The Emerald Flame Review | The Emerald Flame is a narrative tabletop puzzle game told in three parts. Commissioned by an organization shrouded in mystery, players take the role of a historical expert embarking on a quest to piece together the recipe for a fabled elixir by investigating maps, drawings, alchemical diagrams, and mysterious artifacts. Combining history, hand-drawn illustration, vibrant characters, and original puzzles, The Emerald Flame will challenge and engage players of all experience levels and has been called “a captivating adventure from beginning to end.”
Number of Players: 2
Time Taken: 6 Hours
Date Played: June – September 2023
Wait, what? This game took you nearly four months to play? Yes… Yes it did haha. Between my co-writer Rebecca and I, we split it into three sessions. But you know what, from the first session until the very last, I thought about this game a lot. Like, all the damn time. If it weren’t for various life events (work trips and holiday trips), and the Edinburgh Fringe taking over our city for a month, we’d probably have binged this game in just the one setting. But like a really delicious three course meal, a game like this is best savoured. So I’m not even mad at myself that this took 1/3 of a year to play.
So what is The Emerald Flame? The Emerald Flame is one of the most popular Kickstarter games of all time. It’s a labour of love from PostCurious, who are best known for creating the Tale of Ord, among other award-winning and cult hit puzzle board games. It takes somewhere around 6 hours to solve – maybe a little more if you work solo – and the whole thing is just fantastic puzzle after fantastic puzzle, linked together with a compelling and detailed narrative.
I think it is probably the very best example of a tabletop puzzle experience in this entire genre. Yep, there, I said it. It’s creative and delightful, challenging but immensely rewarding. The materials are impressive and unmatched by any other company.
Introducing the Koschei Historical Society
PostCurious games, unlike a lot of other at-home experiences, pay particular attention to their worldbuilding and storytelling. The story of The Emerald Flame begins with the mysterious Koschei Historical Society and an ancient alchemical elixir. Told over three chapters, taking between 1 and 3 hours each, you the player go in search of that elixir and it’s magical properties. You’re guided through on your journey by a series of old papers and documents. Each document felt as realistic as the last – all aged and yellowing, with hand illustrated watercolours. In each chapter too, is a series of correspondences between Marketa and Hannah, our main characters, whose own lives are unfolding as that of your own adventure progresses.
There’s multiple layers of narrative, but never did the game feel too convoluted. Even after returning months later, we were able to pick up the threads of the story fairly easily. The micro, the macro, and our peculiar hunt through history on the trail of an elixir that may or may not even exist.
At the very end of the game, without wanting to spoil anything – the player gets to make a choice. In our playthrough, we didn’t realise it was a choice, and charged into it a little blindly. After reading out the ‘finale’, we realised that very choice was, how to say, quite important. But by then, our fates were sealed. So no spoilers, except to say – keep an eye out for that one.
The ‘Puzzle’ Part of Narrative Puzzle Adventure
In terms of puzzles, for me at least, this is where all PostCurious games really shine. There’s a real mix of delightfully unique and original puzzles in here that use their materials to the maximum. Most of the puzzles we encountered were multi-steps, and leaned heavily on logic (which is excellent for me, because I love logic puzzles), meaning that whilst each individual step may not have been too tricky, continuing the thread from start to finish within each one was.
To tackle this experience, Rebecca and I mostly divided and conquered. Meaning, after reading each chapter’s narrative introduction, we leafed through each puzzle trying to figure out where to get started. In most cases, the puzzles were non-linear meaning that they could be done in any order to get to the end of the chapter. On the one hand, most of the puzzles felt very single-player – in that whilst one of us was solving, the other didn’t have much to do with the puzzle. But on the other hand, this suited us really well, as we shine in a two-player team left to our own devices.
After solving each one, we typically swapped notes to make sure we were on the page – before continuing on to our confirmation mechanism. Speaking of, the confirmation mechanism is an online portal. Well, it’s essentially a chatbot, but a very clever one that makes you feel as if you’re talking to a real person! Log in, go to the relevant part, and input your answer to proceed.
We used a few hints throughout our experience – and mostly just to keep us on the right track, or more likely get started on a puzzle.
Curious Paper Ephemera
The last thing I’d love to mention about The Emerald Flame is the quality of the materials. You, the player, are scouring through papers that are hundreds of years old on the tail of an alchemist. Every single object in this game looked, and felt impressive. From the tea-stained papers, to the fabrics, to the curious ephemera tucked inside little bags and glass cases. I’m a big fan of the illustrative, watercolour style, and I really enjoyed the tactile mix of materials. In particular, there are two instances of using a necklace, and they were both some of the most delightful interactions in a tabletop puzzle game I can remember! It’s clear the designer has really thought outside the box.
There’s also… Like… So much in this game as well? Which, since the experience is broken up into three parts, I didn’t quite realise until I needed to spill everything out onto the table in order to take some pretty photographs and videos. The paper ephemera just… Kept… Coming. For a relatively normal sized board game box, it’s like a TARDIS in there.
Last, but not least, for the price, really reasonable. The only reason I didn’t back it originally was that it launched in 2020 and 2020 was my “year of being absolutely broke”. Whilst I couldn’t justify £60 on it then, today the game retails for £75 (converted from $90 USD), and having seen the wealth, breadth and creativity of the materials in the box – I’m surprised it’s not even more expensive.
If it weren’t obvious from this review, we really, really enjoyed The Emerald Flame. I’m repeating myself, but it may well be one of the very best in our genre. For this reason (and a million others), I’m awarding this tabletop game The Escape Roomer “Badge of Honour“.
I’d recommend The Emerald Flame for enthusiasts, and folks who are interested in a bit more of a challenge than your average game. It’s on the pricier side, but well worth the investment. I’m glad I played it, and my only regret is not backing it on Kickstarter or playing it sooner. I won’t make that mistake again on PostCurious’s next game, that’s for sure.
The Emerald Flame can be purchased by heading to PostCurious’ website here.
All photos in this review were taken by me, the author, Mairi Nolan.