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"Well, that´s something new", was my first impression, and, "Well, that most surely was extravagantly original and truly something totally new", was my impression when I had finished it... and did I mention that it was Rock/Paper/Scissors?
You are Vetvel, one of the seven acolytes applying for shepherdship of the colony Kira, in which you reside. Your goal, among with the seven other acolytes, is to become the shepherd. The "leader" of the kirans. This may be archieved by "trade" of information (aura-counts) (and thus, betraying of other acolytes, for revealing someones spesific aura-count, is allways counted as such deed), and winning in several battles of Mental combat, while in your sleep, within the Land of Auras...
"Personal relations" is the name of the problem when acquiring information (aura-counts). For simply represented, everything affects everything in the social life of the acolytes. Every deal, betraying, attacking in mental combat, flattering, apologicing, showing emotions, anger, trust, love etc etc... affects the relations (trust, love & fear) between you and the acolyte whom you are trading with. This will either improve, or decreace the bond between you and the acolyte in question. And at some point, if you have betrayed (or insulted in an another way) an acolyte enough, he/she may even stop the exchange of information with you for good. And they are even able to do the same with other npc acolytes.
Another ("twitch?") in the communication system that should be shortly mentioned is the language, Eeyal it is called. In the game it is represented by logical images (which may be identified at any given time by holding the left mouse button over image), and is named to be a telepathic language.
There are also a few random encounters in the game, that create a quite "adventuric" feel to the game. These quite ordinary everyday happenings such as going to tea, intrusion of discussion by an aunt and similar, may even add to the relations between acolytes.
The known aura-counts of opponents becomes useful during the night, when the mental combat will take place. Rock Paper Scissors, as stated before. This however, is complicated by the aura-counts (One to eight, in each aura type, which are Tanaga, Katsin & Shial), what information you have of the opponent, what he/she knows of your aura-counts, and what auras you and he/she is still in need of, or needs the most. These are the factors of the mental combat, and should allways be kept in mind.
However, only hardest difficulty level has all of these are included. On the easier levels, the only thing that counts in the decicions of the opponent during the mental combat, is what aura they have the fewest. And thus, this is what they will battle for (It is recommended to play the first game with the easiest settings as practise, and then going to the highest in order to gain some challenge in the game). Finally, when you or one of your opponents has all the aura types in a perfect set; 8,8,8, you will be declared as the shephard, and thus the game will end.
Between the lines
The game was made by Chris Crawford (which is in itself allways a guarantee of quality), has a truly original idea, well-done artifacial personalities, nice graphics (in a simplicified way), random encounters, complex trade & combat, enough humor, and Chris Crawford as an ingame character (you will see...). And it all has been made with a perfect care.
Not everyone, however, will agree with me of the excellency of the game, due to it´s complexity and style of gameplay. Therefore I would highly recommend the reading of the manual & Novella (in the manual) before playing the actual game. For reading the manual is almost a necessity and the Novella will add greatly to the athmosphere of the game. And those who refuse to read them, may severely be disappointed, and again those, who take the time to read and be absorded into the world of the game, shall surely be looking in the face of a new experience