Wolfbiter reviews Spring Thing 2024 -- Social Democracy (all main festival reviews complete)

Ooh, that’s interesting, thanks for sharing! I like hearing where I got something different than what the author intended, one of those things that keeps life interestng.

1 Like

Loose Ends by Daniel Stelzer and Anais Sommerfeld
Playtime: 1 hour 5 minutes (51 minutes for the first playthrough)

This made me want to talk about:

  • This is a delightfully complex investigative game, with strong noir and political (here meaning managing different factions) elements.

  • You get to select a class and background for your character, which bestow special powers (and thus, gameplay options). This was a fun twist, and I was impressed when I replayed a bit at how different the available options and therefore paths were

  • The game reminded me a bit of the book Altered Carbon (this is a compliment): the main character is an outsider hired to complete a thankless investigation by a powerful local figure, it’s “noir” in that things are more complicated than they appear and everyone is corrupt, the main character has to quickly learn who the powerful factions are and play them off against each other.

  • I got very caught up in the game and wanting to resolve the plot threads! So much so that I forgot to save quotes, but trust me that the writing was effective crime-style writing.

  • On a personal note, this game reminded me how weak I am to trying to help NPCs . . . show me an NPC who provides scenery or an NPC that *I* need to help *me*, and I am capable of feeling normal about them. Show me an NPC who is at risk of being KILLED by VAMPIRE ENFORCERS they know nothing about and I’m over here rearranging my initial priorities so I can SAVE THEM FROM GETTING MUR-DIDDLY-ERED.

  • The mechanics of the locations and the investigation were impressively well handled. The process of visiting locations, talking to people, collecting evidence and favors, was very smoothly handled, and seemed to permit you to go around in a lot of different orders and still have the plot make sense. (There’s a “night time” mechanic that seems to last . . . as long as you need it to, which I appreciated).

  • Unfortunately, I found this game to not really be re-playable short of actually doing a full replay, if that makes sense. I don’t think this is a flaw in the game, in fact the authors clearly tried to make replaying easier, but it’s just got enough moving parts (your character’s class and background affects how you approach tasks and what evidence you find, pieces of evidence can be given to multiple different factions) that it would make it really hard. I tried a second playthrough mostly to see if I could avoid being told I had joined a faction at the end, eliminate or get revenge on Varkonyi [although still while destroying the painting, displaying it seems like it’s not going anywhere good for Rosa], and do a better job helping Nyx find Crow, but after I got a ways in I realized that changing my class and background had messed me up (in that the evidence I originally used to get Nyx to even admit to me that he needed help with Crow seemed to be tied to my initial class and background). But, as I said, I don’t really know how this could be fixed while keeping the delicious complexity of the game, and I had a LOT of fun on my first playthrough.

My fervent wish:

OK, unfortunately this is me raising an issue without an idea of how to address it, but the scope of this work is so ambitious in terms of the choices / alignments offered, that I found myself forming definite opinions about what kinds of things I wanted to happen, but not really being sure how to translate that into game-allowed actions. (For example, I wanted to try to get Varkonyi in trouble for carelessly feeding in front of humans, but without dragging Rosa into it—it seems like my character would have some sense whether there’s a vampire faction that would act on evidence against him without involving Rosa or not. Or it seems like something I could ask Belmont about once I was his bff, but this didn’t always line up in a transparent way to the in-game options). Or sometimes I would be offered favors and being offered the favor was the first time it occurred to me that I would want that thing (for example, the favor Belmont offered me was dealing with hospital records, which hadn’t really realized was something I needed to do, and also it sees like I know like 3 other NPCs with tech expertise who could have helped me with it if I wanted). And although I could tell the game was generally trying to help me understand what the results of my actions would be, there were a few where I still did not actually understand what was going to happen until it happened (I was trying not to join any factions, but got told I did at the end, I wanted to not take the painting with me to the gallery one specific time, not give up the option to trade it for the whole game. These were really pretty minor quibbles.

Upon due consideration, a very well executed, complex, engrossing game offering a delectable bite of political intrigue urban fantasy. Definitely worth a play.


