Justice Playthrough #177: Troika! Numinous Edition

This is not what I thought it was going to be.

I’ve been stumbling over various Troika!-adjacent things throughout this trawl — a zine here, a stat block there. Together, they’ve created an image frenetic gonzo weirdness, a game where anything goes and everything is possible — the more hallucinatory the better. I assumed that the core book would have a similar sensibility, that the “rules” would be a set of dashed-off loose guidelines, tossed together to let a group of RPG buddies get together and tell a really weird story while hotboxing the game room so hard that just touching the Player’s Handbook you’d left on the table will get you a contact high for the next month.

Every one of my preconceptions was either exactly on the money or spectacularly wrong.

Page 2, Game 9: Troika! Numinous Edition by Melsonian Arts Council

Where I was right, of course, was the over-the-top weirdness, like if Hunter S. Thompson had a Tolkien phase. The game’s default setting is a kind of dimension-hopping sci-fi fantasy dreamscape, but assembling a complete vision of just what the hell it looks like is left strictly as an exercise for the players and GM. Just rolling-up a few characters at random with a die I happen to have on my desk gives me:

  • Necromancer. “The least popular of magical practitioners, necromancers are shunned by the major centres of learning, left to their own devices on the edges of society, passing on knowledge in the time honoured master–student dynamic. This loneliness encourages students to make their own friends.” Starting possessions include “Zombie Servant or Ghost with whom you have developed a codependent relationship.”
  • Derivative Dwarf. Looks just like a REAL Dwarf, but other Dwarves can tell you’re just a shitty, uninspired knock-off, and will shun you accordingly.
  • Claviger. A member of a society of Key Masters wandering the universe looking for doors to open — no matter how terrible it might be to open them. You are so festooned with keys that they collectively count as decent armor.

Monkeymonger, Parchment Witch, Fellow of the Sublime Society of Beef Steaks, whatever random-ass nutjobbery you happen to roll up has at least an even chance of putting you in the shoes of an “archetype” you have never even heard of before.

That was my first surprise: character creation involves no decision making on the part of the player. Dice rolls will tell you how skilled you are, how tough you are, how lucky you are, and what your wacked-out deal is, and away you fuckin’ go. The implicit assumption here is that there’s little chance a player would come up with a concept weird enough for the setting — and honestly, if the players are mostly basic bitches like me, that assumption is almost certainly correct.

Aside from the lack of choice, character creation was more or less the bonanza of bugfuck madness I came in expecting. But then came my second big “Wait, WTF?!” moment: The Rules.

The Rules are, in fact, a completely straight middle-weight dice-based RPG, somewhere around the Apocalypse World level of complexity. Roll 2d6, add a very specific thing. You can petition the GM in an effort to convince them that your Taxidermy skill totally applies to this fight against an angry demon-bear, I suppose, but other than that, the rules are emphatically non-wacky. In fact, they’re meant to be tense as hell. Combat initiative involves creating a deck of cards or pulling shit out of a bag or something similar, such that you know you’re going to act eventually, but you have no idea when — and in the meanwhile, is gonna try to envelop and suffocate you, hopefully it won’t kill you first.

This is why character creation is so fast: combat is lethal. You’re encouraged to come back with a new character before the party is done arguing over who gets your dead one’s stuff.

The stiff formality of the rules seems wildly out of place on first read — but I think I get it. It’s like my band instructor used to say, you can’t play loud unless you can also play quiet. (Which was a very polite way of telling the trombone section to please shut the fuck up already.) The rigid structure is there to prop-up all the insanity, to keep the whole thing from collapsing into a mushy pile of stoner ranting.

There’s a lengthy list of spells, of course, and that’s where the wackiness comes gleefully lurching back into the frame, but they’re nothing to fuck around with. Attempting to cast them at all will cost you hit points. You’ll need to make a skill roll to actually get them off, and if you botch with a roll of double-sixes, you’ll roll on the “Oops!” table.

The consequences of an “Oops!” range from mild annoyance to total disaster to whoopsie-doodle, you kinda stopped existing, time to roll up a new character.

