In search of IF after Anchorhead

Anchorhead left an impression on me. Last night I tried a few modern games with mixed results. I’m not a fan of snappy “Marvel”-esque dialogue. I’m not a fan of meta/abstract/big picture writing that seems popular in modern games I’ve tried. I’d like to find fair IF with traditional storytelling.

Preferably IF that doesn’t hide behind experimental mechanics and instead relies on crafting medium-large worlds worlds with strong puzzle solving mechanics. Any help is appreciated.


The obvious recommendation would be:

Anchorhead famously took a puzzle from this game.


I appreciate the rec and I’ll add it to the list.

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I remember playing Anchorhead and thinking, ‘Oh, that was pretty good, now I’ll compare to the other games with good puzzles and story spread out over several days’. I found out there aren’t that many!

However, ones that are like that tend to be the most popular. If you browse IFDB by popularity, you’ll see many games like the ones you describe.

Hadean Lands is great if you specifically liked the puzzles aspect. It has a great story but the puzzles are very good. Costs money, though.

Spider and Web by the same author as Hadean Lands is also very good. Not as long as Anchorhead but impressive.

If you’ve tried some modern games, you probably ran into Emily Short. Her game Counterfeit Monkey is the only game as popular as Anchorhead on IFDB, but City of Secrets or Bronze may have more of the traditional feel you described.

Speaking of traditional style gameplay, A Beauty Cold and Austere is an excellent exploration and classic-style game that is all about math (Achilles and the Tortoise, making a number line, etc.)

If you specifically want big games, Curses is by far my favorite, with a lot of puzzles and exploration and a great story with lots of literary quotes. I have a list of other game that take 10 hours or more listed here: Reviews by MathBrush

If you want really big, How Prince Quisborne the Feckless Shook His Title is immense, maybe 10-20 times longer than Anchorhead, with a ton of text and lots of jokes and medieval/renaissance fantasy puzzles.


Seconding Theatre - the so-called “neoclassical era” (I think a Jimmy Maher coinage) is probably what you’re after. So Theatre, ChristminsterJigsaw might qualify too, though it’s a bit puzzlier and more literary; Maher’s own King of Shreds and Patches likewise, though it’s more on the narrative end (it’s also a Cthulhu Mythos game).

There’s also Cragne Manor, of course, a 20th anniversary tribute game for Anchorhead, but it’s an anthology game by 80+ authors with wildly varying approaches; I think it’s brilliant but it’s definitely not Anchorhead part 2.

Then there’s Hadean Lands, which is decidedly modern and has some meta touches, but IMO is probably the best medium to large puzzlefest IF has ever seen (others would probably say Counterfeit Monkey holds this slot, but I haven’t played it and if you dislike experimental mechanics I suspect it wouldn’t work as well for you).


I came here intending to mention Theatre, Spider and Web, and Bronze, but I have a few other personal favorites I hope will work for you, too.

Brian Moriarty’s Trinity is a puzzly Infocom game that’s regarded as one of the best pieces of parser IF ever written. It has big-picture concerns, but most of the game involves wandering through a weird fantasy landscape and solving rather difficult puzzles. I tend to think that the puzzles are some of the best in the genre, the kind that you resist looking up solutions for until they solution comes to you during a spare moment in your busy day or when you’re out for a walk, the kind of puzzles that when you get the solution you know immediately that it’s correct.

One of my favorite pieces of horror IF is Leadlight, a game originally written for the Apple II (!) and later re-implemented in Inform as Leadlight Gamma. I think the later, non-free version is worth paying for, but the earlier, free version is very good and worth playing in an emulator if money is tight.

Jason Devlin’s Vespers is a rather disturbing game where you play a medieval monk in an abbey during a plague, with an unusually well-developed opportunity to take the game in any of several directions.

Star Foster and Daniel Ravipinto’s Slouching Toward Bedlam is a great bit of steampunk Victorian-Lovecraftian horror with well-designed puzzles and wonderful writing. Genuinely creepy.