Thank you so much for your review! We’re really glad you enjoyed it so much!

One part of that is definitely changing asap: originally, working with Lucille at the end was only possible if you explicitly joined the Camarilla, which is why her ending assumes you did that. Then we added a different way to earn Belmont’s loyalty. Another reviewer also found that one—oops! We also want to find a better way to hint at what favors someone can offer before you actually ask for one. So hopefully in a post-comp release!

P.S. If you want to screw over Varkonyi while still destroying the painting, you can give the painting to Shahar, then find some way to record that meeting in the alley (Tech background, Obfuscate discipline, favors from Nguyen or Solomon), and give it to Agatha or one of the Camarilla vampires. They have the right connections to destroy his reputation with it.


Thanks for the tips!

Octopus’s Garden by Michael D. Hilborn
Playtime: 27 minutes

This made me want to talk about:

  • As an inveterate invertebrate enthusiast, I’ma big fan of the concept. (Yes, this sentence exists purely for the pun.) And the game pays off the premise, generating some very funny images: octopus pouring itself in and out of a drawer, octopus clinging to a clothesline.

  • I got stuck once (more later), but fortunately there are hints, which were appreciated! The instructions were also appreciated, but perhaps remove the inapplicable ones—I was correct in my initial suspicion that I was not going to need to TALK TO or COMMAND anyone in this game.

  • I always enjoy environmental storytelling, and here it’s pretty funny to get characterization of the humans via the octopus (me hearing my owner puts me in an aquarium where I can “barely” unfurl my tentacles: grrrrr. Me hearing my owner covers me with a blanket before having sex: awww. The octopus’s thoughts on its owner’s boyfriend and his affair partner: “Very odd what goes on . . . . Looks like it could hurt.”).

My fervent wish:
This is a peppy, pretty short game, and I had a MOSTLY peppy experience, but there were just . . . a . . . few . . . friction points. None of these were egregious, and certainly would not have been out of place in something puzzlier, I just would have preferred this game land at quick and easy romp.

Specifically, I still don’t really get why you can’t win if you get caught out of the aquarium *after* leaving the undergarments out—my owner can see them later, right? They’re not going to dematerialize? I kind of kept wanting to like, stick the toilet plunger on a vertical surface suction cup style and then climb it, but perhaps that’s just me, ok the place that drove me to the hints was the ink bit . . . let’s just say that I found myself looking up the viscosity of cephalopod ink [roughly 3 mPa*s, apparently] to try to justify my belief that it’s not a great lubricant before I realized that was Unhinged Behavior and stopped.

To sum up, a very right-sized game. The amount of puzzling and concept was well matched, a pleasingly slight and entertaining puzzle package with a few rough spots.


PROSPER.0 by groggydog
Playtime: 12 minutes

This made me want to talk about:

  • A straightforward game, but it’s pretty short so that’s a good match for the length. If you’re having trouble distinguishing poems from the factbook entries, keep in mind that the factbook entries use lots of colons and other internal organization, whereas the poems are generally unformatted and often start with “translated from.”

  • If you’re having trouble with malicious code, check under “user data” at the top of the screen

Putting that all together, nice and quick game, probably good for fans of data entry


Whew, sorry for any confusion, a rogue AI posted the first draft of my review. But I was able to recover the real review, see below. (Ed: No, not actually, it just struck me as funny and I couldn’t resist.)

PROSPER.0 by groggydog
Playtime: 54 minutes total (this was multiple endings, I didn’t record splits)

This made me want to talk about:

  • You know, I’m here for the theme of “poetry can break us out of monochrome dystopia” (e.g. Sean Bean: “Tread softly because you tread on my dreams” [fans of semi-obscure 2000s movies, unite!])

  • Really creative premise. I think I saw @groggydog mention that one point of inspiration was the “EmilyBlaster” game described in Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin–I see how “blasting” poetry could connect, but this is its own unique concept.

