I don’t have anything deep to say about The Case of the Golden Idol, but it’s a very good game. It’s a puzzle game where each puzzle involves figuring out a murder, both who did it and the context behind the murder; each murder has you presented with some scenes that you can navigate through (typically representing different rooms in a house), with objects and people that you can click on to figure out what they’re holding. You’re not represented by an avatar, you’re just an abstract observer trying to piece things together, so there’s no talking to suspects or anything like that; but many of the objects in the scene and in people’s possessions include written notes, giving you an idea for how these people ended up where they are.

That’s half of the UI; the other half is the solution screen, which is presented as as some groups of fill-in-the-blank puzzles, using words that you’ve run across when poking around through the rooms. Part of the screen is, of course, the solution; that generally takes the form of a paragraph rather than just “X killed Y”, so you have to give some context and motivation. And another part of the screen is basic facts; the most common of those has you assigning names to the various people that you see in the scenes. Typically there are a couple of other panels as well, asking you to piece together some other intermediate deductions.


And it works really well! The solution screen does a good job of mirroring your thoughts as you navigate through the rooms. First, you’re just trying to get a sense of what’s going on: so you start encountering people, you read through a few documents, you get a sense for what the key concepts are in this murder. And that knowledge is reflected by more and more words becoming available for you to plug in on the solution screen. So, once you’ve clicked on everything, you’ve gotten all of the words, you probably know who most of the people are, and you have a sense of what to take a second look at to figure out who the remaining people are.

You enter the names you know and then figure out the last few; and the game tells you whether or not you’ve gotten all of the names correct. Then you move on to one of the other intermediate puzzles, and work on it. And by the time you’ve done all of those, you’ve looked at all the bits of writing and evidence enough times that you probably have a pretty good idea how the murder itself went down. You enter that, the game validates that (or tells you you’re wrong; and, if you’re wrong, if you were close or not close), and you feel happy.

This all adds up to a very nice bit of scaffolding for your thinking progress. And for discussion: Liesl and I ended up playing it together, so we’d talk about what we understood, what we didn’t understand, what our theories were, all in the context of that solution screen. Once we got past the first two or three puzzles, there was enough to think about that having each other there to bounce ideas off of each other was pleasant and (especially in the later puzzles) useful.


The puzzles are connected, with each one taking place a few days (or, eventually, years) after the previous one, with significant overlap in their casts of characters and motivations. So, as you go through the puzzles, you’re piecing together a larger picture of what’s going on. That might help you solve the individual puzzles, but each one does actually stand alone as a puzzle, until you get to the last one; that one ties together strands from its predecessors, so you end up jumping back to the earlier scenes to remind yourself of some bit of information or other.

And it’s a pretty neat story, and one that works well as a puzzle game; the twists and turns kept on pleasantly surprising me, even through to the solution of the final puzzle.


So, yay. Good puzzles, in a format that is new and that works well. Pleasant plot. And even though it’s a solo game by format, it works well to talk about and solve with somebody else.

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