There’s a bestiary, consisting of either familiar creatures given bizarre new twists or things that are just built from the ground up of compressed WTF. Along with the character creation options, the bestiary is doing the bulk of the legwork in establishing the game’s universe. As mentioned, coming up with the narrative infrastructure to house this lunatic menagerie is very much a “you” problem.

The sample adventure is banal to the point of gleeful self-parody. The party are checking into their hotel. Their room is on the sixth floor. The elevator is a nightmare. The stairs aren’t really any better.

This trawl has clarified a concept that already existed in the fringes of my gamer-brain but that I had never really needed to articulate: half of running a good game is matching the ruleset to the players. Not every glove fits every hand. There are games I’ve encountered that I dismissed as being Definitely Not For Me but that I could nevertheless envision as being a lot of fun if they had the right people playing them.

Get the wrong players at your table, and I would expect Troika! to be a tedious exercise in weirdness for the same of weirdness, of pitching Wacky Randomness!!! against the wall to see what slithers off and tries to start its own ska band. With the right players, this could be a truly unique and memorable experience.

I’m honestly thinking either one of my current D&D DMs would fuckin’ crush a Troika! campaign. At the very least, if they were so stoned last session they forgot what the characters were doing, it’d be very much in keeping with the spirit of the game.

Is this next game going to force me to carefully consider whether casting this spell is worth the risk of me barfing up a small horde of gremlins who will then try to bite everybody’s faces off?

Page 57, Game 11: Cassette by Shapeforms

“Play. Pause. Rewind. A library of tape sounds.”

Unless somebody had a very strange experience with the cassette era, I’m thinking not.

Justice Playthrough #176: The Three-Body Problem

Less a “game,” more of an “interactive short story.” And less “interactive” than “makes you click to keep reading, and gives you explicit options to stop reading.” And less “short story” and more “primer on BDSM/power exchange relationships and how consent works within them, starring some queer forest witches.”

But, fuck it, if you’re in the mood for a semi-interactive primer on BDSM/power exchange relationships and how consent works within them starring some queer forest witches, I think I can recommend this one.

Page 28, Game 5: The Three-Body Problem by RoAnna Sylver

And … shit, I don’t know what else to say here. Kinda shot my load in the cold-open on this one.

To get into this one, you have to accept it for what it is. If you go in expecting a game where you’re making meaningful choices and shit, you’re gonna be disappointed. If you go in expecting a story that doesn’t have an obvious informational agenda, again, you’re gonna be disappointed.

But speaking as someone on the fringes of the kink community, as primers in BDSM relationships go, this is a totally solid one. Worlds better than fucking 50 Shades, that’s for sure — because unlike that wretched literary pustule, I’m quite confident this author actually knows what she’s talking about.

The big interactive element here is that it’s written in second person — you’re a submissive witch lady about to get your knifeplay on, but you’re interrupted, plot and exposition follow. The writing is solid. If you have a submissive streak, might be kinda hot — though that’s really not my deal, so I’m just guessing.

Mildly skeeved by the price, though which is $5 as of this writing — and this is not the first time I’ve had that reaction. Why am I so fussy about that? Just seems like a lot to ask for what’s basically a short story. At that price point, I’d expect at least a small anthology of erotically-charged forest witches teaching me the finer points of kinky sex. If I’d paid $5 expecting a game-game, I’d be feeling pretty punked. But, again, maybe if you know what you’re getting ahead of time, it’s worth the money.

Honestly, if you think you’d dig it, you probably will. Might just be worth your time.

So is this next game gonna tell me I’ll be getting well-laid shortly?

Page 2, Game 9: Troika! Numinous Edition by Melsonian Arts Council

“The Other world’s favourite fantasy RPG”

Oh, my. Based on the Troika supplements I’ve seen thus far, I’m honestly hoping not — because it’s gonna be fuckin’ WEIRD.