  • Everything about the UI and mechanical gameplay was great. There’s a custom-built interface that effectively conveys the mood of our corporate overlords, PROSPER.0’s text is also a good match for its personality, etc. The custom game mechanic is also smoothly implemented. Also, I thought watching the poems get deleted one word at a time was an effective even before the introduction of the custom game mechanic, which then justified that choice even more. And THANK YOU for including a “see the other final choice” button on the last page.

  • The corporate speak is well-written and pitch perfect:

There is unfortunately no room for art of any kind in the Database of Subsumed Cultures.

  • I was interested to read after the game about how the base poems were generated, but they did come out kind of same-y, perhaps as a result—I wonder if using multiple different generation techniques would have yielded poems that plausibly sounded like they could originate in different alien cultures

  • I would have liked a bit more autonomy in how I engaged with the concept. Like @pbparjeter, I got chastised for trying to delete an entire poem. There’s also a few spots that come across as the in-game-character PROSPER.0 clunkily telling the player how to think (possibly this is not meant to also be the game telling the player how to think, but it feels a bit that way when there’s no other in-game option than to play along):

You get the chance to be something more than a worker bee sitting day after day in front of this cold computer terminal, doing exactly what you are told and adding nothing of beauty to the universe. You get the chance to touch the stars.

I chafe a bit at that kind of direct instruction. Or, in PROSPER.0’s native analogy: this Ariel wants to be free, you know?

My fervent wish:

I would have loved a bit more nuance in addressing the themes (i.e., the philosophical nature of the themes calls for a bit more nuance). If you accede to be PROSPER.0’s accomplice, you get a bunch of money. Convenient! If you refuse, the game tells you that you spend the rest of your life wondering if you made the right choice. Could, perhaps, someone who made the “correct” choice still find themselves questioning it later?

Similarly, there’s questions that get teed up here but don’t get much engagement. Are we archivists or are we independent creators? Is whatever the player is doing even a form of memorializing? (This is lampshaded in the game but I didn’t find that explanation that persuasive.) Would you prefer that your artistic work be destroyed or survive in a form unrecognizable to you?

Putting that all together, a highly creative game that raises a lot of interesting questions in joyful, seamless to play way. A tantalizing yet at times frustrating grouping of ideas, but it definitely stirred me up in ways that not every game does.


late in replying to this, but thank you so much for the review - it means a lot! re. hinting, i used to work at an escape room, so i feel like my approach to providing hints is probably shaped by that :laughing:

1 Like

heh, that makes sense! can’t leave people trapped in the escape room forever :wink:

The Case of the Solitary Resident by thesleuthacademy
Playtime: 1 hour 11 minutes

This made me want to talk about:

  • The overall design for allowing the player to visit various locations and take actions, as well as interact with records and results on the “case file” page was well designed and easy to use.

  • There were several items that the player could interact with by entering specific prompts. This was an effective way of having progress available but gating it until the player got another clue somewhere else. I did have two issues, though. First, once you learned the names of most toxins, they could be searched in the plant book, but “glycyrrhizin” did not yield any results. If you search “licorice” you will get a page that tells you about glycyrrhizin but that expects quite a bit of plant lore from the player. Second, for the phone specifically, it seems to be a bit too player-unfriendly to make the player enter specific contact names to see if they are in the phone or not—just, in reality, one of the big advantages in having access to a victim’s unlocked phone would be the ability to scroll through contacts without needing to know their names already.

It looks innocuous enough, but you cannot help but wonder… is there death in the cheese?

This game gets me. :wink: That is indeed what I was wondering.

  • I was pretty engaged in wanting to put together the clues and deduce the answer. It was a fun sort of hunter-gatherer feeling to be able to go gather a lot of information and then have to put it together.

  • Thinking about the game in connection with Last Vestiges, a previous mystery by the same author, in general I think the switch away from parser successfully put more focus on the clue gathering / detecting elements and probably reduced the barriers to engaging with the mystery. Personally, I missed the explicit puzzles from Last Vestiges, but accept that they probably didn’t fit the author’s vision for this one.

