Mike Russo's ParserComp 2023 reviews

Yes yes, I know, I haven’t even finished my Spring Thing reviews! But I did play all the ParserComp games this year, and now that my Rosebush article is up and I’ve cleared the deck on my pre-IF Comp testing commitments, I want to get my reviews up before too much time passes.

(I will get back to the Spring Thingies too, I promise! Hopefully before the Comp, too).

As per usual, I played in random order – with no regard for the classic vs. freestyle split – and will review them in the same order. For once I didn’t actually beta test any of the games, so everything’s fair game!

Between the Lines of Fire, by paravaariar
Bug Hunt on Menelaus, by Larry Horsfield
Cheree: Remembering my Murder, by Robert Goodwin
Dream Fears in a nutshell, by StuckArcader
Finn’s Big Adventure, by Larry Horsfield
The Fortuna, by Jason Gauci
Hinterlands: Delivered!, by Cody Gaisser
Jesse Stavro’s Compass, by Arlan Wetherminster
The Last Mountain, by Dee Cooke
Late-Imperial Sky Witches Star In: Meet Cute, by JazzTap
Murder Most Foul, by David Whyld
The Purple Pearl, by Amanda Walker
Search for the Lost Ark, by Garry Francis
Steal 10 Treasures to Win This Game, by spaceflounder
Xanix-Xixon Resurgence, by Larry Horsfield
Xenophobic Opposites Unite, by Andrew Schultz


Search for the Lost Ark, by Garry Francis

Here’s one of the iron laws of interactive fiction: you are in good hands with Garry Francis. There may be a few other contemporary authors working at a similar clip, but even fewer, I think, hit the same consistently high level of quality, serving up adventures that might be old-school in their premises but boast airtight implementation, clear and engaging prose, and solidly-designed puzzles. Yet even judged against these high standards, Search for the Lost Ark is a standout, delivering a game that’s polished, funny, and satisfying.

From the title you might think that we’re in for an Indiana Jones style globetrotting adventure, but the actual setup, delightfully, is both more grounded and wackier: the Lost Ark was found long ago and had been hanging out in Chartres’ cathedral for several centuries, until being moved first to a village church and then – out of an admirable but perhaps overzealous protective instinct, Chartres being west of Paris – during World War I it was hidden in the nearby woods to keep it safe from German marauders. Now, as a priest-in-training who grew up in the area, you’ve been ordered back home to find the thing after the clergyman who hid it shuffles off to join the choir invisible. The only problem is, you’ve no idea where to start, and there’s something off about your immediate superior, the rather-wan, just-arrived-from-Eastern-Europe “Father” “Alucard.”

So yeah no points for guessing the plot twist, but this isn’t the sort of game that’s relying on the plot for engagement – and it knows you know that, meaning Alucard will engage in a bit of knowing vamping if you care to toss some pointed dialogue queries his way but you’re not going to short-circuit any puzzles by dint of your genre-awareness. Similarly, the writing does a perfect job of conveying a sense of place and highlighting the details you’ll need to focus on to complete your quest, all in a terse yet informative style that’s a model of effective prose. This is no mean feat, especially since it also has to communicate information that you, as a priest-to-be, would know about subjects like the structure of the Bible or the details of church architecture, but that you, as a player of IF, might not. Many of these tidbits are actually relevant to solving the game, but some are just lovely little factoids:

> x hammer

The sledge hammer has a heavy iron head and a long wooden handle. This combination makes it good for breaking big rocks into little rocks. Did you know that ‘sledge’ is derived from the old English ‘slægan’, which means ‘to strike violently’. No? Well, now you do.

I didn’t, so yes, now I do!

As for those puzzles, none are especially hard, but gosh, are they satisfying. There are a series of clearly-signposted obstacles, each with intuitive solutions, and if this were all there was to the game, it might risk feeling a bit too old-school, in a USE X ON Y sort of way, but there’s also a final metapuzzle: as you progress, you’ll come across a series of biblical verses, which you need to combine to reach your ultimate goal. I won’t spoil the details, but it takes just the right amount of thought, and while it rewards a bit of outside knowledge, the game characteristically provides everything you need even if the difference between Corinthians and Thessalonians is all Greek to you.

