A Murder in Fairyland

by Abigail Corfman

Fantasy Mystery
2020

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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Abigail Corfman does it again, December 9, 2020

Somehow, Abigail Corfman manages to make twine games that would appeal to twine-lovers and parser-lovers alike. I loved her Open Sorcery and I loved A Murder in Fairyland (before I even realized that they were by the same author). Very engaging world and characters.


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Anything but form-ulaic, December 9, 2020
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2020

All through the Comp, Iíve been waiting for a specific kind of game to show up in my queue: a choice-based game that incorporates elements typically found in parser games (object-based puzzles, an inventory, compass navigation, etc.) and focuses on puzzles. I like this sort of thing Ė Chuk and the Arena from last yearís Comp is a great example Ė so I was disappointed that it looked like I was going to get through 2020 without seeing one. Lo and behold, A Murder in Fairyland showed up three quarters of the way through my queue, and now that itch is well and truly scratched.

It looks like AMiF is set in the same world as the authorís previous games, but I havenít played them, and I have to confess I found one element the setting off-putting at first: with the blurb and cover art leading me up to expect a jaunt to a classical conception of Faerie, running into a joke about ďSteam-powered enginesĒ that riffs on the video-game platform drew me up short. There are also bits of code embedded in the spells you gather, which at first I thought were bugs, and everyone speaks with an @ before their name like theyíre tweeting at you rather than having a normal conversation. Iím not sure why these things rubbed me the wrong way, since I wound up really enjoying some aspects of the fae-world-meets-modernity setting, like the bureaucracy and social justice organizing (more on those below) Ė it might have just been mis-set expectations, or just that Internet culture parodies donít have much personal appeal for me. Folks who have played the previous games, or who are more drawn to this sort of comedic approach, probably wouldnít face the same barrier to entry, and itís a pretty modest one at any rate.

While weíre on the subject of potentially misleading stuff in the blurb: admitting that Iím not very good at puzzles sometimes, and I also tried to wait out a specific timing puzzle rather than expend resources to get around it, this is more like two hours to get to an unsatisfying ending and three to actually solve the mystery. I donít think I learned about the eponymous murder until after the one-hour mark, in fact! AMiF has a relatively small map, but boasts lots of multi-part puzzles, an expandable roster of spells, several distinct minigames, and more. There are often ways to bypass challenges by expending a set of resources that seem finite but ultimately are renewable once you solve a specific puzzle, but that puzzle is a reasonably hard one, and buying your way through the plot probably isnít the most fun way to engage with the game anyway. Thereís a lot here to play around with, and I think itís better to go in with the expectation that this is a game to settle into rather than blaze through.

Leading with these somewhat negative comments I think accurately conveys my initial impressions of the game, but to be clear, once I had a better sense of what was going on here I very much enjoyed it, because the worldbuilding is ultimately quite fun and the puzzles are clever and very satisfying to work through. First, on the world, it effectively recasts old-school fairy-tale tropes (a focus on seasonality and bargains, eating anything is dangerous) using a modern lens (there are voting rules and politicking around the seasonal courts, the bargains have turned into contracts that are part of a hidebound bureaucracy, and the faerie courtís indifference to issues of civil rights and social justice is a meaningful sub-theme Ė the player character is in a wheel chair, and while theyíre quite capable, itís also clear that this world does not take their needs into account).

This isnít just a fresh coat of paint slapped on the same hoary skeleton Ė thereís clearly a lot of thought that went into how this societyís institutions would function. As someone who works in advocacy, I was impressed by the protest organized by gnomes and other smaller creatures to push for better accessibility. Itís a bit silly to hear a magical being talking about how theyíre trying to ensure the optics of the event line up with the broader message of the campaign, or how theyíre trying to open up opportunities for solidarity without risking the movement being co-opted, but actually this is smart, respectful stuff!

And it isnít just idle worldbuilding, either, because thereís also a lot of care to link the setting with the gameplay, meaning the core puzzles feel well-integrated into this specific story. Iím using some wiggle words here because there are some puzzles that are functionally standalone minigames Ė there are word-searches which even in retrospect feel a little out-of-place, as well as a Foolís-Errand-referencing card game that doesnít feel especially connected to anything. But for the most part these are tied to the resource-management layer of the game, rather than the puzzles that gate progression or impact the plot.

