Fivebyfivia Delenda Est

by Andrew Schultz profile


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Number of Reviews: 3
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Working on my knight moves, July 9, 2021
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: ParserComp 2021

If this wasnít ParserComp but rather BadassTitleComp, letís all take a minute up front to acknowledge that FDE would be the runaway champion (I see you over there, Black Knife Dungeon Ė youíre ballpark but youíre trying too hard). Take a genocidal threat from the ancient world, blend it with a made-up mathy word, and slap it on a chess-based puzzler, and you have a sure-fire recipe for coloring me intrigued. Happily, rather than just skating by with a neat title and cool concept, Fivebyfivia Delenda Est has as much substance as style.

For one thing, thereís an actual plot here, about a daring knight sent out to conquer a neighboring kingdom via dynastic assassinations and a terrain-occupying tour, thatís written with humor, fleetness, and an understanding of the actually quite problematic nature of whatís occurring here. As with most of Andrew Schultzíes games, though, FDE is a puzzler through and through, and this time itís chess thatís going through the wringer. Of course, chess puzzles are a genre unto themselves, but the spin here is quite clever and would be hard to implement outside IF Ė you need to arrange pieces to set up a checkmate, which you do by dropping off your allies then summoning the enemy king as your knight traverses the board in the expected L-shaped pattern, with a move limit adding an additional dimension of challenge to proceedings.

I should say at the outset that I would like to be the kind of person whoís good at chess puzzles, but am in fact the kind of person whoís awful at them. As is also usual for Schultzís games, though, there are a host of features that invite players of any skill level in so they can enjoy things at their own speed. Thereís a map that helps you visualize the state of play; many different ways to input your moves, so guiding the knight is easy; a full tutorial and a quick precis of the rules of chess; and gentle hints that ramp up if itís clear youíre not getting a particular puzzle. So while the initial challenge definitely presented a learning curve as my head desperately tried to wrap itself around this unique take on the chess puzzle, it was a smooth curve with lots of support (so a flying buttress, I guess?)

The puzzles do escalate as you go, with the two-rook training wheel scenario giving way to more complex arrangements that were delightful to work through. My only real complaint, besides wishing there were more challenges beyond the four here on offer, is that the second one wound up having additional constraints that I donít think were clearly signposted in the setup Ė my first solution was rejected because one piece didnít want to be too close to the enemy king, and the second one because the player character wanted to hold it in reserve. I came up with a third one soon enough (and then was able to re-use my second solution in the following puzzle), so no harm no foul, but I think clearly telegraphing these added rules from the jump would have been more satisfying.

At any rate, FDE left me wanting more and hoping that, like the Punic Wars, it would be one of a series Ė given the way the imperialism-kicking plot wraps up, though, Iím not sure thatís in the cards, and perhaps itís for the best since I donít think Iíd be up to the difficulty of solving puzzles in the untrammeled wilds of the knightís home country of Twelvebytwelvia.