Journal 29 Review – A Book Game With A Difference
Is it a book? Is it a game? No! It’s a book game!
Journal 29, by Dimitris Chassapakis, has been described as a lot of things. Some people refer to it as an Escape the Room in literature form. Some have likened it to Fighting Fantasy books, and some have said it is similar to puzzle books like Soduku. Having now completed it, I am not sure any of the above do it justice. Journal 29 is an experience in its own right.
I am going to try and keep this review spoiler free, however, either way, feel free to skip the review here if you don’t want to see anything else. The TL;DR version of this review is that this book needs to be read and played. There, you can leave now knowing the conclusion. If, however, you want to read about something a little bit different then please feel free to continue on.
So what is Journal 29?
To fully understand Journal 29 you need to understand a bit of context.
The story goes that a group of researchers and archaeologists are excavating a site, finding nothing at all for 28 weeks. The next week, they all go missing and, in the place of the team, all that can be found is a journal – yes, Journal 29.
As you progress through the book you uncover more and more hints about what is so special about the Journal and discovery that led to the disappearance of the team, seeing all kinds of things that hint at the bizarre whilst also allowing the reader to piece things together. This is finally given away towards the end, as you gain enough information to learn about what really happened to the Archaeologists and Scientists of Journal 29.
The whole book was launched via Indiegogo and they released a video with campaign to advertise it online. This is that video –
So, what is it?
Well, I suppose the easiest way to describe Journal 29 is as a treasure-hunt-come-puzzle-experience, with a narrative undertone linking the puzzles together. From a story perspective, it is lacking somewhat; however, ultimately you don’t pick up Journal 29 if you want to read a story. Just like an Escape the Room, Journal 29 is a part of a journey. You aren’t supposed to know all the detail, but instead, use creativity and imagination to fill the story in around the experience.
And the Experience?
Journal 29 is a series of 63 puzzles, designed to test logical and lateral thinking. Sorry, that was quite a boring sentence – let me try to amp that up a bit more. Journal 29 is a freaking amazing series of some of the best puzzles ever put to paper. I think that’s better.
Each double page in the book is split into two sections. On the right-hand side is the puzzle itself, these range in a huge way and I’m going to come back to talking about them later to do them a bit more justice.
On the left-hand page are a QR code, a URL, and a space saying “Key”.
What these are for – the QR code, URL, and Key – are to give you (as the reader) a place to put a solution. You scan in the QR code (or visit the URL), and enter your solution to the puzzle. If you are wrong it will tell you with a phrase such as “Hmmmm” or “Try Again”. If you are right it will take you to a page with a Key. This Key you write down in the book, to use in later puzzles.
What Are The Puzzles Like?
MILD SPOILER ALERT
What is a puzzle book if not the puzzles themselves? Journal 29 has a wide variety of puzzles, with every single one of them needing to be approached from a different direction. In fact, every single puzzle is different to those that go before. Several puzzles need a mathematical type element, so they may require you to multiply or add up certain numbers, but how you get those numbers is always different. This means there are puzzles that include ranging difficulties, going from (not-so-basic) Wordsearches (with a twist) to needing to decipher several lines of code before being able to even get a hint at what you are looking for. There are logical puzzles to do with mathematical terms, to puzzles that require as much lateral thinking as possible due to little explanation on the page.
There are even light-based puzzles, and puzzles that require props. Several of the puzzles are meta and you will need to go outside the book to solve them. A large portion of puzzles also required the keys from previously solved puzzles to solve them. This is a great way to ensure that puzzles aren’t just skipped, and the whole pace of the book is well matched.
I don’t want to give too much away, but needless to say that this was incredibly cool. As an experience, it meant that every page of the book was different, and that was welcome. The book never got samey.
That being said, it wasn’t a completely perfect experience. Some of the answers were obvious and misleading, causing some frustration – not because the answers weren’t right, but due to a variation in phrasing. There are only a couple of examples of this in particular, but it did mean the whole experience was marred a little bit by those puzzles.
Those puzzles are easy to forgive, however, when the rest of the experience is such an amazing one – where some of the puzzles are truly world class. There are a few puzzles that have you nodding to yourself once you have completed them, convincing yourself that you are a genius. All the while, there are a few that can leave you stumped for days, that will have you turning the book over and over in your hand, before realising the answer is what was before you all along. It is, like all good books, an emotional rollercoaster.
Non-TL;DR Conclusion of this Journal 29 Review
So, what is the conclusion for Journal 29? Well, I loved it. It was a great experience and a great book; however, it is not perfect. The lack of narrative makes the book little more than a themed puzzle book; however, so long as you go in expecting mind-blowing (truly mind bloging) puzzles and not a lot else, then you will not be disappointed.
What Journal 29 is, is a beautifully crafted puzzle-based experience, on par, in many ways, to the puzzles in a great Escape Room – only this is one you can carry around with you and will take you several days to solve (if not weeks) – not one hour.
I would highly recommend Journal 29 as a puzzle experience. It is a mighty puzzle book, and certainly a unique puzzle experience.
Okay, so a slightly different question on the bottom of this article, but what are your favourite puzzle experiences? Do you prefer Escape the Rooms? Apps? Books? Physical puzzles like Rubik’s Cubes? What kind of puzzle do you relax to? Let me know in the comments below.