Dingo's Reviews (In progress pending release- Teahouse of the Gods)

Hello all. My name is Joel (AKA Bourbon Dingo) and I’m a fairly avid reader of interactive fiction.

I’ve been thinking of ways to contribute to the CoG community, and I previously had dipped my toes into lukewarm waters with Beta Testing. This wasn’t the best experience, as I’m fairly good at finding errors and only mediocre with how to express something in English (and that’s my first and only language!).

I’ve always got story ideas floating around, but not much motivation in getting them parsed into a text file for your pleasure (or pain).

So, I’ve settled on something that will give me some direction, but allow me to provide something back to the community in the meantime. I want to review and rank all officially released titles.

I intend to introduce myself a little further, and explain what my process will be. These will be reviews, so they will be inherently subjective. This means that it may be helpful to know a little bit about me to understand where my perspective is coming from.

Cisgender and heterosexual male just shy of 40, born and raised in the US south. Family was Catholic, but never really latched onto any form of organized religion. Nerdy kid more interested in Final Fantasy 7 and tabletop roleplaying than the ever popular football culture. Joined the military for 8 years while trying to figure out my life and my thoughts. Graduate level college, focused on sociology and criminal justice theory. Currently work in academia.

All of the above to say I’m a weird mishmash of liberal and conservative. I know I’ve got internalized biases that I try to recognize. Not ignore, because being blind to it is almost as bad as letting it influence me.

That out of the way, I’d like to review all the CoG, HG, and Heart’s Choice games. I’ve played a large chunk of them, but I intend to play them again. My preparation and process is listed below:

  1. List all games in a shared Google Sheets file, and find a way to randomize them.
    a. Games that are in a series will still be played in order. For example, if Samurai of Hyuga 4 is my first title, I will play the released series back-to-back. Generally these reviews will likely come out faster, as well.
    b. Titles that release while doing this will likely take priority to ensure that this project is as helpful to the community as it can be.

  2. Play each game.
    a. I play through each title the way I normally do. One time blind as a self-insert if possible. Replay that character with the code open to try and maximize and get my canon run (Power-fantasies, am I right?). And then I usually play as something completely different, but pursue something that interested me in my previous run. I recognize this isn’t the exact way other people play, but I hope to still have enough in my reviews to be useful to anyone.

  3. Review each game.
    a. Though I won’t be able to provide every metric, I can talk a little about what makes a game ‘exceptional’ in my opinion. Story, format and grammar are often going to be what draws me into a title and keeps me there. If I can read without interruption, or needing to stop to parse something, this is usually good. Gamification, however, is important. I don’t want to be reading a story with just a bunch of fake choices and no impact. Stats, variability, and choice is something I want a plethora of.
    b. I will always include the three most positive and three most negative things I end the title with. I can already think of some previous titles I’ve played, and what I would say. However, I can also say that this will be subjective and sometimes the thing that stayed with me through a title may not matter as much to you.
    c. I play on Steam or the web fairly consistently. Reviews will also be on Steam, officially. I may use a specific TLDR section or something more punchy for the Steam reviews though.

  4. Rank each game.
    a. This is going to be purely subjective and about as unscientific as it can be. It might not be difficult in the first 5 titles to decide where I’ll place something, but 200 titles in? Yeah, going to be completely gut-related.
    b. I also intend to review my rankings and make some changes based on new information at certain milestones. I may even keep separate rankings based on different things, like CoG and HG titles ranked separately.

  5. Talk about each game.
    a. Finally, I plan on keeping one master thread in the CoG forums, and I’ll probably add one on Reddit. But each review will get its own thread for conversation (as long as this is okay with the moderators, let me know if not!). Maybe you can change my mind on something, or enlighten me about some meaning I missed. I love to learn about cultures, and am more than willing to admit that I know about social theory, not social practice.

Here is the randomized order: Dingo's Review Order - Google Sheets

Remember that new releases will have priority and series that release new entries will mess this all up, but I’ll keep it updated.