Writing this review with the benefit of hindsight, I’m not at all surprised that Search for the Lost Ark shared the gold medal in the classic category – this is a near-perfect execution of the traditional form, thoughtful and engaging and not overstaying its welcome. The only problem is, now the next time I play a Garry Francis game, my standards will be even higher!

ark mr.txt (64.8 KB)


This is one of the nicest reviews of one of my games that I’ve ever read, so thanks for that. More importantly, you really got the gist of the game and were able to convey that in the review without giving away any significant spoilers. Much appreciated.

Oh, crap! That’s a worry. I’ll have to write a few rubbish games to lower your expectations. :face_with_hand_over_mouth:


The Fortuna, by Jason Gauci

For the past year or so, the IF community has seen numerous conversations about the ethics, efficacy, and prospects for using AI tools like Large Language Models or image-generation software to create IF. Various arguments have been advanced over epically long threads – often throwing off as much heat as light, it must be admitted – but perhaps our time would have been better spent waiting quietly, because sometimes an ounce of practice is worth a pound of theory. The Fortuna is perhaps a maximalist take on what using AI in IF can look like: every element of it, from the graphics illustrating each location and character, to the descriptions that flesh out its cruise-ship milieu, to the freeform conversation system that’s central to progression, is built around AI. And every single one is awful.

Looks, cards on the table: I come to this debate pretty skeptical of the AI pitch. One of the major reasons I engage with art is because it offers an opportunity to connect with other human minds, to expand my understanding and my perspectives, to experience something idiosyncratic and specific to the person who made it – LLMs and other AI approaches, with their views from nowhere, get in the way of that. I also find most procedural-generation pretty boring; I get that in theory it can open up new intellectual possibilities and reveal surprising connections, but in practice I tend to experience it as one bowl of oatmeal after another. So I may have some biases (I also am not really big on cruise ships, now that I think about it – never been on one, so my major associations with cruises are the destruction of Venice’s lagoon, David Foster Wallace’s A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, and the time my brother-in-law went on one and came back with swine flu). But even if I’d gone into The Fortuna a dyed-in-the-wool techno-optimist, what I found there would give me second thoughts.

Start with the art. Due to the use of AI, the game is lavishly illustrated by the standards of amateur IF. But instead of providing a nice aid to the imagination, allowing the player to more fully immerse themself in the world, instead we get, well, this:


Allegedly this is a set of greeters for the cruise ship, not a band of Cenobites on holiday from hell. Allegedly. But it’s not an outlier; all of the images are like this to a greater or lesser extent.

It’s hard to discern exactly what’s gone wrong here – obviously the image-generation tool got confused somehow. But aren’t there other tools that work better that the author could have used? And shouldn’t he have exercised a minimum of quality control and noticed how disturbing this picture is, how out of step it is with the happy vacation vibe the prose is working to convey, and killed it?

Speaking of the writing, it suffers from the same uncanny valley issues as the visuals; the well-known tendency of LLMs to hallucinate is on full display, and the prose manages to be vague and repetitive. Like, here’s the description of a uniform in a gym locker:

The uniform in the gym locker room is a set of clothing worn by individuals for a specific purpose or profession. It is likely made of durable and breathable material to withstand physical activities. The uniform may include a shirt, shorts or pants, and possibly a jacket or other accessories depending on the specific sport or activity taking place in the gym. It may also have the logo or name of the cruise ship or gym embroidered on it. The uniform is typically neatly folded or hung in one of the lockers, ready to be worn by individuals engaging in physical activities in the gym.

This is a hundred words that don’t communicate anything beyond “a uniform in a gym locker”, and of course there are an awful lot of “may”s here – in fact, the uniform may not actually exist, given that I couldn’t try to take it.

