During the twilight years of the 19th century, a collective of Massachusetts residents organized a series of tea parties dedicated to the appreciation and conservation of the region’s local wildlife. These parties eventually led to the foundation of the Audubon Society. Around the same time, a more magically inclined group of researchers and preservationists founded the American Society for the Protection of Magical Creatures, as a cryptozoological counterpart to the Audubon Society.
In October 2018, Green Door Labs and Stark Participation Design invited players to join in the creation of the ASPMC through the gaslight fantasy immersive production Save the Munbax at the Eustis Estate, an historic mansion where early members of the Audubon Society met. Over the course of an evening, visitors to the estate traveled back to the 1890s and worked together to help save the Northern Crested Dimmoth Munbax from extinction. This is a familiar playground for Green Door Labs, known for Club Drosselmeyer, an annual immersive performance that combines immersive theater, puzzles, and swing dance for a 1940s era period drama for a period-appropriate holiday party.
When Covid19 rendered many artists, writers, and freelancers in the entertainment sectors unemployed and under-employed, Green Door Labs resurrected the ASPMC and brought it into the 21st century to serve as a home for “original, story-based online puzzle hunts”. Under the game’s framework, the ASPMC sends players on family-friendly, modular missions that can be played independently, but also fit within a singular shared storyworld that is accessible to all. Initially funded through a Kickstarter campaign, the society’s first mission went live in late July, with two more missions slated to follow in the coming months.
Following Niantic’s breakout hit Ingress in 2012, the company has gone on a world tour of adapting beloved properties for the location-based gaming landscape. 2016 saw the release of Pokémon GO, sending players on a nostalgic trek through local parks and gatherings. Enough people took to the streets catching first generation Pokemon together in those first months, it’s still nostalgically referred to as “the summer of Pokémon GO“. 2019 saw the release of Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, where players catch virtual reproductions of key characters and creatures from the series to maintain the Statute of Secrecy and untangle the mystery of the Calamity that put the Wizarding World at risk in the first place.
And now? Niantic has set its sights on bringing beloved tabletop franchise CATAN off the table and out into the real world with CATAN – World Explorers . Not much is known about how CATAN will be adapted for outdoor play, but the game’s website offer a handful of clues of what’s to come: like the tabletop game, collecting lumber, brick, wool, grain and ore provides the literal building blocks for gameplay. Relative scarcity of resources also means some resources might be easier to obtain through trading, as you “befriend and bargain with in-game Catanians”. All this is in pursuit of Victory Points, which are used to claim victory for your global Faction, as well as in personal Local Games through a season-based structure.
Many of Niantic’s games have relied on faction-based gameplay in the past, with Ingress fueled by a directly competitive showdown between the green Enlightened faction (the frogs) and the blue Resistance faction (the smurfs) in a strategic game of territory acquisition. With Niantic’s later games, competitive elements eased up: Pokémon GO‘s factions (Valor, Mystic, and Instinct) are used to provide in-game bonuses during raids and provides the occasional head-to-head challenge at special events, while Wizards Unite‘s Hogwarts Houses are a purely aesthetic choice, putting much more weight on players’ choice of Wizarding profession to drive gameplay. World Explorers looks to be a return to Ingress‘ more competitive structure, which makes sense for a competitive board gaming adaptation.
This isn’t Niantic’s first foray into the world of tabletop gaming, as a number of Ingress events featuring “Remote Participation Experiences”, tabletop modules that shifted Ingress gameplay from an app-based experience into a traditional tabletop role-playing game. This time, however, it’s the tabletop game that’s getting the mobile gaming makeover.
The Koschei Society is an organization of scholars and historical enthusiasts. In the course of their research, the Koschei Society stumbled across a handful of artifacts that just might set an enterprising researcher on the path towards a legendary alchemist’s hiding spot, and the recipe for a transformative alchemical elixir. Are you wise enough, resourceful enough, and brave enough to be that enterprising researcher?
PostCurious’ newest narrative puzzle adventure The Emerald Flame begins with an invitation to assist the Koschei Society in poring over a series of letters and artifacts to unearth the ancient alchemist’s secret. Structured across three separate “chapters” of puzzle-driven narrative, players piece together the information necessary to advance the story, verifying answers through an online chat portal. The game’s Kickstarter campaign funded within 4 hours of its launch, and offers the full experience for as little as $69. The campaign will run through June 26th, and has already secured over a thousand backers eager to take on the Koschei Society’s challenge.
Burning Bright: A Seamless Blend of Art and Puzzle Every chapter’s structure follows a similar framework: aspiring Koschei Society researchers are tasked with extracting information relevant to the investigation. Like many at-home puzzle experiences, these puzzles can be completed in any order, providing structure to the small group solving experience. However, The Emerald Flame‘s greatest strength is its ability to take things one step further, weaving the game’s art and its puzzles into an elegant tapestry.
The puzzles at the heart of The Emerald Flame aren’t always self-contained. So while some puzzles communicate everything that’s needed on a single sheet of paper, others are interspersed across the experience. Pulling on a puzzling thread on one line of inquiry might lead to a revelation about a detail expertly hidden within the art of another page, or teach you the rules of engagement for one of the game’s items. But the reverse is also true, with the game’s artistic stylings serving as signposts for players, hinting at what puzzle pieces are likely to fit together, if seen under the proper light. This interplay between art and puzzle leads to many of the most surprising moments of The Emerald Flame.