  • On the ending screen, the different options could be described / differentiated better—I was pretty sure what happened but it wasn’t clear which of the options I was supposed to select. (For example, the presented options made me ponder for a while if some of the substances in the game would be considered “drugs” or “herbs”.)

My fervent wish:
I did have a problem where the last two results (web trawl and medication analysis) never came in even though I waited a L-O-N-G time for them. Unsure if the game was using clock time or actions (or just a bug) I spent quite a bit of time going back and re-looking at things I had already done, because I didn’t want to accuse anyone impetuously, but ultimately I gave up and just completed the game without those results.

Tying that all together, an engaging mystery where the player is able to collect and synthesize a variety of different clues.


Thanks so much for your thoughts and review! I really appreciate it

1 Like

Thanks for the review and feedback! Glad you found it engaging :smiley:

Added the missing word in the book. I intended for players to search based on the plant name since it was provided first in the gameplay, but I suppose there’s no harm making the name of the associated compound searchable! Thanks for pointing this out :slight_smile:

I didn’t want to make it too simple w.r.t. the phone contacts as I recognise the downsides of using Twine in taking away some of the fun of investigating/sleuth work (and hence incorporated a few open-ended input boxes in this piece).

Web trawl and medication analysis - the results should appear in the case file if all the links have been clicked on (including the suspects’ statements).


With the huge caveat that I haven’t played the game, just enjoyed reading the reviews—perhaps lampshade it by saying the contacts app is broken/secured/hard to understand so you’re finding contacts by typing their names into a messaging app and seeing what gets suggested?

1 Like

That’s a swell idea to make it more realistic! :smile:

Oh, interesting, thanks.

I think I had? But it’s possible I missed something in my search

1 Like

Social Democracy: An Alternate History by Autumn Chen
Playtime: 1 hour 14 minutes total (42 minutes for first playthrough)

This made me want to talk about:

  • Something I think about a lot is this mental toy from George Saunders in A Swim in a Pond in the Rain (his book on writing craft):

In the quoted section Saunders is focusing on sentence-level craft, and I agree, but I also find myself thinking about high-level features like plot as energy sources that make the reader keep reading. Consider a book where, despite other flaws, you keep reading because you are SO INVESTED in finding out “who done it”—that mystery is the energy source that keeps you reading. This can be applied to games, too, of course—what is it that keeps the player playing?

Social Democracy has one of the most powerful energy sources I can think of. This is the premise that has spawned a hundred time travel plots and a hundred AUs. Despite the fact that the opening of the game doesn’t even assign the player a goal (or even say what years the simulation will cover), I had the immediate, inescapable thought: I MUST TRY TO PREVENT HITLER FROM TAKING POWER. I suspect this response was pretty much universal among players.

On the positive side, this is a very powerful source of player engagement and motivation. A bit on the negative side, this concept is so powerful that during my repeat plays I found myself wondering, hmm, am I doing this because it it is *fun* / I’m *learning something* . . . or am I doing it to try to exorcise my personal political guilt (“can’t sleep until I’ve solved fascism”)?

  • When I saw there was quite a bit of text describing the government system, parties, current polling, etc. to read before starting, I wondered if this game was going to be very big. But that’s not actually the case. The game is structured around drawing and playing a limited number of cards, which actually makes the choices available to the player pretty limited. This is very streamlined and easy to get into, although it means you don’t have the kind of granular control over the budget or each topic you might have in some simulator games. The “deck” also seems to (unless I’m missing something?) introduce an rng element (in that you might say, not get offered the “fundraising” card very quickly in one game, or you might not get offered the cards that let you coalition build). But overall this is a great frame for letting the player engage with a lot of choices (which is fun and feels impactful) without inflicting decision fatigue on the player by making them decide what part of a dashboard to fiddle with, etc.

  • I could have used a short explanation of how to play on the first go-around. For example, although it seemed that generally you would be offered cards from the “government affairs” deck if the SPD controlled the government, but sometimes it seemed like I would be offered one during times we didn’t? Not sure if this had something to do with the presidency or chancellorship, which I definitely was not fully engaging with? Also, not clear to me why you can’t preview the cards in your hand before choosing one—the reason can’t be that you’re meant to be surprised because the same cards come up repeatedly in any one game, so it’s just an odd friction point that the first time every card comes up you have to choose it blind.

