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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
old school logic puzzles with neat twists, November 23, 2021
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: IFComp 2021

I don't think you're supposed to get what's going on right away, here. It seems like just an escape-the-spaceship puzzle with other terrain thrown in later. We've sort of seen the puzzles on offer, too, but in a different context. Each has enough of a twist to make Starbreakers a much bigger game even before the big reveal.

Certainly, when the authors throw a Zebra Puzzle/Einstein's Logic type puzzle at you, along with other puzzles (filling and emptying buckets) you hope there's a bit more. The authors themselves are experienced enough. The writing is good. So you feel there should be. And there is. The mystery unravels as you become privy to instant messages around you that don't seem to be relevant. And as someone who's just trying to get through all the IFComp entries I didn't write, I cut corners and missed a few clues I didn't see until I hit the game's end, where it helpfully recaps said messages, and you see how they fit. For the record, I recommend going with the flow of puzzles you've seen before. There's a strong enough story to complement the puzzles. Let's just say after playing this, I'm definitely interested in the authors' other collaboration(s), as well. I hope that's enough of an endorsement.

Part of the twist is that it'd be wrong for you the character NOT to be oblivious, though you the reader may see something clearly up. Fatal and non-fatal mistakes are punished in roughly the same way, with the game cycling back to the last point you were safe. The game asks you for your name with "You should probably report in too. You search for the words; your mind feels terribly foggy. Your name is... it's..." Typing in actual words is then reserved only for specific puzzles, such as breaking a code, which is less intimidating than it sounds. First, you get an easy one, then you get a variation on the theme. For others, such as Towers of Hanoi or the Zebra-style puzzle or even shifting water between buckets, clicking works and works well. Apparently, there's hard mode, but I didn't want to risk messing up and having to restart. I made enough mistakes in the name of expedience (I'll call it expedience and not mental limitations) and the "oops you died" message should have provided me with more clues.

Because you're trying to figure who the traitor is who sabotaged the spaceship, and weird things happen. Someone else dies and pops up again. There's subtler stuff, like the companion named Andrew who got too crossed up in various logic puzzles instead of actually doing something. (Err, no comment there! The authors assured me this wasn't intentional.) Everyone else seems to have their hang-ups, too. You seemed to be the one really doing stuff, figuring stuff out. All the while you were being watched by others. The game does some fourth-wall stuff like "this sure is a weird way to unlock a chest" but things probably won't be clear until the game's over, and you can read what's happening outside your spaceship.

As I mentioned above, the logic puzzles aren't just "look what I can code." The bucket-balancing one where you had seven total units of water to throw around required 3-2-2 distributions in buckets of size 7, 4 and 3. This is a nice twist that doesn't drown the players in complexities. For the Zebra logic puzzle, the clues are less brute-force than "person X was not in room Y" without getting too conditional. The first letter-replacement cryptogram--well, a solution can be written quickly in Python. What is all this leading to, though? And why are certain details not quite right?

Even without the twist ending I would have tipped my hat to the successful efforts to give old logic problems new life in unexpected ways. And I in fact misunderstood the plot and had a laugh, then another one when the authors said "this is what we meant." I was pretty close, and I won't spoil it fully, but it made me laugh because (Spoiler - click to show)a coffee machine is part of why everything goes haywire, and as someone who does not like coffee, coffee machines, people talking about how they need coffee in the morning, or people talking about what coffee is good coffee and bad coffee, or people who have had their morning coffee and suddenly switched to "why can't you be as perky as me" mode, or seeing coffee beans in a filter in the wastebasket, I was glad to see it as a quasi-villain. (Okay, I don't hate the stuff THAT much. But I sure have fun hating it. As hates go, I hope it's harmless. And my apologies to the authors if they actually like, well, that.)

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