A tricky element to judging the comp is giving ratings: the quantification of a qualitative experience. So, I’ve decided I’ll order the games in terms of quality and success in relation to one another and then spread them out across a 2-9 spectrum, with 1 and 10 reseved for any truly outstanding games.
As such, as Ryan Veeder’s Captain Verdeterre’s Plunder is the first game I’ve looked at, there is no numerical rating.
Spoiler filled review under the cut.
Captain Verdeterre’s Plunder is a high-stakes game about retrieving plunder from a ship before it sinks. Its main mood is one of urgency: there is no time to dawdle and decisions must be quickly made and goods prioritised. Embodying a role is integral to most interactive fictions, and here we take on the part of a hapless first mate to a self-obsessed but affable rodent pirate captain.
Captain Verdeterre’s Plunder is towards the game end of the story-game spectrum: there is a high score of plunder at the end (of which, fittingly, you only earn a small cut) and it can be replayed in a gamist fashion, learning from prior playthroughs to optimise one’s haul.
The prose is punchy and displays Veeder’s typical wit. The sense of urgency is conveyed effectively with the turn-by-turn updates of the position of the water. The many items are much more interesting because they are all about to expire and you can’t collect them all in a single playthrough. This interest is heightened in the fact that all the treasure items are unique and each of them hint at a richer backstory through their different messages (on examining, collecting and cashing in). The fantastical, piratical theme is richly embodied in the various piratical treasures (medallions, chalices, skulls and such).
The puzzles where they exist are interesting not because of their complexity but because of the thought the player has to put in regarding expected pay-off. Do you forgo all the early treasure and try and unlock the strongbox? Do you root through the flag box for the tapestry or try to unpin the handkerchief?
Ultimately, Veeder has created a game that justifies the use of scoring by rooting it in an internally-consistent setting, where the rewards aren’t just the points but the micro-stories that accompany the successful collection of each treasure. It succeeds in what it sets out to, but better than that, what it set out to do was a fun and worthwhile thing. I’d recommend playing it.