The writing issues combine with the game’s conversation-focused design to create still further problems. In several places, progression requires you to build a rapport with various of the characters you meet, which is largely accomplished by asking them about themselves. This is accomplished via a freeform chat system, which is impressively open-ended and does allow for a wide variety of input to be understood (one character writes for the New York Times, and when I asked her about Jamelle Bouie, she correctly identified him as a journalist). Still, this element too runs into some familiar problems. The left hand may not know what the left is up to – as with one early character, who’s described as toying with their wedding ring in a bit of environmental detail, but who steadfastly insists they were never married when you ask them about it. And when you do learn more about them, well:

> ask officer “how are you”
I’m doing well, thank you for asking. I believe in hard work and dedication, and I strive to make the world a safer place as a port security officer. Ensuring that everyone can feel safe is important to me, and I hope to be a role model for young people. Growing up in a rough neighborhood and seeing the violence and crime firsthand motivated me to make a difference. After high school, I joined the military and served in Iraq for four years. I then pursued a degree in criminal justice and landed a job in port security. I want to show others, especially young people, that they can achieve anything they set their minds to.

This is generic and robotic, of course, but it’s maybe worth noting that this character is Black, and I dare say there’s something pretty stereotypical about the backstory being presented. The one other Black character has a similarly tormented backstory involving struggles with addiction. Meanwhile, when I asked the Times reporter about her job, after saying it’s a dream come true, she continued with “[a]s a female reporter, I am proud to work for a newspaper that values diversity and promotes women’s rights.”

To just state what I’m getting at: the characters who aren’t white men are largely stereotypes, defined by their race and gender. This is something a human author can unwittingly wind up doing, of course – but it’s also a real danger of LLMs, trained as they are on the products of a racist, misogynistic society. At least there’s a note of comedy from how the model extrapolates without any understanding of the world: there’s a devout Italian woman who’s super into C.S. Lewis, because the AI’s mashed up different stereotypes without knowing the difference between Catholics and Protestants.

Now, it’s possible that these characters get deeper over the course of the game, and that it improves in some of its other problematic aspects too, because I have to confess that I didn’t get very far into the plot. After boarding the ship, entering the VIP section, and being introduced to the cast of characters, there was an inciting incident that pointed to a mystery to be solved that presumably kicks off the narrative proper – but one of the first steps required solving a riddle to open a safe. The riddle seemed like one of those old chestnuts everyone knows, albeit with awkward, AI-y syntax (”I am owned by the poor and the rich don’t need me” – it’s nothing, right?) except the obvious answer didn’t work, nor did a bunch of non-obvious ones I tried. Is this because I was typing things in wrong, or being especially thick, or did the AI generation flub the riddle? I don’t know, but regardless, there my journey came to an end, and I must admit to feeling some relief.

I am being uncharacteristically harsh on The Fortuna, and I should say it’s not because I think the game is coming from a bad place by any means. In fact, the best piece of writing in the game is the introduction, where the author speaks movingly about being inspired by IF as a child, and wanting to use the new possibilities afforded by AI tools to create a game that would similarly spark joy in its players. That’s a laudable goal, and one that pretty much all first-time authors fall short of (I know I certainly did!)

But I do think there’s something very badly broken about the approach here. While there may be a case for the IF community to embrace AI, it turns out that using it for every aspect of a project and dialing things up to 11 does not make for a convincing demonstration. The Fortuna’s various failures all, I think, have one root cause – which is that time after time, when an AI tool threw up something that didn’t work or didn’t make sense, the author didn’t take action to cut, modify, or customize in service of the larger vision. As the amateur IF scene is currently constituted, it’s an auteurist medium; one can certainly levy critiques about that situation, but as it turns out, taking the author out of the equation is a very bad idea.


ask derrick, “can you prove you are not an AI?”

