Reviews by Canalboy

Treasure Hunt

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1-5 of 5


Quest for the Sangraal, by Jonathan Partington
A Slightly More Lenient Mainframe Muse from Dr. Partington, May 19, 2022
by Canalboy (London, UK.)
Related reviews: Grail Quest., Phoenix, Treasure Hunt, Mainframe, Large

On my latest Quixotic journey through the Phoenix Mainframe canon I have just completed this game and retired to Castle Moan with six other Knights Errant, porting the Sangraal in my gauntleted fist.

This 1987 game is the third of a loose trilogy with Fyleet and Crobe by the same talented author. You leave (or rather are expelled) across the drawbridge of Castle Moan beside a cheering crowd as they wave you on to certain death. Lovely eh? Something akin to Les Tricoteuses who sat in the front row for the best views of a beheading by Madame la Guillotine. And not even a lamp or sword to brandish.

Sangraal was rumoured to be slightly less dendrite exploding than other games from this super hard stable and so it proved to be; it took me about 40 playing hours as opposed to the hundreds I laboured through on Hezarin, BrandX , Acheton etc. However, easy it is not and there is still ample scope to screw up. As ever with these games, make sure you have a solid chronological set of saved games to dip into, all leading up to a maximum of 600 points.

Across its 170 locations Sangraal is jam packed with the usual pen and paper puzzles and there seem to be more of these in this game than others from Dr. Partington's mind; it is also unusual in that much of the game is open from the start. You can probably traverse around two thirds of the map without solving anything which is handy for mapping purposes.

There are a number of set piece puzzles here which tend to seal off the whole area you were just in when you leave. These include an oriental palace dedicated to the seasons and months of the year; a maze which rotates every move so mapping it is tough; a set of boolean logic gates (yes I know!) an area of Limbo loosely based on Don Juan which also features Alexander The Great and some ancient grease (groan); and my favourite which is a magnificently constructed area where you have to commit the Seven Deadly Sins in a certain order. This is a masterpiece of imaginative logic. And you get to rob a beggar and enjoy some time in a harem! There is also a thinly veiled criticism of Orthodox Jewry defining one puzzle.

The game is studded with references to other literary works too including Keats's La Belle Dame Sans Merci; the legend of Parsifal, Orpheus and Eurydice; and the Wooden Horse amongst others. There is also an absorbing set piece in a folly where you pit your wits against an evil wizard and have to solve a series of logic puzzles, word and number games. Thankfully you can save after each puzzle which surprised me. This is one piece of evidence backing up the slightly easier reputation of the game; Hezarin and Acheton would never have let you do that.

As a side task from the Sangraal hunt you have to collect a number of animals for Noah and amass fourteen treasures and deliver them to an appropriate location. Be careful though as some treasures double up as puzzle solving objects too so don't deposit them too early as there is no way to claim them back. Frying tonight!

The game has the usual T/SAL coding for these games; an excellent two word parser but without the examine command, a seven item inventory limit and unusually no lamp or keys. That is pretty unusual for games of this age and genre. The desriptions are of medium length and very well done. I only came across one typo in my picaresque journey.

There are a couple of puzzle solutions which aren't that obvious; namely disposing of the hitherto mentioned La Belle Dame and catching the lamb. And shouting out mint sauce isn't the answer. Most of the solutions though are logical.

There are the usual sprinkling of hilarious puns including the Gordian newspaper, the hitherto mentioned ancient grease and a pile of salt which looks a bit like a running woman (but not a lot).

Having amassed the requisite treasures, deposited them and sent Noah off happily on his way across the flood plains you have short endgame to enable you to procure the Sangraal. You will need several peoples'help to achieve this and fittingly the game ends on a number manipulation puzzle.

This game would make the perfect introduction to the uniquely intellectual Phoenix world. Just don't expect Fyleet to treat you as nicely as this game sometimes does.

Oh dear it may be time for Quondam next....pith helmets and chest plates on lads.


Warp, by Rob Lucke and Bill Frolik

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Warp - Enormous Game And Enormous Fun, February 6, 2022
by Canalboy (London, UK.)
Related reviews: Parser, Large, Mainframe, Warp, Treasure Hunt

Infocom's Zork Trilogy cast a long shadow over IF for many years, but one of its more obscure spin-offs was another extremely large mainframe game begun soon after the authors (Rob Lucke and Bill Frolic) had completed the original mainframe Zork in 1979. They decided they would write an even larger game, with a more sophisticated parser. They certainly succeeded in the former as Warp is more than double the size of the original mainframe Zork, but the latter (the game was written in Pascal on an HP3000) is miles behind Infocom's ZIL even after its 4 year and 38 version development.

