A gorgeous game that plays like a lump of coal
A Christmas-themed puzzle game in May? Why the hell not!
So I’m a smidge late to the party on this one. I thought I’d exhausted my festive frolics in my Christmas round-up, but there’s always one who sneaks past.
My experience with The Escapement’s at-home puzzle games so far has been so-so. Their first game – The Network – looked and sounded good on paper but ultimately fell flat for me.
But I realise I’m in the minority with that opinion. So, when my puzzle comrades over at Review the Room offered to loan me their copy of Charm of Christmas Past, I felt it was worth giving it a go.
Was there enough Christmas charm to turn me around?
Herbert & Whites solicitors have contacted you regarding the estate of a one Winifred Maud Brisley. Who, upon the 100th anniversary of her passing, instructed that one thousand households across the globe receive a bequest from her estate.
You have been identified as one of the benefactors and as such, you are invited to collect your mysterious inheritance.
Great quality materials filled with charm
Charm is certainly something that this game has in spades. The components are sturdy and have a definite sense of whimsy about them. As well as a good number of thick card sheets for the puzzles, there are quite a few trinkets to handle.
It’s the kind of twee nostalgia you expect to see in traditional Christmas cards – the game’s aesthetic plays well to that image of a perfect family Christmas.
The presentation of Charm of Christmas Past is superb – everything about it is filled with rustic charm.
Each part of the game comes with online narration to guide you through the story. The feel-good Christmas vibes are definitely in play as Winnie recounts the Christmases of her youth. There’s a heavy, misty-eyed view of days gone by that most can connect with, and handling objects from her past adds to the realism in that.
The setup as to why you’ve got the Christmas trinkets and recordings of 100 years ago is done well, allowing for only a small suspension of disbelief rather than going full A Christmas Carol on you.
Heavy process puzzles and lack of direction make for a frustrating game
What Charm of Christmas Past had going for it in its looks, it was definitely lacking in the puzzle department. I often use the phrase ‘all fur coat and no trousers’ for these kinds of games, and the description fits the bill here.
It’s a rare occasion that we don’t want to finish a game, but by the end of Charm we were kind of glad it was over.
The puzzles are certainly clever in places, though this cleverness is what leads to frustration. The novelty of these puzzles is overshadowed by needing to use trial and error in a number of places in order to solve them.
In fact, the puzzles I enjoyed most were re-skinned versions of puzzle types I’d seen before – classic deduction, path finding and maths. These puzzles had solid signposting, good answer confirmation and had the right level of challenge to them.
The game is divided into chapters, each in sealed envelopes. The first half of the game is enjoyable enough, though the very first puzzle can be a bit hit and miss.
As we got to the third chapter, things took a turn. There wasn’t much in the way of signposting, and trial and error seemed to be the name of the game for the most part. One puzzle in particular seemed like it would be nearly impossible without having some familiarity with the subject matter.
By the time we got the final puzzle we didn’t want to invest as much time into solving it as we thought it was asking of us. So, after slogging through maybe half of it we just got the answer to finish the game.
We knew what we needed to do but the process of getting there was too arduous to risk getting it wrong and having to do it all again.
Not very helpful hint system with some hiccups in answer input
The game gives you a ‘two clues and a solution’ format for hints. The clues themselves are baked into the game in the form of Winnie’s recordings, which was a nice touch.
However, all the hints did was allow you to understand what you were looking at, rather than helping you find the right way to solve the puzzle.
Also, we spent way longer than we should on the very first puzzle due to a cookie popup error, which wouldn’t accept the right answer after many attempts.
More like a lump of coal than a present
If the presentation of Charm of Christmas Past is a gift under the tree, the puzzles are the coal in your stocking.
It looks absolutely lovely. But at nearly £50 a pop, you can certainly get a less frustrating puzzle experience elsewhere.
After being unimpressed with The Network, I hoped something with less of a detective focus would be the saving grace for The Escapement’s games. But after slogging through Charm of Christmas Past, I think it’s safe to say their games aren’t for me.
If you enjoyed The Network, then maybe give this a go. Otherwise, I wouldn’t recommend it – it promises a festive feast, but we finished with a sour taste in our mouths.
Charm of Christmas Past
Designed by The Escapement
Requirements: Pen and paper for note taking, computer or tablet with internet and audio access.
Date played: 4 May 2021
Team: Jamie & Mim
Time to finish: 2 hrs 23mins
Recommended playlist: Christmas in another room
Image courtesy of The Escapement