I’ve been crazy busy this week, and haven’t really been inspired for a post for today. So I just asked my brother-in-law Mike, of Team Dragons, if he had anything interesting to say regarding DASH from the perspective of someone who doesn’t do puzzles and stuff regularly. ”I thought it was fun,” he said, “but there were too many puzzles.”
What he meant was that there were too many puzzles for our beginner teams to solve within the allotted time, and by the end we were all just basically asking for step-by-step help from Game Control because we were running out of time. This is perfectly normal, it being both of our teams first times playing an event like this (I still say Post Hunt isn’t really the same), and I was the only person across our two teams who does puzzle-type things regularly. Still, we wonder whether we might have had more fun if we had been playing at a more beginner-oriented level somehow.
Should event designers even consider offering beginners options? I think it’s definitely worth some consideration. I would assume that one goal of the community is to grow and attract more and more interested people. Someone who thinks puzzles are fun, but who doesn’t solve or play anything regularly might be intimidated by the hardcore nature of many puzzle hunts. And casual or beginner teams that do make it out to an event might get frustrated and feel so out of their league that they don’t come back. If there was some way to help beginner players get started, they could play at their pace until they felt comfortable participating in a more competitive capacity. It seems like taking measures to help include and welcome beginner players could only benefit the community, as long as those measures wouldn’t negatively affect more seasoned players.
Mike suggested maybe offering a beginner’s “track” for DASH, where beginners receive a variation of each puzzle where some step is already completed, or where beginners are given a free hint to start. The goal would be to bring the beginner solving time up to match the normal solving time so that beginner teams could enjoy the whole event. Beginner teams could also be given a written schedule to help them easily recognize if they’re running behind. Beginner teams that are behind might be given extra hints automatically. And of course, beginner scores would be kept on a separate leaderboard.
Probably the biggest obstacle to accommodating beginners is that it would require more work from a volunteer-based event. DASH is also a tricky example since things must be coordinated across so many cities. Perhaps a single-city event might be a good place to experiment with a beginner option and see how things go. At the very least, I think DASH could take a few small measures to help out new teams, such as discouraging participation in the collaborative puzzle and maybe including an optimal solving schedule to keep teams on track.
Post Hunt seems to do a good job of addressing beginner and expert interests — the five main puzzles are manageable by teams of all skill levels, while the End Game requires very high skill and speed (but is totally optional for beginners).
What do you think? Should puzzle hunts be made more accessible and palatable to new and/or casual teams, or is being thrown into the deep end right from the start actually a defining element of the community and its events?