Sage Sanctum Scramble

by Arthur DiBianca profile


Return to the game's main page

Reviews and Ratings

5 star:
4 star:
3 star:
2 star:
1 star:
Average Rating:
Number of Ratings: 21
Write a review

Previous | << 1 >> | Next

- TheBoxThinker, December 28, 2021

- Karl Ove Hufthammer (Bergen, Norway), May 23, 2021

- EJ, April 8, 2021

- Pinstripe (Chicago, Illinois), January 7, 2021

- nosferatu, December 12, 2020

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Wordplay overdose (that's not a bad thing), December 11, 2020
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2020

Reader, a confession: itís only now, as Iím sitting down to write this review, that I have realized that Sage Sanctum Scramble and Under They Thunder were written by different people. I must have gotten the impression they shared an author when I was first page-downing my way through the giant list of games, and my shortcut-loving brain must have thought ďright, two word games by people whose names started with A, thatís all sorted then,Ē despite the fact that Iíve played other games by both authors before. Anyway, the conceit for this review was going to be a compare-and-contrast between the two games, which felt reasonable to do when I thought they were by the same person but churlish and weird now that I have at long last disassembled the DiBianca-Schultz gestalt entity living in my head. I guess weíll just have to wing it!

Typically I like to start with the premise, but, um, that feels challenging here. Iím going to attempt to describe the plot without going back to my notes: you (I donít think who you are is explained) are magically whisked to an other-worldly word-sanctum, where the head of the titular sages tells you they need your help. An evil four-armed monster is using magic to tear up the place and you need to solve a bunch of word puzzles to build out the vocabulary youíll need to fight him. OK, letís see how I didÖ huh, turns out my brain is playing tricks again, because the game actually sets things up with you solving word puzzles in medias res, and you only get one sentenceís worth of backstory/motivation after youíve figured out ten of them. This is sub-Bookworm Adventures in terms of character-centricity and narrative cohesion, with the main defining feature being lots and lots of silly names that seem like they should be anagram-jokes but arenít.

Anyway who cares because I loved this. The premise is there to get you solving word puzzles; there are several dozen on offer, and though you can get a solid enough ending after getting as few as thirty, I banged my way through all of them (Spoiler - click to show)(sixty, plus the bonus ones too!) because I was having so much fun. Thereís nothing too novel here, though there is an impressive variety: there are word-substitution puzzles, mastermind-style word-guessing games, word-bridge puzzles where youíre transforming a word one letter at a time, and of course lots and lots of anagrams. Each puzzle is self-contained and fairly quick to solve once you get the trick, and while I donít think there are any repeats, the later, much harder puzzles build off of what came before, so even the trickiest of them feel like theyíre playing by a consistent, fair set of rules that have been introduced to the player.

The puzzles unlock as you solve them, and you typically have the choice of half a dozen or so, which means itís easy enough to hop around and feel like youíre making progress Ė it was only when I was closing in on the last ten or so that progress began to slow, at which point I was sufficiently in the head-space of the game (like, I was starting to look for anagrams in work emails) that I appreciated the challenge. Theyíre almost all impeccably constructed in terms of puzzle design: there are definitely several that would be hard for folks who donít have a mastery of English idiom (the one where you need to figure out what two words have in ďuncommonĒ, or a few that rely on knowing a common phrase based on one word in it, come to mind), and a few that rely as much on grunt work as a moment of inspiration, but almost always when I got a solution (or, for some of the last few, was prompted to the solution by some considerately-provided hints on the forum), I was smacking my head and muttering ďthat makes sense.Ē

The technical implementation is also incredibly impressive Ė everything just works, which at first I didnít really pay attention to because these are just word puzzles, how complex can it be? But when I thought about the amount of work that would need to go into each and every one of the over fifty on offer, in terms of coding custom responses and making whatís basically a different limited-parser game for each (you access a puzzle index by typing PUZZLES and then using numbers to jump around the list, BOOK shows you the keywords youíve accumulated, and other than that itís basically just typing in guesses), while having to parse not just whole words and recognize the entire dictionary, but also for many registering and responding to the individual letters and lengthsÖ itís very impressive, I repeat, and almost completely smooth (I think there were like two times when I got an incorrect result Ė one was when it wouldnít accept ďanointĒ as a verb starting with a, to give you a flavor of what these edge cases are like).