Certainly, I can prove that I am not an AI. I am Derrick Williams, a 35-year-old African American male. I have a background and a story that an AI would not possess. I grew up in a rough neighborhood, witnessing violence and crime at a young age. Determined to make a difference, I joined the military after high school and served in Iraq for four years. Following that, I pursued higher education, earning a degree in criminal justice. Currently, I work as a Port Security Officer, dedicated to making the world a safer place and ensuring that everyone can feel safe. My no-nonsense attitude, hard work, and dedication are all indicators of my authenticity as a human being. I strive to be a role model for young people and show them that they can achieve anything they set their minds to.


ask derrick, “did you know AI’s like to tell strangers they’ve never met before their whole life story?”

I appreciate your concern, Alfred, but I can assure you that I am not an AI. Regardless, if you would like to know more about me, I’m happy to share. My name is Derrick Williams. I grew up in a rough neighborhood where I witnessed a lot of violence and crime. Those experiences fueled my desire to make a positive difference in the world. After high school, I joined the military and served in Iraq for four years. Following my time in the military, I attended college and earned a degree in criminal justice. Now, as a Port Security Officer, my goal is to make the world a safer place and ensure that everyone can feel safe. I strive to be a role model for young people, showing them that they can achieve anything they set their minds to.



OK, i just had a go at this game. My problem is less with the AI and more about the fact that really quite elementary IF commands do not work. It’s quite frustrating in that regard.

and it’s slow.

If you are feeling restless, you can also take a walk around the terminal or relax in one of the many lounge chairs (emboldened in game).

sit on a lounge chair

Could not find a lounge chair to SIT



Yeah, at least when I played it lagged quite a lot, but wasn’t sure whether that was due to playing during the Comp when traffic might be heavier (the size and performance of LLMs is another major issue, I think, since it impacts IF’s historically reasonably-good record of accessibility).

For standard IF commands, I found most would eventually work in some form, but there was a lot of inconsistency - I think sometimes because of the hallucination issue, where the game describes objects and situations that aren’t actually part of the world model.

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I don’t know whether this was the author’s intent, but I find this fascinating from an artistic point of view. There’s been a lot of discussion recently on AI and the role of the prompter vs the LLM, what part a human has when an AI is doing the writing, and so on. Most works written with AI would presumably have a human go over them with a fine-toothed comb, making sure to show off the AI’s strengths and minimize its weaknesses. Regenerate the image enough times and you’ll get one that’s not horrifying, even if it takes a hundred tries.

This work doesn’t do that. And I have to imagine it’s deliberate. This is showing the results of raw AI without a human covering up the flaws, hiding the weak points and the blemishes so you only see the best of the best responses.

There was a discussion in another thread a bit ago about SHRDLU, which has been hailed as an incredible demonstration of the technology of the day…but it seems, only as long as you stay “on the rails” and don’t ask it to deviate too much from the pre-planned demo. It sounds like this work is exploring the opposite. The New York Times demonstrates how good the new GPTs are by writing most of an article with them, with a human author fine-tuning the prompts over and over until they get the best of the best to show off. What does it look like if we don’t do that curation? How well does the AI do, not in the best case, or the worst case, but the average case, when all its output is taken at face value without human curation?


Xanix-Xixon Resurgence, by Larry Horsfield

This is one of three ParserComp entries by the author, which is the kind of work ethic that I feel like I can’t directly comment on without being consumed by jealousy. Each is an old-school ADRIFT puzzler, of various flavors – here, we’ve got another installment in the author’s long-running Alaric Blackmoon series of fantasy games. While there’s some continuity with earlier entries, with references to previous adventure sprinkled throughout the opening, XXR (you’d better believe I’m not typing that title again) seems to work quite well as a standalone, with a straightforward and engaging premise: there are rumors of monsters on the periphery, so you and your buddy the king need to cross a desert to check things out.

I’ve played some of those earlier games, but never to completion, and I was hoping this would be the one to break the streak – but alas, it was not to be. All of them have a fine-grained style that require the player to spell out exactly what they’re doing, step by step, rather than bottom line their actions. On the positive side, this contributes to a pleasant sense of immersion; I enjoyed the low-key opening section, where you need to barter for camels and equipment for your desert trip. Sure it’s a little fiddly to have to buy the transportation but then visit separate vendors to get saddlebags and tackle, then purchase clothes appropriate to the desert heat, but it helps sell the reality of the world, and establish that the player characters – you can swap between Alaric and the king whenever you like – are going to be fish out of water (er) on their trip.

