The Choice of Games folk are preparing to release a first for them: a sequel. Taking place after the cliffhanger of Choice of Romance, I imagine their time since the release has been spent haunting the halls of Versailles, learning the ins and outs of eavesdropping on nobility, creating blackmail scenarios, and learning how a monarch can strong arm people into line. Hence the title: Choice of Intrigues.
The basics are the same as with previous Choice of Games titles: a choose-your-own-adventure type of scenario where you have stats and use those in your decision making process. That can mean you want to laugh hilariously at being human and thinking of yourself better at a stat than you are while failing spectacularly, or excelling so well that you mostly get where you envisioned. Since stats are involved, it does give it a more game-like edge than the sticking-fingers-in-pages effect of the more book-book like format.
Appropriately enough, Choice of Romance was about match-making, whether that involved actual romance or just political and wealth gain. As I noted in my review of its predecessor, Choice of Games has also been lovely enough to make sure to include both the option to choose your sex as well as being romantically inclined toward the same sex.
So, given that this is a title that touches on one of the aspects of games I find under-utilized (counting my decisions from one game and carrying them into a sequel), how does it fare?
Even though the world is run by mages, and there are politics between those who can cause destruction and those who can heal and encourage life, it almost seems an afterthought. As in, it's not the focus. In a world of magic, it might well be that the world, as populated by humans, would focus on the same worries and concerns.
In the case of the monarchy, this means heirs. While the romance of the previous title remains, there is a decidedly different bent to this title--reflected in its name. If you romance the monarch, as I did, the concern is with obtaining an heir. In fact, magic is useful in this regard, as it explains how a same-sex couple can create a child, rather than just adopt or use surrogate methods.
A wizard did it.
Which is why the decidedly other, banal details struck me more. Sure, as two mages who can hurl fireballs instead of making sure we can make children, the king and I could not create a life mage to be heir to his throne. However, it just underscored the needless ways we complicate our worlds. And for what? Power.
Power is the thread that underlies the entire story, which is hardly a surprise in a game that is about nobility and the throne. Further underlining this point is the end, which hints at the contents of the third part of this story: to what extent are you willing to be culpable in getting power for yourself, and to whom do you answer?
Therefore, when I played through it a second time, I made some of the same decisions. Rather than try to game the system so that I had some ridiculously cool stat, inventory item, or companion, I was more concerned with questions. Intrigues would ask me one question, and ancillary to it I'd start asking at least two or three more focused on not only where my character came from and where they were, but also what goals I had.
What further aids this experience is its length, which is not at all a hindrance (I believe I finished both playthroughs around the one-hour mark). In two different plays I made some similar decisions, yet I felt like I had a vastly different story. This was partly because I played a same-sex male and then female romance, but also because even when presented with some of the same scenarios, other events that led to them crafted a different persona. Not distracted by other elements, I could instead focus on the character I was forming. It was participatory storytelling.
This also meant that the sweating merchant who was after my characters read completely different in my female playthrough than in my male. We tend to have a cultural reference for the sweating and overzealous male suitor, but such a role is rarely given to a woman in our societies--at least without being the butt of a joke. The neutral way that offers the easiest way to present us the story is intriguing in how it lets me enter and question not only the world in the story, but that of our own. Smoke and mirrors that are not merely used for illusions.
I was not surprised to find that even while confined to certain actions, I found myself filling in the details in my head, as I often do when reading a book. Imagining the world around me, and filling in the blanks of what happens to characters between the pages and days and months and years that all occur within those pages. Choice of Games is crafting a curious experience where our interactivity is fairly limited, and yet it is bridging a gap between games and books. Given the preponderance of series and sequels, it's also intriguing to see how branching this story will eventually get.
David Gaider of BioWare and Dragon Age fame has spoken on how branching dialog can be a hindrance, as if you continue those branches, eventually you have an unwieldy mess. However, the branches are what this experience is about, and they need not worry about other aspects such as repetitive environments (I poke fun because I love--even Dragon Age 2). Therefore, the what-ifs and maybe-I-shoulda questions will likely draw me back for more.
Choices of Games graciously provided me with an early view of the experience for the purposes of this review. It is currently available on the Kindle for $2, as part of a package deal called Affairs of the Court. Other platforms will release at a later date, around the same price point. If previously purchased on iOS platforms, there will be an option in the app to purchase the sequel for $1.