The Last Night of Alexisgrad

by Milo van Mesdag

2021

Web Site

Go to the game's main page

Member Reviews

Number of Reviews: 4
Write a review


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A multiplayer experiment that doesn't live up to its promise, January 7, 2022
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2021

(This is a lightly-edited version of a review posted to the IntFict forums during the 2021 IFComp. My son Henry was born right before the Comp, meaning I was fairly sleep-deprived and loopy while I played and reviewed many of the games, so in addition to a highlight and lowlight, the review includes an explanation of how new fatherhood has led me to betray the hard work the author put into their piece)

Alexisgrad has a grabby premise and a killer gimmick I don’t think I’ve seen before in the Comp. Start with the premise: we’re in a fantasy world, albeit a grounded one whose politics and social organization seem quite resonant with our own circa the late 18th/early 19th century. The title city wrested its independence from an authoritarian monarchy some time ago, but has recently been weakened by a bout of Paris Commune-style internecine violence, and now the monarchy’s armies are coming to reclaim what they lost so long ago. And as the blurb makes clear, they will succeed: the game is about how Alexisgrad falls, not whether it will.

I love this setup – the time period and politics being invoked are ones that personally appeal to me, and knowing the outcome makes it fatalistic, sure, but that gives the player more freedom to try to create an interesting story, rather than focusing on optimizing their outcomes. Or I should say “players”, since that’s the gimmick: this is a two-player game, with one person making choices for the city’s dictator and the other taking on the role of the kingdom’s general. Here again the foreordained result is a good design decision, setting up this multiplayer experience as one of collaborative storytelling rather than an opportunity for cutthroat PvP.

Unfortunately, I found the actual implementation of the story didn’t live up to my (perhaps too-high) expectations. I played through twice, once on each side, and while the dictator’s side of the story was more engaging, both times the experience fell a bit flat, and petered out rather than reaching a satisfying climax. Partly this is down to the writing feeling like it could use an editing pass to tighten up – there’s a lot of description of the city’s architecture and history in the early going, as well as ruminations on the current situation, and while the substance is good it sometimes feels repetitive, with the same idea or fact being restated two or three times without offering any new information. Relatedly, the game features long passages between choices, which is a solid decision that minimizes the amount of back-and-forth required between the players, but can exacerbate the sometimes tension-deflating flabbiness of the prose.

The bigger issue, though, is that the choices generally didn’t feel especially interesting or consequential, with no real surprises or aces up their sleeve on either side. The early decisions primarily focus on the defense of the city, but the kingdom’s forces are so overwhelming that the stakes didn't feel high – not only is the outcome never in doubt, I never felt like the dictator had much ability to exact any pain along the way or play for extra time. Then in the second half, there’s an extended negotiation between the two characters over the terms of surrender, but again the dictator doesn’t have any real leverage and it’s not clear whether the general has the autonomy to create significantly different post-war settlements. The most interesting options in this section involve digging into the recent history of the city, and the attitudes of the two characters towards the revolution are satisfying to explore, but this feels like idle conversation, with no substantial impact on future events.

It’s a shame because I can imagine some fun dilemmas spinning out of this setup, where the two-player gameplay would add a note of uncertainty. If the dictator had some card to play in negotiations, it could set up interesting tradeoffs: they could be forced to decide which of the city’s freedoms to protect, for example, or the general could decide whether they want to prop up one of the city’s factions against the others in the occupation. So while I don’t think this incarnation of Last Night of Alexisgrad quite succeeds, it’s definitely a promising proof-of-concept for an IF two-hander and I hope there’s more to come from this author in the future!

Highlight: The dictator’s opening text is very compelling, dramatizing the impact of the invasion by describing the dictator’s recent political work, and how it suddenly no matters in the slightest.

Lowlight: In my second play-through, where I was making decisions for the dictator, I tried to make the conquest as painful as possible, and be more confrontational in the conversation with the general. None of my efforts seem to slow them down in the slightest, and then the general had me summarily shot.

How I failed the author: I couldn’t schedule a time to sit down and play through the game in a single sitting with a partner, so I had to play asynchronously, with gaps between DMs with my partner. It still worked OK, I thought, even though that wasn't the intended experience.