Most of the latter have to do with the bureaucracy of Fairyland, and specifically finding and filling out forms, having to do with everything from lodging complaints to accessing records to requesting permission to do or know a particular thing. These puzzles are great! Thereís a complicated instruction manual on how the various forms are indexed, which is incredibly satisfying to work through, and then the filling-out process feels appropriately fiddly while usually offering sufficient opportunities to get help or in the worst case just brute-force your way to the solution. And while the gameís structure is maybe a bit too linear during the opening act (thereís a three-part puzzle that can be worked on in any order, admittedly, but two of the steps were much easier than the third so it felt like there was really only one plausible sequence), it opens up quite a lot once the murder investigation proper begins, with many different strands of evidence and potential motives to track down.

The investigation itself boasts a couple of fun twists: one thatís revealed quite early (Spoiler - click to show)(there are a bunch of suspects all claiming to have done the deed, since it improves their reputations for ruthlessness), and another that unfolds midway through (Spoiler - click to show)(turns out the real puzzle isnít so much solving the murder as it is engineering a specific political outcome). This is all really fun to experience, and while the broad strokes of whatís going on donít take too long to figure out, putting together all the steps needed to get to a good result gives you the pleasant feeling of having a plan, then working to accomplish it by making a series of logical deductions and taking well-motivated actions. I wasnít able to fully solve AMiF (Spoiler - click to show)(debunking Nyxís claim to be the murderer eluded me Ė I thought it might have something to do with photographing the stab wounds, or bribing him with the goblin-made horn, but neither of those worked) but you donít need to check all the boxes to get a near-ideal ending.

Ultimately, despite some initial incorrect assumptions about what AMiF was going to be about, I really had a fun time with what winds up being a satisfying game that checks just about all the boxes. Once the Comp wraps up, Iím definitely checking out some of the authorís other work!


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Unique Puzzles, Compelling Story, December 6, 2020
by Joey Acrimonious
Related reviews: IFComp 2020

Wonder and whimsy. Political intrigue and murder. Detective work, bureaucracy, and the simple human pleasure of wearing a scarf. A Murder in Fairyland has it all!

This game is a joy to play. The writing is on-point. The graphic design is bright and gaudy in the best possible way. Thereís a diverse variety of puzzles to solve: word searches; filling out forms; a card game; as well as more classic IF staples involving clue-hunting, using the right action on the right thing, etc. Itís all implemented very well. The variety of different things to do made gameplay feel fresh throughout.

The world is mysterious and compelling: a realm of thought and emotion, powered by memories and videogames, ruled over (at least locally) by Machiavellian nobility at the helm of a byzantine machinery of state that you navigate via a literal labyrinth of contracts and forms. It seems that the setting is pre-established in the authorís other works. I havenít read them yet, so some details were no doubt lost on me, but thatís fine. I feel like, if anything, my unfamiliarity with the setting only added to the sense of wonder and intrigue.

The high point of the experience for me was reading the beautifully-written memories of the protagonistís scarf.

Solving the murder is a well-designed puzzle with many facets and several possible outcomes. Itís easy to come up with an acceptable solution, but it takes serious exploration and a keen eye for detail to reach the best solution.

Overall, A Murder in Fairyland is among my favorite IFComp 2020 games. Would recommend.


6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Is it actually possible to get the correct murderer?, November 29, 2020
by autumnc
Related reviews: ifcomp 2020

I've played and enjoyed the author's previous games, so I was really looking forward to this one. "A Murder in Fairyland" shares their quality writing and design, but it doesn't feel like a complete experience.

Compared to 16 Ways and Open Sorcery, the world of this game feels much more surreal and less grounded. While it takes place in the same broader universe as Open Sorcery, there's very little in this game connecting it to our reality, unlike with Open Sorcery's characters. It takes place in a world with fairies and other magical creatures, with bizarre and inhuman rules and behaviors.

The one "human" aspect of the game is the main character's disability. It took me far too long to realize that they were using a wheelchair (I didn't recognize what "Roll North" was supposed to refer to). The protagonist is not able to climb stairs or open some doors without waiting for help, and there are some references to the fairy-world equivalent of the ADA (also called the ADA), and a subplot involves going through a mind-boggling bureaucratic process to file an ADA complaint.

