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Bill’s 100 Favorite Video Games

First, a disclaimer. The order of this list isn’t definitive, and could change whenever I damn well please. More importantly: I am one of those “games as art” snobs your mother warned you about and I’m not ashamed to admit it. Not that I didn’t play Super Mario World or other of the more obvious classics, or that I don’t appreciate blowing things up for the sake of blowing things up. But when I think about the games that really stick out in my memory, the ones that really left an impression, these are the ones that come to mind. The oddities. The ones that did something new and different and did it really well. So don’t write to me, personally offended that I think Little Nemo is a better game than Doom or something. I don’t, necessarily. These are just the 100 games that have endeared themselves the most to me.

13. The Fool’s Errand (Macintosh, MS-DOS, Amiga, 1989)

Try to follow me here. The Fool’s Errand is a story, made up of dozens of chapters, only a few of which are available to you at the outset. In addition to telling another small part of the story, each chapter has a puzzle associated with it, that one must solve in order to open up another chapter. Solving puzzles also adds another piece to the map the Fool is given at the beginning of the game, but the pieces are not placed in any order. So you’re hopping from one chapter to another, usually not in sequential order, solving puzzles and adding to your map, until finally the whole story is revealed to you. You only have one puzzle left, the first chapter, the one where you got the map to begin with.. And you realize the puzzle is to arrange all the pieces you’ve been given along the way, using clues hidden in the chapters that you may not have realized were even there. It’s a meta-puzzle, to use the designer’s term; a puzzle that uses other puzzles as its clues. Then when the map is assembled, it reveals 14 more puzzles to be completed to at last reach the finale.

I was not surprised to see that Cliff Johnson, the game’s designer, has made a career out of building puzzles. In 2002, he was asked by David Blaine to construct a treasure hunt to win $100,000 that wasn’t solved for 16 months. Unlike many games of this type that rely on slider puzzles and the same visual logic puzzles that you see over and over again (connect the sixteen dots using only six lines and so on), the bulk of the work in The Fool’s Errand are word games like cryptograms and crosswords, or a combination of visual and logic games. There are also occasional oddities, like a poker-esque game with Tarot cards that can only be won by learning which combinations of cards beat which. It’s a great, challenging collection woven together in a unique and entertaining way.