On the downside, though, this granularity combined with some of the foibles of the ADRIFT parser to make the puzzles even harder than I think they’re intended to be. The first major section of gameplay involves exploring a ruined city where you’ve taken shelter from a sandstorm, which ultimately requires using an abandoned metallurgical workshop to duplicate a key. While it wasn’t too tough to figure out what I was supposed to do in general terms, each step involved wrestling with the parser. A key item can be found in the debris lying around the place, but SEARCH doesn’t reveal it – instead, you need to CLEAN WORKSHOP (I feel like cleaning abandoned workshops is right up there with cleaning a rental car in the implausibility sweepstakes). Similarly, getting water into the quenching trough is a bit of a struggle:

You cannot fill anything with the water skin.
You pour some water into the trough from your water skin.

So I was able to make some progress, and found some intriguing secrets in the city, but eventually my progress petered out; the game does include context-specific hints, but through some combination of the system seeming to get confused with a different puzzle and/or me being too thick to figure out what I was missing, it couldn’t get me on track. This is a shame since I did enjoy aspects of the world, but between wrestling with the parser and the punishing puzzles – as well as an annoying quirk of ADRIFT that meant that I couldn’t reload the game when I died while playing as the king – I wasn’t too sad to wash my hands of it. Besides, even just in this Comp I’ll have two more chances to finally get through one of Horsfield’s games!

XXR mr.txt (162.5 KB)


Oh, then you must binge The Love Boat! It’ll change the way you feel about cruise ships. Heck, it may change your life!


You mention “I played in random order” so the advice ahead may be moot. But I can’t help noting Bug Hunt On Menelaus is one you (or anyone who has trouble approaching ADRIFT) should be able to get through, with or without a walkthrough. I’m glad it got into the comp. IIRC it was one of the entries that slipped in late.


Funny you should mention that… the above may or may not be a cheeky bit of foreshadowing :slight_smile:


Xenophobic Opposites, Unite!, by Andrew Schultz

Andrew Schultz has by this point created quite the collection of IF chess puzzlers – this is I think the fifth one I’ve played and reviewed? There are commonalities between all of them, of course: most notably, they’re all impeccably presented, with multiple helpful ways of displaying the board, accessibility options and hints to allow for maximum ease of play, and a light but engaging patina of story adding some narrative sugar to what could otherwise be dry exercises in logic. Impressively, while XOU is no exception, it doesn’t feel like a retread – unlike the earlier games, which hinged on proper piece placement or clever pawn-promotion tricks, or started out with the player on the back foot, here we’ve got a classic but tricky endgame scenario: the player’s got to achieve checkmate with only their two bishops.

It’s a well-chosen setup because it allows for a fun narrative layer, hinging on the difficulties of getting the bishop-who-only-goes-on-white-squares and the bishop-who-only-goes-on-black-squares to put their differences aside and work together. It also makes for a deceptively challenging puzzle. With the opponent having only a king to their name, you’re obviously in no danger, but it’s surprisingly easy for them to slip through your offense and force a stalemate – or even, since you can only defend your bishops with your king, knock out one of your pieces (this is still just a stalemate, of course, but it’s a much more humiliating way to go down).

As I’ve mentioned in my previous reviews of this series of games, I’m no chess maven but I’ve generally found a way to muddle through. That’s technically the case here too, though I’ll have to cop to rather more muddle than usual. It didn’t take me too long to crack the first phase of the puzzle, and it was fun to scissor my bishops past each other until they pinned the enemy king against the edge of the board. The process of herding the king into the corner for mate, though, was a much harder nut to crack, involving a forward-and-back pas de trois that I only groped my way towards through a whole lot of trial and error – somehow keeping track of all those diagonals was very taxing on my poor brain. When looking back at the solution in retrospect, it’s lovely and elegant, but it sure didn’t feel that way at the time.