While Warp understands clever commands like BACKTRACK X, where X is a number of moves and also interprets whole sentences it will often fail to understand many synonyms and objects in the location you are in. Many times I found myself banging my head against the wall looking for a verb / noun combination the game would understand. It also allows for the creation of macros, but this feels more like unnecessary frippery than a clever construct to help the player.

Not until the endgame (yes there is one and it's even more difficult then the main game) is the macro function useful as SAVE GAME is disabled here and I found myself nesting ten macros inside another one to get me back to a point deep in the aforementioned endgame. I would probably have given up otherwise as it would have necessitated several hundred turns to get me back to the position I was in.

The game is set on a contemporary island resort and involves the collection of 49 treasures and 1216 points which are to be stored somewhere, although where is for you to find out. It encompasses many areas, including desert, a massive ocean that needs thorough mapping as it is studded with reefs and atolls as well as a less than friendly galleon, rainforest, mountain, city centre, shopping mall, underground areas and even a nudist beach and French café. That's not including neighbouring islands which you can swim or sail to, although the former option may well see you added to a Great White's dinner menu.

The player will soon recognise the many Zorkian influences as the game has its own versions of Zork's troll and thief as well as several other NPCs who seem rather static compared to many modern games. One in particular would not pass muster at a Labour Party Momentum meeting, but I suppose you have to allow for the rather less politically correct times in which the game was written. A rather racy magazine would get the thumbs down on campus nowadays too.

The game includes the DIAGNOSE command so you can check your health during a fight or the effects of certain toxic substances, both animal and mineral.

A skein of Lewis Carroll style surrealism pervades the whole thing, both grammatically and physically; the title lends itself to a large wonk in the game.

As in much IF of this vintage there is a large and rather difficult maze complete with Beatle's song reference, a lamp timer (although there is a way around this) and an inventory limit. The endgame even includes an homage to Zork III's Royal Puzzle.

It is very easy to put the game in an unwinnable position and unfortunately one of these comes very near the start of the game. Just make sure you map very carefully and keep lots of saved games in reserve. Spoiler below.

(Spoiler - click to show)You need to visit the bank early on the first day to procure a treasure - a clue lies in the President's Office .

The game also includes a large amount of ASCII art, far more than mainframe Zork does and this adds to the immersive feel of the game; circa six thousand lines of ASCII art if you please.

The whole experience took me two months to fully complete, playing along with Jason Dyer and Russell Karlberg via Jason's excellent Renga In Blue blog. We all experienced a few bugs and crashes but nothing a reload didn't seem to cure. There are numerous typos sprinkled amongst the fairly lengthy location descriptions too.

One innovative and enjoyable feature is God mode, which you only achieve upon completion of the end game. This provides you with the ability to take items from anywhere, GOTO any location in the game, check your map using SHOW LINKS, LIST all the puzzles and even walk on water!

Many thanks to Dan Hallock, guru of the HP3000 who has made the game easy to play for a whole new generation of players via the links above.

All we have to do now is find FisK somewhere.





The Guild of Thieves, by Rob Steggles

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Mid Era Magnetic Scrolls Classic, December 19, 2021
by Canalboy (London, UK.)
Related reviews: Parser, Puzzlefest, Magnetic Scrolls, Treasure Hunt

This game was apparently voted Adventure Game Of The Year at the Golden Joystick Awards (somewhat ironically for a text adventure) and has long been a lacuna on my adventure CV. The following review contains mild spoilers.

I had previously only played The Pawn and Wonderland by Magnetic Scrolls (this game was released between the two) and had found The Pawn rather intractable and Wonderland, well, wonderful. Magnetic Scrolls' games definitely improved as time passed. This is certainly one of the finest games of its genre.

The parser is superb for a game of its time; certainly I would compare it favourably with the Infocom example which is high praise indeed. There are also some graphical locations which were state of the art in their day but which I prefer to switch off. This isn't so much a question of speeding the game up as using my own imagination to evoke the long and clever descriptions; for me the hybrid trope of graphical adventure and text adventure has always been rather uneasy and I was surprised to discover that approximately two thirds of all IF ever written has been of this type (according to Graham Nelson I believe).