Justice Playthrough #175: Penicillin Issue #3

Once again, very hit or miss. But here’s the thing about a gaming zine this aggressively weird: all it takes is one “hit” that nails you in that sweet spot of close enough to your own sensibilities that you want to add to your game yet simultaneously bugfuck crazy enough that you’d never have come up with it on your own, and the entire zine instantly becomes worth your time. Something in here could very easily make your table go “DaFUQ was that?!”, in the good way.

Page 33, Game 11: Penicillin Issue #3 by Micah Anderson

And what’s waiting for you in this issue?

  • The Peridem, a kind of asexual succubus. Not necessarily evil, but definitely a bit dangerous. Are they ethical demonkin, or douchebags? Unlike the last issue of the zine, this one offers stat blocks; I think these stats are for Troika?
  • A loosely defined haunted house storytelling game, presented as a one-page comic.
  • Dwarves. Issue #2 gave us halflings that were sentient fungus inhabiting children’s corpses; this time, we have hyper-conservative communist lumps of living metal. Offers up a fantastic explanation of where the mystical metal orichalcum comes from. (“That’s a really nice war-hammer.” “Thanks, it was my grandfather.”) This one, too, has a stat block. Apparently, the author took some “You really need to provide some stat blocks” feedback to heart, and wrote-up D&D stats so you could play one of these rusting little fuckers in your own game — assuming your game is 1st edition. 70’s-era Dungeons and Dragons. Complete with THAC0. And yes, I recognized the mechanics immediately. This is the kind of piss-take I can get behind.
  • I was just thinking to myself “The layout seems WAY less painful than the pink-and-black nightmare I remember from issue #2,” and then I hit an encounter with middle-aged wine-obsessed nymphs that I literally had to turn my laptop sideways in order to read. Based on the songs of ABBA in general and the musical “Mama Mia!” in particular.
  • Medicinal amphibians. Seriously, fuck having “Eye of Newt” as some sort of lame-ass all purpose magic ingredient; here’s a shitload of charts to roll for some magic amphibians that’ll cure what ails you. What kinds of amphibians? Do they, like, secrete the healing mojo from their skin, or do you have to powder them? Is their power so weak that you’ll need to coat yourself head to toe in them, or is just one of them so potent that it might accidentally kill you? Roll some dice, find out.
  • Nacre, City of Squid and Snail. Are your underground cities insufficiently weird and/or terrifying? Nacre is here to “help.”
  • Alligator Blood. Some performance-enhancing drugs just aren’t worth it. Unless you’re fighting for your life. Then, really, don’t you need every advantage you can get?
  • So You Contacted An Outer Horror. Look, coming up with original and truly horrifying Lovecraftian entities isn’t easy, and it all starts to sound samey after a while. Here’s a series of horrible d6 charts to help correct that for you.

Is it all great? Hell no. But it’s for damned sure unique. If you’re running a fantasy RPG and any of the above sound like they’d add something to your game that you’d like to have, by all means, go get some.

Will this next game feature random encounters with cultists who cover themselves in cat-sized snails who are probably slowly eating them alive?

Page 28, Game 5: The Three-Body Problem by RoAnna Sylver

“Queer Celestial Witches Navigate Scary Woods And Each Other”

I’m guessing nobody’s getting covered in giant snails unless something goes very, very wrong. But I don’t think it’s off the table entirely.

Justice Playthrough #174: Memoir En Code: Reissue

As expected, a very deeply personal bit of artsy expression. It honestly didn’t work terribly well for me — but this one’s so achingly sincere that I really can’t go too hard on it without feeling like a colossal douchebag, so here we are.

Page 6, Game 21: Memoir En Code: Reissue by Alex Camilleri

This is a series of minigame vignettes representing various times in the developer’s life — the short description says it’s a “game album,” and having played it, yeah, that’s what it feels like. It’s a series of tracks, each one unique and representing … something.

Also included: a camera the artist is conscious of not being able to use well, and a tablet that’s still charging up

Each little mini-game feels very different from what came before (with the notable exceptions of the two desktop bookends), but the minimalist art style and chill, ambient soundtrack all work to give the whole thing a unified feel, which I definitely appreciate.

