A few of my favorite games from this past year:
Reigns: Her Majesty was a terrific commercial release from Nerial and written by Leigh Alexander. A sequel to the previous Reigns, it used its design to comment on the history of gender and power. It is also extremely funny, with some wonderfully zingy individual sentences.
Also stylish and gorgeous to look at — and entertainingly on the border between graphic adventure and text-based narrative — was Ben Wander’s noir-lite A Case of Distrust.
Katherine Morayati’s Human Errors made fantastic use of a customer service-style interface to talk about how technology and corporate life divides us from each other. Brief, sharp, and inventive in how it uses its interactive interface.
Bogeyman by Elizabeth Smyth is a sort-of-horror story about an abusive caretaker relationship that I found consistently uncomfortable — as it was intended to be. Work in this genre often leans into being disgusting or creepy in a way that lacks human depth, but this piece made the personal relationships central to its horror, and that made it exceptionally effective.
Dead Man’s Fiesta (Ed Sibley) is a story about the process of grieving, and about the ways we try to manage our feelings, though they may not really be susceptible to management. That’s a topic that IF has taken on before, in various ways, but Ed’s take worked better for me than most: it has sparks of humor and surprising observation about the other characters in the story, rather than being simply maudlin retrospective, and I found it effective.
Illuminismo Iniziato (Mike Coyne) won Spring Thing 2018 with a classic comic fantasy text adventure.
And if you like the flavor of that, you may also enjoy Mike Spivey’s Junior Arithmancer, a set of math puzzles embedded in text adventure form with fantasy spellcasting. It’s a less-narrative sibling to Spivey’s A Beauty Cold and Austere from last year.
Alias ‘The Magpie’ is an entertaining heist puzzle game set in an environment that parodies Wodehouse and Agatha Christie, with a hint of Pink Panther; and features some very charming feelies as well. Constructing a farce that will play smoothly in a parser puzzle game is no easy feat. I played this with a group, which is always a different experience from playing solo, but we glided through the puzzles pretty smoothly and were confronted with one absurd twist after another. Two notes: the setting and plot include a comedy depiction of mental illness — a sympathetic one, and so ludicrous that it would be hard to take seriously, but still something to be conscious of. And the game also depicts but doesn’t really inspect an aristocratic experience of colonizing a bunch of countries in the name of the British Empire.
As a bonus, here were two games that I really loved from 2017, but didn’t play and review until 2018: Known Unknowns (Brendan Patrick Hennessy) and A Beauty Cold and Austere (Mike Spivey). The former is a funny, moving, yet non-twee young adult story about growing up and learning enough of your truth to tell it to other people, executed in Twine with terrific illustrations. The latter is a text adventure full of puzzles exploring the nature of mathematics.