Free IF Playoffs (Rules/FAQ/Standings)

I had an idea for a March Madness-style “playoffs” thread for the 64 highest-placed works of IF that are available for free, where “highest-placed” means according to the IFDB Top 100 chart today.

The contest would be handled as a series of votes between randomly-matched works within that group over the course of six rounds, with the primary intent being to encourage play of and discussion of the games involved.

Does this sound fun to you? Would you be interested in participating?
  • Yes, that sounds fun, and I would participate!
  • No, thank you.
0 voters

Ah mine doesn’t make the cutoff :pensive: that’s ok! This sounds fun!


OK – the ayes have it!

Here are the ground rules:

  1. Everyone is invited to participate.
  2. All voting will be anonymous.
  3. Voters are honor-bound to have at least tried both games in a given matchup before voting. If you haven’t played some of these, now’s your chance!
  4. Voters are encouraged to make a case in favor of their chosen winner, pointing out its relative merits versus its opponent.
  5. Voters are not encouraged to make a case against the unchosen opponent – let’s stick to the positive and steer clear of fan brawls.

I’ve put together the ladder via sort by random number. To provide some structure, every game has been placed into one of four “divisions,” each of which contains sixteen games. They are as follows (listed alphabetically, along with seed number):

DIVISION 1 (Round 1 complete / Round 2 begins Jul 06 2024)

And Then You Come to a House Not Unlike the Previous One (#40)
Birdland (#29)
City of Secrets (#36)
Cryptozookeeper (#43)
Dr Ludwig and the Devil (#30)
Excalibur (#54)
The Impossible Bottle (#13)
Junior Arithmancer (#15)
A Long Way to the Nearest Star (#20)
Lost Pig (#11)
Midnight. Swordfight. (#34)
Of Their Shadows Deep (#55)
Superluminal Vagrant Twin (#3)
Suveh Nux (#62)
The Wizard Sniffer (#5)
Zozzled (#38)

DIVISION 2 (Round 1 complete / Round 2 begins Jul 06 2024)

Absence of Law (#26)
According to Cain (#39)
Beautiful Dreamer (#61)
A Beauty Cold and Austere (#10)
Blue Lacuna (#22)
Chlorophyll (#50)
Coloratura (#17)
Counterfeit Monkey (#1)
Eat Me (#8)
Foo Foo (#46)
The Gostak (#19)
The Lurking Horror II: The Lurkening (#58)
The Shadow in the Cathedral (#63)
Turandot (#42)
Weird City Interloper (#41)
Worldsmith (#4)

DIVISION 3 (Round 1 matches ongoing now)

The Axolotl Project (#45)
Cannery Vale (#32)
Inside the Facility (#51)
Magical Makeover (#57)
Repeat the Ending (#28)
Slouching Toward Bedlam (#52)
The Spectators (#60)
Spider and Web (#27)
Spy Intrigue (#25)
Stay? (#18)
Sub Rosa (#48)
Toby’s Nose (#9)
Violet (#24)
The Weight of a Soul (#59)
Will Not Let Me Go (#7)
With Those We Love Alive (#56)


4x4 Archipelago (#44)
Alias ‘The Magpie’ (#16)
Anchorhead (#2)
Bronze (#37)
Cragne Manor (#6)
Digital: A Love Story (#64)
Endless, Nameless (#31)
Harmonia (#47)
The Impossible Stairs (#53)
Known Unknowns (#21)
Make It Good (#33)
The Mulldoon Legacy (#35)
Photopia (#49)
Savoir-Faire (#12)
Treasures of a Slaver’s Kingdom (#23)
Worlds Apart (#14)

Since the first round is the largest, it will be broken up by division.

Note that because only free games are included in the contest, the following games with high placement have been excluded: 80 Days, Hadean Lands, Open Sorcery, Trinity, Planetfall, Sorcery! 2, Sunless Sea, A Study in Steampunk, Wayhaven Chronicles: Book One, Eric the Unready, A Mind Forever Voyaging, Choice of Robots, Tally Ho, and Enchanter. If I’ve accidentally included any non-free game, it will be replaced by another qualifying game from the Top 100 list.

Let the games begin!

NOTE: I won’t be running a pool, but if someone wants to try to organize one, that seems to be in the spirit of this sort of thing. At the very least it might be amusing to predict the various division winners that will become the Final Four.


