The 9 Best Games to Play With a Notepad

A kind of niche. Games that are best enjoyed with a notepad often involve some mystery or require drawing strange symbols or shapes that can’t be quickly or easily replicated on your PC. They may involve hasty arithmetic, amateurish maps, scribbled floor plans, giddy lists. In those cases, it turns out the giant machine purring three inches from your nose just won’t cut it. Sometimes you have to use a pencil. Here are the 9 best games to play with a notepad.


There’s a joyful way to invoke nostalgia and there’s a cynical way. Cynic is McDonalds resurrecting some cursed Happy Meal toys you dimly remember and announcing them with a multi-generational ad that dates back to the 90s when Gran was still alive. The tunic does it well. It gives you a world where not every rule or ability is immediately explained, then drip feeds you through the pages of an SNES-like game manual. If you’re anything like me, your note-taking instinct will kick in. You’ll scribble down theories and ideas, the names of the items you need, the places you need to go next. Maybe even try translating some of the game’s mysterious hieroglyphics. Think it’s pointless? Try not playing Tunic for a week and come back to it. Even the deep feeling of being lost is vintage.

His history

It’s only fitting that a murder mystery built on an aging police search engine sees you snarling at the old computer interface and picking up pen and paper to jot things down the old fashioned way. As you sift through suspicious interview clips of a nervous woman, you take on the role of detective, jotting down key words to enter the dusty British police database, circling the names of unseen characters, drawing lines between them like red threads. “Window” you write trying to figure out the basic facts. “Palindrome? you scratch, confused and curious in equal measure. “Hair,” you scribble, with terrifying realization, underlining it twice. “HAIR”, you write again at the top of the page. “EVERYTHING IS A QUESTION OF HAIR. You lean back in your swivel chair. Oh my God. You take the pen one last time. “HAIR STORY.”

Stardew Valley

Having a “to do” list for a video game is not a sign of being a huge dweeb. It’s an honest admission from someone who fundamentally understands what video games are and have always been: brightly colored chores. Wikis and sacred sacrifices made by guidebook writers will give you an alternative to austere bookkeeping in Stardew Valley (you don’t need to remember Pam’s favorite gift if the internet has pre-memorized it for you). Still, there’s something satisfying about discovering and recording these things for yourself. Humans like to catalog things. This is why Argos exists. Keeping your own tasks and thoughts arranged in a messy pile of lists is part of being a good farmer.

Cross Kings 3

I also keep a to-do list in Crusader Kings 3. “Don’t die,” he says. “Evaporate the English into nothing,” he said. “Unfree Ireland will never be at peace.” Wow. Calm down, me.


For kids of a certain age (35), using a notepad to record the location of certain objects in a game or writing down SN34KY PA55W0RD5 which would unlock later levels is a good memory. Fez hacks that memory with retro visuals, then adds an extra layer. Look, here are some strange symbols. And others, but these look… different? Oh ho, look at your little eyes shining. I think someone wants a Bic and an A4 sheet stolen from the printer’s paper tray.

Any Zachtronics Game

What is logic? How do clocks work? Why do computers beep? These are ancient mysteries, and have never been solved. Yet to play a Zachtronics game is to inhabit the soul of a hardened machinist determined to understand this kind of question. You mostly get by with hooking up cables and programming instructions without using detailed notes. But every once in a while, a puzzle pops up that requires a plan. A bubble chart in ballpoint pen on a napkin. A flowchart engraved on the back of a cardboard box nearby. Zachlikes doesn’t require you to sit down with a notepad from the first moment. They immerse you in the logic of their mechanisms. But there’s usually a conundrum when you just can’t clearly imagine the blurry device in your brain fog, so you scramble to find some writing utensils and the thinnest piece of paper. close, desperate to draw boxes and lines and words and numbers in an effort to ward off the solution, like an alchemist in trouble.

hollow knight

Another case where you don’t know what you’re doing and carefully write down every area you’ve been to and every boss you’ve defeated. Nope? You don’t do that? Well, I admit it, I have the memory of a tea bag membrane.

The sky

You can play through this archaeological adventure without thinking too much about the strange language that keeps popping up. Just click on the options and walk around. But you would miss a nerdery good word. Slowly amassing a small dictionary of otherworldly terms makes everything in this game more meaningful, and it simulates that fuzzy point in language learning that you start thinking about in weird, stunted transliterations. The pile of squiggles that means “river” comes out as something like “wet thing moving high”. And this river does not “flow” but it “moves the water”. To fear is to “know death” and to love is to “keep alive”. At least those are the definitions from my dictionary, which was 18 pages at the end of the game. It turns out that being able to understand alien jargon at the end of an adventure game makes for fun homework.

Ring of Elden

“Try playing Elden Ring with a journal and a pen,” someone once said on the internet. “You fool, you troglodyte,” replied another person who only came across this corner of the internet and, to be honest, didn’t care. “Stop shaming this person,” a third viewer said, perhaps as a weak joke, perhaps in all sincerity, it’s still hard to determine. “Here is my diary,” said another speechless avatar of chaos, attaching a photo of an expertly illustrated guache depiction of Starscourge Radahn, annotated with elvish calligraphy. “Just doodling,” they added, to the silent ticker of a million likes. “You wouldn’t need a journal if the quest design was clearer,” said one person with UI/UX in their bio. “Get good at drawing watercolor knights, loser,” someone replied in response, but in a way that wasn’t clear as to who it was meant for. “Here’s my diary,” someone else offered, sarcastically attaching a link to Fextralife’s Elden Ring wiki guides. “Touch the grass,” said someone who, on closer inspection, has been shouting things over the internet 10 times a day for the past five years. All of the above are alternate accounts of mine, and I want to set the record straight. Anyone who hears the names Ranni, Rennala, Radagan, Radahn, and Rykard, and can remember who’s who without the need for notes, should work at NASA and not spend their time picking 99 Rowa Fruits, whatever they are.

One Off The List of… the best twists in games

Last time, we stumbled upon a terrible secret and revealed the top 9 twists in PC games. But one of them was no surprise. His…Special operations: the line. Because I say so.

That’s all for now, list the goblins. Remember, if you want to remove something from the list above, make your point in the comments. And while you’re at it, let us know what unexpected games you enjoy playing with a notebook by your side. Your your!

About Debra D. Johnson

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