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About the Story
You're way behind the last enemy pawn. The enemy king's close to yours. So it's over, right?
52nd Place - 28th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2022)
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Number of Reviews: 3
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(This is a lightly-edited version of a review I posted to the IntFiction forums during 2022's IFComp).
It’s a funny coincidence that the Comp randomizer picked the alphabetically-last game as the final one in my queue. Zero Chance of Recovery is a nice bit of comfort-food to end on, too. I’ve played and enjoyed Andrew Schultz’s three previous IF chess puzzles, with his endgame-focused entry in this year’s ParserComp, You Won’t Get Her Back, being my favorite of the trio. The present game is quite similar to that one: again, there are only a few pieces on the board – in this case, white and black each have a king and pawn apiece – with the outcome hinging on pawn promotion. And again, the presentation and interface are very slick, with multiple options for how best to display the chessboard (there’s also a screen reader mode), intuitive syntax for how to direct your pieces, and a host of help screens to orient you to the challenge.
One point of difference from the earlier game is that You Won’t Get Her Back actually boasts three slightly-different scenarios, based on the varying strategies the black side can adapt – roughly, whether it prioritizes moving its own pawn down the board, threatening your pawn, or striking a balance between the two. This initially wrong-footed me, as black’s freedom of movement meant I wasn’t sure why it was making some choices instead of others, but it only took a little bit of trial and error to work out a potentially viable approach; once I solved the first scenario, the others were significantly easier, which was satisfying since it felt like I’d figured something out!
There’s a final bonus challenge, too, which ties in with the conceit of the plot, because just as in Schultz’s earlier chess games, there is a story here. This time out it’s a rather slight thing, with an inciting incident where your king is waylaid by mercenaries hired by black, providing the justification for the white king starting off on the far side of the board. It works well enough to set up the action, but I confess it wasn’t as engaging as the political satire of the Fivebyfivia and Fourbyfourian games, or the unexpected relationship pathos of You Won’t Get Her Back – these narrative riffs are fairly superfluous to the core mechanics of the puzzle, I suppose, but I missed the extra allegorical heft they provided to the initial trio. For all that, the writing here continues to be well-done and entertaining, hitting a breezy tone that provides some well-considered nudges in the right direction, and boasts a surprising level of detail (the descriptions of the different pieces shift depending on where you are and what they’re doing, which is delightful).
My only other complaint is that the aforementioned bonus challenge did stymie me – I’d made one assumption based on the hints the game was giving, but managed to get the wrong idea entirely (Spoiler - click to show)(I understood that I needed to “cheat” by getting the black king in trouble with the mercenaries, who he was only going to pay once the black pawn promoted – but I thought that meant that I needed to prevent the pawn from promoting so that the angry mercenaries, cheated of their pay, would go after the opposing king. Instead, you’re supposed to let the pawn get promoted, but only then take the queen and force the draw; the idea is that only in those circumstances does the king need to pay up). It’s plausible enough once I knew the trick, and provides a fourth distinct way of getting to stalemate, but for whatever reason it just didn’t click, robbing this one of the “aha” moment I felt in some of the other games.
I’ve spent a lot of time comparing Zero Chance of Recovery to those previous three games in this review, because there really isn’t anything else like it and because it’s very much of a piece with those. But for all that I’d say it’s my least favorite of the now-quartet, I still enjoyed playing with it – the high production values and attention to detail make it fun to fiddle one’s way through the puzzle, and as I said at the top of the review, it very much felt like comfort IF, as though I were sinking into a warm bath at the end of the Comp.
I've avoided playing chess most of my adult life. so I never learned about famous endgame positions and puzzles.
I've learned a few recently through Schultz's work. He has several chess-based puzzle games that teach principles of few-piece chess positions, including a few mini-puzzles that teach a single position.
This one involves a setup where each side has the king and 1 pawn each.
I found it enjoyable, and liked the backstory. But I spent a long time on it due to encountering a bug in scenario 2, which I forwarded to the author; essentially there is an unintended solution to that scenario, so I couldn't figure out if my unintended solution was blocking the 'real' one of if I could still solve it. I looked at the walkthrough and found one line that more or less gave away the second solution, to both puzzles in fact (the line was that (Spoiler - click to show)the king can only focus on one pawn at a time). If that bug were patched, I would definitely put 4 stars for the rating.
As a side note, I think this game struck a good balance between 'let the player keep playing in a losing position to see why it's losing' and 'cut them off right after the first mistake'. One quality of life change I would like to see is a more dramatic heralding of completing one of the scenarios. Right now, it is very similar in appearance to losing, so if one is repeatedly replaying quickly to try different strategies (especially since there's no undo), the text can blur together, so some kind of major break (like bold, or a line of asterisks, or some other signifier) can be nice. The counter in the corner does go up, and that's the main way I noticed the scenario number increase.
Overall, it's been fun to learn more about chess through these puzzles.
I played and enjoyed this game in IFMUD last week testing online with Andrew S. (Thank you Andrew). We were playing the game in the middle of a brainstorming, why? Becouse this is a chess puzzle IF based on a famous chess end-game plot.
This is one of the two entries Andrew brings to this year IFcomp.
Ok then!, this is a chess problem ported to IF game, but it is not only that. This is a scene where you have to resolve a strategic battle situation. As usual from Andrew (I remember his last game about a malefical queen) this is a very well implemented game. Nevertheless I would prefer more epic literature every time I fail in the game. The theme gives it a lot of possibilities since it could be some battle in the Victorian era, Middle earth battle between orcs and dwarves, etc. This is the literature I missed here wich could improve the game giving it a soul.
No matter what I have written upwards, this is a polished game and any adventurer can enjoy it, being a chess master or a total begginer.
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