Last month, JC Hutchins received a creepy package in the mail containing a doll wrapped in vintage newspapers. ARGNet’s coverage of this special delivery was given the light-hearted title, ARG or Not, Please Don’t Send Me Creepy Dolls. Much to my co-workers’ chagrin, our mysterious benefactor adhered to the letter of that request, if not the spirit, in sending a follow-up package to my work address earlier today.
A Quick Refresher: The Initial Mailing Back in December of last year, JC Hutchins jokingly shared a Facebook Marketplace ad for a creepy doll, with a single word in response: NOPE. A month later, he received a package in the mail from “Ray Stantz”, with a return address listed as Dan Aykroyd’s former Los Angeles residence, a house itself rumored to be haunted. Inside the box? The doll from the Marketplace listing, wrapped in 1930s era newspapers with a message scrawled in red ink saying “LOOK AFTER THIS CHILD”, along with a series of period photographs of masked figures, vintage stamps, and other curiosities that look suspiciously like coded messages.
Twelve years ago, science fiction author and podcast fiction phenomenon JC Hutchins received an envelope in the mail, sealed with a red wax stamp bearing the letters “tb”, and containing a message written in a long-dead language. Over the next few days, more and more people reported receiving similar envelopes. Eventually, players decrypted the message and discovered Blood Copy, an alternate reality game teasing the launch of True Blood on HBO, based on the Sookie Stackhouse novels. Over the years, Hutchins received a number of ARG trailheads…but his most recent mail call might also be the creepiest.
Earlier today, Hutchins uploaded a video to his YouTube channel and posted a link to it on Facebook, noting:
I don’t know who sent me this, and I don’t know why. It might be a rabbit-hole for an ARG or a movie/TV promo. It might be someone messing with me. Probably the former, not ruling out the latter.
What you see is not scripted in any way. I’m not “acting.” Every reaction is legit. Every word I’m saying is true.
In all the seas, in all the world, there has never been a land quite like the isle of Eroda.
Starting in late November, the Eroda Tourism Board started running ads on social media inviting users to check out VisitEroda.com. Unfortunately, both website and advertisements failed to provide any information on where to find the remote island, leading a curious Twitter user to share a tweet that launched a firestorm of speculation:
After clicking on the ad, Austin was introduced to a fairly sparse description of Eroda: according to the website, Eroda was an isle comprised of four quaint fishing villages. At first glance, everything seems normal with the slightly outdated tourist page. Each village is home to its own unique guest accommodations, making it easier to visit a brief list of local businesses and attractions. But something was clearly…off about the isle of Eroda. When describing the Fisherman’s Pub, the Tourism Board warns prospective visitors “don’t mention a pig in the pub”, while the Eroda Ferry description is paired with text reminding tourists to “avoid leaving Eroda on odd numbered days.” And while describing the island’s Fishing Charters, seafarers are told that, “for extra good luck, make sure you wear one gold earring”. A peculiarly superstitious island, at best. To say nothing of the peculiar fact that Eroda is ADORE spelled backwards.
The tourist bureau’s website also seemed a little fishy. Despite actively running multi-lingual ad campaigns for Visit Eroda across its Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram profiles, the website made no mention of any of its social platforms on the website. The site also built out sponsored ad units, advertising itself. Even stranger, nothing on the site invited visitors to do anything.
And so, the internet was provided a tantalizing mystery: someone was paying money to advertise a fictional island, but didn’t give visitors any indication about what to do with that knowledge. And it blew up. At the time of this article, Austin’s initial tweet has been shared over 12K times, 84K people followed the Visit Eroda Twitter account, two thousand people followed the r/Eroda subreddit, and a thousand people joined the Eroda ARG Discord server to try and figure out what was going on.
LOST on Another Island: JJ Abrams, the Mystery Box, and the Undeniable Allure of Infinite Possibility Over a decade ago, the internet was fixated on another mysterious island, and the numbers 4 8 15 16 23 42. LOST was halfway through its third season, and showrunner JJ Abrams gave a TED Talk on his philosophy towards storytelling, The Mystery Box. In it, he tells a story.
When Abrams was a child, he went to Lou Tannen’s magic shop in midtown New York City, and bought Tannen’s Mystery Magic Box: a $15 box (now $25) containing $50 worth of magic. To this day, Abrams has never opened the box. In the talk, he explains how the box as it stands “represents infinite possibility. It represents hope. It represents potential…[and] I started to think that maybe mystery is greater than knowledge.”
A major element of Eroda’s allure in those first few days was the infinite possibility the fictional island provided. Could Eroda be a horror ARG, introducing a remote isle of superstitious townsfolk as an immersive version of The Wicker Man? Maybe…there’s enough evidence to support it. Or maybe the source material is Brigadoon, and the 2004 copyright date paired with warnings about travelling on specific dates is a sign the island is out of phase with our reality. The immersive production company Punchdrunk is working on a television show starring Jude Law where he plays a man “who is drawn to a mysterious island off the British coast and is confronted with his past as reality and fantasy become blurred.” Or maybe it could be tied to an upcoming indie game called Adore.
Thanks to Visit Eroda’s focus on introducing the setting of the fictional world, all were very real possibilities, supported by scant evidence. And so, for a time, Eroda could be everything to everyone. And that scope of infinite possibility extended to the nature of interaction with the fictional isle, as well. Was the site a puzzle to be solved? The inclusion of a page on the site that offered high resolution files of Eroda’s map in both JPG and PDF formats was curious. Or maybe this was a challenge of social engineering or role-playing to extract information…after all, whoever was behind the project was actively paying to promote those channels.