The latest game from publishers Scorpion Masque (Most well known for the ever popular word association game Decrypto) is Turing Machine, a puzzling logic game that seems to be the result of taking the classic game Mastermind and dialling it all the way up to 11.
Your aim is to deduce the single 3 digit number that meets all the correct criteria, before you can do that however, you need to work out which rules are true on each of the criteria cards.
A Complex Machine
To start the game, players need to decide upon which puzzle will be played. The rulebook includes 20 puzzles that range from easy to more difficult which might not sound like a lot, but they also provide a website that includes more than 7 million puzzles including daily challenges and a wide range of options.
The puzzle will instruct you on how to set up the machine, 4 – 6 branches will be used and each will be tied to a criteria card and a verification card. Criteria cards show the rules that will be tested and Verification cards are a minefield of ticks and crosses that will show the results of the tests. Once all the cards are set up, you’re ready to begin.
Rounds of Turing Machine start by choosing the 3 digits (1 – 5) to test, this gives 125 different numbers that the solution may be, but you’re only going to be able to test 9 of them. Once you’ve decided on the number to test, take the corresponding punch cards from the display and layer them to leave a singular spot that is uncovered. Next up is the testing phase, Select which criteria card you want to test against and grab its corresponding verification card and place it under your 3 punch cards making sure to line up the markers in the corners. Now you should be able to see a single tick or cross showing through from the verification card, this tells you whether the criteria you checked was correct for the solution or not. You can select up to three different criteria to test each round.
At the end of a round, if you think you have the correct answer, you can take a guess. If correct then well done, you’ve beaten the machine this time. If you didn’t get the solution correct then unfortunately that’s your only chance and you’ve lost so make sure you’re certain before you take your guess.
If the base game is dialled up to 11, the expert and nightmare modes are set at 21 and 42 respectively. I have only played these modes using four of the easy criteria cards, and even then there were some head scratchers.
Expert mode takes the base game and adds a second criteria card to each part of the machine, Only one of the two criteria cards for each branch is valid and so part of the problem now is working out which it is. Sometimes there’s enough overlap within the criteria cards on the board to discount others rather quickly, but other times it might take a while. You may have to use two guesses to try and get mutually exclusive answers from a single criteria card to then guarantee that the other criteria card is the valid one.
Nightmare mode is something even more challenging. Instead of having each criteria card paired up with a validator card, you get four criteria cards and four validator cards without knowing which belong together. This means that while you may get a true test on a validator card, you have no way of knowing which criterion is actually true. It personally took me almost the whole note sheet to get the answer correct for my first game, with more branches in play and more possible combinations I can see this getting VERY complicated.
Although these extra game modes are a big step up from the base game, it means that there’s something for every skill level. Some players will breeze through the base game and will want to jump into the meatier challenges of expert and nightmare, others will be completely satisfied with dipping their toe in the water and some will never even try them. This isn’t a problem however, it just means that everyone gets something they enjoy.
One of the biggest issues in Turing Machine is the way it handles multiple players. The rulebook gives you two ways to play with multiple people, competitive and cooperative.
In the competitive gameplay, each person has their own note sheet and races towards the solution, the winner being the one that gets the number correct in the fewest rounds or with the smallest number of tests performed.
This often creates a problem as even the puzzles within the rulebook show that luck is a big thing for finding some solutions quickly and while the rules suggest a handicap system, it’s hard to tell how much better someone is than any other person.
Cooperative play is basically just a one player game, but with input and interaction with other people, you work together to solve the problem using a single note sheet. I’ve played a few times like this, especially when introducing new players.
Oftentimes however, we end up playing our own game at our own pace and just talking through our solutions at the end. No winners or losers as long as everyone gets the code right.
I’ve yet to touch much on the design and it’s one its biggest strengths. The punch card computer theme runs through the whole game. The box lid is full of holes which add to the intrigue behind this game, not only this but whether intentionally or not, the holes in the lid remove one of the biggest annoyances when setting up or packing away games. There is simply no pressure difference between the inside and outside of the box, this means that removing or replacing the lid is so smooth, no internal vacuum or air bubble in sight.
The component usage to reveal the single tick or cross is satisfying no matter how many times you do it, and showing new players brings feelings of excitement and anticipation. Careful thought has been given to things like the verification cards, each has 4 identifying numbers to help avoid people remembering match up and meta gaming.
Visual accessibility has clearly been carefully considered, nothing relies solely on colour, each number column has a colour and a shape associated with any occurrences on cards or in the rules showing both.
There are a few issues when people first start playing but once they’ve played a few games, it seems to stick.
The first is that it’s not always clear what the tick or cross means. You always test the rule(s) that are true for your chosen number. For example, in the case of a criteria card that determines if the yellow digit is even, if your yellow digit is 3 and and you get a tick then the yellow digit is in fact off. What it doesn’t mean is that your selection is correct, it could be a 1 or a 5 instead.
The second issue here is that it’s not completely clear that each puzzle only has a single solution, and every criteria card is required to solve the puzzle, no criteria card is superfluous. This can give more advanced players or players with better logical thinking an extra advantage being able to remove possibilities without testing at all. In one game, the only criteria card that could give information on the purple number was how many 3s were in the solution. If purple wasn’t 3, you would have no way of knowing what it was, so I knew one digit before even starting the game.
Finally, the box included no proper writing tools, there is a dry erase marker included but this is for keeping track of which verification card is for which branch. A tiny pencil for each player screen would allow people to dive right in after opening the box. Our first play had us taking pictures of the notepad on our phones and drawing on them digitally as we had no access to pens or pencils.
Overall it’s a fantastic puzzling experience that draws inspiration from an interesting and unique part of our technological history. It allows players of all skill levels to take part and playing together as a group can create some real teaching moments. The limitation of the 20 puzzles within the book could be an issue in the future as with all app/web driven games. Will there always be a way to generate puzzles? How long will the webpage stay up and if they were to take it down? Could they provide a method to generate puzzles offline? Who knows, but while the site exists I strongly recommend Turing Machine if you have any interest in logic puzzles. Even if logic puzzles aren’t normally for you, I don’t think you can get much better for the price and quality of Turing Machine.