You can interact with the vignettes in various ways; each mini-game helpfully lays out which keys are relevant at the bottom of the screen. For the desktop “levels,” you just mouse around and click things. There’s one where you’re in a train saying goodbye to your girlfriend; you can choose what to say, but I think it doesn’t much matter. The most gamelike of the mini-games is probably the one where you have to find the best place to study in an apartment full of inconsiderate dickbag roomies who keep turning the TV on and stuff.

No good, there’s a distraction here….

But the problem with this game is that you need to find a good place to study and then … wait. Do nothing. Watch the bar there on the right creep slowly upward while the bar on the left creeps slowly downward. Maybe turn off the TV or whatever a roommate turned on. But otherwise, the way to “win” this game is to basically do nothing.

I consistently had that issue. These little games are very pretty and pleasant, but they’re not particularly interactive — and gaming is an interactive medium, god dammit. The worst offender was the hair-growing “game.” I found a button on the left that turned on the “Director’s Commentary,” and it explained what the hell was going on. Basically, the dev felt very self-conscious about his large ears growing up, and feared that everybody was staring at him. So, he wore his hair long to hide them. But sooner or later came the inevitable haircut, and the whole cycle would start all over again.

That’s all well and good. I’m quite sympathetic. Those sorts of micro-traumas can leave their marks, you know? I can see mining that for some good art.

Shaggy peace of mind

But the way he turned it into a “game” was there’s a section where you can approach the mirror or … not. Then you can push a button that will make your ears grow, or you can … not do that. Then there will be eyes, which will stare at you balefully when your back is turned. Then you can push the button that will make your hair grow, or you can … not do that. Then there are more eyes, but this time, they’re not looking at you. Then the haircut happens, and you’re back to the beginning — no matter what. The “game” is deliberately an infinite loop, and the only way to “win” is to stop playing it by pressing the “skip” button.

That’s not fun. That’s not engaging. That’s just fuckin’ annoying.

This reminds me of some other low-key “Click around, see what happens” style games, the most obvious being Islands: Non-Places. When they work, they have a kind of dream logic to them. You explore, you see what happens next. If the game has me hooked, it’ll be something I find interesting.

Memoir En Code just didn’t keep me interested. I’m sure everything in here was deeply meaningful to the dev, but the mark of good art is that it retains some sort of meaning, some ability to evoke an emotional response, even when the viewer has only a fraction of the context for it that the artist had. Memoir En Code falls short of that. While I’m sure a mini-game about wandering aimlessly around a beach kicking stones evokes a very specific and charged set of memories for the developer, there just wasn’t anything in it for me. There really wasn’t anything to explore, and if there were any surprises, they eluded me completely.

By far the rawest track had to be the finale, which was a reprise of the first bit of desktop exploration. You click around, you see what happens … except this time, when you click on the picture of the guy and his ex girlfriend, you don’t just get a repeating cycle of two text boxes. You get an ongoing plunge into hurt and loss, represented by the game fake-glitching out. That engaged me. That felt immediate to me in a way that most of the other stuff simply didn’t.

Yeah, homeboy’s processing some feels here

As I have often mentioned, I am one seriously basic bitch. Gimme some zombies and spaceships and shit blowing up. I’ve found I can enjoy artsy games like this if they’re done well, but Memoir En Code just doesn’t clear that bar for me. Still. It’s far from being a total waste of time, and there is a lot to recommend it. If you enjoy games as experiments in personal expression more than I do, it might absolutely be worth your while.

Also, at entry #174, this game represents me getting 10% of the way through the entire Bundle. I was kinda hoping for something I really loved to have that distinction … but honestly, I’m hoping for that every time I roll the dice for the next game. It wasn’t quite for me, but for this milestone, I’m totally find with stumbling across something weird and deeply personal that I otherwise never would have taken a second look at. Feels right, somehow.

Will this next game feature a level where I’m tempted to draw dicks in the sand and then at the last minute choose not to screenshot it because nah I don’t want to be THAT basic?

Page 33, Game 11: Penicillin Issue #3 by Micah Anderson

“The third issue of the World’s Other Only RPG Zine”

Hmm, I think I’ve encountered other issues of Penicillin. What did I think of them?

