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About the Story
You have many faces. Your form is multiple. You are the cards. Created many years ago, infused with dark magic, you have seen many things. What secrets do you contain? What visions have you conjured up? How will you nudge the hands of fate?
54th Place - 26th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2020)
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Number of Reviews: 5
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Most Helpful Member Reviews
I feel compelled to give a bit of instruction.
You need to approach this experience with seriousness, and a heap of intuition. Or just 'Play' it naturally. You advance this piece via the blue hyperlinks. Sometimes there are a number of blue links--these advance to the next page-- you make the choices that feel intuitively right to you, and I think the best approach is an honest one. Remember to try clicking on the brown links--each one is a choice between 4 different descriptive words--you pick the one that feels right for your situation; just click the brown link until the right word appears, and then read on.
The only failing of this piece is there doesn't seem to be any explanatory text--unless the piece itself is the text. Otherwise the artwork and the body of the text are very atmospheric and archaic. I felt like I was a confused wanderer in medieval times, seeking counsel from a soothsayer. The experience is full of meaning, if you are in the right mind-set--as that wanderer making his/her way through life.
Actually, not having explanatory text, I think, enhances the feeling of being a 'seeker of truth'. The curious player might return to this piece time and again, in search of meaning or understanding.
For all that Minor Arcana is very clearly a fantasy game – you “play” a half-sapient deck of Tarot cards changing the fates of all who come into contact with you – what it most puts me in mind of is a bit of design from the classic sci-fi RPG Traveler. OK, I’m fronting, because I’ve never actually played Traveler, but I have played the (Godawful) MegaTraveller CRPGs that were based on it, as well as System Shock 2, which uses that same piece of design: the lifepath character creation system. The idea here is that instead of dryly assigning points to all your stats and running through a shopping list to get your equipment, instead you come up with your character by making a series of choices: join the Marines or the Navy? Volunteer for a diplomatic mission, or become an undercover spy? Each choice changes your character along the way, improving their attributes, teaching them new skills, giving them equipment – or even, if you roll poorly enough, killing them before you even get out of chargen. Once you finish the choices, you have a full character, and the real game can begin.
Possibly this association came out of nowhere because playing so many games is turning my brain to porridge. But I think it’s because Minor Arcana felt to me like a really involved prelude to a more involved experience that’s yet to come – which is an unfair expectation, to be sure, but perhaps speaks to the way that the game does a really good job offering exciting choices but maybe doesn’t go far enough in paying them off.
To return to what the game is actually about: there’s an initial stage of the game where you set some basics about what your deck is like, including visual motifs, what suits it contains, if any cards are missing, and what supernatural patron inspired your creation (these have fun, slightly-obfuscated titles and include not-Cthulhu, not-Mithra, and even for those of you who didn’t get enough Gnosticism from Accelerate, not-Ialdabaoth). Then you get a chance to do readings for a couple of petitioners, and find out how you’ve impacted their lives (spoiler: usually it’s not super positive!) before finally facing the option of whether to forsake your owner for a new patron, at which point you can either accept this as the end or start the story again.
I really dug the choices in the first part of the game: deciding what flavor of Tarot deck you are, and whether you have suits like the traditional cups and staves, or instead thorns and spikes, spirals and mirrors, or crows and gears, feels like it’s opening up intriguing realms of possibility. The author does a great job of world-building, letting a few evocative phrases and some ominously capitalized words hint at much deeper mysteries. These decisions are hard to make, because the choices all seem so fun, and seem like they’ll create fiendishly enjoyable scenarios down the line.
The second section feels a bit more slight by comparison; there are only two chances to offer a reading, and instead of full set-pieces involving cross spreads and multiple card draws, instead you only pick a single card, and get one passage apiece laying out the enigmatic repercussions. The choice of switching owners likewise comes and goes fairly quickly. This at least facilitates replays, but when I went back to the beginning and picked what felt like radically different choices, I was disappointed because it felt like very little changed – the King of Staves and the King of Spikes don’t produce meaningfully different outcomes when the fire-breathing radical draws them, for example.
Ultimately it felt like instead of there being hundreds of variegated paths to create a Tarot deck that was distinctly my own, I was inevitably being crammed into a one-size-fits-all template. Of course it’s unreasonable to expect an author to write radically different results for all possible combinations, but the magic of a choice-based game is to balance the difficulties of implementation with the fantasy that each option has an impact on the experience. Minor Arcana left me feeling like I’d created a unique protagonist, but stopped just when I was expecting the real game, and real consequences, to begin.
My only real experience with the Tarot deck is from the Deck of Many Things in AD&D and also Stardust Crusaders, so games featuring Tarot symbology significantly always mystify me somewhat.
In this game, you play as a deck of Tarot cards brought to life. You help design your own life story, then make several predictions for others.
There’s a lot of metafiction here about how we construct our own narratives. It reminds me of the 2015 game A Figure Met in a Shaded Wood as well as SCP-3939, both of which make the shape of the story an integral part of the narrative.
The graphics here look good. The writing is interesting. I felt it hard to either strategize with choices or roleplay as a character, which are my usual two ways of interacting with a game. This game definitely shows a lot of craft, though, and I respect the one who wrote it!
+Polish: It looks and plays great.
+Descriptiveness: The writing is vivid.
-Emotional impact: I wasn't invested in the character, perhaps due to my unfamiliarity with the tarot
+Interactivity: Despite my struggles, the self-referential nature of the game validated my actions.
-Would I play again? Not at this time.
See All 5 Member Reviews
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