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Make Your Puzzle Games Addictive

Have you ever played a tabletop puzzle game, got stuck, and never returned to it again?

If yes, then you probably found that you didn't feel or care enough about the solution to put the effort into solving the problem. You had no desire to "close the loop". As human beings we often find that we are driven to complete tasks by the following factors:

  • Survival

  • Curiosity (closing a loop)

  • Catharsis (emotional resolve)

In regards to puzzle adventures, we can do away with survival immediately because none of us are playing for the sake of our own lives. So that leaves us with curiosity and catharsis.


Curiosity is a driving force for enticing people to solve a problem. "Closing a loop" is the term that refers to our desire to make sense of the world. Crosswords, clickbait, sudoku, jigsaw puzzles, all exploit this hard wiring in our minds. We finish puzzles to "close the loop". However, if a puzzle is too difficult we often walk away from it never return to it again.

In tabletop puzzle games this can often be the case, especially if the hint system or signposting is severely lacking (more about these in another post).

So what keeps us engaged in a tabletop puzzles games when our curiosity is not enough?


The story. Closing the curiosity loop is often not enough to keep us engaged for longer than a few minutes. To stay invested for an hour, or more, we must be emotionally invested. As humans, we seek catharsis, which is similar to curiosity but is about closing an emotional loop rather than a logical one. We need to know that the hero is safe, that the villain is no longer able to cause pain, and that everything is going to be ok.

Curiosity is about making sense, catharsis is about feeling good.

But How?

So how do you design a tabletop or tabletop puzzle adventure that will drive your audience to close the loops?

Tell. A. Story.

It may seem simple but as a puzzle designer this can be easy to overlook. We tend to get caught up with making ingenious puzzle mechanics or designing unique props. In doing so creators can often overlook the power of a good story. So here are a few simple tips to keep in mind when designing a puzzle adventure:

  1. Who is your player? Are they a character in your story or are they playing AS a character in your story? Bring them into your world.

  2. Why does your game exist? What is the meaning behind the puzzles in the first place? Are they made by some dastardly genius, or are they part of an ancient treasure hunt? Make sure that your puzzle design fits INTO the world (and makes sense).

  3. Who is affected by the outcome? Every story needs stakes. Create a losing condition that encourages players to play your game for a reason. Is there a dragon on the loose that needs to be stopped? Is there a bomb about to go off somewhere? What bad thing will happen if your player leaves the game?

  4. Give it a heartbeat. Give your game an emotional arc. Do the puzzles reveal information about your characters or help build out your world? Let your player know about how your characters feel and the world they inhabit. Push your design talent and see if you can work this into your puzzle mechanics, not just journal notes or newspaper articles.


Narrative in puzzle design is not new, but it is challenging to master. Various forms of media have their own unique ways of engaging a player but in the tactile world of escape rooms and mailout puzzle adventures, there is unchartered territory.

Your player and your protagonist are the same, and your player has agency. Use that to put them in the shoes of your character who has an emotional connection to the world you've built.

The more you can immerse your player/s in the world and make the puzzles an extension of the story, the more catharsis and emotional connection you bring to your game.

If you enjoyed this article please check me out on instagram @thepuzzledmaker

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