Teahouse of the Gods will be completed by 2022-11-29T00:00:00Z.

Game Rankings and Completed Reviews

Just set up a twitter account to make announcements, you can follow me at @Bourbon_Dingo on Twitter, if you like getting notifications that way. If any of the authors want me to pin them, or add their @ to the post, let me know.

I hope all of this is either exciting for you, or is enough to let you know that my reviews won’t be for you. If you have any questions at all, let me know. Thanks all, and happy reading.

58 Likes

Instead of making 200+ threads, what if you put the review in the relevant thread for each game? Most games have a master thread for discussion of that game.

It would also be reasonable to have a single thread–like this one–that you updated regularly with reviews.

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Works perfectly. Wanted to see what the best practice would be. I’ll definitely do that. Thank you!

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I think having them all under this thread would be good, especially since the threads for older games might be dead and buried. Could always do both, though. However, you are totally fine to do each one on Reddit as a new thread (we already have others who do the same thing, like PistachioPug on the HG and CoG subreddits). Masters don’t work there since they would get buried, never to rise again.

Good on you for putting the reviews on Steam; that’s the sparsest marketplace for reviews, so anything there helps.

I’m looking forward to reading these, in-depth reviews and rankings are always a great way to conjure up discussion and get people interested in new stuff. Also, your background sounds quite like my own in a lot of ways, will be interesting to see where our tastes intersect and where they veer off.

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Updated with review order, and current in progress review.

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Really neat idea. I had a trial run where I recorded a video review of Heroes of Myth last year but my microphone is terrible and I ended up not liking the format overall. Best of luck, I look forward to your review(s).

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Wow. Seeing them all laid out like that really drives home how many there are. You might need your kids to take over before you make it to Yeti’s Parole Officer.

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You are not wrong. Luckily, some of the titles are fairly quick and having played a few, familiarity will help. But, yeah. Even knocking out one a week would take over six years, not including new releases. Not going to try to stick to a strict release schedule, but just give myself a deadline for each title.

5 Likes

Pride and Prejudice and Murder
By Abigail Fuller and Michael Gray

“His wife, Louisa was similarly detached from life, and took her pleasure primarily in loo and gossip.”

This is a good starting point for how my reviews will generally go. I’m planning on always starting with a line that I liked, or stood out to me. Something that might have sold the game to me, as long as I had the context. This line illustrates a few things. I laughed at what I assumed was toilet humor, but without knowing anything about Jane Austen I couldn’t be sure. So, I researched if ‘in loo’ was a typo (or better yet, an intended typo) of ‘in lieu’ or if this was a common joke for Austen. Apparently, neither. Loo is a card game that seemed popular at the time. So, I lost my toilet humor, but gained my second favorite thing… random trivia.

For context, I have not read Pride and Prejudice and am only very slightly familiar with Jane Austen at all. Take that into consideration when reading this review. I’ll always make an attempt to keep reviews as spoiler-free as possible, and will give plenty of warning if I believe I need to point something out that may spoil portions of the game.

Now for the general breakdown of categories I’ll be including:

General Story - Does the theme work, is it an interesting concept? Are there glaring issues?
Format and Typos - How readable is the title? Do I have any personal issues with the format? Grammar is only ever mentioned if it hampers readability. I’ll try to report typos, but mostly I’ll bring this up if there are too many to ignore or if there seems to be some coding issues.
Game Mechanics and Stats - Do they make sense and add to the experience? These are public mechanics that you can easily see by going to your Stats screen, and possibly a few bits about the actual code.
Replayability - Is there a reason to replay the title? I’ll talk a little bit about variability in routes, and romance options.
Bullet Point Dislikes
Bullet Point Likes

Apologies for the quick primer, but on to the review for Pride and Prejudice and Murder.

General Story:

The story is, of course, about pride and prejudice… but with a murder mystery tacked on. Perspectives change throughout the story, but one thing I found that I really liked was that while murder mysteries always feel like deductions, the focus here was social class deduction. The ‘whodunnit’ was more focused on the ‘why’. Deductions were made with understanding why and how an action might affect social standing. There was no second thought really given to the criminal consequences of anything. Plenty of humor in the title with some masterclass snark in thought and dialogue.