Looks like I’ve reviewed issue #2: “[T]here’s some really fucked-up shit here. I can definitely recommend it for GMs looking to make their fantasy worlds less rote and more creatively dark.”

Oh, yeah. That one. So in all likelihood, less drawing of dicks, more clever existential dread. I’m down for it.

Justice Playthrough #173: BulletHell Planes

As the early stage of a larger work, this shows promise. However, it looks like it’s meant to be a complete game unto itself. Ah, well. At least it is (as of this writing) free.

Page 51, Game 21: BulletHell Planes by Gijs Westerdijk

Vertical-scrolling 1942-style shooter. You have a plane with guns, you have lots of foes, go!

The graphics are simple. The only sprites in the game (aside from the bullets) are you, the red enemy planes, and the purple enemy planes. The purple boys will steer towards you, and as such are by far the larger threat. The red guys will just keep cruising straight ahead, and you can honestly just ignore any of the ones that aren’t in front of you.

So many targets….

You have a pair of machine guns, one mapped to each trigger. As you fire them, a gauge (a heat gauge?) goes up. When it hits the top, your guns stop firing — disaster! But then, all of a sudden, a big-ass laser blast erupts! Hooray?

So … I overheated my guns and they briefly turned into lasers?

This is … very weird. It feels like the game is trying to discourage me from just holding down the triggers and going all perma-blast, force me to fire off more controlled bursts. When the guns stop firing, it very definitely feels like punishment; I can shoot the enemies’ bullets out of the sky, so loosing my own guns leaves me vulnerable as hell. But then, the laser blast goes off and shit gets wrecked.

What’s the intent here? Am I trying to keep one gun firing while strategically overheating its comrade?

There’s a lot here I’m not getting. There’s a multiplier, and I have no idea what it’s for. Every once in a while, it blips up to “x2” before dropping back down to x1 almost immediately. What’s making it go up? What do I need to do to keep it there? I have no idea.

I eventually figured out that the unlabeled number at the top-middle of the screen represents my hit points. If I run out of hit points, I sometimes go to this “Last Stand” mode, where it insists I waste X enemies in a very short amount of time to continue playing. If I fall short, game over. I get one Last Stand per play — I think? Maybe?

This game wants powerups, so badly. I want to be able to restore my health. I want guns that can hit harder. I want more weapons, or different weapons. I want some mini-bosses, and full-on boss fights. There’s just SO MUCH room for more stuff in this game, but as far as I can tell, it doesn’t exist.

Gameplay isn’t bad. I’m normally grumpy when mooks in a vertical scroller like this require multiple hits to kill, but this one allows you to spray out enough bullets at a time that the combat feels more exciting than frustrating. Likewise, when you see a flight of purple foes, you’ll want to blast a hole in them and fly through it; once a plane goes past you, it can’t hurt you any more.

If one of my friends presented this to me as a game they were working on, I’d be pumped on their behalf. It’s one hell of a promising start, with a lot of room for improvement. But as a finished product, it’s lacking. There’s just not enough game in this game.

Doesn’t suck, though. And like I said, as of right now, it’s free. If you love the genre, what the hell, there are worse ways to kill a half hour.

Will this next game offer me something other than an eternity of grind?

Page 6, Game 21: Memoir En Code: Reissue by Alex Camilleri

“an · autobiographical · game · album”

I don’t know what a “game album” is, but this sounds like an intensely personal artsy kinda game. So yeah, I’m anticipating very little grind here.

Justice Playthrough #172: Galactic Wars

Decent little retro game that falls just short of being freakin’ awesome.

Page 9, Game 7: Galactic Wars by VolcanoBytes

First off: it’s playable in-browser, so if you want a taste, click the link.

Imagine a side-scrolling Galaga. You have a little pew-pew ship, there’s an enemy fleet of pew-pews dead ahead. Go get ’em!

Three swirly-boys who wanna slam into me

You fly around, you shoot, they asplode. When they all asplode, a new wave comes to take their place. They will, of course, try to asplode you right back. You have three lives to see how much havoc you can wreak.