Thereís a smart layer of meta-progression over the puzzles that makes it even more compelling than it would be as a strict grab-bag, too. To beat the boss (you remember there was a monster, right? In the rich and compelling backstory?) you need to engage him in a word-fight, and while merely winning just requires you to accumulate enough keywords, he also throws out spells that can only be defended against if youíve got a matching keyword: one thatís a palindrome, or only made up of letters from the second half of the alphabet. If you donít have one, itís not game over, but the eponymous sanctum takes some damage, which makes the ending feel a little less happy. Fortunately, you can always REWIND and try again after padding out your arsenal some more. (Spoiler - click to show)Thereís also a small suite of bonus puzzles that unlock some alternate options around the ending, and which were quite fun to find and work through, with the caveat that it took me much longer to figure out how to access them than it should have because I failed at counting.

As I have with many other reviews in the Comp, Iíll conclude by making the obvious point that this is a game with a specific target audience, and if youíre in it youíll probably really enjoy it but if word puzzles arenít your jam, youíll probably appreciate its craft but not find it too compelling. The difference is, Iím actually in that target audience this time out, and hopefully itís clear that despite my affectionate bagging on the story and premise, I loved it to death.

- wisprabbit (Sheffield, UK), December 8, 2020

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
The Blurb Says It All, December 6, 2020
by Joey Acrimonious
Related reviews: IFComp 2020

I cannot summarize Sage Sanctum Scramble any better than its blurb has already done: as promised, itís a grab bag of puzzles. Most of them have to do with wordplay and/or rearranging letters in some way.

The quality of the puzzles is excellent. Professional-quality. Enthusiasts would pay money for them, without a doubt. And theyíre implemented extremely solidly, with the parser responding smoothly to almost everything I tried - thatís quite an achievement given the complexity of some of these puzzles, and the variety of different inputs involved. In many cases, the game even recognizes inputs that are barking up the right tree, dispensing hints or encouragement to help the player reach the finish line.

But make no mistake: while this game is easy to pick up and play, itís quite challenging to master. The puzzles range from easyish to total brain-busters, and everything in between. Winning the game only requires a portion of the puzzles to be completed, so itís not terribly hard. But if youíre in it to achieve a perfect score, thatís another matter entirely, and will likely require a major time investment. For reference: I think it took me about 5 hours of gameplay before I decided to finish up with a dubious score of 37. But I donít have a lot of experience with these types of puzzles. Your mileage will vary.

This piece is 98% interactive, 2% fiction, with only the barest threads of narrative tying the puzzles together. Is that a drawback? Or would a more substantive story be a mere frivolity here? I suppose youíll have to answer that question for yourself. But for me - yeah, it's a considerable drawback.

Overall, if you want a bunch of clever word puzzles without any frills or pretensions, Sage Sanctum Scramble has you covered.

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Wordplay game with a brutal challenge, December 1, 2020
by AKheon (Finland)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2020, parser-based, Inform, fantasy, wordplay

Sage Sanctum Scramble is a parser-based game by Arthur DiBianca, published in 2020. The game is about collecting keywords to save a fantasy realm.

The story is very thin, essentially just an excuse to get the player to engage in puzzle solving and wordplay, which the game is full of. Instead of typing full sentences you only have to type single words to progress. Each new puzzle presents a simple clue - or a series of clues - that lead you to the needed answer. Solved puzzles unlock new puzzles, and the non-linear structure of the game allows you to skip a few if they prove too hard.

I havenít played many other wordplay-focused games before, so the idea seems fresh to me. Figuring out solutions and making progress feels good, as youíd expect in a puzzle game that forces the player to really think, and the game is generally quite polished as well - thereís little to distract from the onslaught of brain teasers here.

One significant issue for me, being a non-native English speaker, is that the game is generally quite difficult. Having to think of (Spoiler - click to show)20 different colors or specific-length names for trees, etc. requires some specialized enough lingo that itís virtually impossible to win without consulting a dictionary or similar. At worst the gameplay becomes a matter of browsing an online dictionary and trying out different answers as they come - at that point I canít say it's fun any longer.

The flimsy setting could also be an acquired taste. At times I felt like there wasnít much motivating me to push forward, other than the mild rush I got from my occasional victory over the gameís logic. (Spoiler - click to show)Apparently you fight a boss at the end, but I never got that far.

This game is perfect for people who are proficient in English and for whom wordplay is its own reward. For anyone else, it could still be worth a try since the style is so original, but the experience may have a few frustrations.