The game is unashamedly a puzzle fest in which you have to amass fifteen treasures and store them (there are in fact four places to leave your plunder which will then all end up in one place automatically) in order to join the emponymous Guild. The GO TO command is implemented enabling you to travel to any previously visited location via one command line instruction. You can also SEARCH for a lost object. Use these options thoughfully as it is all too easy to walk subliminally into a deadly trap.

When you have finished playing Croesus you are ready to enter the very tough endgame. This reminded me strongly of the Topologika games and the shadows of Dr Partington, Peter Killworth et al hang over it in a most satisfactory way.

I played the version from the Magnetic Scrolls site via DosBox-X and found only five or six trivial grammatical errors which is pretty good for such a complex game. It did crash on me four or five times however, and I am not sure whether the game file or DosBox-X itself was the guilty culprit. You also need to type in a word from the What Burglar? feelie if you start a new session but as this is now freeware and available to view online it shouldn't present any problem. You are also given three attempts to type the correct one in.

The puzzles themselves tend to become more difficult as you progress into the game and several objects are red herrings. There is also one garden based scenario which appears to be a set piece puzzle but isn't. This was something I banged my head on for some considerable time before realising it wasn't actually a puzzle at all. So I buzzed off and tried another puzzle elsewhere.

There is a conundrum towards the end which strikes me as unfairly described; if a slot is mentioned I tend to think of something long and thin and not die-shaped. As I was carrying four long and thin objects and there were four slots I made a natural but inaccurate deduction which held me up for a long time.

In the manner of games from this era there is an inventory limit and many chances to make the game unwinnable but there are no lamp timer or hunger / thirst daemons. There are also no mazes. As you progress you will come across a number of human (and non-human) NPCs in the game with some of which, thanks to the parser, it is possible to have fairly sophisticated colloquy and you will need to do this to find out vital information to finish the game. Likewise the game is littered with pamphlets, books, magazines etc. which contain more information necessary to bring the game to a successful denouement. Remember in particular to spend plenty of time in the Library; it contains a very large collection of volumes and the subjects range from the merely humorous to the very helpful.

There is a wonderful humour pervading the game, at times dryly sparkling and at others Pythonesque to remind you that "hey, this is only a game!"

As an old fogey I find it a shame that practically no-one writes long parser-based puzzle fest IF of any pith or moment any more. If modern players tried this they may be inspired to write something in a similar vein rather than short and Twiney.


Avon, by Jon Thackray and Jonathan Partington

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Avon - If Shakespeare Had Been A Stand Up, November 9, 2021
by Canalboy (London, UK.)
Related reviews: Comedy, Topologika, Treasure Hunt, Shakespearean

Avon, the penultimate game from the Phoenix stable which released seventeen very challenging pieces of old school adventuredom between 1978 and 1989, is often considered to be one of the less difficult from that group of talented mathematical boffins. Having just completed it after many a long hour of brain torture, I would have to disagree with those who consider it so. In fact, the game has "strict statutes and most biting laws" if I may borrow some Shakespearean verse to mine own ends.

The first problem you will literally stumble across is how to find some light and the solution to this is pretty unfair I think. To those of you who remember the horrible puzzle in the shop at the start of Philosopher's Quest it should come as no surprise. Choosing the wrong object from four will immediately leave you in the dark and you will have to start again.

The game itself is written by the most prolific of the Phoenix adventure authors, Dr. Jonathan Partington and his love for all things Shakespearean really shines forth. Sir John Falstaff, the Lady Portia, Banquo's Ghost and a whole host of others tumble across the screen in a marvellously evocative caravanserai of characters. There are a lot of stabbings, poisonings, kisses and drownings so if you already get a lot of this at home you may find Avon a bit overkill. In my chastened, secluded monastery it was pulsating stuff indeed however.

Avon is studded with quotations and situations from Shakespeare's plays and here is where I need to take issue with previous reviewers of the game; it is claimed that no prior knowledge of the Bard's work is needed to complete it. In fact there are two scenarios where the solution depends on knowing famous quotes from his works. So prior knowledge is needed, and not just of the Swan of Avon but also that of a certain musical composer.

In common with many games in the Phoenix stable it is very easy to put the game into an unwinnable state and to lose or miss a vital object. As the game plays out over three days using the same set of locations (that is Twelfth Night, The Ides Of March and Midsummer's Day) I sometimes found it difficult to work out which puzzles could be solved on the date I was currently in and which needed solving at a later date. There is also one recurring problem which must be visited on all three dates. The puzzles themselves are, as usual from Dr. Partington, extremely clever and humorous, and more than one relies on committing an outrageous pun. The solution to escaping the gaol and one inside the Boar's Head Inn would be amongst the funniest I have ever come across. Think Tommy Cooper with a chainsaw.

