IFComp 2009 review: Earl Grey by Rob Dubbin and Adam Parrish

Here's a novel idea. The gist of Earl Grey is that you have a magic bag that can take letters from words or place them in other words, thus creating new words. The trick that makes this more than just a game of Scrabble is that when the words change, so does the world -- if you take the r from a horse, it actually turns into the garden tool. (Wouldn't it be great if, say, Wikipedia worked this way?)

Changing words and watching the world change with them is just as fun as you might imagine. (If you can't imagine how much fun it would be, this might not be the game for you.) What's also great is that the story has an actual structure: first you learn how to use your newfound skills, then you go about using them, and then there's the big confrontation and the finale.

There are two main flaws that I can see First, the masses of text are just too big to pick up the words to change, especially when there's practically no limitations to what the words you can manipulate are. You could change nouns, adjectives, verbs or anything else. You have to process each word you encounter. This is manageable at the beginning when you can only take away letters or add them, but when it gets to anagrams it became just too overwhelming for me.

The other main problem is that how the game reacts to player actions is fairly random. You can't foresee the situation after your move. This means that you can't devise a plan to solve the puzzles. All you do is scan the text for words that could be manipulated. There's no room for strategy, just tactics.

The word changing mechanics is fun and I would certainly want to play more. The ending is quite open so that leaves room for hopes that the authors are planning a sequel.

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