Exploring the 'Best Games': Counterfeit Monkey, by E. Short

I’ve mentioned in a previous post that there were 4 authors who have been writing for many years, had each won IFCOMP, and had each won 2 XYZZY awards. They are Andre Plotkin, Adam Cadre, Emily Short, and Jon Ingold.

Interestingly, each of these four released an epic game (the largest game of each of the authors). In 2014, Andrew Plotkin released Hadean Lands, which has risen to be one of the most well-regarded parser games of all time. Also in 2014, Jon Ingold and co. released 80 Days, which won Time Magazines Game of the Year. In 2013, Adam Cadre released Endless, Nameless, which I regard very highly but whose reception disappointed the author.

And in 2012, Emily Short released Counterfeit Monkey, which has been in a close battle with a Anchorhead with first place on the IFDB top 100 list, and has topped many Best Of lists

The game is set in an alternate reality where language has power and the alteration of words affects reality. Adding and removing letters, anagrams, palindrome, and other such things have an immediate bearing on the universe.

What does this game do right?

== Extreme Depth==

Perhaps no game has gone to the depths Counterfeit Monkey has, whose source code is freely available. The author created an immense list of possible words/objects that could be created in the game, and provided descriptions and properties for all of them. Then, instead of having to code every possible result of every word-altering action one by one, she simply has the code try the alteration, and look up if the word alteration matches one of the objects on her list, and produces it.

All sorts of things can be created by this method, and it is truly innovative. Creating ALL causes quite the mess, and so on.

Beyond this, there are of course excellent conversation trees, reactions to events, etc. The parser set of responses is completely redefined. But I’ll talk about these things next.

==Strong PCs and addressing the parser==

Like games such as Slouching Towards Bedlam, Violet and others, the author has addressed the existence of the parser. In this case, you play the fusion of two people, Alex and Andra. One plays the part of the parser, and the other is assumed to be the player them self.

This provides for interesting commentary as everything is described from 2 perspectives, often contrasting. Issues related to the differences between men and women, and perspectives on the nature of law and rebellion come up frequently. The two PCs have different goals.


The setting represents a great deal of work. Most wordplay games have accepted a sort of surreal universe, like Ad Verbum with magics or Andrew Schultz’s Phantom Tollbooth-esque worlds.

Short has really thought through what the power of wordplay would do to the world. People keep vegetables to turn into vehicles. There are laws and restrictions on the powers, and it affects the government and all of society.


Short has used her experience with previous conversation games to provide a nice, immersive feel for conversations. There are quite a few NPCs available in the game, and all reasonable approaches to them have been accounted for. The way you treat them sticks with them. This represents an immense amount of work.


Counterfeit MONKEY is one of the highest-regarded games of all time, and I think that stems from excellent characters and characterization coupled with unmatched depth of implementation.

You all probably don’t need me to tell you this, but this game is fun. As alluded to, it’s one of those systems where there’s certainly an intended solution to each puzzle, but if the player thinks laterally they can come up with any number of other solutions that also work given the properties of the items and abilities at the player’s disposal.