This is a heavily puzzle-oriented game. The puzzles range from word finds to riddles to filling out forms correctly, to more broad interaction and item finding. I loved the form-finding and filling puzzles, even if they weren't technically necessary to finishing the game. Finding forms involves figuring out a code based on a convoluted but ultimately logical set of rules. Filling out the forms required gathering more information from different areas, and was a good way of characterizing the world. The magic was also interesting, but did not have much use when it came to the actual murder mystery.

There is also a minigame, very vaguely like poker but with the cards being tarot major arcana, where the rules are unknown. It was interesting to try to figure it out. Although maybe the game is something that already exists.

The resolution of the murder mystery was rather frustrating: (Spoiler - click to show)I was a bit frustrated because I thought I knew who the murderer was, but they were not an available option, even after seemingly exhausting all possibilities throughout the game world. Thus, I started looking through the code. It appears that there is a lot of content that is written but might not be accessible, including several characters and a way to reveal the true murderer. I'm not very familiar with twine code so I might be wrong? Maybe I just didn't explore thoroughly enough?

Edit: Here is a brief guide to getting the correct ending, after reaching the mystery: (Spoiler - click to show)I needed to get form 536W for the weather report to get snowflakes diagrams, and give it to Lirana, so she's distracted and then I can take the autocsi scroll. Then I gathered the poison sample and did autocsi on the corpse, and then used form 533P to get the poison analysis (this required getting the moon phase with form 104M; I guessed the ley lines but there's probably a form for that). To rule out Rinecoat, I talked to him, examined the weapons, and got dust from Veinseeker. To rule out Lirana, I got the neutrality contract by filling out form 227H and talking to the crystal ball in the library. To rule out Nyx, I used the Flier: Noon-Sun Ceremony (was this the random conversation hint?). To confirm that it is Xylia, I looked at the corpse after using autocsi, and took the thread.


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A complex wordplay-based cyber fairy game, October 6, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: about 2 hours

Abigail Corfman has a very impressive Twine record with Open Sorcery (a popular quadratic-complexity puzzle-based commercial Twine game with upcoming sequel) and 16 Ways to Murder a Vampire at McDonalds (which is known for its complex puzzles).

So I was definitely looking forward to this one.

It wasn't quite what I expected. I thought at first it was child-oriented, but I'd rather say it's similar to fairy stories of the darker type (such as SCP-4000 or the poem The Goblin Market).

Gameplay is based on word puzzles. Initial gameplay has word-search puzzles. A long chunk of the game revolves around figuring out complex bureaucracy.

Most, if not all, of the puzzles are optional, as explained in the very brief walkthrough (which doesn't really spoil anything puzzle-wise, only offering ways around it).

I thought I was uninterested in the game at first, but then I found myself going out of my way to find more puzzles to try. In a way, it's almost like a Twine counterpart to Dibianca's Sage Sanctum Scramble, both a fantasy/sci-fi pastiche of wordplay.

I was progressing pretty nicely on the murder when I lost about 45 minutes of gameplay due to a random death with no undo possible (but restoring possible). I hadn't realized I needed to save that often, so it was a devastating blow to my will to go on. I used the walkthrough's cheats to progress to the ending, and found some satisfaction there.

Really not a fan of the random insta-death without undo (I'll admit there were some hints I was acting dangerously), but I liked the rest, so I don't know.

The protagonist is in a wheelchair, and it affects gameplay pretty much exactly how wheelchairs affect real life. I was married for 10 years to a woman who used a wheelchair full-time, and the game's emphasis on spotting out traversable paths, being stymied by a single stair step, and dealing with tedious bureaucracy to get accommodations is true to form.

There are also some personal details revealed through memories (whether of the author or of a created character), which were meaningful.

Overall, very nice experience, but make sure you save often!

++Polish and descriptiveness: Beautiful and lovely, smooth sailing.
+Interaction: My delight with the puzzles overwhelms my sadness about not saving.
+Emotional Impact: I felt intrigue.
+Would I play again? Yes, after the comp when I can dig in deeper.



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