Review: Son of Doctor Esker’s Notebook


Earlier this year I reviewed Doctor Esker’s Notebook, a puzzle game similar to an escape room but without the overarching narrative. Doctor Esker’s Notebook was a bit of a surprise to me–I thought the puzzles were compelling (if a little hard to enter into at times), the solution system was clever, and I loved the portability. Son of Doctor Esker’s Notebook, the sequel, builds on this solid foundation and manages to achieve what few sequels do: it is even better than the first.

Most of what I wrote in my earlier review of Doctor Esker’s Notebook stands for Son of Doctor Esker’s Notebook: it’s an independently produced puzzle game in a portable size containing puzzles of various levels of complexity. However, some of the negatives I included in my first review–some puzzles not working very well due to production issues and puzzles requiring outside information–are less pronounced this time around. I was able to accomplish all of the spatial tasks with ease (the card art bleed wasn’t a problem), and while some of the public-domain artwork was a little blurry, this didn’t hamper the puzzles this time around. (I didn’t need the picture to be crisp to know what was being depicted for the purposes of the puzzle.)

The back of the box.

In the first outing, I thought some of the puzzles were obtuse and included more logical leaps than my mind was willing to make. This time around, I’m not sure if I’m more experienced or designer Dave Dobson is, but it was much easier for me to determine the scope of the puzzles without many hints.

The puzzles here are drawn from a wide range of possibilities, including logic, spatial, word, math, and music puzzles. There are certain puzzles that much more easily agree with my brain, so I enjoyed these more (and used fewer hints), but I like the breadth of options presented here. It feels like there’s truly something here for puzzle lovers of all stripes.

Several instruction cards provide guidance for how the Doctor Esker system works.

I will admit, however, that as someone who has no background in music, I found one of the puzzles frustrating and was just going through the motions to complete it, using most of the hints. Obviously, this particular puzzle wasn’t much fun, but it’s also not much different from other puzzle or escape room games. Not all puzzles are equally fun, and I enjoyed the others so much that even this puzzle didn’t put much of a dent in my overall impression.

In both Doctor Esker’s Notebook and Son of Doctor Esker’s Notebook, the biggest highlight for me was the final puzzle, which in both cases felt like the finale in a fireworks presentation–what the rest of the event was building toward. In each case, solving it took me a while, but the work and solution were satisfying, and in both cases, it was the kind of logic puzzle that I love.

Solution cards look like a bit of a jumble, but if you get the right cards in the right order, a hidden message is revealed that leads you to the next puzzle. I love how inventive this is. It’s such a clever use of cards.

Son of Doctor Esker’s Notebook retains the innovative solution system, which I still think is one of the coolest things I’ve seen in a puzzle game like this. Each puzzle has a numeric solution, and when you position the right cards in order and turn them over, if the solution is correct, you see what you’re supposed to do next. Looking at any solution card on its own looks like just a jumble of random components, so even if you see, say, the number 7 card in one solution, you’re not likely to know where it goes in another solution later in the game. I find this an ingenious way to keep the small form factor of the game without requiring the use of an app.

And truly, while I like the puzzles of the Doctor Esker series, I think the thing that most recommends these games is how portable they are. The game is included in a small tuckbox and can easily fit in a backpack, purse, or pocket. They don’t require much space to transport, but they also don’t require a lot of space when set up. I played this game solitaire on my desk at work and sitting up in my bed, and in both cases I had enough space to do this. It might not fit on an airplane tray table, but most surfaces should be able to handle it. You’ll probably want to have access to the internet to benefit from the hints on the Doctor Esker website if you get stuck, but again, with a smartphone or tablet, this isn’t difficult in most situations.

The game comes with ten different puzzles of various difficulties and number of cards. It’s easy to sort which cards go with which puzzles, and the linear nature of the game means you won’t mix information up.

Beyond the portability of the game, Son of Doctor Esker’s Notebook is easy to do in snatches of time. The box says the game provides 1-3 hours of gameplay, and this is accurate. For me, I played around 2 hours (possibly a little longer), and I did this over two sessions. But I easily could have broken this into even more, shorter sessions because each puzzle is discrete. It’s easy to find where you were when you left off. Again, this serves the portability of the game.

I don’t really have much negative to say about Son of Doctor Esker’s Notebook. Again, this is for pure puzzle lovers. There’s no story to speak of here, so it’s less like an escape room and more like pen-and-paper puzzles. Also, some of the puzzles involve a good deal of specialized thinking (in math, logic, or words), which may turn off some players. This is an independently produced product, so keep your expectations in check. (No lavish artwork, as in the Unlock series, here.) The price point is reasonable for what you get, especially when you consider that no components are destroyed, and even though the build quality isn’t great, the production doesn’t hamper gameplay, so this didn’t bother me.

All the cards of a puzzle share the same back. This is handy.

All told, I think Son of Doctor Esker’s Notebook will satisfy puzzle fans who enjoy a challenge and who want to take that challenge on the go. It does involve more lateral thinking than a typical escape room, mostly because there are fewer cues to set the scope for each puzzle, but the graduated hint system should keep players from becoming overly frustrated. I think Son of Doctor Esker’s Notebook is better than the first game in the series, and I’m looking forward to further entries in the enigmatic doctor’s notebook.

iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Plankton Games for providing us with a copy of Son of Doctor Esker’s Notebook for review.

  • Rating: 7.5
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Satisfying puzzles that require lots of different kinds of thinking
Portable and easy to break out and put away--this can be played just about anywhere
Graduated hint system helps to overcome some of the scope issues with the game without giving too much away


There aren't many cues to set the scope of the puzzle the way there are in typical escape room games
The production is okay but not stellar
The thinking or outside knowledge required by some puzzles may frustrate some players

7.5 Satisfying puzzles

I'll try anything once, but my favorite games are generally middleweight Euros.

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