Also, powerups! More guns! More zoom! More shoot!

The powerups are, unfortunately, a bit of a mixed blessing. See that “Fire Power” gauge down there at the bottom? It’s basically an energy meter. If the meter is too low, you can’t shoot — and the more bullets you fire, the more you drain it. So, the three-way shooter drains it three times as fast. Given that you might actually WANT a shitload of bullets flying in a straight line out in front of you to try and blast that jerk with the mega-laser, the three-way shooter may be a tool you don’t actually want to have.

There are also some lightning bolts that will allow you to go faster; you can grab up to two per life. Going faster is a huge boon in this game but it comes with the unfortunate knock-on effect of emphasizing how sluggish your starting ship is. This is one of those games where you have to dart in and out trying to get shots off without getting hit; without the power-ups, you’re about as nimble as a Zamboni.

One of the powerups will boost your Fire Power gauge to max and keep it there for a few seconds, allowing you to frantically blaze away as fast as you can work the fire button. This, too, calls attention to how much less fun the game is when you DON’T have this enhancement, and will likely find yourself unable to shoot at a crucial moment should you be too aggressive.

What’s more, as the game goes on, the more mini-bosses start showing up, like these guys who launch missiles at me:

It’s those two blue guys in the back

They take more hits to kill, and are a generally satisfying way to escalate the difficulty. But as you might guess, when you die, you lose all your powerups. So, if you clawed your way to Level 9 with max speed and three orbital shooty-boys spinning around you and one of the mini-bosses takes you out, that’s pretty much game over. You’ve back to Zamboni-land, sluggishly galumphing about.

This game is fun; I played it probably a dozen times or so. It totally would have gobbled a ton of my quarters back in the day. But … man, there are just so many places where it gets in its own way, little things that drag it down. The bad-guy ships move from right to left, but will lurch forward to discrete levels at random intervals. If you’re in the way, you die. So, if they’re too far to the left, unless you’re operating at full nimbleness, your best bet is to wait for them to lurch all the way off the screen and reappear on the right, where you can duck in and snipe them more safely. You may have to wait a while — but don’t worry, as long as you stay out of the firing lane for those ships, nothing can get you. A bad-ass 8-bit laser frenzy should not have intervals where you feel like you’re waiting for a traffic light to change.

When you die, your new ship has a few seconds of invulnerability — during which, you are unable to shoot. WTF? This was a minor annoyance, but an annoyance just the same. You may not interact with powerups that you already have (or have maxed-out). Again, WTF? Why not hand me some points and clear a bit of clutter off the screen? Again, only mildly annoying, but still annoying. When I have my orbital shooty-boys, they lasers they shoot come from some random point in their orbit that has no relationship to where they are on the screen, which means that trying to fire into a different lane has nothing to do with timing and everything to do with luck. Again, WTF?

Galactic Wars isn’t bad, but I want it to be better. I want the entire game to be as fun as it is when I’m at maximum nimbleness and can go hog wild with my laser cannons. I want more cannons to mean more gooder. I don’t want to have to get specific powerups before the game really becomes fun; I want it fun right away.

I’m greedy like that.

This is clearly not the best version of this game. But if you’re a fan of the genre, by all means, give it a try. It’s still pretty decent.

Will this next game feature bosses that make funky noises when I chip-off some of their HP?

Page 51, Game 21: BulletHell Planes by Gijs Westerdijk

“Shoot your way through the enemy lines in hyperpowered aircraft!!!”

Let’s go ahead and call that a “FUCK YEAH!!!!!”

Justice Playthrough #171: Draw Nine

Go play it.

It’s neither the best nor the most ambitious game I’ve found in this trawl, but it’s nevertheless a very cool little experience. It’s playable in-browser, and it’ll take you all of fifteen minutes. So why not give it a go?

Page 53, Game 19: Draw Nine by Damon L. Wakes

You’re a freshly-minted graduate of the Arcane Tower about to set forth into the world. You have nine magic cards, of three types: horses, spiders, and snakes. Now off you go on your adventure!

