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Alternate History, Intrigue

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Number of Ratings: 99
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- jakomo, September 21, 2017

- sushabye, September 2, 2017

- karlnp (Vancouver, BC), August 22, 2017

- Denk, January 17, 2017

- Sobol (Russia), January 15, 2017

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Caution: Murder ahead, November 18, 2016
This is probably about the 'darkest' IF I have ever played--you are a 'lowly' palace minister who is seizing an opportunity to essentially become king(after the king has died) by eliminating your rivals, one by one. And you have two hours(within the game, not on the clock) to achieve this. When I say 'eliminate', I mean actually killing your rivals--albeit indirectly(get my hands dirty!? Perish the thought!). If you object to this idea, then I strongly advise against playing this game. I know it's 'only fiction' but I can see how some would be turned off by it. But being the persistent IF-er, I pressed on...
It took me about 7 days to figure this game out, and should you decide to 'press on' like I did, I suggest you do the following--
1. Lay aside any expectation of 'winning' within the first few playthroughs. You will not. This game has a very tight time schedule, instead of a turn-counter, there is a time clock that measures out time according to how long the author estimates your chosen actions would take(instead of each action taking 1 turn, a 'wait' may take 2 minutes, a move between rooms may take 10 seconds, etc, though the clock at the top will advance only in 5 minute increments--it will not visibly advance with every move, so you have to guess). Most estimates I have seen say that a successful playthrough should take about 100 moves(which would sum up to about 2 hours, game time).
2. Expect to play through to the end(a failure,(Spoiler - click to show)when the war secretary-turned-warlord takes over the city-state) many times. But see each playthrough as a means of exploring the palace(you really won't be able to go anywhere outside) further, and getting to know each NPC more, by surveillance, observation, questions, etc. Search your own room, first, figure out the machinery.
3. Probably the best perspective to take is to realize that, at the beginning of the game, you ALREADY have a plan(to eliminate your rivals)--you just need to recall what it is, and put it in motion. Your initial playthroughs will be about figuring out the component parts of the plan, then you will need to put them together timing-wise.
4. These parts will interlock, in the final game(where you actually win) in such a way that you will need to work on each of the rivals simultaneously, putting a move or two in here and there against each. The order in which you execute these moves is very important. One mistake can be costly. You have to find out the correct order in which to destroy them.
I must make a confession, here. Though I have found out how to eliminate each of the rivals(there are 5), I never got the order correct. I kept dying, because I would forget something, took too long to do another thing, etc etc. Finally, I decided that I had other things I wanted to do and put the game aside. The 'enjoyment' that I got came from the 'figuring out' process, and I was content to know that I 'could' have figured out the timing. This game is truly rigorous. If Mr Cadre's intentions were to completely vex you, then he succeeded with me.
I did enjoy the rich descriptions and full character developments. Clearly, you are meant to explore all of these before completing the details of your plan and carrying them out with the final playthrough--in which you will NOT have time to do any information gathering. Look at EVERYTHING. ASK QUESTIONS. Experiment with ALL take-able objects. USE the equipment(for example, in some of my first playthroughs,(Spoiler - click to show) I did nothing but sit in the room and watch each one of the main NPCs on the surveillance system, particularly the rivals, for the entire two hours. I did this for each NPC.).
But for all its intricacy, there are some flaws. I think that the seeming anachronisms (palace guards, albeit with rifles, the 'war' with Venice, etc) were intentional, the author is bringing the old era of city-states(the Carolingian League) into the future, with electronics, helicopters, etc. The two biggest flaws that I can recall are--
1. Indifference; apparently, none of the deaths that you will have caused will be investigated, despite the social rank of the victims(in fact,(Spoiler - click to show) in the one in which there IS a reaction,you are present and it's obvious that you supplied the weapon. And surely, the queen and/or her son would notice that her brother-in-law had been murdered by the falling toy, which she had to have seen you take...!??.
2. In case no one noticed, (Spoiler - click to show)there is a cannibalistic plant taking over the palace! Nothing is said as to what was/will be done to eliminate it! Unless I missed something.
It bears repeating that in this game, YOU WILL BE DOING A LOT OF KILLING. Which perhaps leads to a third flaw--(Spoiler - click to show)when you destroy the war minister, you will also destroy his army. There may not be many people left to rule..!!??
Therefore, I gave it three stars. With these things in mind, I hope you enjoy the game, should you choose to play it.

- chairbender, October 2, 2016

- NinaS, July 3, 2016

- Sodajerk, June 9, 2016

- Janice M. Eisen (Portland, Oregon), June 1, 2016

A tightly-timed game with many NPCs, where you watch and commit disturbing acts, February 3, 2016

I avoided this game for some time, as I knew it had some disturbing content, but I was curious, so I went in and played through it. I feel, looking back, that I didn't really need to do so.

The gameplay is intricate, with six or more NPCs taking actions every turn. You play one of many possible regents to a young prince who must battle for supremacy. The game is mostly set in a blend of medieval, modern, and slightly futuristic technology.

Each enemy is deeply flawed. Some are motivated by greed, others by lust. The game deals with pedophilia, repeated rape, murder, alcoholism, misogyny, etc. These topics don't make a game bad, if they are handled well; but the game has a worldview that makes you squirm, where you are implicit in violence and death, and where human happiness is impossible.