Format and Typos:

If you are here for a novel, this will feel fine. There are long pages of descriptive texts, large paragraphs for descriptions, and characters are well organized when it comes to conversations. I never had a problem discerning who was speaking.

Game Mechanics and Stats:

As above, this is a novel with very little in the way of stats. It feels less like a game and much more in line with ‘if you want to do this, turn to page ##’ choice book. No gamification of stats, but this is also because you don’t really play a character. You take a narrative perspective of already existing characters within the story. When you make choices, the game does not check against stats for a success or failure status. The game portion revolves around deduction puzzles in multiple choice where success is an achievement and failure is being rerouted back to the correct answer without the achievement.

Replayability:

There are a few various paths to take. Given making the correct choices at certain points within the game, it appears there are four different endings. This is not a game that includes romance options.

Dislikes:

  • Some of the puzzles, like a cypher style puzzle, seem out of place for the setting.
  • Very linear early on. Most choices only change how you choose to say the same thing.
  • Choices later on mostly decide who becomes your narrator.

Likes:

  • Oh, the snark. It is absolutely on point. I chose the line up top as one that stood out, but I had a super long list of lines that had me rolling.
  • The social deduction involved in determining the motives was super interesting.
  • It makes me want to read Pride and Prejudice, which… bravo. You succeeded where my high school English classes did not.
17 Likes

After thinking about it, I think just put the link to this master thread in the specific game thread, and keep this one for the big reviews–this way you aren’t double posting every time you write a review. I’ve made the appropriate edit in the P&P&M thread for this time.

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Nice. Especially helpful for a game like that with so few reviews, might help bring in more readers for it.

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Wow, that’s a truly Herculian task! Good luck to you! :smiley: :four_leaf_clover:

(Can’t wait till you get to number 147 :blush:)

I noticed you put Wizard’s Choice on the list, but it is technically not a choicescript game anymore.

I don’t know what the story with it is, but it’s not on the CoG website (the link to the game doesn’t work) nor is it featured on any of the omnibus apps.

The game did come out recently on Steam and is an entirely separate type of game from the ChoiceScript format, so you’re not obligated to review it. Just a heads-up. :sweat_smile:

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NE By NW Oz
By Ron Baxley, Jr.

“Once again, however, in your quest to become a magic user, you have the choice to make between being wicked or good. Ultimately, your decisions will make you forever named theWicked Witch of the Northeast or the Good Witch of the Northeast.”

In my previous introduction, I said I’d use a line that stuck with me. Unfortunately, this one did. It does illustrate exactly what you can expect from the title in both content and theme. The author appears to write mostly books in the world of Oz. I know a little bit about the world L. Frank Baum, having read a few of the original books, and watched the movie like any Good Witch would. Not technically a Friend of Dorothy, but I can claim to be a friend of a Friend.

General Story:

You are a commoner in the world of Oz, with aspirations to become a replacement for one of the two Witches ‘offed by the Kansas tourist’, per the author. The story follows in a slapdash affair with the meeting of famous characters from the Wizard of Oz, or pretty continual references to the characters like the Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow. That theme is really interesting and could carry a story, but the story itself often felt like some of my old assignments did in school, racing to meet a required number of words.

Format and Typos:

Readability was very low. Quite a few typos, including the one in the quote from above, were present. I don’t know if this was done with intent beyond padding word count, but it felt like everything that was said was repeated at least once. Sometimes immediately after… looking at you, quote from above.

Game Mechanics and Stats:

The author, in a response to the announcement thread, said that the fact there was no Stats screen was purposeful. The game tracks Good and Wicked points, and displays them periodically throughout the story. Actions add either of these points to a total, and the ending is influenced by which is higher. There does not appear to be any form of stat checks other than that. It felt like a simplified point-and-click with a ‘you must have this item from earlier’ to proceed.

