My search for new and innovative types of games has led me to an interesting little product called Perplex City.
I discovered this game in The Escapist, a superb magazine for the more cerebral gamer. In a recent article about ARGs, or "Alternate Reality Games", Perplex City was highlighted as one of the best of a fledging genre that has, up to this point, largely been used as market ploys for upcoming products and not necessarily fully developed games themselves.
But Perplex City is definitely a fully developed game. The basic mechanic revolves around the purchase of "puzzle cards". There are over 200 unique puzzle cards which vary in rarity and difficulty.. and the difficulty really does go from dog easy to diabolically complex.
Here's an example of a typical card I recently solved: the card has about 20 flags on it with no other real information. I go on the internets to discover that somebody has put together a searchable flag database and begin looking up all of the flags. Once I've looked them all up, I discover that if you read the first letter of each country represented by the flag from the bottom up, it spells out a message that asks you another question about another flag. Go to the Perplex City webpage, type in the answer, and the card is solved.
Another example: You need to find 2 side effects of a fictitious drug called "Ceretin" that is being sold in the alternate universe of Perplex City. The card looks like a typical spam email, and contains an url for "Cheap Ceretin". If you go to the homepage (which is brilliantly designed to look like your typical internet scam), you can follow to the "official website" of the "makers of Ceretin". From there you can find a "Contact Us" email address.. if you send them an email, you get an automated response about Ceretin which includes the side effects. Go to the Perplex City webpage, punch in 2 of them, and the card is solved.
The game is very addicting, because it doesn't stop at the puzzles. There is an ongoing story as well, as other people, both real and fictional, are trying to solve the puzzles as well in order to get clues to track down a mysterious cube... whoever finds the cube gets a real cash reward of $200,000. And there are clues everywhere.. in the cards, in the various websites set up by the game makers, in the newspapers... there is even a music CD that comes with the game that supposedly contains some clues. The whole thing really sucks you in.
There are a couple of free puzzles on the website, and the game tutorial is really cool (you make phone calls and get text messages on your phone!) as it demonstrates all the clever ways the game exploits different real life tech. I encourage everyone to at least try it out.