Everything started when Jasmine Perodine’s grandfather passed away, six months ago. While wading through heaps of old maps and newspaper clippings Jasmine stumbled across a series of four satchels marked with sigils, and felt compelled to take them home. That’s when the dreams began. Without fail, the same sequence of dreams would haunt Jasmine’s nights: four ethereal creatures, tied inextricably with the elements: one for the sky, one for the earth, one for water, and a final one for the woods. Upon waking, Jasmine would feel compelled to document those dreams: but like a being possessed, the words came out through poetry and through art…tapping into skills she didn’t know she had. That’s when she reached out to an expert in dream interpretation for assistance. That’s when she reached out to you.
Adrift is PostCurious’ latest narrative puzzle adventure, casting players in the role of expert oneirologist, unraveling puzzles embedded in poetry as a close proxy for dream interpretation to receive instructions on how to find meaning in the four artifacts left by Jasmine’s grandfather. The resulting game can be finished by experienced puzzlers in 2-3 hours and delivers one of the most physically satisfying puzzling experiences I’ve had. This, more than any other at-home puzzle game I’ve played, is an experience designed to be held and perceived.
A Satisfying Structure That Won’t Leave You Adrift
There is no official starting point for Adrift: any one of the four elemental satchels can serve as the beginning of players’ investigation into the world of dreams. After selecting one of the envelopes and its corresponding satchel, players are presented with a series of three poems, a piece of artwork depicting the dream’s central elemental figure, and a physical artifact to manipulate.
Correctly “interpreting” the first poem provides information or instructions essential to solving the puzzle hidden in the second poem. Similarly, interpreting the second poem provides information or instructions that feed in to the third poem, which provides instructions on how to manipulate the round’s central artifact to reveal a fragment of a message. After properly manipulating the contents of each satchel, players unlock a message from beyond that helps explain why Jasmine has been plagued with these dreams in the first place.
Because Adrift relies on sequential puzzles within each elemental chapter, poems are clearly labeled to indicate their position in the puzzling narrative: a single sigil marks the first poem, paired sigils mark the second poem, and a ring of three sigils marks the third.
However, relying on this puzzle-centric explanation of Adrift‘s structure does the full experience a gross disservice. The poems at the center of Adrift don’t merely serve as hollow vehicles for puzzle delivery: they also paint a lyrical picture of each elemental figure’s domain as vividly as the lush artwork does. And that gradually unfolding creation myth is as compelling as the puzzle experience itself.
WARNING: while this article does not spoil any of the puzzles or surprises in Adrift, after this point the article will show one of the pieces of artwork and one of the artifacts in its unsolved state. If you would prefer to save that as a surprise for your playthrough, now would be a good time to stop reading and order Adrift.
Theming That Permeates the Puzzling Experience
Because the narrative conceit of Adrift asks players to assume the role of dream experts deconstructing the dream space, Jasmine’s own story is largely book-ended through an introductory letter explaining how players stumbled across the dream archives alongside an epilogue that provides some closure to her story. The real narrative focus of Adrift is in fleshing out the dream world itself through poetry and art, allowing that idyllic theming to tell the bulk of the story.
Structurally, each of the four chapters of the game highlights a different element as its central theme: Sky, Earth, Woods, and Water. And that theme bleeds through to the most minute details. The chapter dedicated to “Earth” provides a perfect example of that in action.
After opening the deep burgundy envelope bearing the Earth’s triangular sigil, a series of three poems tell Adrift‘s unique take on Earth’s creation story, printed on card stock stained red to match the round’s rich, earthen aesthetic. The mechanics for each puzzle serve as a thematic echo of each step in that creation story. This culminates in a final physical puzzle that tasks players with physically assembling a globe of their own, using the artistic rendering of Jasmine’s dream as reference point.
Each of Adrift‘s four physical artifact puzzles explore their corresponding elements in wildly creative ways, that are immediately recognizable as celebrations of the theme.
Irresistibly Satisfying Physical Puzzles
Earlier this year when I was solving my way through AJ Jacobs’ Puzzler Hunt, one of the puzzles tasked players with assembling a dodecahedron. The mechanism of solving the puzzle may have been different, but the end result was the same: a three-dimensional artifact, commemorating a successful solve. For the Puzzler Hunt, creating the polyhedron involved fiddling around with papercraft and scotch tape to create the finished product. That artifact is currently on display at my desk at work.
For Adrift‘s Earth artifact, the experience is elevated by providing players with thick cardboard tiles that can be snapped in place on a plastic frame. A gap in the frame on each pentagon makes it easy to pop tiles out in order to reposition them during the solving process, or to reset the puzzle for the next player. Because of the aesthetic appeal of the burgundy frame set with tiles stained with splashes of red, the finished product makes for an impressive statement piece. Earth’s artifact is not unique in that regard: each satchel contains a different celebration of tactile play, and many of those result in equally impressive finished products to commemorate the solve.
While Adrift is centered around the game’s four physical puzzles, no destruction is required to play Adrift and the physical components are easy to deconstruct after solving, so resetting the game for another group of players is remarkably quick: place the pages in their corresponding envelopes, return the artifact pieces in their corresponding satchels, and the game is as good as new.
…or at least it would be, if you can resist the temptation to display the artifacts as commemorative mementos.
ARGNet Recommends: Where to Start with PostCurious Games
There are currently three PostCurious games available for sale: The Emerald Flame, Light in the Mist, and Adrift. ARGNet has previously reviewed The Emerald Flame and Light in the Mist, and all three come highly recommended, as the games’ progressive online hint system makes any game accessible and rewarding to novice and experienced players alike. However, if you haven’t played a PostCurious game yet, ARGNet’s recommendation for where to start depends on what kind of puzzle experience you’re looking for.
- The Emerald Flame is ideal for players looking for the “ARG in a Box” experience. The narrative hook of helping an alchemical secret society pore through historical documents will be familiar to fans of the genre, and it still includes a number of impressive artifacts to surprise and delight;
- Light in the Mist is the best choice for variety puzzle and puzzle hunt fans, as well as people who just really like tarot: every Major Arcana card is a separate puzzle, solvable by interacting with the associated Minor Arcana cards. The narrative component is a deeply personal story of tracking down an old friend lost in the woods, and every puzzle solved unlocks a narrative vignette from their life that brings you closer to finding them again;
- Adrift is the most accessible entry in PostCurious’ lineup for new puzzlers: it’s likely the shortest experience of the three, but that helps get players to the physical puzzles that are the highlight of the experience even faster
Check out the PostCurious website to find the game that’s right for you.
Note: ARGNet received a review copy of Adrift.