A hand fulla magic

You’ll choose a path, you’ll encounter a situation, you’ll choose a card to deal with it: horses to be nice to people, snekkos to murder, and spiders to just fuck things up.

It’s a text-based game, sort of a Choose Your Own Adventure thing, except you’re traveling with nine solutions in your pocket. It’s not exactly a challenging game; I’m pretty sure there’s no real way to lose any particular encounter, it’s just a matter of what flavor of “winning” feels right for you.

And yet, I still found it satisfying. The dev crafted a kind of folkloric feel that worked quite well for me. Even if the destination remains the same, the choices you make along the way still feel meaningful. You encounter a beggar: do you aid him, infest him with spiders, or give him a big ol’ faceful of snek? How about those annoying entitled townsfolk? That tower up ahead looks dodgy; do you head for it anyway?

Journey before destination, mate.

It’s a trifle, I suppose, but a very thoughtful and well executed one. If you’re in the mood for something chill and text-based, I can definitely recommend it.

What awaits me at the end of this next journey?

Page 9, Game 7: Galactic Wars by VolcanoBytes

“a 8bit Space shooter in Pico 8”

Ah. Death and explosions. I’m into that, too.

Justice Playthrough #170: Dr. Trolley’s Problem

So, it’s exactly what it says on the tin. Don’t know why I expected it to be anything else. I kinda did anyway, but I don’t know why.

Page 56, Game 16: Dr. Trolley’s Problem by WeroCreative

Ah, the good old Trolley Problem, everybody’s favorite Kobayashi Maru scenario (except, of course, for the Kobayashi Maru). A trolley is about to crush some fools, and the only thing you can do about it is decide which set of fools shall become splattery sacrifices to the Whatifficus, the cruel god of freshman philosophy hypotheticals. Who lives? Who dies? And who are you to decide?

Fellow fans of The Good Place doubtless remember the episode where Michael literalized the thought exercise as a way of torturing Chidi, to glorious effect. A dry abstraction became a grisly reality, to our heroes’ horror and our delight. It was a marvelous bit of dark comedy, and thinking about it got my hopes up for what places a game with this title might take it.

Would there be a misanthrope mode, where I could go for high score? Perhaps some clever puzzles, where some sneaky third option would allow me to kill either nobody or everybody as my heart desires? Or perhaps a Trolley Problem Editor, where I could take my Trolley Problem Toolkit and create my own variations on all of the above?

Instead … nah. It’s just the trolley problem. The straight-up trolley problem. Here’s a situation, here’s your choices, choose who lives and who dies. That’s it. Over and over and over and over again.

Ah, yes, the classic Jock v. Nerd conundrum, and described by Kant

The game just goes through scenario after scenario, with minor variations. Do you switch the train off the track that will kill five people so that it only kills one instead? What if the five people are trolley workers who should probably know better that to fuck around on the track and the one is a hapless civilian? What if the five are normal plebes and the one is a great person somehow?

I’m gonna need to see just what’s so great about that guy, cuz he kinda looks like a tool to me

I wanted there to be … more, somehow. More options, more engagement, more wit, more … something. The funniest variation was what the game introduced as the NWA Problem:

I believe “Fuck The Police” is a Socrates quote

Of course, as you can see from the above screenshot, the actual level completely chickens out of its own gag. To really sell it, you need cops on one track and the members of NWA on the other, not just some random punk rock dude. I mean, look at that guy. I doubt he listens to hip-hop at all.

The one moment where the game truly grabbed me could have been an accident — though it’s been updated since The Disease Apocalypse kicked into gear, so who knows, maybe it was deliberately topical.


Look, I don’t like wearing masks either, but we fucking well NEED them, particularly if you know good and goddamn well that you are, in fact, sick. So if you’re infected and contagious and unmasked, I honestly feel like a face full of trolley is exactly what you have coming.

I wanna go to a theater again sometime, dammit. Or a restaurant. Or maybe a sex club. Whatever. They’re all equally reckless right now.

