The Light in the Mist tarot puzzle tale, unboxed

Your friend Sam is missing. She had recently started taking walks through the misty woods beyond a cabin on the outskirts of the forest, to clear her head. But recently, she’s been different. Even more withdrawn and distant, yes…but also, something more. You discover her backpack and her deck of tarot cards at the edge of the woods, and approach the cabin for help. Locals call it the Witch House, but you suspect you’ll need the old woman’s help. Because some people claim the woods are haunted, and there’s a dark force lurking within the mists…

The Light in the Mist is a narrative puzzle experience created by PostCurious’ Rita Orlov and Jack Fallows that uses a tarot deck to guide readers through the story, one tarot card at a time. Every card of the Major Arcana presents players with a puzzle challenge, with clues scattered across the game’s Minor Arcana cards. Every solution unlocks snippets of Sam’s memories. These vignettes allow players to gradually piece together the secrets that led to Sam’s disappearance, and assemble the pieces needed to hopefully get her back.

The game’s Kickstarter campaign (which runs until Tuesday, October 19th) fully funded in two hours, so if you’re already won over, you can pre-order the game now for as little as $32, plus shipping. If you’re still not sure if you’re ready to plunge into the misty woods, read on to learn more about what hides beyond the mist.

The Light in the Mist’s story booklet. Animated gif from The Light in the Mist Kickstarter page.

Gone Home as Tabletop Game: A Subtle Approach to Interactive Fiction
To play The Light in the Mist, players are asked to read the game’s introduction, before drawing the Fool card to begin. Drawing the Fool card triggers a brief narrative introduction to the card’s challenge, told from the perspective of Sam’s friend. These narrative snippets told from the perspective of Sam’s friend continue on for each Major Arcana card, documenting their exploration of the woods and offering clues on how to solve the underlying puzzles on the cards.

Once players solve a puzzle, they look up the word in the game’s Solution Index, which directs them to turn to a corresponding entry in the book, unlocking a vision from Sam’s past, closely tied to the card. Sometimes, these visions provide players with items that will help Sam’s friend delve deeper into the forest.

After completing the Fool card, players can explore through the rest of the Major Arcana in the order of their choosing, as long as they leave The World card for the end. This method of storytelling is possible because the real puzzle of The Light in the Mist is piecing together Sam’s deeply intimate story, as told through brief snapshots.

It’s tempting to compare The Light in the Mist to choose-your-own-adventure style gamebooks. But choose your own adventure games have a more linear structure, where one decision leads to another. Within the realm of puzzle books, Mike Selinker’s The Maze of Games is a perfect example of this model of storytelling. Solving one puzzle unlocks the next narrative passage, inexorably leading players to the final resolution.

Structurally, The Light in the Mist more closely resembles contemplative interactive fiction games like Gone Home, where players are provided a more open world to explore, with the story unfolding through a series of disjointed snippets of story. The Light in the Mist‘s puzzles may make it more overtly “game-like” than Gone Home, but both experiences excel at telling their story through what feels like an almost dreamlike haze. Decisions drive atmosphere as much (if not more) than it drives the narrative.

While the structure is fluid, the game still has a remarkably conclusive end: solving “The World” draws on players’ experiences to reach a satisfying resolution for Sam’s story that draws on the details from players’ personal paths, and even manages to sneak in an additional surprise or two, at the end.

A selection of The Light in the Mist tarot cards featured on the campaign’s Kickstarter page

A Puzzle-Riddled Love Letter to the World of Tarot
ARGNet previously reviewed PostCurious’ narrative puzzle adventure The Emerald Flame, which created a serial puzzle adventure spanning three separate “chapters” and a wide variety of letters and artifacts to thrust players into the search for an alchemical elixir. As a sequel, The Light in the Mist is considerably more constrained, limiting its storytelling to a deck of tarot cards, a narrative booklet, and a card for tracking solutions and inventory items. However, the movement away from a pure epistolary experience allows The Light in the Mist to tell a more emotive, personal story that commits fully to the deck of cards at the center of the story.

In doing so, The Light in the Mist acts as a love letter to tarot, and the process of playing the game evokes that practice, every step of the way. Every puzzle is introduced by having the player’s avatar draw a Major Arcana card, and reflecting on it. Puzzle extraction methods and solutions are both thematically tied to their corresponding cards, and almost all puzzles benefit from physically manipulating the cards in some form or another.

In many ways, the act of solving a puzzle often mimics the process of creating and interpreting a tarot spread. While The Fool and The Hermit are self-contained puzzle challenges, every other Major Arcana card asks players to select anywhere from two cards to an entire house of cards. Iconography at the top of every card indicates which Minor Arcana cards correspond to each Major Arcana card, with every Minor Arcana card surfacing for at least two separate puzzles. Once the cards are selected, players are free to reference the Wisdom table to provide hints on how to interpret those cards, searching for commonalities on how they relate. But cards are a fickle thing, and a single spread could have multiple interpretations. Accordingly, some Major Arcana cards hide multiple solutions, which in itself is a nod to tarot’s complexity.

Challenges that make use of broad swaths of the deck are particularly satisfying to work through, and the puzzles attached to cards like The High Priestess, The Chariot, and The Sun remain some of my favorites from the set. But even the more constrained puzzles like The Hierophant (relying on three other Minor Arcana cards) pack more than a few surprising and delightful punches.

Starting The Light in the Mist, with The Fool

Built-in “Fun Insurance” For Puzzlers of All Skill Levels
The Light in the Mist is not an easy puzzle experience (it’s designed to be slightly harder than the challenges you would find in most escape rooms), but it’s a fair one. Design elements with any given spread will typically make finding the puzzle a straightforward affair through the cards’ unique design elements, and nudges inserted into each puzzles’ introductory text provide helpful clues towards what to do with those elements. When players have troubles connecting the dots, the game’s robust, multi-step hint system helps draw attention to relevant information without giving away too much and “stealing away” the thrill of the solve.

In a recent talk at RECON, Rita Orlov refers to hint systems as “fun insurance”, and The Light in the Mist‘s hint system lives up to that promise. I ended up turning to the game’s hints for a handful of puzzles in my playthrough, but the nudges were subtle enough that the experience was like having a remote gamemaster, asking probing questions when I hit a wall: the solves were still mine, I just needed reassurance along the way.

Light in the Mist Collector’s Edition, with custom wooden box and extended art

A Tarot Deck That Can Stand On Its Own
Even if you ignore the puzzle and narrative elements, The Light in the Mist is a work of art that maintains strong theming throughout, making it a fine addition to your tarot deck collection. The Collector’s Edition celebrates that with a custom wooden box, enamel pin, and extended art prints of the game’s art (along with a few extra puzzles).

That philosophy extends to a weekly puzzle challenge that will run for the length of the Kickstarter campaign. A new puzzle is set to release every Friday, and backers who correctly solve each puzzle will be entered to win an original ink drawing of one of the cards from the deck. The first puzzle went live on Friday.

To support The Light in the Mist, check out the game’s Kickstarter campaign. Additional behind the scenes information can be found on the PostCurious blog.

Note: ARGNet received a review copy of The Light in the Mist.