Other people may not have the same reaction. Heck, I played it for quitea bit, before usinv a walkthrough to the end, making me hypocritical. But I can't recommend it in general.

- Guenni (At home), January 24, 2016

- Nancy Boo, November 22, 2015

- mixscarlet, October 14, 2015

- CMG (NYC), May 1, 2015

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Hints For Beating Chicken Pox, March 18, 2015
by Matt W (San Diego, CA)
For a game like Varicella, that's been reviewed to death and has even had academic papers written about some of the characters, I don't know that it's all that useful to write a review that lists my likes and dislikes. (For the record, I liked the structure, writing, and setting lots and lots. I disliked the implied extreme sexual violence; I'm not particularly squeamish but this game made me squirm.) I do think the game's handling of its female characters is under-explored. (Cadre strikes me as trying to have his cake and eat it, while insisting that he doesn't even like cake.) More on that later. I thought I'd focus the review on providing some hints for new players.

Spoiler-free Hints
1) The game has a reputation for being impossibly difficult. It's really not. I suspect it's the intended playstyle that throws people off and gives them this impression. The puzzles are clever, but logical and well clued.
2) There are multiple solutions to many (all?) of the game's major problems. Some of the solutions are exclusive to each other (e.g. by using one, you preclude another), but there are multiple ways to combine the multiple solutions to ultimately solve the game. (Though I'm pretty sure there's only one 'winning' ending.) This creates the initial impression that there are lots of red herrings in the game (and I suspect that there are still a few), but most of what seem like red herrings are actually used for other solutions to your problems.
3) You will die. Many times. This is, I think, what lends the game its aura of difficulty. But if you expect it, it's kind of freeing. You can experiment: spend a whole playthrough standing in or watching a room to see what happens there, try various methods of solving puzzles, feel free to do dangerous seeming things, etc. This playstyle is apparently known as 'accretive protagonist'; it's like the movie Groundhog Day, where each playthrough allows you the opportunity to learn something and over many runs, you can build up enough knowledge to complete a successful one. The protagonist hints in the introductory text that he has a master plan. You can view your task as the player is to discover what that plan is and put it into action.
4) The time restraint is somewhat tight, but there's some slop built in for mistakes. Since the solution to the game is mostly modular, you can focus your experimentation in one playthrough on trying to achieve a particular solution to one problem, then in the next on optimizing it. Then move on to another problem, etc.
5) There's a jpeg map that comes with the game. It's worth printing it out. The geography of the game is simple and logical (though with many rooms), but the map helps keep your directions straight.
6) There's a lot to discover about the setting of the game and the characters that isn't vital or even useful for the solution. It's worth it to spend a few playthroughs wandering around, examining things, and asking questions.

About the Women (heavy spoilers)
(Spoiler - click to show)I've read a few reviews that mention Cadre's use of Sierra as his mouthpiece. If asked the right questions, she'll discuss women's political and cultural status both in the Piedmont and in the geopolitical reality of Cadre's setting. She comes off as something of a freedom-fighter for women's equality. Then she takes Rico's money and wields a team of assassins to assist him in cementing his power (which may actually be the good ending in the game.) She's obviously based a trope: the femme fatale. And Sarah is the weeping, simpering, weak woman. And Charlotte is crazy. (Note that Sierra herself seems to despise these other female characters, or at best evinces no sympathy for them.) And what are their ultimate fates? Sarah is murdered by her own son (who only ever refers to her as 'bitch'), and Charlotte gets locked back up in her cell. These women aren't agents, they're caricatures intended to be manipulated by the player, then pushed back into the background. Maybe that's Cadre's point, but then you have to look at the rapes.

Sarah was raped by her stepfather (crudely revealed by Sierra), Charlotte has been raped by Rico and Louis, and Sierra herself has been raped by Modo. In other words all of the female characters in the game have been subject to repeated sexual violence. Sarah's and Sierra's rapes serve very little purpose to the story: perhaps Sarah's is used to justify or explain her temperament and maybe Sierra's is used to make Modo look more evil. Charlotte's and that of Prince Charles are even more unsettling -- they're used to advance Varicella's agenda. You wouldn't be able to solve the game without those rapes. And maybe Cadre is trying to implicate the player or make a statement about agency or something. But it's a cold, disturbing, alien thing.

I'd give this game 5-stars for its great imaginative setting, for its thoroughly complicated but fascinating plot, for its very strong writing, for its technical accomplishments and for its engaging play-style. But I found that the implied sexual violence jarred both with the tone of the narration, with my desire to sense more agency from NPCs (especially female ones), and with my tolerance for utterly depraved human monsters stalking the halls.

- Thrax, March 11, 2015

- hoopla, March 1, 2015

- namekuseijin (anywhere but home), February 18, 2015

- Witchy W, October 25, 2014

- Floating Info, August 27, 2014

- shornet (Bucharest), March 23, 2014

- Snave, March 7, 2014

- francisthe3rd (Horseheads, NY), January 23, 2014

Reviews From Trotting Krips

This game I thought would be that perfect, long game, but it's not - it has some definite flaws which, while they don't prevent it from being enjoyable, do prevent it from being a classic. If I-O is one of the most newbie friendly interactive fiction games I've ever encountered, this is probably about the least newbie friendly interactive fiction game I've ever come across.

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