Turing Machine Review – Board Game Quest

Turing MachineIn 1939 mathematician Alan Turing invented a hypothetical machine that would come to be considered an early model of the modern computer. In 2022 games publisher Scorpion Masqué brought us the board game interpretation of Turing’s invention. Immediately a hit, the game has remained popular, impressing coders and math lovers around the world. I may be a little late to the party, but I finally had the opportunity to check the game out for myself, and here’s what I thought.

Turing Machine is a numbers deduction game for 1-4 aspiring mathematicians, and is playable in about 20 minutes.

Gameplay Overview:

To set up a game of Turing Machine, players can choose from a list of puzzles in the rule book, sorted by difficulty. Alternatively, there is a website that will generate a puzzle for them based on their preferences. The cards indicated for the chosen puzzle are then taken from their respective decks and placed in a wheel-like formation surrounding a central “machine tile”: first, a number of criteria cards specified by the puzzle are placed, then their associated verification cards.

Turing Machine Card
Put a check mark in the appropriate box to mark which verifier each verification card is associated with. In this case, “A” has been checked.

To play the game, each player will simultaneously compose their proposal, a sequence of three numbers 1-5, in three different colors—blue, yellow, and purple—by overlapping three punch cards. Once each player has completed their proposal, they can question up to three verifiers. This is done by laying the three punch cards over the verifier in such a way that either a checkmark or “x” will be revealed, indicating whether the card meets the criteria or not. Each verifier has a specific criteria card associated with it; for example, a criteria card might say “blue is equal to 1 or blue is greater than 1.” So if the proposal uses a blue 1 and the verifier shows a check mark, you know blue is a 1.

In following rounds players may compose new proposals based on previous information, checking again with the verifiers, until they’ve deduced the answer. If a player feels they have solved the code they check the solution and, if correct, win the game. If more than one player solves the code in the same round, the player who asked the fewest questions is the winner. If the player(s) guessed wrong, the others continue to play until the code is solved or only one player remains, at which point the last remaining player wins by default.

Turing Machine Gamplay
The machine tile (center) with criteria, then their associated verification cards placed along the edges.

Game Experience:

Like many board gamers, I was an avid Wordle player for a time, and when I play Turing Machine the impression I get is “Wordle with numbers.” Players are making a series of guesses in order to deduce the answer. As you play you begin to understand that there is an ideal order in which to question the verifiers, an ideal proposal to begin the game with, etc… It’s a puzzle. And for those who love solving puzzles, especially with numbers, Turing Machine will likely be a hit. Add to that the impressive analog computing feat the game presents, and it’s difficult not to be impressed.

Turing Machine Answer
Checking a proposal.

But, is there an actual game here, or is this simply a puzzle one can solve like the daily Sudoku? I’ve never much cared for the “this isn’t a game” argument, but here I almost think it can apply. Whether that matters depends on the player—either you like this sort of thing or you don’t. Does it feel more puzzly than gamey? Absolutely. And that, I suspect, is why many people will play it. Others might enjoy it for what game actually is there: a competitive race to be the one who solves the puzzle by asking the fewest questions. But where I think the experience shines particularly well is the solo play, which you can access through the website, where millions of puzzles can be found, including a daily puzzle where you can race against the “Machine.”

So, why not just play an app game? Going through the stacks of cards in search of the ones required for each puzzle is a little tedious, and diminishes the appeal of back-to-back plays. A digital implementation would negate that issue. Of course, if it’s just an app, then you’re missing out on the Luddite fantasy of a cardboard computer. So, there is that. And I get it, that’s pretty cool. But is that coolness alone enough to carry this game long-term?

Turing Machine Player Aid
A player screen is used for rules reminders and to keep your notes hidden from opponents.

The problem I have with these sorts of puzzles is that one eventually breaks the system, discovering the quickest route to the answer, which kind of spoils the fun for me. It’s why I rarely play Wordle anymore—once I “broke it” I just wasn’t that interested in playing it again. It didn’t matter that today’s word was different from yesterday’s word—it was all just a puzzle, and it was the same puzzle, ultimately, again and again and again.

Undoubtedly, for some, this game will offer dozens, even hundreds, of plays before it starts to feel repetitive, but it was a sense I got fairly early on. It’s not because I’m especially smart or that the game felt too easy—there are varying levels of difficulty—it’s just that the point where the game starts to feel challenging is also the point where I’m kind of done caring about it.

So for a game, in the world of games and not puzzles, I think I’d prefer something like Shipwreck Arcana, where the players are giving you information and similar deductions are made based on the available clues, but human fallacy and a bit of randomness are at play. The bottom line is: the reason I play board games is to play board games, and if I wanted a computer game I’d just play a computer game.

Final Thoughts:

Despite the somewhat negative tone of my review, I do actually think what Turing Machine achieves is impressive, and it can even be pretty fun for the first few plays, after which point it might start to feel repetitive. I think it’s just the sort of game that people who like puzzles and/or coding will like, and people who prefer to play more of a game probably won’t.

Final Score: 3.5 stars – Is it a puzzle or a game? In either case, it can still be a fun experience.

3.5 StarsHits:
• Impressive feat in analog computation
• Many different modes of play
• Puzzles scale in difficulty

• 90% puzzle, 10% game
• Despite the variety, plays feel similar

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