James Nathan: Review of Graphic Novel Adventures

Captive, Tears of a Goddess, Loup Garou, Your Town, and Sherlock Holmes: Four Investigations

Designers: Various (Emmanuel Manuro, Moon, Shuky, CED)
Artists: Various (MC, Ben Jurdic, 2D, CED)
Publishers: Makaka Editions/Van Ryder Games
Players: 1
Ages: 10+
Times Played: Captive (9 times, purchased copy); Tears (14, purchased copy); Loup (8, purchased copy); Sherlock (2, purchased copy); Your Town (10, purchased copy)
Previous Coverage: Captive and Knights

OK, let’s start over. I wrote this review once.  At that point I was 2 plays into Your Town, and thought I had a good enough sense to put most of my words down.

In an effort to avoid spoilers, I did this thing where I walked around and found photos that could be representative of the numbers you’re looking for in the panels.  Then the review read out of order because you were suppose to jump to the panel indicated in the image. Something like this:

Maker:0x4c,Date:2017-10-4,Ver:4,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar01,E-Y

Twice, in fact; the pictures I had taken the first time I didn’t like enough.  (There are two other reviews held up waiting on me to take field trips, one involves a bus and one involves an airplane.)

But I wasn’t 100% sold on my execution, and then I played Your Town some more, and decided this needed to be less about me and more about how great these books are, so I’m scrapping that.

First, we’ll talk about them overall.  Then we’ll get into book specifics.

OVERVIEW

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These 5 books were recently published in English language editions from Van Ryder Games, after having been out for several years in French from Makaka Editions, and Captive previously appearing in English from Blue Orange (though only licensed for Europe).

At a broad level, these are solo Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style books, with some RPG elements. In Captive, you’re rescuing your daughter from kidnappers.  Tears of a Goddess has you recovering some stolen artifacts. In Loup Garou, you’ll find yourself a werewolf trying to survive. Your Town offers you the chance to be mayor of a small town.  In Sherlock, as Holmes or Watson or a combination, you have four mysteries to solve.

Each of the books will have some scenario specific rules, but they basically work like this: after a few intro pages, you’ll be instructed to turn to a specific panel.  Each image, essentially, is numbered. As you look at and read the new panel, there may be a number (e.g. on a door) leading you to another panel.

Or the number may be at the end of a path.  If you want to follow one of those directions, flip to that panel.

There may also be less visible numbers.  Look closely in the artwork and you may be pleasantly or unpleasantly surprised by what awaits you under that rug or behind that tree.

Sometimes, it will be a puzzle. Sometimes it will be a riddle.
Answer it, and you’ll know which panel to proceed to.

Sometimes there may be something to fight. The different books handle this differently: in Captive, you’ll have certain stats (e.g. strength), and the opponents will have a specific attack value; in Loup Garou, you’ll modify your base stats with a spinner (or dice).

You may be able to pick up and hold items. Some scenarios make this explicit (e.g. Captive), others rely on the reader to determine what may be necessary for the remainder of your quest (e.g. Loup Garou).

At some point, your adventure will reach a conclusion – through victory, death, or being wrong.  At which point you may restart – hoping for a better score, or, well, not death.

OVERALL FEELINGS

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I’m impressed at how different the books feel in their structures.

Captive, while not linear, is headed towards one ending. Pass/fail.
Tears, on the other hand, has a scoring system (or failing).
Loup is closer to the Captive structure, but feels more adventurous, and less puzzly.
Sherlock is altogether different, as there are minimal hidden numbers or finding of an ideal path.  It is firmly grounded in its mystery genre roots as you question suspects, and attempt to deduce the whodunnits.
Your Town uses a scoring system (with failures), but takes a sharp detour into having income, an approval rating, buildings you can build, a map where you lay out your town, etc.  

OK, I’ll try more feelings.

I loved Captive because of the tension that I might die any panel.
I loved Tears of a Goddess because of the interlocking paths and I enjoyed puzzling out the best approach.
I loved Loup Garou because of the unpredictable knife edge that I felt I was sneaking around on.
I loved Your Town because of its incredibly interwoven underpinnings, belying its apparent calm and open-endedness.

Sherlock? Well, it wasn’t for me.  You can read about that in a minute.

In each of these, the constant flipping of pages can be tedious, but it only feels gratuitous in Sherlock.

The pages and the covers of the book are great quality, but I’ve found that the bindings do not hold up perfectly to the number of reads and page flipping that is often involved. In 4 of the books, the pages weren’t falling out or anything like that, but they did begin to separate in a certain way.  It’s not a deal breaker for me, or even a speed bump: I still imagine I’ll buy any future titles site unseen. (My copy of Your Town did begin to have pages falling out, but it changes nothing in my eyes.)

