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Earl Grey

by Rob Dubbin and Allison Parrish

Fantasy
2009

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Number of Reviews: 5
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1-5 of 5


Mid-length difficult wordplay game; very hard for me, February 3, 2016
Early Grey is a game about wordplay and puzzles; you have the ability to remove letters from words and put them back in. By doing so, you change the environment around you.

I found this game extraordinarily difficult. Of the two dozen or so puzzles in the game, I figured out maybe 2-3 on my own, which is the worst I've done in any wordplay game (Ad Verbum, Counterfeit Monkey, Shuffling Around, Threediopolis).

However, someone else could definitely have more luck. The world building in the game is fun, and the dialogue and characters you meet are truly interesting. However, I had no idea what was going on in the ending.

Overall, I was left frustrated and confused. But I feel that another player may have much more fun.

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Tricky, yet satisfying, September 3, 2011
I really enjoy word games, so when I heard the premise of this game I knew I had to give it a try. So you start off getting ready to host a tea party. And then you talk for a while, get to learn about your newfound power to manipulate the written world around you... But of course as everyone knows, curiosity killed the cat. And so fiddling with these new powers might get earn you some just retribution.

This was a great concept, wonderfully clever and strategically employed. Clearly the author put much thought into every word. Not only that, but he's still managed to make the game witty and interesting to boot! Soon, though, it can become pretty tricky, and one might have to resort to a walkthrough or hints. Also, there seemed a few things in game that should be able to have letters stolen or added, and yet they couldn't (but something like this is almost unavoidable). This game is original and fresh, a great game.

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Knock Knock Logic, December 7, 2009
by TempestDash (Cincinnati, Ohio)
Earl Grey relies on what I think is a pretty ingenious gimmick (which may or may not make up for any other shortcomings it has). The avatar in the game is given a magical bag that allows you to manipulate the words used to describe the world around you in one of two ways. You may either ‘KNOCK’ a letter out of a word, or ‘CAST’ a letter into a word.

For instance, if you are “Standing in the room with someone’s Aunt,” you could ‘KNOCK’ the last word in that sentence and suddenly you’d be “Standing in the room with someone’s ant.” The only restriction the game places on the player (presumably, there are a few missteps in the implementation) is that the resultant sentence must be grammatically correct.

This clever manipulation of the world is pretty exciting at first, but the game very quickly falls into drudgery when you realize how carefully every sentence is worded such that KNOCKing and CASTing opportunities are, in fact, limited to a single linear path of puzzles leading you from start to finish. The incredible freedom you might imagine with the power to change one letter in any description just doesn’t measure up to the implementation here. Often your avatar is shoved from featureless room to featureless room using one-way portals instead of doors so you end up with no spatial reference.

In the end, if a room has something in it, it’s going to be KNOCKed or CASTed eventually. The stranger the placement of the word in the sentence is also a good sign that something needs to be manipulated. You might think this would be a benefit to gameplay, however, the puzzles you are presented with sometimes require two or three separate KNOCKs and subsequent CASTings to solve and the intermediary steps often don’t appear to be taking you any closer to your goal.

Furthermore, there is a definite feeling that the puzzles were developed prior to the environment they were placed in, which explains why portals whisk you from place to place and that the flow of solutions doesn’t seem to follow logical sense. I’d think the most satisfying chain of puzzles would involve making a number of changes to a single sentence that get you closer and closer to your goal until they all add up to the solution. But Earl Grey doesn’t have many situations like that. In fact the only one I can think of that comes close was (Spoiler - click to show) when you saw a statue with a crown, and then continued to knock it until you ended up with a moon in the sky so you could turn the moon's 'luster' into a 'cluster' of rocks to stand on. Only that last bit will make sense and the rest is just playing around with anything the game lets you. Instead, if there are three sentences describing an area, there will be three changes to be made one to each of the sentences and ONLY in the order the game wants you to make them.

So, while the game has a brilliant idea here, it doesn’t succeed in fully exploring it, which disappoints. It does, however, have a very funny and charming commentary by the player character that appears after the command prompt after every effective action. It appears to be the stream of consciousness of the PC you’re controlling, and, if so, he’s a pretty sarcastic person and definitely witty. One action comes to mind is when you enter a room and see a large clock standing to one side. Naturally I tried to KNOCK the clock and, as a result, a large lock ends up standing to one side. The commentary at the bottom of the screens says: “Yeah, that could have gone one of two ways.”

So, my recommendation is to give it a try at least to experience this interesting gameplay mechanic, but keep the walkthrough handy for when the game goes off on a path that doesn’t immediately make sense.

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Baffling, capricious, but always entertaining., November 16, 2009
This game is tremendous fun – at least, once you work out what’s going on. The game combines a ruthless logic with dazzling capriciousness. The best example comes in the introduction. The first part of the game introduces you to the game mechanics and explains what your task is going to be. As it turns out, however, you never perform that task at all. No sooner is the introduction over than the game takes a wildly different turn. You’ll still need the skills you learned in the introduction, but you won’t be doing what you thought you were going to be doing.

