Minor Arcana

by Jack Sanderson Thwaite

Arcane Fantasy
2020

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Minor but enjoyable, December 9, 2020
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2020

For all that Minor Arcana is very clearly a fantasy game Ė you ďplayĒ a half-sapient deck of Tarot cards changing the fates of all who come into contact with you Ė what it most puts me in mind of is a bit of design from the classic sci-fi RPG Traveler. OK, Iím fronting, because Iíve 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 Ė 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 itís because Minor Arcana felt to me like a really involved prelude to a more involved experience thatís yet to come Ė 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 doesnít go far enough in paying them off.

To return to what the game is actually about: thereís 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 didnít get enough Gnosticism from Accelerate, not-Ialdabaoth). Then you get a chance to do readings for a couple of petitioners, and find out how youíve impacted their lives (spoiler: usually itís 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 itís 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 theyíll 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 Ė the King of Staves and the King of Spikes donít 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 itís 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 Iíd created a unique protagonist, but stopped just when I was expecting the real game, and real consequences, to begin.


Otherworldly and ominous, December 6, 2020
by AKheon (Finland)
Related reviews: fantasy, IF Comp 2020, choice-based, Twine

Minor Arcana is a choice-based fantasy game by Jack Sanderson Thwaite, published in 2020. You are a sentient Tarot deck with a long, grimy history and an air of misfortune about you. The story consists of a loosely structured series of recollections, some of which can be explored through your choices.

The game features bits of real life Tarot-traditions mixed in with some dark fantasy and fatalistic drama. The writing is of high quality, and it has a foreboding, mysterious tone that makes it quite interesting to read.

The story has a few different branches to explore, and (Spoiler - click to show)it seems that some of the content can only be seen while replaying. The design gives the game a secretive air - even after multiple playthroughs I was left curious about the game's story and setting, wondering if there were still any important details or additional closure to find.

Itís a fairly short game, only taking around 30 minutes even if you replay it a few times. It should be worth it if youíre looking for something otherworldly and ominous. Personally, the game consistently held my focus due to its slightly unique format and esoteric storyline.


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Play as a deck of Tarot cards, November 13, 2020
by RadioactiveCrow (Irving, TX)
Related reviews: Less than 30 minutes

Yes, that's right, in this game you are a deck of sentient Tarot cards, crafted millennia ago, lost, found and passed down through the ages. But rather than only being a tool in the hands of humans you are beginning to realize your power to shape events, not just foretell them.

This is a pretty short and straight-forward game. Make some character choices at the beginning, that may influence the story options available to you or maybe just be filler text for certain scenes. I played through the game twice and it seems more likely to be the latter. Then just pick your path through some fortune-tellings and ownership changes. Read about the fates of the humans you come in contact with. And that's about it. Not sure if there are different endings or the same ending showing up regardless of which path you choose.

My favorite thing about the game was being able to choose certain adjectives along the way. Instead of the normal blue text of a choice link, some words displayed in yellow and would change when clicked on to a different word that also fit that part of the sentence. As an example, you might click on "short" to change it to "tall" before making your next branching choice in the story. Not sure if what you picked affected anything later or not though.


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A short branching Twine game about the Tarot, October 11, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: less than 15 minutes

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.

Thereís 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.


4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Vibrant with Imagery, October 3, 2020

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.



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