- Spike, November 30, 2020

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Utterly addictive word puzzler, November 30, 2020
by Stian
Related reviews: ifcomp 2020

like its predecessors, Sage Sanctum Scramble features a masterfully implemented minimalist parser interface and hours of fun. Despite the similar approach to the interface, DiBianca's games are quite different from each other in terms of play. This time the author took on the genre of word games, including at least 60 different challenges, including crosswords, anagrams and everything else I can think of.

My initial worries that the game may be too easy were quickly allayed, and some of the puzzles had me stumped. I have a feeling that solving all of the puzzles will not be necessary to finishing the game, and that completing them all may require a team effort.

As usual for DiBianca, this game is a lovingly crafted puzzlefeast without attempting to convey any deep meaning or emotion. With the many puzzles being split into separate rooms, it reminds me somewhat of his previous minigame extravaganza Skies Above, though Sage Sanctum Scramble makes for a much more thoughtful play.

- Sobol (Russia), November 11, 2020

- jakomo, November 5, 2020

- Mr. Patient (Saint Paul, Minn.), November 1, 2020

- Edo, October 25, 2020

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
There's a monster at the end of this puzzle book!, October 14, 2020
by deathbytroggles (Minneapolis, MN)

Ever since I was a child I have loved puzzle books, especially ones with a lot of tiny, random puzzles. I'll happily solve one cryptogram, but six pages of cryptograms -- no thank you! Sage Sanctum Scramble is basically one of those comfortable puzzle books come to life, with a cute plot about destroying a monster using keywords you find by solving puzzles.

One's satisfaction with this game will likely be directly correlated with whether the puzzles within hit that sweet spot of not too difficult and not too easy. For me they did just that. One nice (and necessary!) feature is that you only need to solve around 30 puzzles to beat the monster; I solved 31 and had ten more that stumped me. Not having to check the back of the book for the answers to win the game made it a satisfying experience.

The game has some personality and I wish it had even more. There's a risk, I suppose, of getting too cute and detracting from the puzzles. But the highlight for me was when it shamelessly acknowledges that there is a slightly American bent to the game. To wit: (Spoiler - click to show) "GREY is for people who want colours. I want colors."

- Targor (Germany), October 13, 2020

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Very fun wordplay game with dozens of hard puzzles, October 13, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 2-10 hours

I beta tested this game.

What can I say? I love this game. DiBianca is well known for making themed games with constrained commands and one type of puzzle.

This is the first one not to include movement (at least since Grandma Bethlindaís Variety Box), and instead we have a series of dozens of word puzzles.

This is a big game, and, as many many reviewers have found, it sucks up hours of your life if youíre into wordplay puzzles. I spent easily more than 4 hours as well as thinking about the puzzles quite a bit, and this is with emailing the author for hints.

I havenít played all the way through the newest version (just the first few puzzles again, and I already see some improvements). Iíd love to wait a few years to forget most of this and do it over again, maybe with my son when heís older.

There is an overall story that, for me, became more coherent as the game went on, but itís still very abstract. But I definitely think this game ranks up there with Counterfeit Monkey, Ad Verbum and the Andrew Schultz canon as one of the great wordplay games out there.

+++++Polish, Descriptiveness, Interactivity, Emotional Impact, Would I play again? This is exactly the kind of think I like. Love it!

- nf, October 5, 2020

- Zape, October 5, 2020

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
A game of assorted word puzzles and a unique boss fight, October 3, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: 1-2 hours

This isn't really a work of fiction as much as it is a grab bag of riddles, at least 30, mostly built on wordplay. You type a number to go to that riddle and try to solve it, if you do you get that keyword (the answer to the riddle) in your magic book. When you decide to fight the final boss you use the words in your book to attack and defend. Sometimes your companion will prompt you to use a certain kind of word (repeated letters, alternating consonants and vowels, pronounced two different ways). Once a word is used it disappears from your book and you can't use it again.

The boss fight was the fun part, the individual riddles were the hard part. Perhaps that is an indictment of me and my poor wordplay skills, but I think I only got about 15 or so on my own, then used the walkthrough to get 5 more before getting tired and frustrated and skipping to the boss fight. Some of the solutions to the riddles seem unfair to me, as in I can't imagine how I would have ever gotten there without the hints. Others are fairly easy, but fun, and some are clever and satisfying. In the end though, it didn't really grab me and hold my attention. Your mileage may vary.

Previous | << 1 >> | Next | Return to game's main page