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Subject: I've played it... once: Salem rss

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Rachel Irene Lunan
United States
San Antonio
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I’ve previously written about my pre-teen pseudo-obsession with witches, and it was light and airy and a bit frivolous.

Which this game’s theme is not (you can tell by that box art). The Salem Witch Trials are a blemish on the (admittedly pock-marked) history of these United States, a time when religious extremism and isolationism, coupled with farces dressed up as trials, resulted in socially-sanctioned murder (and that, my friends, is how to paraphrase a Wikipedia page).

I’ve always thought of an interest in pre-Harry Potter witches as a kind of proto-feminism, at least for myself. When I was really enamored with them, and imbibing all media and information related to them, I didn’t really have any idea what feminism was, but knew that there was something off about demonizing a strong, powerful woman (or older, unmarried, childless woman, or irritating neighbor, etc etc etc) by associating said strength with something wicked.

Now I’m not discounting the fact that it wasn’t just women who were murdered in these trials. And I’m not setting out to make this seem like one in a long chain of events featuring women slighted in/by history (although, I wouldn't argue against that, either). Just thinking out loud.

Things I had difficulty with:

Game-wise? It’s fairly straightforward. I didn’t find any difficulties with anything in the basic game, which is a pure deduction game without any of the leaps necessary in a social deduction game. I actually liked the downtime while people tried to decide which hopefully-unhelpful-clue they were going to give because we all had something to do: parse the clues we’d already been given.

Theme-wise? This game is listed as being a horror game. The problem I have with that categorization is that it makes it seem like there are actual witches in this game (which, I guess there are). But the people-tiles (which are lovely and thick and nice to touch) are based on real people, and I think we can all admit that witches do not actually exist. This conflation of a truly tragic event with horror seems almost to be in poor taste.

Things I liked:

Every other year, when I was a kid, we would fly transatlantic to England to visit family. These trips happened in a different era of air travel: I remember being on a smoking flight when I was quite young. I remember when there was one screen, which showed one, maybe two movies during the course of the flight. I remember being amazed when there were suddenly screens in the backs of the seats and I could use the controller to play some knock-off Tetris-style game while my little sister watched cartoons, all while gliding near the Arctic Circle.

One thing which has always held the same for me, no matter which flight it was, no matter what age I was, was, during international travel, I would get a big ol’ logic puzzle book. Even after I had grown up and moved to Russia, traveling back to the USA or anywhere in Europe I would pack along my iPod and a logic puzzle book. Working through those puzzles about gardening clubs and neighbors painting their houses different colors and children writing book reports and small-time thieves stealing different trinkets from different families (whose names all started with different letters than their stolen trinkets) would help the time fly (ahem) by. It’s hard for me to see one of these books and not remember the smell of the airplane cabin, the graininess of the seats, the smooth metal of the flight attendant call button jutting out, terrifying me with its proximity, making me worried I would accidentally press it and have to apologize for bothering them (I was an overly-polite, anxious child, which I have thankfully grown out of).

This game was a slightly interactive logic puzzle, with the aforementioned lovely pieces, and five people who you hopefully enjoy being around (which was the case for my group, thankfully). Of course I liked it.

Things I found odd/didn’t fully understand:

Not a thing. It’s like all those flights throughout my life were preparing me for this game.

Although, in the interest of full disclosure, I was the only person who had to completely start from scratch with the back of my clue sheet because I had made such a ridiculous leap in logic (you know when you're doing these puzzles, and you end up so deep in a rabbit hole that you are not 100% sure you could retrace your steps back to the catalyst for your decision? that's what I'm talking about here) and ended up, somehow miraculously, with five witches in one of the rows, which is clearly breaking at least one rule. Oh, wait, while reading over this just now, I think I had forgotten to factor in the seventh faction (the very faction I was trying to solve for), which explains the extra witches. Ohhh, whoops.

Things I wish I had thought about/of earlier:

I think the main idea of the basic game is not to solve the puzzle first; most of us playing figured it out at roughly the same time. It was actually kind of interesting to watch; we started the game and everyone was jovial and cracking wise and having a good time (I was jocularly accused of being a witch, which happens pretty often so I’m not too mad about it) but, by a few rounds in, everyone was quiet and scribbling and thinking.

The main focus of the game should be how to stop the others from figuring out your sequence. Since everyone gets the same information, it’s basically a logic puzzle race, so, the best offense is a good defense. Try to trip them up by giving as little as possible with your clues. I’m sure there’s some algorithm which could determine the best sequence to give clues and, maybe with enough plays, someone could stumble upon it and break the game, but, until then, I look forward to being around five other people as keen to do a group logic puzzle, alone together, at the same time, as I apparently am.
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