Choice of Alexandria

by Kevin Gold


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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Too-fast historical game in an extremely compelling setting, May 17, 2023
by ccpost (Greensboro, North Carolina)

As a librarian by day, I was extremely excited to dive into this game. I also adore Kevin Gold's other near-future Choice of Games title, Choice of Robots, so the prospect of another choice-based game by Gold—where you play as the librarian of Alexandria no less!—had me in the bag. While I enjoyed the game overall and really appreciated Gold's treatment of the historical setting, the game had some major mechanical hangups that made it difficult for me to get fully invested in the game.

The basic premise of the game is that you play as the incoming librarian of Alexandria (based on the historical figure of Eratosthenes); buoyed by your reputation as a scholar and inventor, Ptolemy III has contracted you to tutor his son, and heir to the throne, Ptolemy IV. Through the game you make decisions about how to best educate a future ruler, contend with rival influences at court, and negotiate complicated cultural tensions with the subjugated Egyptians.

All of this is very compelling, and I love the setup of the game and the various tensions and conflicts driving the major decision points. However, the too-fast pacing of the game keeps the promise of this premise from being fulfilled. The chapters are relatively brief, especially compared to other Choice of Games titles, and there are huge temporal leaps between the chapters. This makes sense to some degree, as the game covers an expansive time span, but the combination of very short episodes and significant gaps between episodes made it feel like I was having very little impact on the story.

The other mechanical flaw (for me) was a far too direct causal relationship between choices and consequences for the narrative. Now, players of choice-based games expect there to be some logic connecting the choices they make and the consequences of their choices as they impact the story, but many decision points in this game just felt especially artless. For instance, (Spoiler - click to show)after killing Sosibius, a rival advisor to Ptolemy IV, the player is presented with a very simplistic decision point: take Sosibius' place as a manipulative influence or advise Ptolemy wisely from now on. Many decision points like this are overly straightforward without any nuance on how they might impact the story and without requiring any insight into non-player character's potential motivations or desires.

There is some payoff at the end of the game. (Spoiler - click to show) Based on the choices you make throughout the game, you arrive at one of seven entirely different endings that illustrate the long-term historical effects of the life you lead. I ended up with a scene of a modern-day 13 year old girl reading a work written by Eratosthenes and pondering its importance. These wildly branching endings is a cool effect, but it seems more like these different endings are the real story. However, this payoff at the end was ultimately not fulfilling, a substitute for having a gameplay experience that more fully rewards your choices in the moment.

I'd still recommend this game—how else are you going to know what it was really like to be the librarian of Alexandria??—but to go in expecting a very brisk romp through this history rather than a fully developed, character-driven story.

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