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About the Story
It's late fifteenth century Scotland, and the dangerous world of the Anglo-Scottish Border Reivers. A murder has been committed, and it's your task as the Warden's son to try to find out who was responsible. Can you solve the mystery before it's too late? Or will others die before the criminal is unmasked?
46th Place - 24th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2018)
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Number of Reviews: 4
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I helped to beta test this game.
This is a fairly big conversational game set in medieval Scotland. The player must converse with over a dozen characters to figure out who is planning a murder.
The ambitious game design makes this feel epic, and it's exciting to get tangled up in the web of deceit. However, the large number of characters and the many topics makes for a combinatorial explosion, and it becomes easy to get lost in a forest of information.
The author has an Introcomp game that is also set in medieval times that is worth checking out.
Murder most foul! Archie Elliot has been slain, his throat cut in the night. The Warden, the highest authority of law in these parts is called to snuff out the guilty party and apprehend the murderer. He asks you, his clerk and youngest son to do the sniffing.
Members of all the clans involved are gathered in the great hall of the castle. You must ask the right questions to the right people to find out who did the deed and tell your father about it.
During the interrogation section of the game, you can ask each person about several keywords, notably the four clans of the region. From their responses you are able to gather clues as to who is holding something back, who might have a motive and what that motive might be.
This process quickly became a bit mechanical to me. I imagined my character to be a quite young, somewhat timid man, kept under father's thumb while my older brothers are free to build their own life. It was hard to get in charachter though, as I could not greet people, nor could I offer my condolences to the widow and daughter. I had no choice but to barge in with the limited set of questions I had. The fact that "Archie", "murder" and "body" are treated as synonyms was a disappointment, as these topics could elicit very different responses in my imagination. (The living person Archie, the circumstances of the murder and specifics about the wounds respectively.)
However, I found it more engaging as I played on and I got to see the discrepancies between different people's answers and I began to form a hypotheses. A hypotheses that was confirmed by a clue I got about halfway through the game.
After a set number of moves, you are forced to make a decision (or make a wild guess) as to who the murderer was. Depending on your answer, the loose threads are nicely taken care of in an ending of a few paragraphs. (I got a "good" ending. I didn't replay to get a "bad" one.)
I enjoyed this game as a quick diversion, but I enjoyed it even more as a springboard to dive into the history of the feuding clans along the Anglo-Scottish border in the 13th-16th century.
This game provides a good illustration of something I find immensely interesting in human culture and behaviour: the fact that among these antagonistic, often warring clans, there was still a law (Border or March Law) that they mostly respected. (Apparently, if you were raided, it was within your legal right to raid the other party within a period of a few days. But only if you made a lot of noise and were carrying a turf-torch to announce yourself as legal raiders, instead of the sneaky illegal kind...)
Border Reivers could be expanded to make the interrogations more diverse, and maybe to include a bit more clue-finding in the castle. As it is, it's a fun and interesting experience. It got me interested in its subject matter, that's for sure.
Border Reivers is a parser-based mystery set in Scotland in 1495. I didn't know what the "border reivers" were, so I looked them up. According to Wikipedia, they were "raiders along the Anglo-Scottish border from the late 13th century to the beginning of the 17th century." This gives me a setting I had not seen before in any book I've read or IF game I've played.
At the beginning of Border Reivers you are summoned by your father to help solve a murder, that of the son of one of the local lairds. The opening text says you have suspicions that something is going on in addition to the murder.
Gameplay mostly consists of asking various characters (and there are over a dozen of these!) about each other, the murder, the castle, and various other related topics.
I think Border Reviers is particularly strong on setting. The writing is also good, and the implementation is solid. Perhaps more of the default responses could have been changed, but then again that doesn't matter a whole lot in a conversation-focused game like this one.
I think the game is weaker when it comes to the investigation of the murder. I would have liked more clues to discover and analyze. As it stands, there are a few conversation topics that function as clues, but other than those there is only one physical clue in the game (that I saw, at least).
Border Reivers also has a particular crucial event occur after a certain number of terms, potentially revealing who's guilty before you've actually figured that out. This limits the game's replay value.
Overall, strong setting, good writing, and solid implementation, but more physical investigation and an alternative method for having a particular crucial event occur would have made Border Reivers more fun to play.
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