Anyway. This game is all about taking something very familiar and keeping it that way, playing the scenario as straight as humanly possible. I sincerely thought it was some sort of psych grad student’s data collection tool, but nah, the game’s page says the creator is just a trolley enthusiast.

Fine for what it is, I suppose, but it lacks the creative spark I was hoping for. I really wanted it to be something more like Death and Taxes, which took this exact question of who lives and who dies and constructed a very compelling story around it. Surely there’s more to play around with here. Recommended only if the trolley problem is your absolute favorite way of torturing mortals.

Will the next game bring back fond memories of indecisive professors being covered in gore?

Page 53, Game 19: Draw Nine by Damon L. Wakes

“A journey not about the cards you’re dealt, but how you use them.”

Unless the “you” using the cards happens to be an extremely pissed-off Gambit, I’m guessing not.

Justice Playthrough #169: who will you save? who will you serve?

It’s time for everybody’s favorite review style, where Pete half-jokingly proclaims himself a basic bitch and then tries to find enough remotely insightful things to say about a game that’s largely going over his head so that the reader does not realize how deep his basic bitchness goes.

I will, however, say that if you’re a Sumerian mythology nerd and you play this game with a fellow Gilgameshead and there is anything resembling sexual attraction between the two of you, this game will get you EXTREMELY laid. So it’s got that going for it.

Page 57, Game 12: who will you save? who will you serve? by linda c

So there’s this dude Enkidu, real crazy fucker, more tightly aligned with the animals than humankind. He’s doing all this PETA shit but with worse personal hygiene — springing animals from traps set by hunters, wrecking livestock pens, leading predators to the local day-care, just being a huge pain in everybody’s ass.

King Gilgamesh would like him to kindly knock it the fuck off, but would rather not kill him; he’s a think-outside-the-box kinda warlord, and besides, big-dick energy recognize big-dick energy. So, he’s gonna try to solve the problem in the most bro way possible: throw some pussy at it. Enter Shamhat, the sacred prostitute. She’s had some weird gigs before, but fucking civilization into a crazy beast-dude is a first.

No worries. She’s up for it. She’s that good.

So, one of you will be Shamhat, the representative of civilization, and the other will be Enkidu, who is all things wild and untamed. And you’re gonna bang.

… or not. This is self-insert Gilgamesh fanfic, and how closely you stick to canon is your business. The game walks you through various stages: you each define your basic traits, describe what you see when you first meet on opposite sides of the river, etc, etc. There’s a lightweight playing card mechanic to help guide some of what you talk about and what happens; nothing too deep, but I do appreciate when storytelling games add a bit of game to their game so that the players have to respond to something and can’t just script everything.

So, what happens? What do you want? What draws you to each other? What do you act on? That’s on you two to figure out.

This is another one of those games that isn’t quite for me, but could be something really special for two players who find the groove it’s laying down. If you think you’re one of them and know somebody who would likewise be into it, it might very well be worth your while.

I will point out, however, that the canonical ending has Shamhat and Enkidu fucking each other stupid for a solid week. If you go there, don’t half-ass it with a quickie; you’ll make Baby Gilgamesh cry.

Will this next game enhance my appreciation for the horniness of our ancestors?

Page 56, Game 16: Dr. Trolley’s Problem by WeroCreative

“Test your morals in the trolley problem”

Less horny, more splattery. As a Good Place fan, I’m seriously into it.

Justice Playthrough #168: INDECT


Page 54, Game 9: INDECT by WorstConcept Games

Ostensibly cyberpunk-themed platformer that is way, way too early in its development cycle to be played by anybody who isn’t either related to or friends with the dev.

The rare level selection screen where you can die

Gameplay is sloppy, controls are janky, the game punishes you for exploring and the content is virtually non-existent. It’s much too raw to be released into the wild just yet. Playable in-browser if you’re curious, but there’s really no reason to be. Not yet.


Page 57, Game 12: who will you save? who will you serve? by linda c

“Recreating the myth of Shamhat and Enkidu, players must reconcile politics, consent, and intimacy.”

Hmm. Not sold on wanting my intimacy to include politics. But do tell me more.