Jorge Zhang

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Doctor Esker’s Notebook Review: A Portable Puzzle Adventure

Let’s just get it out of the way: Doctor Esker’s Notebook is a fantastic puzzle experience that is highly portable and a ton of fun.

Recently, Plankton Games LLC sent me a copy of Doctor Esker’s Notebook to review. Doctor Esker’s Notebook is a puzzle game that is entirely contained within a deck of 73 cards. It took me 2 hours and 15 minutes to complete the game solo, though I did make use of hints. While I will be including a few pictures of the game, I will try my best to avoid spoilers so that you can have a complete experience if you choose to get this game.

This game easily fits into your pocket.

How it works


There are 9 puzzles in the game, and you start off by solving the Hourglass puzzle labeled “Start”. Each puzzle has some number of cards in that pile. The puzzles are all very different from each other, though in the end, your goal is always the same: to find a 2-4 digit code.

This one was my favorite puzzle. It’s impossible to describe how awesome the solution is without spoiling the puzzle, but it was mind-blowing levels of cool.

This is actually very challenging at times, because you aren’t even necessarily sure of how many numbers you are looking for. Also, just getting the numbers was not enough, you had to get them in the right order as well. Often times, the puzzles have multiple steps that take advantage of the orientation or position of the cards. Sometimes one puzzle actually split off into two different puzzles that gave you different information, which would make those puzzles very well suited to group work.

Once you got your number sequence you would refer to the solution cards:

The solutions are gibberish unless combined

The idea is that when you arrange the solution cards in the right order, they reveal the next puzzle that you had to solve. This was an absolutely brilliant way to allow the players to check their solutions without having an answer key that will tell them what the right answer is. One problem with other puzzle games can be that if you aren’t sure if you are right or not, you have no way of checking without seeing what the actual answer is. That problem never occurred for me in this game. This also was a brilliant way of tying the puzzles into a chronological order, which made it so much more satisfying to solve rather than just solving 9 separate puzzles.

Technically, you could “cheat”. For example, if you are pretty sure what the numbers are, you could obviously try every permutation of cards until you get the answer. In my opinion, that is only a minor flaw in this system because it requires you to want to cheat in the first place.

Hall of Champions

One thing I really appreciate is the “Hall of Champions” card. It basically allows you to write down the time it took to solve all 9 puzzles on a card, and then pass it along to a friend. I think it is awesome that the game encourages you to re-use/re-gift the game!


This is the kind of game that I didn’t even know I needed until I got it. Doctor Esker’s Notebook is like an Escape Room that can fit right into your pocket. It would be absolutely perfect to bring on trips with friends or family where there will be some downtime. In fact, I wish I had the self-control to wait and play this game with friends, as I imagine that this would be an amazing collaborative experience. After playing through all of the puzzles, I still want to bring this around with me to social gatherings to share with others. As it turns out, being the guy who gives vague hints and taunts those struggling with the puzzles is a lot of fun too.


I consider myself to be decent at solving puzzles, but the puzzles in Doctor Esker’s Notebook were very challenging at times. That’s not because the puzzles were too difficult: in fact, I think it speaks to the uniqueness of the format of the puzzles. I think that the game would be perfectly accessible to people who haven’t done a lot of (or any) puzzles before.

Even if you do get stuck, there are hints on the website that I found extremely helpful. Each puzzle has 3 “small” hints, 3 “medium” hints, and 3 “large” hints. I used the suggestion and started giving myself hints after about 10 minutes.

While I didn’t see all of the hints, the hints that I did see were very well written. They didn’t give much away at all at first: just suggested taking a closer look at a few things on some of the cards. The medium hints would be stronger suggestions, and the final “large” hint would cover most if not the entire solution. I thought that this was really well done, as it lets you scale the difficulty of each puzzle. I personally would start off with the easy hints and go one-by-one until something clicked.

Puzzle Statistics:

Puzzle 1:

  • Solving time: 17 minutes
  • Hints used: All 9 hints

Note: Ok, so this was pretty embarrassing, but for some reason, I could not figure out puzzle 1 at all. I started progressively reading hints after about minute 10, and they actually made me more confused. Reading the final large hint was a huge “Duh” moment for me, as I realized that my first idea was actually correct and I had been progressively been getting farther from the solution. Reflectively, I probably should not have rushed this puzzle so much and checked my work carefully to solve this one. This was a very clever puzzle, and a good one to get used to the format.

Puzzle 2:

  • Solving time: 17 minutes
  • Hints used: 3 small, 1 medium

I was going down the wrong path with this puzzle, and doing a lot more work than I had to. The hints really helped me get back on track to solve it. This puzzle was a math-y one, which I really appreciate as I love those kinds of puzzles.

Puzzle 3:

  • Solving time: 11 minutes
  • Hints used: none

This one was such a fun one! This is a great example of a puzzle where the process is fun. It was not just one “aha!” moment, but a prolonged process.

Puzzle 4:

  • Solving time: 15 minutes
  • Hints used: All 9 hints

I think this puzzle really highlighted my lack of general knowledge, since I was completely lost on a few of the references. This is a puzzle where it would have been very nice to have a friend for brainstorming.

Puzzle 5:

  • Solving time: 20 minutes
  • Hints used: 3 small, 3 medium

A really neat puzzle! I got stuck again, though I think this is one puzzle where I probably should have spent more time before going for hints.

Puzzle 6:

  • Solving time: 22 minutes
  • Hints used: All 9 hints

Ahhh! This was a really tough one. The solution was very cool.

Puzzle 7:

  • Solving time: 8 minutes
  • Hints used: none

This puzzle would have taken much longer, but I used a puzzle app to automate some of the busy work. A neat puzzle!

Puzzle 8:

  • Solving time: 17 minutes
  • Hints used: 3 small, 3 medium

MY FAVORITE PUZZLE! The solution was genius, and really cool.

Puzzle 9:

  • Solving time: 8 minutes
  • Hints used: none

I also really liked this last puzzle. Something clicked very early on for me, and it was really cool to see the puzzle come together.


Doctor Esker’s notebook is a fantastic puzzle adventure that I highly recommend. You will enjoy this game if you like solving puzzles, and like a collaborative experience with friends. The game is very affordable, but to get the best value out of this game, I’d recommend sharing the costs with multiple friends by passing the game along once you finish the experience. The amount of hard work, effort, and creativity behind the puzzles are very apparent, and you would get to support a new board game creator. Visit them here: (By the way, if you do decide to purchase the game, consider using the creator’s site rather than Amazon as they are the same price, but my understanding is that the creator would retain more of the profits).

What did you think of this review? Anything I forgot to mention? Let me know in the comments below! Thanks for reading!

© 2020 Jorge Zhang