A strong counterpoint to the broken landmass of The Wager's world, the islands in the great ocean of games out there where the writing is actually funny are few and far between. Doubly so for when it can right about ant the game's weight by itself, not that the need is dire here. To talk you through this scurvied sea survey stint, I summon Waltorius, whose review, here abridged some, gave me the idea for this induction in the first place.
"The Wager was an entry in the Ludum Dare 19 Jam, with the theme of “discovery” (see the winners here). Since then, developers Surprised Man have gone back to fix bugs and add some features, and the latest version 1.2.4 is available for free from their site. The game pits the player against the dastardly Sir Lester Marwood, with whom the player has made a wager: whoever can make the most money from their maritime explorations by the end of the year 1777, wins. The player sails north, Marwood sails south. It’s on.
The game that many players will think of when playing The Wager is FTL, even though The Wager came out first. At the time of its release, the closest reference point was Weird Worlds: Return To Infinite Space, a simple but fun game of galactic exploration. The Wager actually fits quite nicely between the two; although it’s set on the high seas rather than in space, exploring the various islands is much like traveling through the sector in Weird Worlds, and the random encounters and events are much like FTL’s. The main difference, of course, is that The Wager doesn’t have any combat, as such. Instead it’s all about finding islands and navigating the varied and strange situations that arise in your travels.
Islands are where you make your money. After the Shattering split the continents apart, land became a valuable commodity, and people will pay good money for the location of habitable islands. Fortunately these are easy to find, and you’ll soon know the locations of several. Once you’ve found an island, you can spend a few days exploring it, to see if there’s anything special ashore. Sometimes this is just a waste of time, but usually you’ll find something that increases the island’s value, like a vein of silver ore, or some livestock, or a beautiful beach. Or, you might find one of the game’s special events.
Like FTL, these events are presented in a text box, and provide the player with a few choices. Having the right equipment, special item, or suitable crewman is often the key to getting the best result, as in FTL. Unlike FTL, however, these events are usually hilarious. Once, one of my crewmen (who have fantastic randomized names like Silky Tim or Angry Steve) was being chased by an army of crustaceans that were attracted to his perfume. Because I had hired a ship’s doctor, I was able to ask his advice, which was simply “This is the worst case of crabs I have ever seen.” It didn’t help, it was just an extra joke I got to see because I had a doctor on board. The actual solution, of course, was to rub the poor sod with the foul-smelling herb I’d found several islands ago. What would have happened if I hadn’t had that herb? I don’t dare imagine.
Don’t get me wrong; the basic gameplay loop of sailing and discovering islands until you run low on supplies, then heading back to port and selling your island’s locations for cash, is quite engaging in its simplicity. But rather than hoard my coin, I always spent it on upgrades to my ship that might help me escape a whirlpool, and kept all the strange trinkets I came across with the hope they might prove useful at some point. Of course, this is not always the best way to win the titular wager, as I was reminded periodically when a mean-looking carrier pigeon delivered a missive from my opponent. While I usually came out on top when playing on the easy setting, on normal Marwood usually won, and I’m sure he’s even tougher on hard.
Perhaps the best part about The Wager is that a game only takes about fifteen minutes, so it’s ideal for taking a short break from whatever unpleasant task you should be doing. Each game is randomized, of course, and there are even achievements to chase if you’re so inclined. The graphics are very simple, as is to be expected from a game made largely in 72 hours, but it’s got a tight design and smart writing that will keep you coming back."
I can confirm the game is actually rather stingy about letting you win even on the middle setting but the race to out-scout your ill-mannered countryman is all the more frolicky for it! Two thumbs up minus the one we lost to the crabs!
Reviewed by: LotBlind