Replayability:

Good or wicked. Mostly, the replayability seems limited and it would be just to see what descriptions occur behind the choices. I don’t think you are kept from choosing either in response to anything, no matter which witch you choose to be. No romance options are available in the game.

Dislikes:

  • Many typos, and formatting made it difficult to parse. Reported a few, so they may not be there by the time you read it.
  • Did you miss what was said a page ago? No worries, it will be repeated multiple times on the next few pages.
  • Bad ends are hand-wavy and drop you back off to make a different choice at a previous slot.

Likes:

  • It’s obvious the author knows their Oz.
  • There is some grade-A pun work. Shout out to the Seers and Rogue-bucks catalog that the witches buy their pantyhose from.
  • The artwork for the chapter intros was actually really nice, and evoked the storybook feel.
16 Likes

Out of curiosity, how will you handle new releases going forward? Give them preferential treatment or put them to the back of the list?

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Preferential treatment. Part of this is to be helpful to the community, and I imagine it’s pretty important for reviews to happen soon after release.

Also going to move series forward for new releases as well, mostly because I’m going to want to replay the titles anyway. That list isn’t going to last in it’s current form, but a good start.

17 Likes

Neighbourhood Necromancer
By Gavin Inglis

”This is a genuine occult artifact. The best place for it is your sock drawer.”

If this sounds like something you have heard while sitting around a table playing D&D, you have a pretty good idea of what this title is going to read like. I felt like I was playing single-player D&D with a kid fresh out of middle-school running the table. Considering the first few pages and choices of the game, I’m not sure I wasn’t. And you know what? That isn’t a bad thing.

General Story:

You are a kid living a very British (I’m American, so pardon) life in a very British town, eating very British food who finds a very British ‘genuine occult artifact’. I know everything is very British because Google Sheets keeps putting red lines under ‘neighbourhood’, ‘colour’, and ‘centre’. The story follows in a very irreverent way as you choose how to use your newfound powers for good or evil and determine what becomes of the very British town. Will you raise your town’s spirits? Yes. Is that a pun? Maybe.

Format and Typos:

This is an earlier choice title before they settled on their preferred format, so it doesn’t seem quite as polished as some of the CoG current releases. Aside from that, it was very readable. I didn’t notice any typos, and no grammar issues stuck out.

Game Mechanics and Stats:

This is the first title I’ve reviewed that relied on statistics, and checks against them. While there aren’t many stats, they weren’t always the clearest in what choice was checking what stat. This actually wasn’t a super big issue, because for the most part the stats were fairly generous in both the amount given, and what number you’d need to succeed by. You have some personal stats, and you maintain a number of your necromantic horde. Game often checks against your Humanity or Corruption stat, but these aren’t an opposed pair. Finally, the game tracks how ‘visible’ you are as a necromancer, and can change how you interact with choices.

Replayability:

Seems like you might be able to get a couple of runs through the game without issue. Expect different results depending on your Humanity or Corruption, and you do get a few chances at branching points. There are two romance options, both are gender-variable and one is missable. This seems like a good game to chase down achievements with, as well.

Dislikes:

  • You can try to be subtle, but it seems like there is no way for the world to not learn who you are.
  • The romance options feel like they were mostly included so you could say it had them.
  • Events were super-episodic, and didn’t really feel like there was a cohesive ‘beginning-to-end’ arc. The story felt like it was being made up on the fly, but again, very tabletop.

Likes:

  • Some hilarious writing. “It is a sort of day care centre for bigots which also offers haircuts.”
  • Loved the creativity of the intro, and how it presented character set-up.
  • Doesn’t wear out its welcome. The game is quick and handles pace decently.

As a heads up, I could not find an announcement post for the game, so I’ve linked to the one below. Some of the content in it is spoilery.

23 Likes

Love what you’re doing, and wow, you’re actually going through these so fast!

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Seems I missed this. Was just working from the website list. Might still look into it anyway, but may not include it in this series. Thanks for the heads up, I’m sure it would have been super confusing by that point.

