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A knight to remember, November 29, 2021
(This is a lightly-edited version of a review posted to the IntFict forums during the 2021 IFComp. My son Henry was born right before the Comp, meaning I was fairly sleep-deprived and loopy while I played and reviewed many of the games, so in addition to a highlight and lowlight, the review includes an explanation of how new fatherhood has led me to betray the hard work the author put into their piece)
I primarily come to IF for the story, but I have to say, I really appreciate it when a pure puzzler comes up in the middle of the Comp: there are usually lots more narrative-focused entries, so it’s really nice to have a change of pace that exercises completely different parts of my brain. This isn’t to say that FQ doesn’t have words – there’s actually a robust introductory story that follows on from where the prequel game (Fivebyfivia Delenda Est, entered in this year’s ParserComp) left off, and there are some good jokes as rewards for solving each challenge, hinging on a series of diplomatic “gaffes” being interpreted in bad faith as casus belli – but the main engagement here is working through a series of well-curated chess puzzles, as you place a limited set of pieces in a stripped-down five-by-five chess board to defeat a series of opposing kings.
Doing chess via parser-IF commands could be a fiddly nightmare, but the mechanics here are smooth as silk. There’s a well-done ASCII-art depiction of the chess board, plus an accessible description mode, so it’s always clear where things stand and it’s simple to move around and call in new pieces to your position (this sequel switches up the gameplay from FDE by dropping the requirement that your character navigate the board via the knight’s move). And the number of pieces at play in each puzzle isn’t too large, which keeps the gameplay focused on thinking of solutions, rather than having to type a bunch of commands implementing them. Similarly, the game’s overall length and pacing are great, providing just enough time to lay out the mechanics, develop them a bit, and end before it wears out its welcome.
As with many of Andrew Schultz’s games, the core gameplay is supported with lots of documentation, a tutorial mode, help commands, and options. And in addition to some gentle hints, there’s a robustly-annotated walkthrough fully explaining the solutions (actually there are three, one each for the hard and normal versions of the game, as well as a brief version with just the key commands). It’s all very helpful, but I do wonder whether it might be a little much for a new player who didn’t play the prequel. Relatedly, I really enjoyed the introductory text, but it is fairly dense and could take some effort to decode in order to understand what the goal of the puzzles actually is – now that the press of the Comp is over, prospective players might be well-served playing the first game first.
While I’m mentioning small cavils, I did find the game text introducing the idea of the “traitor” pieces pretty confusing – the game told me that “[y]our trips to Southwest Fourbyfouria and West Fourbyfouria will include the yellow knight who is not as loyal to their King as they should be,” but it seemed like the yellow knight was actually on my side, and the traitor was actually grey, so this threw me for a bit of a loop (I believe this will be fixed in a post-comp release). Rearranging my pieces could also sometimes be a little more awkward than I wanted – in particular, when I wanted to reposition my own king, rather than summon the opposing one, I had to type “twelvebytwelvian” for disambiguation, which is a mouthful (maybe “your king” vs. “their king” could be an option, or something like that?) But these are very minor niggles that did nothing to reduce the fun I had solving the puzzles and adding to the Twelvebytwelvian empire.
Highlight: I mentioned the hint system above – after being a bit stymied by one mid-game puzzle, I had recourse to one, and it did a marvelous job of getting me unstuck without ruining the fun of solving the puzzle.
Lowlight: This isn’t much of a lowlight, but it took me a while to twig to what winning each section required – I’m spoiler-blocking it because it’s possible that figuring that out is an intended part of the challenge, but I had more fun once that light-bulb had gone off for me: (Spoiler - click to show)you have to force a stalemate before getting the mate.
How I failed the author: this is another one where I don’t think I did! Even though I was sleep-deprived and I’m not that good at chess, the game’s difficulty curve is well judged and I was able to work through the hard version pretty quickly during one of Henry’s naps.