Attack of the Clockwork Army is a new Hosted Game at Choice of Games. It’s a steampunk Australian story by the same author who wrote IF Comp‘s Scarlet Sails and one of this year’s Windhammer Prize entrants, After the Flag Fell. And before I get any further at all, we need some disclosures.
Disclosures: Attack of the Clockwork Army is a hosted game released by Choice of Games, with whom I also have a contract. Moreover, I received a free copy of this game for the purpose of writing about it.
Like After the Flag Fell, Attack of the Clockwork Army is set in a steampunk universe, and one in which different metals possess different, near-magical powers. Flag deals with this fairly briefly, so that the metal functions there feel a little gimmicky. Attack of the Clockwork Army explains much more extensively: lead heightens emotions, silver eases the interface between metal and flesh, iron augments physical strength, and so on. Tin, rather surprisingly, has the ability to make noises to communicate the state of the machine to which it belongs, so we have moments such as this:
Matilda’s tin horses parp their displeasure at carrying the enormous crate of the clockwork soldier, so she sprays them with lubricating oil and winds them until they stop their racket.
The protagonist lives in London, but is soon called to join a sibling in Australia, long thought dead. Soon she finds herself entangled in the beginnings of a rebellion. The British possess clockwork soldiers, which are extremely difficult to fight off.
The piece is neither as long nor as broad as some of the Choice of Games pieces I’ve tried in the past, but it’s pretty substantial. The opening chapters move at a good pace, covering a long journey from London by sea to Australia and then further travel overland to find your friends. Once you get there, you have to choose whether to take sides in the battle between Britain and Australia or whether to try to maintain neutrality, while characters you’ve met along the way wind up on either side of the fight.
At this point, I felt that things were a little bit rushed compared with the earlier portions of the story. The buildup of motives gets relatively short shrift. We’re told that Melbourne is served by cloud harvesters that redirect the weather and damage the fertility of the surrounding territory — but exactly why and how this ties into the contemporary politics, and why Britain would have a vested interest in doing this, are not developed very far. Though we travel in the company of some redcoats and some rebels, their disagreements don’t show us enough (or at least, did not show me enough, the times I played) to allow developing an independent view on the rights and wrongs of the situation.
And as with After the Flag Fell, I was a little disappointed not to see more about Australian politics and the Australian situation generally, both because that’s an important motivator for many of the characters and because that’s the aspect of the setting with which I’m least familiar: I’ve seen plenty of steampunk games before, but fewer games set in colonial Australia.
Along the same lines, it’s possible to choose a romantic partner during your travels — but this again feels a bit obligatory and token-like. You can romance a British soldier or an Australian, and you have your pick of male or female partners. Whichever one you decide to pursue, they will immediately succumb to your charms… and just as immediately leave you later, if you turn against them politically. (Edited to add based on comments: apparently it is possible to keep a relationship with a political enemy if you’ve got a strong enough bond. This didn’t ever happen to me, though.)
Finally, there’s a grand battle. Here again there are some occasions that test your loyalty, since inevitably not everyone you care about has chosen the same path that you have. Here again, though, the pacing does a few odd things: after some important interactions, the battle wraps up surprisingly quickly, and in both the times I played, the British won despite some earlier reverses of fortune. This made the conclusion feel a bit rushed.
All in all, then, this is both the biggest and the best of the Felicity Banks games I’ve tried so far; the worldbuilding is more extensive and the plot better structured. At the same time, certain areas of the plot still feel a little rushed, and could use additional development.