5 posts were merged into an existing topic: FIFP Round 1, Division 1 (Voting/Fan Choice Commentary)


Q: How long will each set of matchups last?

A: One week, but possibly less than that once the Final Four have been reached.

Q: Just a week? But there are so many of these games that I haven’t played!

A: I know – I haven’t played the majority of them, either! It’s expected that, participating by the rules and in good faith, many people will have to skip voting on certain matchups in early rounds.

Q: How many rounds will there be?

A: Six, but early rounds will take more than one week each. (See the question about the overall schedule below.)

Q: But why not give more time for each round?

A: There’s a practical limit to how much time can be granted for each segment. Here’s the deal:

  • It’s 64 games in a single elimination tournament. That requires 63 individual matchups.
  • The idea is to promote play and discussion, but also to keep things moving relatively quickly to keep up a “March Madness” feel.

Q: But I can’t finish all those games in one week!

A: This is why the rule is that voters should have tried each game in a matchup before voting on it. It’s not required that you complete the game or spend a minimum amount of time with it as with IF Comp. It is suggested that you focus first on games that you haven’t played which are matched against games that you have played.

Q: What exactly do you mean by “trying” a game?

A: I mean that you approach the game with an open mind, give it an honest shot to hook you, and explore it long enough to get a feel for how much you like it. It’s up to you to decide how long that takes. This is an honor system, so be honorable.

Q: What will the schedule be?

A: The plan is to run at most 8 matchups at a time in segments lasting 1 week each. That means the 32 matchups of round 1 (across the 4 divisions) will end on July 05. The next two weeks will also feature rounds of 8 matchups each, but these will combine two divisions at a time and end July 19. Next will be a single week of 8 matchups (2 from each division) ending Jul 26. At that point there will be a week for the divisional finals, i.e. one last matchup per division (4 matchups total) to produce a Final Four on Aug 02.

If, as I expect, most people will have had a chance to play all of the Final Four, then there will probably be two three-day rounds to finish out the tournament. It should be wrapped up by mid-August in any case.

Q: Am I supposed to vote just for the game that I like, or the one that I feel is objectively the better game?

A: You’re supposed to vote for the game that you think is the better of a pair, using whatever criteria you think apply – but the rules require that you have at least tried both games in any matchup for which you cast a vote. (See the question about trying games above.)

Q: I want to vote on Game X in a matchup and I’ve never played Game Y with which it is matched. How do I resolve this conundrum?

A: Start playing Game Y!

Q: That’s all I do? Just play and vote?

A: You are also encouraged to post the reasons why you made the decision that you did, or just to share your positive impressions of any work that you try. Lots of people won’t have played the games that you choose. Getting people to try new games is one of the main points, so show your appreciation and win new fans by “talking up” your selections. (See the ground rules on discussing games. The short version is: “Stick to the positive, and avoid fan brawls.”)

Q: One of my works is on this list, but I don’t think I want it to be. What can I do?

A: The fact that your work was chosen for the tournament means that it is among the top 1/2 of 1% of all games listed in IFDB in terms of registered ratings. That’s quite an honor! Also, this “competition” is entirely for fun. If you really wish to withdraw one or more of your games, let me know by post or DM, and I will honor your request by registering forfeit(s) in the relevant matchup(s).

Q: Can I vote in favor of my own work?

A: If you have tried your work’s opponent and honestly feel that yours is the better of the pair, then it is entirely in keeping with the rules to do so. Your opinion counts as much as anyone’s!

Q: I, um… I kind of got excited and registered some votes before I even read the rules. What can I do?

A: Fear not! There is still time to salvage your honor by trying the games that you haven’t played. (See the question about trying games above.) If you’ve given the opponent games a proper go and haven’t changed your mind, then you can rest easy that you have respected the rules and made the whole tournament better. If you have changed your mind, change your vote!

Q: I don’t understand the rule about avoiding criticism in posts about my match selections. Please explain.

A: Think about it this way: Anything you say is implicitly expressing an inequality between Game X and Game Y. As a matter of courtesy to other fans and in the spirits of community-building and friendly competition, it’s not too much to ask that you express things in terms of “greater than” instead of “less than.” A sporting match is much more fun when both sides are cheering than when both sides are booing.