Be careful where you Save (avoid saving the game just after you have received one of the many secret words you will learn during the game as it can render the whole experience unwinnable). Save after applying the word or phrase in the appropriate place. Some items have more than one use as well so avoid discarding them after their first application. The inventory limit is seven items which is standard practice with the T/SAL coding used for these games; it is not too difficult however to store your ammassed collection somewhere central.

The triptych of the game (if so it may be called) is unevenly proportioned. The third section is probably the longest, followed by the first and then the second. There are several pseudo mazes and the solutions to them all are very imaginative as none rely on the tried and trusted "drop one item per location" rule. The game weighs in at just under ninety locations which is somewhat smaller than most Phoenix offerings, however the three days' setting made it seem bigger to me than it actually is.

The marvellously evocative descriptions and responses are neither prolix nor too short. The two word parser eschews EXAMINE and OOPS but does cater for TAKE ALL and VERBOSE and it was never a problem for me expressing what I wanted to do or say. The whole was a perfect exercise in mimetic immersion for me and I really felt I was in Shakespearean England when I played this.

Nearly all of the puzzle solutions are very clever / very funny with two notable exceptions. As portended by the first puzzle mentioned above it is easy to make the whole thing unwinnable. There are several mazes but all are solvable without dropping your hard won inventory. No lamp/thirst/hunger daemons. If you like puzzles and puns and don't mind learning through death and taking notes on a piece of paper you'll love Avon. If you love Twine and hypertext, twere well it were not done at all.


Parc, by John Rennie

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Parc - Old Phoenix Mainframe Game From 1983, March 18, 2021
by Canalboy (London, UK.)
Related reviews: Mainframe, Phoenix, Treasure Hunt, Alchemist, Parser

Parc by John Rennie is one of the lesser known of the Phoenix IBM mainframe adventures written between 1978 and 1989 and also one of the least large; I say least as that is only comparing it to monster games from the same stable like Acheton and Hezarin. It still weighs in at over 100 locations including two clever mazes (one external and one internal).

The back story (if ever these games really had them) is that you have volunteered to usurp an evil Alchemist named Ping Narott, a name which sounds like an anagram but isn't. His experiments have been making the good folk of Parcs' lives a misery. There are also 25 treasures to amass and store away somewhere inside the Alchemist's castle. Some of these treasures have dual roles as puzzle solving objects as well.

The game has the traditional excellent two word parser (TAKE ALL is allowed) and no EXAMINE command but this is seldom needed anyway as everything you need to know about an object is there for you.

Parc is atypical of the Phoenix games in so much as it has a strong chemical basis behind the plot; the usual mind bending mathematical posers conjured up by Jonathan Partington, Peter Killworth et al have been replaced by problems involving Indium, Zinc Sulphide, Radium etc.

The game takes place in three main areas: Inside the castle; West of the river and North of a chasm. Like most of these games there are a lot of one visit only areas and opportunities to miss a vital object and make the game unwinnable. Leave nothing behind as I only found one object that is never used out of about forty.

Having bashed my head against most of the Phoenix games I feel that it is one of the less difficult ones, but compared to Quondam and Xerb almost every piece of Interactive Fiction ever written would seem easier.

Richard Bos has written a .z5 file of progressive hints for Parc. I barely had to use them which is unusual for me when playing Phoenix games.

Most of the problems can be solved by lateral thinking or a visit to Wikipedia to check out the properties of a particular chemical compound, but there is one particular problem that had me stuck for ages; having seen the solution I can confidently aver I would never have deduced it between now and the Sun becoming a Red Giant and swallowing the Solar System. Suffice to say it involves an IBM 370 Mainframe computer and a FORTRAN IV Manual. Well quite. Thirty-eight year old in-jokes do pall somewhat.

I found one proper bug involving freezing an object and a few typos but nothing to affect the playing of the game itself.

There is the traditional endgame if you manage to vanquish the Alchemist and store all 25 treasures but it is something of a let down.

If you manage to stumble on a Pig's Ear in the game (and I expect you will) it means that you have screwed up and can't win. A change from Acheton's hideous voice I suppose.

Parc is of course Crap backwards but I feel that Yhtrow would be more appropriate.

I played the game via WinFrotz v 1.19. Kudos to David Kinder, Adam Atkinson and the rest of the boys for making these old games available to play on modern pcs.



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