There are a couple typos I found, and some (e.g. references to numbers) may have been present in the originals as well. They are relatively minor, and haven’t hampered my enjoyment. I can’t imagine the undertaking that translating these took, and honestly am pleased there are so few.

I have a few issues with the series, and one of them is puzzles and riddles of quite varying difficulties.  After finishing each of the books, you’ll have seen nearly every panel, and I enjoy flipping through to see what I missed.  Often even knowing the answer after the fact, I’m stumped as to how the answer matches the question. It would be nice to have an answer key of sorts at the end upside down in a small font or something like that.

Once while playing a game with my friend Ted –an occasional, but infrequent gaming opponent– we had a rule question.  Without spending almost any time consulting the rule book, he picked up a dice ‘1-3 it’s this, 4-6 it’s that’. We rolled, and proceeded.

I was stunned.  I had never seen such a cavalier way to resolve a rule question –but I didn’t see anything wrong with it in the specific context.  

That’s sorta how I feel about some of what happens in these books.  There are times when, by my nature, I would appreciate a tighter rule set; less ambiguous rules about, say, what I’m allowed to pick up. What order do these things happen in? Does this art mean X? Am I allowed to do Y?

In a sense, here I let Ted roll the dice. As long as it isn’t grossly advantageous or create an impossible impasse, well, I’m the only player. I’m ok with it.  Let’s have a show of hands.

I wish I didn’t have to do it, but for me, I think it comes with the territory.

In conclusion, I like these quite a bit, and am looking forward to buying more.

Also, bring out Baïam in English.  Please and thank you.

TEARS OF A GODDESS

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I played these in the order I have listed them, and at first I was disappointed with Tears, as it seemed reminiscent of Knights, and was more Hidden Pictures and less puzzle.  After the first two plays, however, this one started to shine and, well, fulfill on the promise of T.I.M.E Stories.  

While Captive has a somewhat linear path, Tears essentially has three districts amongst which you can choose the order.  Which specialty you choose, what is the right order to do them in, and which doors and alleys are to be found and which avoided, is a fun planning process for me.  

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Each “run” (in all of these books) is not as rote as T.I.M.E Stories – due to panels you may not have discovered before, due to different outcomes based upon your chosen skills, due to what you find in those panels and outcomes.

Rather than Captive’s pass/fail, here, when you don’t “fail”, you’ll get a score, and different outcomes depending upon that score.

In a sense, it is a foreshadowing of many elements of Your Town.

Its Portrait to Your Town’s Ulysses.

LOUP GAROU

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There’s also a certain “legacy” element to these – not in any “permanent changes to the game sense”, but in game text, and through inadvertent peripheral glances at panels you haven’t arrived at, you learn of what is still to be unlocked (e.g. “if you have the yellow key…” – oh, I didn’t know there was a yellow key).  

This is most apparent in Loup Garou, as the gulf between where it starts and where it ends seems unimaginable at the beginning.  This excitement of the potential “unlocking” of more stuff comes through the most in Loup.

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The spinner/dice adds a wrinkle to whether you avoid or make sure to hit certain panels –you may want to participate in a fight or avoid it depending on your current hitpoints and if you are a few experience points away from a bump that you need.

Loup had runs where I made it one panel further than a previous run and had to re-start, but rather than being a frustrating experience (one panel further!) and a mundane second run, what happened in that one panel was sufficiently dramatic that I couldn’t wait to get back there and, well, handle things differently. The roll of the spinner makes it so that it’s harder to simply have a “saved game” state where you can restart a few panels in. (In general, I would strongly advise against that in any of these, as almost invariably, if I think I know my starting path, later on I’ll realize I’ve been overlooking a number each run as I wasn’t double and triple and quadruple checking the back-of-your-hand panels.)

SHERLOCK HOLMES: FOUR INVESTIGATIONS

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Sherlock takes an entirely different path.  There is negligible searching for hidden numbers, no fighting, and no stats.  What it does best, is show of the versatility of the system.

Sherlock has you go through four mysteries -observing crime scenes, collecting evidence, and questioning suspects.  Once you solve the mysteries, you check to see if you were correct.

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Speaking of which, what’s the difference between a puzzle and a mystery?

I hadn’t thought about it much before, but Sherlock made me realize that I don’t like mysteries.

When I first started going to my therapist last year, it didn’t take him long to lean back in his chair, and ask in his gentle voice “James, is it ok to make a mistake?” (This is your lost intro to the Strasbourg review!) I wishywashily knew that the answer was some sort of Schrödingerian Yes/No hybrid state. Naturally, it’s ok, but, um, of course it’s not!

I get quite upset when I’m wrong, but that’s mostly disappointment in myself. I make plenty of mistakes, but I don’t want to, and I don’t like it when I do.