If you have criticism to share with the world, you are encouraged to register at IFDB, add your ratings to the games there, and even post negative reviews. Extensive criticism is a valid and important part of the tradition of free IF; this just isn’t the venue for it.

Q: When will the voting close for each match period?

A: Voting will close sometime circa Saturday evening each week, per UTC time. The precise time will not be announced and is likely to vary significantly depending on my schedule on those days, but I will wait until at least noon UTC in any case. Late votes will not be accepted – when the whistle blows, the match is over!

Q: What if there is a tie between two games in a match?

A: Based on the early response, there should be enough votes that this is an unlikely outcome. However, should any tie occur, I will flip a coin to declare an arbitrary winner. Fans backing a particular game in a close contest are free to recruit others to play by the rules and in good faith before the match period is over. Remember: This is an honor system, so be honorable. This is only for fun!

Q: How were these games chosen for the tournament?

A: Contestant games were chosen based on the state of the IFDB Top 100 list according to its status on June 7, 2024. Any game that was not officially free to play as of that date was disqualified from the competition. Due to these eliminations, the lowest-ranked qualifying entry was in 78th place at the start of the tournament.

Q: Hey! I only just found out about this and missed the beginning!

A: I’m glad that you want to participate – your rules-abiding, good faith votes will help make the tournament better for everyone. This whole thing was pretty spur-of-the-moment, so there was no organized attempt at publicity in advance. The good news is that it will be going for some time, so you’ll get plenty of chance to play in future segments. (See the question about the schedule above.) There’s almost certainly time for you to try new games and get in a few votes before the end of the current segment.


This post will have the updated status of all division ladders as we go.


Just curious: what about ties?

I’ve updated the FAQ above.

1 Like

Division 1 Round 1 has successfully concluded, and the results are in (see above). Let’s review the action:

  • Heavyweight Superluminal Vagrant Twin brushed aside a challenge from Excalibur, justifying its position as the #3 seed for the tournament. A strong showing of crowd support in the bleachers for the experimental wiki-format challenger’s bid against the highest-seeded work in this segment didn’t translate into the points needed to win, but author J. J. Guest’s work will be seen again when Alias, ‘The Magpie’ competes in Division 4.

  • And Then You Come to a House Not Unlike the Previous One substantially outperformed opponent Zozzled despite both being IF Comp winners with similar seed rankings (#40 and #38 respectively). As Zozzled retires from the field, another contestant by author Steph Cherrywell, Chlorophyll, begins its first match in Division 2.

  • Lost Pig defeated Suveh Nux in a crowd-drawing matchup that received over 70% more votes than any other. The two Inform 6 entries each put over 10 points on the board in a blistering first half, but by the halftime mark #62 seed challenger Suveh Nux had lost an early lead against its #11 seed rival, and it was never quite able to recover in the second half. Suveh Nux was author David Fisher’s only contestant in the tournament, but it can retire from the field honorably after having scored more points than the winner of any other match in this segment.

  • The Impossible Bottle beat A Long Way to the Nearest Star in one of the quieter matches of the segment. Both games started strong, but after a streak of early scores by the #13 seed Dialog entry, the winner of the Rising Star award in IF Comp 2022 (as well as both the Player’s Choice and Author’s Choice awards for Outstanding Debut in the inaugural 2022 IFDB Awards) wasn’t able to move the needle for the remainder of the match. All eyes turned to match 08, where SV Linwood’s other entry was competing simultaneously.

  • 55th seed Of Their Shadows Deep pulled off the first significant upset in the tournament, knocking 29th seed Birdland (winner of no less than six XYZZY awards in 2015) out of the tournament in another relatively quiet match after team manager Amanda Walker opted to keep it in play. The short but powerful work has won new fans among the crowd, notably climbing in its IFDB rankings per the June 10 update. Author Brendan Patrick Hennessy’s work will be seen again in Division 4, when Known Unknowns takes the field.

  • #5 seed The Wizard Sniffer, the other heavyweight in this segment, barely fended off a strong challenge by City of Secrets. The #36 seed Inform 6 work punched above its weight in its contest against the 2017 IF Comp champion and winner of five XYZZY awards, and held its own through a vigorous first half that ended at a tie score of 6-6. However, in the second half the crowd-pleasing porcine comedy scored twice more, deciding the match. Emily Short has the most entries of any single author in this tournament, so rest assured that there will be more to see from this leading light in the field – including top seed Counterfeit Monkey, which is currently competing in Division 2.

