I’ve played the last few games out of randomized order because I wanted to provide some feedback for games that either had no review listed on the spreadsheet or no conversation thread on the forum. I approached this game with apprehension because it is the last game lacking a forum thread — and I soon saw why: this submission is a pdf document with a format similar to a choose your own adventure (CYOA) story.
There’s no argument about it being interactive fiction, but it’s a real outlier in a comp that focuses on computer-mediated games. The estimated play time of over two hours probably did not help attract players, either.
Looking at the document, the method of playing is more complicated than most choose your own adventure stories. It does follow the convention of numbering text passages, with choices in each section directing players to another numbered section. However, it also implements rules for some of the features normally found in tabletop RPGs, for example, a combat system that allows the player character to engage a group of enemies. At various points, dice need to be rolled to randomize outcomes, e.g., for combat.
To extend this analogy, the player needs to be both DM and PC in this solitaire system. There are a lot of variables to be tracked: hit points, base attack bonus, items, allies, spells/potions. Items and spells have specific effects, and when they are used, the reader needs to jump to a corresponding bit of text that explains what happens. The good news is the mechanics are laid out in clear terms at the top of the document. The less good news is that taken together, the rules are a lot to internalize.
I did not get far with this system. First, I do not routinely print documents at home, and I found it unwieldy to flip back and forth through the pages of a PDF on my laptop. Forget trying this on a phone screen. It worked much better to go full screen on my desktop monitor, where I could show a single page at native resolution. Even so, navigating back and forth is a pain. The PDF format supports hyperlinking, and I would have expected links between options and text passages as a minimal courtesy.
Any excuse to roll dice with a group of gamers is fine with me, but sitting by myself? Really? I opted to use a dice app on my phone.
As I worked my way through the PDF, I felt more like I was laboriously single-stepping through code; getting from point A to point B in the story involved more bookkeeping that I would have liked, and detracted from my involvement in the story.
To be honest, I did not get very far. Certainly, I have been spoiled by modern modes of interaction. I miss starting the game with “x me” — in this game, I don’t really know much about the PC for quite a while. Also, the number of choices and branching is narrowly constrained due to the medium. The game can hinge on doing a specific action: for example, getting beyond the first scene requires using the trowel. On one hand, that’s an obscure action, on the other, it’s one of the few listed, so the player will do it, but is that fun?
Also, I felt like the player had little autonomy to explore. In most parser games, if I go north, I can get back to where I started from by going south; in this system, linkages are tend to be unidirectional. That progression feels forced to me.
I don’t know whether the author really had a strong desire to do the game in pen and pencil mode or if this is what he defaulted to because he wasn’t familiar with one of the more common hypertext or parser-based platforms. If the latter, maybe he’d consider roping in a collaborator. If he wanted to convert this to a computer-mediated game, he’s already done most of the hard work. Maybe it would make sense to release this sort of game in both formats?
Preliminary Score: 3.2