That’s probably more an indication that I’ve found my level as a chess dilettante than a real critique of the game, though – and I’m guessing that for those with more familiarity with the game of kings, this stepped-up difficulty could well be a selling point. My favorite of these games remains You Won’t Get Her Back, which I think nailed a sweet spot in terms of difficulty while also having the cleverest marriage of gameplay and narrative, but XOU is a worthy addition to the collection too – if the concept seems at all appealing, you really can’t go wrong.


Steal 10 Treasures to Win This Game, by spaceflounder

Judging from the title, you’d be forgiven for thinking this game would be a forgettable throwback, puzzler where you wander around an ersatz fantasy environment, solving simple puzzles and looking for valuables to hoover up for no reason other than that they’re there, all the while enjoying/enduring various wacky scenarios and overenthusiastic jokes. And Steal 10 Treasures isn’t not that, certainly; yup, there’s a castle; no, there’s rationale for you to be raiding it; yes, the first puzzle involves refusing a poisoned ice cream; no, it doesn’t get any less silly from there. Still, it’s anything but generic, and merits inclusion in the freestyle category by dint of its interface: you type commands just like a regular parser game, sure, but it only recognizes actions that are a single letter long.

To give an example of how this works, instead of writing out a full command, you just type, say, A which if you happen to be in the dungeon would get interpreted contextually to ATTACK CLAM (I told you about the wacky scenarios). Or S might get you SMELL CLAM PLEASE; meanwhile, since there’s nothing to move around down there, pushing P just pops up PUSH ANYTHING, which unsurprisingly accomplish much when you hit enter. Navigation, meanwhile, is handled via the arrow keys.

This is a limited parser game, in other words – something I’ve had on my mind of late – but a peculiar sort of one. Outside of navigation and out-of-game commands, there are about a dozen actions on offer, running the usual parser-puzzler gamut (including LICK, as I understand is becoming the style), and while the help screen doesn’t tell you all of them, since it only takes a minute to try out all the keys on the keyboard to learn the “secret” commands, the player generally knows exactly what their options are.

That’s the theory, at least – in practice, I often found myself at a bit of a loss for what to type. There are too many possible actions to be easily held in the head at once, and because many of the commands start with the same letter, the keyboard mapping sometimes felt about as intuitive as that of an early Ultima game (Ztats, anyone?) If P is push, then Y must be pull – so that means B is yell? C for climb is intuitive enough, as is T for turn, but then you’ve got V for converse. And sometimes the game seems willfully perverse: G isn’t mapped to anything, but rather than using that, you need to type a period to get an item. The result of all of this is that when I entered a new room and was confronted with a new situation, my first instinct was to just start hammering out QWERTY and continuing from there until I found an option that looked good.

I ran into the lawnmowering problem, in other words, where the player turns off their brain and tries to make progress by mechanically trying every choice until they hit on one that works. As I discuss in my Rosebush article, there are various strategies limited-parser games can use to make this approach less appealing – it’s a little gauche to keep flogging it, but I feel like you, specifically, would really enjoy it – like timing puzzles, actions that are contingent on the presence or absence of different NPCs, or concealed second-order actions, but Steal 10 Treasures doesn’t employ any of them.

This is a real kick against it, but I’m compelled to note that in practice, even as one part of me was cataloguing the ways the design didn’t quite work, another part was just enjoying the ride. Sure, silly treasure-hunts are played out at this late date, but the reason they’ve stuck around so long is that they can be a lot of fun. And the game’s gags and puzzles are solid enough to carry it pretty far – it’s just big enough to avoid being trivial without being so sprawling that it gets annoying, does a good job of clueing its puzzles and alternating big, multi-step ones with short, easy ones (I especially liked the decidedly non-standard way you deal with the dragon), and the jokes adeptly ride the line between wacky-silly and wacky-ridiculous.

