Zed reviews IFComp 2023

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I haven’t done a review thread in a long while. I’ll update this entry with links as I add reviews.

I guarantee:

  • no particular order, but ones listed as having short play-times will probably be up first
  • I will not come anywhere near reviewing all the games
  • I don’t have Windows, thus am unlikely to try the Windows-executable-only games

With my thanks to @sophia for the image!


Help! I Can’t Find My Glasses! No, seriously, I lost my glasses. I went to a game con this weekend, first time I’ve risked a con since COVID. I live near one of the ends of the line for BART (Bay Area lightrail system) and the San Francisco airport is at the very far end of its line, so after a very long trip I got there and waited at the curb for the hotel shuttle. And waited and waited. I saw some other hotels’ shuttles three times. Finally I saw a long black van with my hotel’s name. And I followed it as it went from one end of the hotel shuttle area of the curb to the other. Three other vans were picking up at the moment, and there wasn’t a convenient space. I was getting a little worried and was waving to get the driver’s attention… but rather than color outside the lines of the shuttle pickup zone into the capacious, nearly empty rideshare app pickup zone, the shuttle… just kept going. And it was late and dark and the wind was picking up and it was getting cold. At night, the ice weasels came.

No, wait, the ice weasels aren’t in this story. And don’t feel too sorry for me: I’m a longtime Bay Area-ite so of course I had enough layers of clothing on hand to handle a 35-degree temperature range (18 for those of you in countries that thought their citizens could handle something so dangerously French as the metric system). But after an hour on BART and more than a half hour of standing waiting for the shuttle and watching it sail by, I was tired, and hungry, and cold, and just wanting to get to my room, and feeling sorry for myself. I called the hotel and they said I could use a rideshare and get reimbursed. So I did. And I watched the ETA go from 3 minutes… to 4… to 5… back to 4… stuck at 3 for several minutes and then finally it arrived. So that gives you an idea of what state I was in.

I’m not that myopic. I don’t wear glasses around the house. If I’m not navigating some huge space, I frequently just tuck 'em in a shirt pocket indoors. Also, I was very clever and prepared and responsible and had packed a spare pair of glasses just in case something happened.

You probably see where this is going: I was so clever about packing spare glasses that it enabled not noticing until I was packing to leave that one pair was missing. I just sent a “lost item” notice to the rideshare driver. So I found this game to be very relatable, even though, unlike the player character here, I’m pretty sure my glasses hadn’t been stolen.

According to IFDB, this may be Lacey Green’s first game. We’re told at the start that we’ll meet “three potential love interests”, so we’re looking for glasses and love. I played through three times, and only two characters seemed to be potential love interests, and at one point I encountered some [placeholder] text, so I peeked at the source – it looks like the author has some bigger plans for this game than made it into this version. I hope we get to see the whole thing later.

The third time through, though, I did find my glasses. May life imitate art.


Just like when you’ve done a lot of reading in some given fiction genre, if you read a lot of role-playing games, you’ll see games that talk back to previous games, sometimes very explicitly, sometimes not. Call of Cthulhu was routinely ridiculously weak on providing a rationale for why the player characters were involved in the situation at all (a lot of dead uncles were involved), or why these people were together, or why they were so invested in investigating eldritch horrors that they’d be willing to keep going after things got obviously weird and dangerous.

Delta Green addressed this in a simple, straightforward way: you’re part of a secretive special-ops group that tells you where to go. You already know that the bad stuff exists and that where it emerges, it’ll hurt a lot of people unless someone with half a clue deals with it, and, unlucky for you, you’ve got that half clue.

In Delta Green and other games with secretive special-ops groups investigating the paranormal, it always turns out that some or all of the organization is itself corrupt. So Esoterrorists flipped that: it provides a reason the players can have faith in their organization. The titular Esoterrorists are the setting’s villains. They’re trying to destroy reality, as one does.

Without getting too deeply into the setting’s metaphysics, it’s just not possible for the player characters’ organization to thwart the villains’ efforts unless they remain on the side of good. If they were corrupt, they’d be actively advancing their adversaries’ goal. So, within the setting, every day reality hadn’t unwound could be taken of itself to be conclusive evidence that the organization was still sound.

Shadowrun is a fantasy/cyberpunk game where you’re a crew that gets hired to do heists. One of the biggest clichés in RPG-dom is that in Shadowrun games your handler betrays you and you don’t get paid. I’ve never even played or read Shadowrun and I know the cliché.

Blades in the Dark is a game about being a criminal crew in a gritty fantasy city, and an explicit rule of the game is that you always get paid for your jobs. It doesn’t bother with a diegetic rationale, those are just the rules. And those are the rules because not getting paid just wasn’t fun.

20 Exchange Place has a compelling premise: criminals have taken control of a bank in Manhattan and there are dozens of hostages. You’re the hostage negotiator. Also, apparently, the SWAT team’s tactician. It’s quick, and I found the pacing competent. I played through it three times and every time things go horribly wrong, there’s a high body count, and you, personally, go down as responsible for the situation. It put me in mind of all the above because, well, this wasn’t fun…

Of course, not every game is trying to be fun. There are great games very much about not having any good choices. But the bar’s just plain higher to do that while still pulling off making it feel satisfying. And I didn’t find this game to meet that bar…

This appears to be a first game; I hope we see more from the author.


Oh gosh, I didn’t expect anyone to find the placeholder text. That isn’t supposed to happen haha :sweat_smile: I’m rushing back to update my game right now because that was embarrassing :joy:
Anyways, thank you so much for your review! You’re right that I have more plans for this game. I just hope I can get it out soon :joy: