Choice of Magics (Kevin Gold / Choice of Games)

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Choice of Magics is work from the author of Choice of Robots, one of Choice of Games’ most successful commercial projects. Choice of Robots was appealing to players for a number of reasons, especially the scope of the possibilities available to you and the sheer size of the project. It delivered a sense of narrative agency that a lot of Choice of Games’ audience really responded to. (Gold also wrote Choice of Alexandria, a smaller and more constrained story.)

Choice of Magics is in a similar mold to Choice of Robots: very large, at over half a million words, with room to customize your style of magic and confront different final challenges depending on how your story has developed so far. The story positions itself at that scale, too — the very first page lays out an absolute mass of background information about the current and previous state of the world, which most fantasy novels would be more likely to introduce gradually over the initial chapter or so.

The game also gives you the option of explicitly noting whenever you’re gaining and losing stats, right inline with the rest of the narration. And the stats page has been enhanced, with some special icons and more content than the average CoG stats page, including a journal of major plot points you’ve encountered — again, to help the reader track the game’s extensive machinery.

This foregrounding of mechanics carries through into the rest of the fiction as well. The story needs to rapidly introduce the five major schools of magic, so it runs you through an adventure scenario that teaches you about each in sequence, surprisingly rapidly.

Several of the world-building choices are quite tropey, which makes them generic but easy to communicate to the player in a hurry: there was a lost ancient civilization, they knew various magics, the magics are currently outlawed but you find your way to the ancient academy where you can recover tools and documents which are written in a muddle of Latin, Greek, and old versions of romance languages — played more for humor than for cultural resonance. At the same time, these ancients were also not so very different from modern people and had magical pseudo-airplanes and microwaves. It’s not quite the Great Underground Empire, but it has something of the same flavor.

This is not to say there’s no invention in the world-building. The world we experience has been through an apocalyptic battle that has left behind a Negative Sea, a space capable of destroying anything that ventures into it; from time to time drifting clouds of negative energy pass over the grasslands, leaving barren trails behind. (A bit Pern-esque, perhaps.) But these story elements get a fairly matter-of-fact presentation, often sounding less wondrous in the description than they would probably be in real life.

For the most part, the game doesn’t linger to consider the ethical implications of your actions. In fact, within the first portion of the first chapter, I found my character automatically (without my making a choice) doing something that would probably qualify as an Unforgivable Curse in the Harry Potter universe. In Choice of Magics, no one seemed all that bothered by it.

The automatic action reflects another point about this piece: there are often fairly long sections between choice points, including action and dialogue for your character that you might not have explicitly opted into. Usually it’s less notable than the case I just mentioned, but it’s pretty common to choose an action and then have an entire scene of action play out before you next have the opportunity to control the protagonist.

So overall: this has a fairly RPG-ish feel, especially in its emphasis on magic styles. Characterization and world-building are light rather than deep, and the tone is often humorous. There’s a lot of narrative consequence for your actions.

If you liked Choice of Robots, you may find this appealing for similar reasons, but at the same time a bit more practiced. If you’re in the mood for a CoG fantasy piece with deep and coherent world-building, I’d suggest Max Gladstone’s CoG games instead; or for above-average prose, perhaps Caleb Wilson’s Cannonfire Concerto.

Disclosure: I am also working on a project for Choice of Games. I purchased this game at full price and do not receive financial benefits from CoG projects written by other people.

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