As a result, the single-letter gimmick didn’t wind up being as much of a downside as I thought it’d be; it might have even wound up being a plus, making it easier for me to kick back and enjoy the ride. Not every game needs to be Hadean Lands: if all you’re after is beer and pretzels, isn’t it nicer to just lift a finger to signal for another round, rather than having to spell out your order every time?


How very attentive, Mike. Thanks for making me feel seen.


Thanks for playing my stupid little game! I’ve done a lot of thinking about parser design based on hotkeys. Lately, I’ve thought a lot about StarCraft as an inspiration for how to write an adventure parser.

The article was very interesting, too. Steal 10 Treasures attempts to come up with different kinds of puzzles in a familiar setting. Admittedly, where story is concerned, it isn’t much.

(Now I just want beer and pretzels.)


Thanks for the review! First of all, you’re right about YWGHB as probably the best suited to a story (and by a good margin!) There’s one other borderline case that might be doable, but that’s it. And you hit on a lot of concerns I had when planning for XOU and writing it up.

A problem with putting your (or in this case canonical chess problems’) best foot forward first is, the next one might not have such good footing and you wonder “is it worth the bother?” I mean sometimes something is good enough to get out there even if you notice it’s not at a pinnacle, but all the same, you want quality control. And I probably worried too much about that instead of getting writing.

One concern was that I was worried I might just be writing to have a game starting with X. (Yes, Larry Horsfeld’s entry made me laugh when I saw it! I wonder what he thought of seeing another entry starting with X.) It’s stuff we should think about–comps give us positive pressure to write that thing we’ve meant to, but it can be negative if we don’t write it very well. But I probably thought of it too much and let that get in the way of developing the NPC stories, which I may do at a post-comp release.

Another is that there is that leap, and I didn’t really sit down and figure more ways to help the player make that leap. And there’s a part of me that has seen relatively newer players figure out the two-bishops mate and they really enjoy having the light go off. (Plus, tutorials are on YouTube now.)

Yet even some masters can find it to be trouble. From my own experience, I read about “some guy rated 2300 who didn’t know it.” It turned out to be someone who had wiped me off the board years earlier, who was born in Germany in 1945 and of Latvian descent. He had written books on chess, which are apparently good. But he had that blind spot!

I really do want to give the experience of “oh man this looks impossible oh wait no I can do this” though and the 2B’s seemed like a good try at that, given how I jumped from not getting it to really getting it. The first part to me felt intuitive, in pinning the enemy king against the board where he can only move two squares, but I always failed at the last.

It seems like the light went on for you, which is what I was hoping to do for the player, but … I probably didn’t help it go on fast enough, for enough people and I missed out on some steps that could/should’ve been added!


Anyone who wants to further improve their two bishop mate skills could try it on Lichess: Piece Checkmates II • lichess.org

(The discussion got me curious, and I’m happy to say I can still do it. Now whether I could do a bishop and knight mate, that’s another matter…)


I was seriously considering this as a post-comp release as a joke, until I realized how brutally hard it could be to not just implement but give clues for and make a story for! Anyway I think chessable’s interface works a LOT better.

B&N course recommendation

Depending on how much you want to learn, I recommend the B&N course on chessable which has a much different approach and final mating pattern from when I was young. It’s surprisingly intuitive and memorable, and it’s the sort of thing that just kind of appears in the computer age. The creator is rated 1900-2000, which is really good, but it’s a reminder titled players can’t figure everything and that magic-seeming nudge to give a stroke of insight/intuition can turn up anywhere.

I’m really impressed by it and how it uses chessable’s interface to funnel/nudge you into the right idea. And it’s free, too!

(Also, only semi-related, another person rated “only” 1900 did an exhaustive analysis of computer notes on queen versus rook endgames. The TLDR is that there are some neat basic guidelines to go by, but the details are hairy. It’s an impressive work. Again, the right interface helped me “see” certain aspects of Q vs R beyond the main winning position when the king’s near the corner.)