Although I adore games like Mass Effect and Bioshock, being disabled by chronic illness means I’m not always able to handle, physically or mentally, real-time combat and tasks requiring hand-eye coordination. For those times when my brain wants to play something but my body wants me to curl up and not pick my head up off the pillow, I’ve become a great fan of turn-based games played in a web browser.
One of the best known, and one I’ve written about before, is Kingdom of Loathing (KoL). You are given a base 40 turns a day, which can be increased to hundreds depending on the food, drink, equipment, and other items you use. While there is a daily limit of 200 turns you can store up (in other words, you can’t stop playing for a couple of months and come back to thousands of turns), there is no limit to how much time you can spend playing all the turns you’ve generated. Other games, such as the delightful Paradox! The Musical (not an entirely disinterested plug), Metroplexity, and Game! hew pretty closely to KoL’s model of turn generation.
As much as I enjoy the intricate puzzles and engaging writing of the above titles, they can prove a roadblock to chronically ill gamers who may be especially limited by cognitive dysfunction, or are unable to read a lot or spend too much time on the computer. Echo Bazaar, by Failbetter Games, manages to create a remarkably vivid and intriguing world while keeping gameplay simple, and effectively forcing a casual approach.
Echo Bazaar takes place in Fallen London, which is what became of Victorian London when it was mysteriously carried away, down a mile beneath the surface. Inhabitants are defined by four character traits — Dangerous, Watchful, Persuasive, and Shadowy — and these traits, along with myriad other story-related characteristics (such as Hedonist or Ruthless), contacts (such as Bohemians, Constables, the Church, or Hell), and menaces like Wounds or Nightmares, develop your character as he, she, or it pursues an overarching Ambition. The gameplay is a mixture of card game and RPG, with an ambiance that evokes Lovecraft, steampunk, and other familiar themes while managing to keep Fallen London feeling mysterious and unique, not derivative. While it is text-based like the other games mentioned, the story is meted out in tantalizing tidbits rather than requiring a large investment of time to read.
Players of Echo Bazaar are rewarded for patience, due to its unusual turn-generation model, speaking of tantalizing tidbits; people who are used to the more common methods found in other games can be frustrated here, but it’s one reason I recommend it for chronically ill gamers. You are given 70 actions a day, which cannot be increased. You can “bank” a maximum of 10 actions and as you use them, they refresh at the rate of one every 7 minutes. This does mean that you are losing turns as soon as your candle refills if you aren’t logged in, so the best attitude to take is a very relaxed one. Don’t worry about playing optimally, or not having a chance to play on a given day. You don’t have to compete with anyone (PvP, in the form of the game “Knife and Candle,” is entirely optional) and as yet there is no “end” to the game past 90 to all stats. So it’s perfectly suited for people who want a casual but engrossing experience, who can only log in once or twice a day but will always find their 10 turns awaiting and will proceed slowly, but inevitably.
(One might observe that it is a bit cruel of the folks at Failbetter to invent such a fascinating world in which to get lost…and then to limit one’s time in that world so harshly. If one were to be gauche about it.)
If you’re on Twitter and you don’t play the game, you may consider it either a curiosity or a pain in the ass, depending on how considerate are your friends who play. Echo Bazaar requires you to log in with a Twitter account, but if you want, that can be the limit of your involvement. Players are enticed to tweet at least once a day, since every 24 hours you get the option to refill your actions immediately, giving you 20 to play at once instead of 10. However, this is not required, and you can also edit what you say aside from the link. (Which, as some reviewers have gotten wrong, is not a referral link. I loathe those games.) I usually replace the default text with something tailored for my character, and I also enjoy tweeting out some of the funnier, creepier, and most intriguing bits, so I created a separate account to avoid spamming my main account’s followers.
This brings me to my final point about the game. I’m not much for multiplayer anymore, since even if I do have the energy to game, I may not have the energy to interact with strangers. This is an area where I really enjoy Echo Bazaar‘s design. There are myriad benefits to interacting with fellow players, who are people you follow (mutually or not) on Twitter. However, it all takes place in an appropriately genteel manner, as if through a matchmaker. You send an invitation to something — possibly a “visit” to decrease the menace of your Nightmares — through the game, and the recipient gets an automated DM from the @EchoBazaar account. That person can then accept the invitation, conferring benefits on both of you, or reject it. (Update: Thanks to another player for pointing out that some of the “benefits” received from these interactions aren’t necessarily positive, depending on your goal.) There is no actual chat interface or need to form a group, which cuts down greatly on my own energy costs when playing a game. However, especially if you do create a separate account, you can get involved in conversations with your fellow players, in character or otherwise…and even with the Masters of the Bazaar and other notorious inhabitants of the Neath. The level of personal interaction is completely up to you.
I’m utterly enchanted by Echo Bazaar, and in a way I want more — more actions per day, more hints about…well, everything, and just who is this mysterious Cheesemonger? But the truth is I really enjoy the fact that it can be played with one finger while lying on my side, and that due to the mechanics it’s in my favor not to get obsessed. You’ll find me exploring the dark corners of Fallen London when my body’s put the kibosh on playing anything more taxing. And you can find my character, Ms. Antoinette Divertimenta, on Twitter. I await your visit, delicious friend.
(art © Failbetter Games)