DA Leary’s The Horror of Rylvania is an old-school (1993) vampire puzzlefest.

Graham Nelson’s The Meteor, the Stone, and a Long Glass of Sherbet is a Zorkian puzzlefest with a very well-developed setting, good challenging puzzles, and a lot of humor along the way.

One of the best puzzles in parser IF, IMO, is All Things Devours, which is one big puzzle with tightly integrated sub-puzzles as components. It’s maddening and also very satisfying.

Buster Hudson’s The Wizard Sniffer, from the IFComp a few years ago, also has wonderful puzzles and excellent writing. The dialog is snappy but not, IMO, Marvel-esque, and really it has some of the best humor writing in IF. To say any more would spoil it.

Michael Baltes’s D’Arkun, from IFComp a few years back, is a great piece that owes an awful lot to Anchorhead but manages to take the Lovecraftian horror tropes in a different direction, even while borrowing elements from Gentry’s game.


For anyone looking for a balance between gameplay and story, I would recommend the following (both I have yet to finish):

  • Counterfeit Monkey
  • A Beauty Cold and Austere

Some IFComp entries this year you can try:

  • Put Your Hand Inside the Puppet Head
  • Little Match Girl 4
  • The Ship
  • Assembly
  • Milliways (?)
  • Prince Quisborne (?)
  • Death on the Stormrider (?)
  • Any others I have missed.

Thank you and all the best!

P.S. I’m planning to do something like this for IFComp 2024. Probably won’t reveal to avoid any spoilers, but be assured that it will have a good mix of gameplay and story.


Thank you for all the suggestions everyone. I appreciate it.


The Horror of Rylvania! I’ve never heard anyone mention it before, but it came bundled with some of the Unnkulian Unventures, and I enjoyed it… I think that one does well at not-too-big/not-too-small, not-too-hard/not-too-easy, for those who are looking for that balance…


I keep meaning to go back and finally play the Unkulian Adventures. But they’re four of the 289 games in my “to play” folder, so it probably won’t be this month.

Rylvania was good, though! Lots of easy death, big-picture moral ambiguity that’s more than just “the game liberates me to indulge my asshole tendencies without consequence,” and a nice big map with two or three mazes and plenty of puzzles.

I encountered a mention of it in chapter 8 of Jimmy Maher’s Let’s Tell a Story Together and thought “I’ve got to play that.”


I didn’t especially love the main Unnkulia games, but I thought The Legend Lives was really good!


The Unnkulians (1 and 2) were basically my first introduction to IF, so it’s hard for me to be objective about them. I was 12-14ish when I discovered them, and I thought they were a riot. I played Unnkulia Zero maybe 12-15 years later, and that was probably the best of them. I still haven’t finished Legend Lives yet! I got to what must be one of the final puzzles of the game (cheez planet) but life got busy and then I started making Prince Quisborne, and I’ve never been back to finish it! Plan to one day, though!


I recommend Trinity as well. It’s very good and the finale scene has some awesome puzzle stuff.

You could try my Milliways because it’s definitely a puzzlefest, and pretty hard with 11 different areas, but I’d recommend waiting until after the end of the comp to try it because of annoying bugs.


I’ve been holding off on Milliways because I thought I saw on another thread that an update was imminent, has that been pushed back to a post-Comp release?


Another update is literally about to happen…


Hooray! That may be next for me after I finish Beat Witch later tonight.

There’s always more I want to get to in the Comp than I have time for!


I think Trinity qualifies as abstract/big picture. Not a bad thing, but different in style from Anchorhead. If puzzle focused games with concrete stories is your thing, many other Infocom games fit.


You’ve gotten some great suggestions in this thread, and I’ll add my votes to the pile for Curses, Theatre, and Counterfeit Monkey, but here are a few other titles you may enjoy:

Jigsaw - Graham Nelson

Savoir Faire - Emily Short

Lydia’s Heart - Jim Aikin

Risorgimento Represso and its sequel, Illuminismo Iniziato - Michael J. Coyne


Shadow in the Cathedral