so. First, their official answer about difficult levels:
“Choose Experienced if you’ve played escape room games in boxes, puzzle books, and many escape rooms before. Note that Experienced games have an extra puzzle to solve to unlock HINTS. (Hints are immediately available for Regular.) Choose the Starter level if you don’t have much experience with puzzle games and escape rooms, and you will enjoy a little guidance + less hardcore versions of complicated puzzles.”
They mentioned that they are going to be updating the name of the Starter level to “Regular” as even the easier versions of the game are still a challenge. Also, the two difficult tracks will start to dovetail as the series moves on, as everyone who plays will be gaining experience and familiarity as they make their way through the thirteen eventual chapters.
They also detailed some of the specific differences in the game itself. I won’t spoil them here, but it basically boiled down to more obvious sign-posting for the puzzles, clues that were a little more straightforward, and a step or two removed in the process to reach a puzzle’s solution.
Overall, the Starter difficulty isn’t quite as easy as I assumed it would be when I selected my difficulty level for my subscription. I enjoy the extra challenge of the Experienced level, but the Starter/Regular level is likely an ideal Goldilocks difficulty for people that are looking for a good challenge, but are playing by themselves or would like a little more guidance on what they’re supposed to be doing and when.
This first chapter was a lot of fun and I’m excited to learn more. If you’re looking for a fun and intriguing new monthly adventure, I strongly recommend this game!