  • This game was very effective in raising the moral issues that arise once one starts to think one should achieve a particular goal (here, stop the Nazi party) at any cost. Fascinating to observe myself applying exclusively that lens. (Hmm, perhaps I should militarize the Reichsbanner or else how will it contend against the SA, which is very militarized. Hmm, is there any value to engaging with the “women’s rights” card when I don’t think women’s rights would help reduce support for the NSDAP? Hmm, what demographics historically supported the NSDAP the most? How can I make the SPD more appealing to them, specifically?)

My fervent wish:
A simulator necessarily operates from a specific point of view and a specific set of assumptions about the results of various actions. And a historical simulator I think makes at least the implicit claim that its point of view and assumptions convey something real about the world. I would have liked a bit more visibility into the assumptions the game was operating from.

The background assumptions operating in Social Democracy about how different demographic groups would have reacted to different policies, how the economy would react to reforms, how other political parties would have reacted outreach, etc. are pretty opaque, which I guess makes it hard for me to feel like I can evaluate how much they correspond to real life.

This would be clunky, but I kindof wanted like, further reading offered after the game. “Hey, you spent a lot of time attempting to fix economic policy that playthrough. Here’s some sources addressing how Germany’s approach to unemployment during the Great Depression connected to the rise of the Nazi party” or “you kept trying to enter into a coalition with the Communists, here’s some articles or books about how the SPD and NSDAP interacted and competed with the Communists.”

To be clear, insofar as I can deduce the game’s message, it’s one I can agree with. (Mike Russo described this better, but something like “geez, preventing the rise of the Nazi party sure would have been hard, even for well-meaning, precognitive people.”) And, although I’m definitely not qualified to judge historical accuracy, the game certainly struck me as meticulously researched. I guess it just felt like one of the attractions was the feeling of learning about the historical period, and seeing a bit more behind the curtain would have helped me get that feeling more.

Considered from all angles, an addicting, compulsive political simulator that raises important ethical questions and “gamifies” interaction with a lot of interesting historical and political ideas. Definitely worth a few plays

Gameplay tips / typos
  • There is a lot I still don’t understand about the gameplay mechanics, but if you are wondering what the impact of selecting specific ministries is after forming a government, it is that then the “government affairs” deck will contain a card about that topic—so only if you control the justice ministry will you get a card offering justice-related choices. Given the fact that you can only take one action per month, unclear to me if you may want to take fewer than the maximum number of ministries to increase the odds of drawing that ministry’s card more often.

That confused me at first too - I think what’s going on is you still control the government of the state of Prussia, so those are the cards you’re getting. I may have hit a situation where I wasn’t in the government anymore and had lost Prussia but I was still able to get a single card from that deck, which might have been a small bug - or more likely just reflects that I’d lost track of where in the roller coaster of form government - government collapses - inconclusive elections I was at. But I suspect what you ran into was the Prussia thing.


Oh good point. It could definitely have been Prussia! That reminds me of another question I had, which was is there some kind of “discard pile” being modelled, and if so, how big is it–it definitely seemed something would prevent cards from being available again right away. But we have to have some mystery I guess ¯_(ツ)_/¯.

1 Like

And thus her reviews of the main festival were completed.

I don’t currently plan to post any more of these, so that’s probably it for me for this event.

Fellow reviewers—thanks so much for writing down your thoughts! I love the “book club” vibe of seeing what everyone thinks.

And authors, thank you for sharing all of these games! I had A LOT of fun with them. And those of you who stick around on the internet to hear what the randos think are particularly brave. :wink:


I know I already thanked you once, but thank you again for writing all these reviews! I love seeing how different people end up engaging with the work, and the biggest motivation for me continuing to write IF is that people play it and enjoy it and analyze it and talk about it. And even though I’m not playing any of the other entries until the deadline, it’s fascinating seeing what’s out there and how different people engage with them.