  • 15th seed Junior Arithmancer eked out a win against 43rd seed challenger Cryptozookeper in a contest that pit pure logic against a multimedia-enhanced horror comedy. Author Robb Sherwin’s only entry and the lone Hugo entry in the tournament, Cryptozookeeper started strong but lost ground slowly and was eventually surpassed by the number-manipulation puzzlefest. We salute its performance as leaves the field.

  • Finally, Dr. Ludwig and the Devil vs. Midnight. Swordfight. turned out to be a dynamic and close battle between two similarly-ranked contestants (#30 and #34 seeds, respectively). After tying at 7-7 in the third quarter, neither was able to put another point on the board, and the match was resolved by coin toss with victory declared for Midnight. Swordfight.. The winner will go on to face Of Their Shadows Deep in what total scores suggest might become another close match. [See below.] Unfortunately, this randomized decision means that both works by highly versatile and accomplished author SV Linwood have been eliminated from the tournament, but we salute the fact that Linwood is unique in having 100% of published work selected to compete in this best-of-the-best lineup.

[EDIT: Midnight. Swordfight. will be facing The Wizard Sniffer in Round 2, not Of Their Shadows Deep. We apologize for any confusion caused by the error; the technical difficulty has been traced to a temporary caffeine deficiency.]


Division 1 Round 2 has ended, and the results are in (see above). Here are the highlights of this segment’s matches:

  • As seed rankings would suggest, Absence of Law (#26) vs. The Gostak (#19) turned out to be a fairly close match that drew the second-largest crowd on the playing field. The famous language-oriented experimental work, which recently placed 6th in the 2023 edition of the IF Top 50 of All Time, took an early lead against the comedic sci-fi puzzler in a first quarter that ended 7-5 in its favor. The multi-faceted challenger, which was nominated for five XYZZYs in 2017, kept up the pressure and drew to within one point of its rival during an exciting second quarter. However, the defending two-time XYZZY-recipient caught its second wind during the third quarter, which let it regain lost ground and even slightly exceed its previous lead. When the whistle blew, the exhausted contestants shook hands as victory was declared for The Gostak at 10-7. Fans of the challenger, take heart: Brian Rushton’s other entry in the tournament, The Impossible Stairs, will be seen in Division 4.

  • Coloratura vs. The Shadow in the Cathedral was an easy win for the 17th-seeded 2013 IF Comp winner, which took a large lead in the first quarter and just kept extending it over the rest of the match in what proved to be the single largest crowd draw in the segment. The 63rd-seeded formerly-commercial young adult challenger by Textfyre, which was nominated for five XYZZYs in 2009, drew praise from the bleachers for its unique worldbuilding, but voting showed that fans strongly preferred the alien perspective and unusual mechanics of the you-are-the-monster defender. The Shadow in the Cathedral’s co-author Ian Finley has no other competing games in the tournament, but two more works by co-author Jon Ingold are on the roster for Division 4.

  • Chlorophyll vs. Worldsmith was a quieter match that also saw a face-off between a comp-sized game and a formerly-commercial entry. #3 seed Worldsmith is a long-format work with its own brand of “worldbuilding,” and its strong multimedia elements are among the most advanced seen in the form. Although the first quarter ended at 6-1 in the defender’s favor, the plucky young adult challenger (#50 seed and winner of ParserComp 2015) showed its strength in the second and later quarters, winning new fans in the crowd before finally losing the match at a very respectable 6-4. Chlorophyll was the second and final entry by author Steph Cherrywell; we salute her achievements as the players leave the field.

  • According to Cain vs. A Beauty Cold and Austere delivered the segment’s sole upset when the #39 seed challenger took and held a significant lead over the highly-ranked #10 seed defender, which placed 7th in the Interactive Fiction Top 50 of All Time (2019 edition). The comp-sized Biblical investigative thriller – and only TADS 3 work in the tournament – had a strong first quarter ending 7-4, then scored twice more by the end of the game while keeping up an impenetrable defense against the long-format traditional puzzler with a math-and-science theme. Author Mike Spivey’s hopes now rest upon Junior Arithmancer, which is slated to go up against The Impossible Bottle in Division 1 Round 2.

