Puzzle Quest: The Frame

pq-overlandOutside of combat, Puzzle Quest plays more or less like a conventional RPG, but one played on a scale I more associate with strategy games such as Heroes of Might and Magic or Master of Orion. All travel is conducted on an overland map, and constrained to delineated paths between cities and other important sites. Anything within a city is represented as a bunch of menus. You can acquire companions over the course of the story, but they’re not full characters with their own stats like the PC. Instead, they provide situational combat help, such as automatically doing 10 points of damage at the beginning of battle when fighting undead, or increasing your Battle rating by 10 when fighting Good characters 1No, you don’t have the option of turning evil, or at least not in the parts I’ve seen. But there are some knights who you have to defeat in friendly matches to prove your worthiness. — in other words, the sort of bonus you’d get from a Leader or Hero in a strategy game. There’s even the option of conquering the cities you come across and collecting tribute from them. Tribute is generated every game month, and to collect it, you have to visit the cities personally, just like certain strategy-game resource generators. All in all, the frame game might be better described, not as RPG, but as strategy game with just one hero stack. But then, strategy games of this sort share a lot of mechanics with RPGs — they have a common ancestry in miniature wargaming, and the seminal Heroes of Might and Magic series in particular was based on the Might and Magic RPG series.

I mentioned conquering cities. This is done through the same tile-matching combat system as regular encounters, except that cities as opponents have a different special powers and different equipment slots: instead of one Helmet and one Armor and one Weapon, cities get one Tower and one Gate and so forth. Unfortunately, this game doesn’t support scavenging equipment from fallen foes. Otherwise, I would definitely try wearing an iron gate to my next encounter. You might think that conquering a city would be a big deal for the NPCs living there, but, in an extreme example of game/story orthogonality, no one seems to notice. At one point, I acquired a party member who gives a bonus during sieges, and he merrily helped me subjugate his home. At another point, I was on a diplomatic mission to a neighboring kingdom, trying to get their assistance against the undead hordes. On your first attempt at delivering your message, you’re turned away at the gate by a guard, even if you just laid siege to the place and conquered it.

Now, to back up a step, you might be wondering where equipment comes from if there’s no scavenging. Well, there are quest rewards, and there are stores in the cities, and there’s crafting. Crafting is accomplished through tile-matching. But! It is different this time. There’s no opponent, you can’t use spells, and your goal is to delete a certain number of special “hammer and anvil” tiles (the required number depending on the power of the item you’re crafting) before running out of legal moves. There are a few other variants like this for other special actions, like researching new spells (delete a quota of each color, and also of special “Book” tiles that only appear when you delete a row of 4 or more) or training mounts (defeat the mount with a time limit on each move). pq-captureMy favorite such minigame is the one used for capturing creatures (so you can learn spells from them or use them as mounts), which is, to my mind, the only part of the game that really qualifies as a puzzle. You’re given an arrangement of tiles, but unlike all other occasions, it’s not random, it’s not full, and it doesn’t fill up. Your goal is to delete everything, which can be trickier than it sounds.

1 No, you don’t have the option of turning evil, or at least not in the parts I’ve seen. But there are some knights who you have to defeat in friendly matches to prove your worthiness.

1 Comment so far

  1. Rabscuttle on 28 Apr 2008

    You actually do have the option to turn evil but it has virtually no effect.

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