Wolfbiter reviews IFComp 2023 (latest: finished with reviews, wrap-up thoughts)

Antony & Cleopatra: Case IV: The Murder of Marlon Brando by Travis Moy
[Note: My co-conspirator played the Cleopatra route and I played the Antony route, although we compared notes pretty thoroughly. Together we solved crime!]

Playtime: 1 hour, 45 minutes

TLDR: Very much like solving a competent & tightly plotted boxed mystery with a friend. The mood of the game is more realistic and grounded than the description suggests. (After playing I was wracking my mind to try to remember the specific board game this reminded me of . . . and then I saw @DeusIrae mention in his review that it was a lot like Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective. Which is also what I was trying to think of. So there’s two votes for the comparison, at least.)

Gamemechanical notes: Choice based. Minor resource-allocation tasks during the investigation, but otherwise many choices during the investigation. At the end the players must solve the mystery via quiz.

[ + ]

  • The mystery / investigation elements are well written and interesting. It definitely met my expectations of something at least as good as what I would expect in a typical mystery short story or novel. The friend and I both enjoyed engaging with the evidence and piecing together the solution, and had a lot of moments of joy as pieces came together.

  • I particularly enjoyed the realistic feeling of structuring an investigation around the initial leads, and then having some leads turn up new avenues, and other leads not pan out at all. It felt true to life and also made the world feel more expansive.

  • The UI is very good. I don’t even know enough to guess how hard programming it for two people was, but the shared calendar was handy and easy to use, the sidebar with links to the transcripts was very helpful and got frequent use, etc. etc.

  • The shared calendar was a fun mechanic and very smoothly implemented. The main choice that you have during the investigation phase is how to prioritize your resources–you have a limited number of slots for investigation (it’s not too harsh, I think we ended up skipping one person/location we didn’t have time to investigate, and there were definitely other options that we could have missed and still solved the mystery). I enjoyed the resource management / planning as an aspect of the game.

  • I enjoyed the writing for the NPCs. I respected the attitude brought to the table by Horace and Mr. Whisker in particular.

[ Δ ]

  • It seems like there’s some alpha left in the two-player concept. Playing with a friend definitely enriched my experience (spending time with friends is fun! We did better detecting!—we solved the mystery but I don’t know if I would have without a second brain / a reason to kick ideas around), but it enriched my experience in approximately the same way that calling up a friend to sit by me while I played any of the puzzle-based games in the competition would have enriched my experience. Given that the game is labelled for mandatory multiplayer, I would have liked to see even more done with it. For example, Antony and Cleopatra are at most lightly asymmetric, what if that asymmetry was leaned into more, so they had different resources, skills, or weaknesses as detectives? What if the two detectives at times split up, either to investigate separately or for some kind of climactic set-piece? What if the detectives had at times had conflicting motivations, e.g., solving the mystery versus saving my buddy; solving the mystery versus getting my buddy arrested, etc etc.

  • The game was played straighter than I expected from the description. I wouldn’t have minded leaning into the zaniness suggested by the concept. This is a world where Antony and Cleopatra are married with kids but Julius Caesar is still alive (and Antony’s boss)? Was that messy? What should we make of the fact that Marlon Brando, James Dean, and Audrey Hepburn are running Raytheon together?