mitchell vitez

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Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes

This is my favorite party/puzzle game. One person is a bomb defuser, and everyone else gets to share a copy of the defusal manual. The defuser is tasked with reading off the setup of various puzzles on the bomb (called modules), and the other players use the manual to solve puzzles and read their answers back to the defuser.

A lot of the frustration and joy of Keep Talking comes from miscommunication. Several modules are set up to be maximally confusing. After a few rounds, most teams will have their communication structured so that it’s clear for both sides, so this game is best played either with someone new to the game, or at least someone you haven’t played many rounds with before.

The game is better on a laptop, because you can pass it around and have everyone in the room try their hand at defusing the bomb. I’ve also tried it on a VR headset a few times, and while that adds a little to the seclusion of the bomb defuser, it’s really not all that different. The key thing is to keep the puzzle solvers from seeing the bomb, and vice versa.

There are two systems for upping the intensity: strikes and the bomb timer. If the defuser makes a mistake when solving a module (either due to a misclick or a miscommunication with a puzzle solver), that’s a strike. Get too many strikes and the bomb explodes. Also, if time runs out, the bomb goes off. There’s a persistent countdown ticking away….

Also after a while, you tend to memorize certain aspects of how the game works and become much better at it. For example, I remember certain parts of the “complicated wires” Venn diagram, so can respond immediately, or if I’m defusing act accordingly without even saying anything to my teammates. I think that while unavoidable, this is to the game’s detriment, since it’s most fun when you’re trying to figure out how to communicate on the fly.

There are also other puzzles that are possible to solve as the defuser alone, to the game’s detriment. It’s often possible to guess the “password” module just by clicking through it a little bit. If you know Morse code, the Morse code module becomes trivial. If you don’t…good luck keeping up with that one.

Overall, this game is incredibly stimulating and fun. Defusers learn to parallelize, reading off as many tasks as they can so that their teammates can split up the puzzle-solving work amongst themselves. Puzzle solvers learn to wait their turn and interject answers at appropriate times. The game’s really about how well you’re getting along with your friends, which makes it super enjoyable.

Play it if

You like high-speed puzzle solving, enjoy figuring out how to make your communication as clear as possible, don’t have an eidetic memory, or want to try an imbalanced cooperative party game.