What I dislike more than being wrong, is when I don’t understand why I’m wrong, and something else is right.  With reasoning, check; without a reasoning, what are we even doing out here.

I took a chemistry lab class once where they took a mystery sort of approach to our experiments. Mix this chemical with that chemical and heat it up and wash it in this and pour in this powder and stir and hear and mix and what did you make?

Previous labs had provided you an answer, and it was more about the purity level you could achieve.  Now it was a mystery. The intent was to apply what we had learned in class and reason out what we had made.

Maybe I was being obtuse, but I felt I was being disingenuous providing the obvious answer.  If I strictly interpreted what I had learned in class about how this alcohol would respond with this base and so forth, then there are any number of possible compounds that I could have made. The counter-argument was essentially “things are more complicated than we’ve gotten to so far, so you couldn’t have made that”.  Fair enough, but how then is my answer wrong for the context in which I provided it?

In puzzles, strict interpretations are necessary.  They are self-contained.
In mysteries, to me, the potential influence of outside actors ruins any meaningful attempts at solution.

But that’s my connotation of “mysteries”. It may not be the denotation. Maybe I’ve just had the wrong definition all along.

Anyway, I wasn’t crazy about the Sherlock book.

I have alternate theories of the crimes, and it was frustrating that you couldn’t determine if you had any specific case wrong (or how many) –only that you had at least 1 incorrect.

For context, I don’t enjoy Consulting Detective, and while I did enjoy playing Watson & Holmes, I didn’t enjoy the answer to the mystery.  So if those are Earl Grey to you, this one is 3 PM BST.

YOUR TOWN

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I do love puzzles though.

As I said, I had originally written this review after two plays of Your Town, and at the time, I had it at “I like it”.  Now it is firmly a “love”.

Your Town starts, continues, and ends in a more free form manner than any of the others.  It is your town to do with as you please – attract teachers and doctors to build schools and hospitals; build a prison and a town hall for safety and win the citizenry’s approval; or let lawlessness reign with snake oil salesmen and bloodlusty outlaws.  

Each run you choose an objective to complete (e.g. having a certain monthly income, or constructing certain buildings), and have extensive paths to explore and a buffet of building options.

The images are stunning.  The sepia-tone-but-with-a-blue-sky style is nice, yet what I want to note is how nice of a stage that sets for when another color (let’s say….blood, or, maybe, fire) appears.  It is also striking in some of the vista shots – both simple and cluttered – that stop you in your horse’s tracks to make sure you aren’t missing anything.

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Your Town is not without its issues – some of the puzzles and hidden numbers I think are implausibly difficult; there are pages falling out of my book; there are certainly rules ambiguities that I imagine will bother folks.

Your Town is also the first one where I felt obliged to take notes.  A lot of notes. And flags.

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That sheet on the right contains my notes that accompany each play.  I think I started keeping it around the 6th one. As I write this, I’m 4 months into my 10th run, and I think this will be my last.

Your Town has “events”, and several other things that can sort of be lumped into an “events” category – some must be triggered, some you can choose to trigger, and others you must trigger, but you have choices.  For me, mentally tracking the rough outcome of those events, was implausible.

Your Town uses all of its pages. Which is to say, in some of the other titles, once you are several runs in, you’re avoiding some of the pages, but here it feels as if you use many more panels each run.  There’s enough excitement and anticipation, that I fear I will overlook things I have found in previous runs, so I’ve resorted to adding page flags pointing to certain items once I’ve found them – a tactic the snake didn’t bring me in the other books.

Are both of these “cheating”?  Probably. Would I do it again?  Not on the first run. Or the second.  For me, exploring out to the corners of the structure to dust all of the corners practically requires this, but I didn’t and wouldn’t start doing it until it felt like the casual exploring had been exhausted.

The items are interwoven with the panels.
The buildings are interwoven with the people.
The State of Your Town is interwoven with the events.
The puzzles are interwoven with themselves.

Your Town has a lot to explore.

CAPTIVE

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I wasn’t sure what to say about Captive, but having put fingers to keyboard on Your Town, I think I do.

What Captive lacks in sandboxieness, it makes up for in a tighter ruleset, practical puzzles, and mental manageableness.  It’s more straightforward structure is not as audacious as Your Town, but that’s not pejorative.

I love Captive for being exactly what it is: a first-person maze overlaid onto a house floor plan.

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Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

James Nathan
I love it! Captive, Tears of a Goddess, Loup Garou, Your Town
I like it.
Neutral.
Not for me… Sherlock Holmes

Dale Yu
I love it! Captive
I like it.
Neutral. Knights (which JN did not even talk about as Van Ryder has not done it, but is part of this series in France)
Not for me…
N/A: all the rest – I own them but haven’t had time to play them

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