It quickly becomes apparent that the game revolves around word play of a kind very similar to that of the seminal “Nord and Bert”. Like that game, you change the world by changing the words that describe the world. Moreover, like that game, the action is extremely episodic. The tools you need to solve each scene are within that scene, and when you move to the next scene, you won’t take any with you.

There is a story, though, and there are even characters who appear in different scenes. (I especially liked the Earl himself.) Even having completed the game, however, I’m not entirely clear on the details of the story – but one gets the impression that it doesn’t really matter. Nothing in this game is to be taken seriously, even by the characters in it.

A very nice touch which brings this home is the “thought line”. This is displayed *after* the command prompt, and gives the PC’s thoughts on what has just happened – which are usually fairly sarcastic and pretty funny. I don’t think these thoughts are ever essential to the game, although they sometimes give vague hints. One slight annoyance is that the contents of the runebag are displayed in the thought line, which changes after you type the next command. That means that you might forget what those contents are after a couple of moves and have to check it again.

The puzzles are fairly logical – in a sort of a way – although tackling them can become fairly mechanical. When I couldn’t think what else to do, I found myself examining everything and then trying to manipulate pretty much every word I saw in a methodical way. Most of the time, however, it was easier to guess what to do, although it was not always clear why.

Negative points: there isn’t a great deal of freedom in this one. You can effect the transformations that are required to solve the puzzles, but no others. So the great promise of your world-altering abilities isn’t really met. You can’t take objects, only transform them. There is very much the sense that you are progressing through a set series of events rather than really controlling what’s going on. Similarly, you can TALK TO characters, but that’s it – you can’t specify subjects. In fact, this works well and keeps the story flowing – when the character stops being responsive you know it’s time to start changing objects. However, the game’s rails can sometimes work against it, especially when it is far from obvious even what you’re attempting, let alone how to do it. (Spoiler - click to show)Perhaps the worst example of this comes at the beginning, when you finish learning how to use the runebag, but Eaves won’t let you go into town until you’ve finished your training. What to do? In fact you’re supposed to turn the plants into pants, thereby driving Eaves mad and initiating the events that drive the actual adventure, but it’s not clear why you’d want to drive Eaves mad at all!

These negative points don’t really detract from the game. This is the kind of game it is, and it does it very well. All in all, a lot of fun and a genuinely funny game to boot.

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Language Materialist Games at the Mad Monk’s Tea Party, November 2, 2009
by Felix Larsson (Gothenburg, Sweden)
Related reviews: [4], gambol
There’s a really original idea behind this puzzle piece: you go around transforming things by taking a letter away from its name or by adding one to it. As soon as its name is changed, the thing itself is transformed accordingly: for (non-spoiler) example, if from the hillside you see the imperial fleet approaching, you can take the ‘l’ from it, and instead you will see the imperial feet approaching; you now have an ‘l’, which you can add to the man eating grue that you’re faced with inside the cave, and all of a sudden it’s a man eating gruel you’re faced with in that cave. The puzzles in the game are all of this kind.

The idea, I think, is really great; regrettably, the game doesn’t quite match it. Not that it lacks ‘good-making characteristics’ even apart from the fresh puzzle mechanics: at the bottom of the screen is a nice running commentary to the events of the game in the form of the PC’s silent thoughts (often funny, sometimes helpfully giving hints); it starts with an excellent interactive in-game training sessions that accustoms the player both to its novel kind of puzzles and to the continuing need to talk to NPC:s (when you’re not transforming things, you’re talking to NPC:s. You should do a lot of talking to most anything and keep talking to it till you don’t get any new answers); also, the author manages to make all of these many and extended (linear) dialogues with NPC:s entertaining. However, I still didn’t find the game as a whole as appealing as many of its details.

Obviously, a game built around this kind of puzzles will only work in a very fantastical setting. The problem is that Earl Grey often passes the border from the fantastical into the arbitrary. And this is true in regard to puzzles as well as storyline.

All too often the solutions to puzzles are arbitrary: there simply exists no reason whatsoever to expect certain transformations to solve the problem at hand. Still you perform those transformations—merely because they are possible but without the slightest clue as to why they should be of any help at all—and POOF! you’re told that the transformed objects work some magic that happens to take care of the PC’s present problems.

The story, too, takes a lot of arbitrary turns and unmotivated twists that, as player, you can’t avoid, try as you might. Indeed, in the linear parts of the game even the PC takes actions that not only appears arbitrary and unmotivated at the time but also seem at odds with what he does, thinks, and feels at other times. (Spoiler - click to show)To begin with you’re very flattered to have been invited to a certain monk’s tea garden party and he gives you your magic powers of transformation in order for you to collect varieties of tea down in the village. Then for no reason at all the PC uses these powers to ruin the monk’s precious garden. The monk gets mad and wreaks havoc upon the poor village, then disappears. Now the PC decides to save the village, but, after quite a halfhearted attempt at that, you set off after the monk instead. Before you catch up with the monk, you happen upon an impoverished prince whom you promise to restore to his throne; and when you do find the monk, all wrongs are forgotten and the two of you are readily reconciled. Now, all you have to do is put the rightful king on his throne, then go save the villagers … perhaps.

To me at least the virtues of the game didn’t quite make up for the lack of direction in the story and the lack of foreseeability in the solution of puzzles.


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