  • In Beautiful Dreamer vs. Turandot, two choice-based works contended in the segment’s quietest match. The first quarter ended 4-2 in favor of the tournament’s #42 seed and sole ChoiceScript entry, which won 1 1/2 XYZZY awards in 2019 and appeared in the 2023 edition of the Interactive Fiction Top 50 of All Time. That ratio held as scoring continued through the third quarter, and another successful drive by the opera-inspired leader in the fourth quarter sealed the deal. As 2015 XYZZY nominee Beautiful Dreamer retires from the field, coach S. Woodson’s attention turns to Division 3, where another entry by the same author, Magical Makeover, has begun its own match.

  • 41st-seeded challenger and 2014 XYZZY nominee Weird City Interloper started out slowly in its match against 8th-seeded defender and 2017 XYZZY winner Eat Me, ending the first quarter with a five point deficit at 7-2. However, the streamlined, conversation-based story of an exiled prince’s quest for justice began to make up lost ground in the second and third quarters, gaining three points while keeping the disquieting food-themed heavyweight (recently ranked 8th in the 2023 Interactive Fiction Top 50 of All Time) from scoring at all. Energy seemed to flag in the second half, and at the end of this closest match of the segment, the defender had prevailed after putting the match’s last points on the board. Author C. E. J. Pacian’s higher-ranked work in the tournament, Superluminal Vagrant Twin, will compete again next month when Division 1 Round 2 begins.

  • Top seed Counterfeit Monkey handily bested #58 seed The Lurking Horror II: the Lurkening in the third-most popular match of the segment, ending the first quarter with a massive ten point lead at 12-2, and extending that lead thrice more before the final buzzer. It’s a performance that may strike fear in the hearts of future challengers as the King Kong of the league – which placed at the top of the last two editions of the Interactive Fiction Top 50 of All Time – steps confidently into round 2. The unauthorized fan sequel to the Infocom classic and two-time XYZZY nominee was surprisingly the only contestant from popular author Ryan Veeder, and we salute his team’s valiant effort; fans interested in his latest project can check out Moondrop Isle, a sprawling parser-based online exploration that went live last month.

  • Finally, Foo Foo (#46) vs. Blue Lacuna (#22) turned out to be a very lopsided fight between the whimsical and the serious, with the long-format interpersonal drama delivering a crushing 12-1 defeat to the film noir detective story with a deceptively light-hearted setting, which won two XYZZYs in 2016 and took first prize in the First Quaddrenial Ryan Veeder Exposition for Good Interactive Fiction. Author Buster Hudson’s banner is still carried by crowd-pleaser The Wizard Sniffer, which will return to the playing field in Division 1 Round 2. Aaron Reed’s victorous entry, a four-time XYZZY winner that was ranked 6th in the 2011 edition of the Interactive Top 50 of All Time, will face its own crucible when it strives to take down Counterfeit Monkey in a Round 2 match starting July 06. You won’t want to miss it!


Just a note ahead of time: division 3 has relatively smaller games, so if anyone wants to get a jump on the bigger games for division 4, they are:

Cragne Manor (you can get a feel for its size with Mike Russo’s Let’s Play which ended up consisting of 20 chapters over 4 months.)
Mulldoon Legacy (a very large, hard puzzle game, larger than games like Curses and Counterfeit Monkey. takes weeks or months without hints)
Worlds Apart (not too hard, but very large, mostly because of worldbuilding. It’s a dolphin magic sci fi world, kind of like Anne McAffrey. Took me a few days to read through/play.)



Worlds Apart is a heartfelt emotional exploration of various very serious themes. The mother-daughter relationship that lies at its heart is tenderly and honestly examined. The search for one’s true self in the absence of the web of interpersonal relations, or rather the question if there is such a thing as a true self when cut off from all social interactions, is a deep and lingering theme that threads through the entire work. Echoes and symbolism for these themes are found in the game’s detailed and evocative world.

The protagonist just happens to be an alien hybrid marine/land-mammal living in a, well, come to think of it, yes, dolphin magic sci fi world.

Not a word wrong with that description, actually. I may have bristled at your succinct summary prematurely…