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Breach: The Archangel Job
By Michael Maxwell and Ben Luigi

“You prepare your light machine gun and point it at the door, then you pull the trigger until you’ve run out of ammo. BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG! BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG! BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG! BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG! BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG! BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG! BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG! BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG! BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG! BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG! BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG! BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG! BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG! BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG! BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG! BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG! BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG! BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG! BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG! BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG! CLICK…”

Ever want to be Jason Statham, or take his place in a movie? Here you go. Mix one part Transporter, one part Crank, two parts The Bank Job, a pinch of The Expendables and half-bake it for a while. And voila! A raw slab of interactive fiction with a whole lot of complexity, potential and entertainment. Oh, and business jeans. Bon appétit!

General Story:

You are an up-and-coming criminal, who might have a heart of gold and maybe a badge, recruited by The Archangels, a gang with a possibly noble purpose but a shadowy past. You are placed in charge of a ragtag group of misfits (that you actually get to choose) and sent on various heists. You get to plan them, buy equipment to help, execute them to… perfection? All the while, a loose mystery surrounds the ‘Big Three’, a small group who seem to be your direct bosses that never show their face. All this within the first entry of an expected series.

This story oozes with style, and feels like you are playing an extended heist movie throughout. All the twists and turns, even some of them perpetrated by your selected background.

The focus on the heist motif and action does make the plot feel breakneck at times, but that’s almost to its benefit. You’ve heard of a popcorn flick, this might be the interactive fiction equivalent.

Format and Typos:

For the most part, it’s always pretty easy to follow what is going on. Readability only takes a hit when things start getting complex, during certain stat checks or in instances like above where the game actually checks how many bullets you still have left when you choose to empty your drum. Though, I’m still not too sure if I like or dislike it. Definitely stuck with me.

Game Mechanics and Stats:

Everything in this game is pretty much based on a system you’ll be familiar with if you are mildly familiar with tabletop. There is a random chance based on a D20 modified by your character’s skills and equipment that you will pass or fail a check. Difficulties modify this even further by adding or subtracting based on a ‘luck’ stat. It’s hard to completely fail, but there are some failstates that will have you reloading to the beginning of the chapter. Inventory is managed through a pretty clunky menu system based on having to handle accessories for optimization. Honestly, you can get by on some of the lower difficulties without messing with it at all. It’s never difficult to understand what stat you’ll be checking because the game labels options clearly.

Replayability:

I have played this game many times before this review, and could still probably go back through it another twenty or thirty times. There is a lot of replayability, between difficulties, romantic options (there are a lot), weapon customization and optimization, who is in your crew (which affects what side stories you experience), and on top of all that? A New Game+ feature that offers additional story content and a boosted start. I’m probably going to play it one more time after this review anyway.

Dislikes:

  • Blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moments with characters that seem like they’ll be super important, but don’t feature in the story for long enough. This is the first in a series, so this might just be an issue with this title.
  • For as complex as the inventory system is, it is still frustrating to have to buy a weapon, accessorize it, do a mission, and then find out you have access to a better weapon option now, and have to go through the super clunky shop systems again.
  • Some romance options can be hidden or visibly locked behind either circumstance or chance.

Likes:

  • Romances work, even if they aren’t the focus.
  • I cannot choose a canon run. There are too many interesting options and paths. That’s a good problem to have.
  • There are a good amount of minor interesting things that can make you grin. Taco trucks and kitties!

If I know there is a WIP for a sequel, I’ll include the link to the forum page here in the future. If you know there is a CoG forum link for a sequel and I don’t, let me know! I’ll add it.

Stay up to date with the WIP sequel: BREACH: Chicago War Zone (WIP) (UPDATED! 15-April-2022)

31 Likes

Your review of BREACH made me finally want to play it :rofl: I’ve known about the game for a long time but I guess the summary wasn’t enough to interest me? But this review is a lot more detailed and I’m surprised that it’s so cool :eyes:

9 Likes