A few days ago, I went on a mini-gaming binge. I picked up Hitman: Contracts for $6.99 (a friend bought me the “Hitman collection” as a gift a few months back, which included the 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 5th games, but not the 3rd. Apparently, a music licensing issue?), the Testament of Sherlock Holmes for $16.99, and Qvadriga for $19.99.
The Sherlock Holmes point-and-click adventure games are excellent. The first one, “The Mystery of the Mummy”, is absolute shit, but you can get all but Testament (the latest) for $19.99 or so on Steam. It features Sherlock Holmes matching wits against Arsene Lupin, a Cthulhu cult, and Jack the freakin’ Ripper, among others.
But I am not here to talk about how awesome Sherlock Holmes is. You already know that. I am here to talk to you about a lesser known game: Qvadriga. I first learned of this game via Rock, Paper, Shotgun, which does an admirable job covering PC gaming and, in particular, indie games. Here’s the article that convinced me to buy the game. A bit of backstory: AARs, or After Action Reports, are quite common in the military. It is a write up of what happened during a given action and why. But they’re also an extremely popular version of fan fiction on the Paradox Forums (I myself have written quite a few). The article linked above is one such AAR, and it’s brilliant, as is almost everything written by RPS.
But what, you ask, is Qvadriga? It is a turn based chariot racing game/chariot racing business simulator/horse exploder.
The premise is simple. You can either play a single race or the campaign. The campaign involves you traveling around the ancient world in an effort to get to the Circus Maximus. If you get there and win three races, you win the campaign. (If you choose the Epic Campaign, you also need to have the most wins in the world.) You have a team of charioteers, but only one of them really counts.
The individual races are brilliant. You can win a race in two ways: the traditional way or the destroying people way. You can break chariots, explode horses, kill other charioteers. Each race is made up of a few fixed segments (10 seconds in all), and you make one decision. To speed up, attack the guy next to you, brake to hit a curve gracefully, change lanes to avoid exploded horse carcass, or whip your horses to a point of nigh-explosion.
As long as you finish, you get some cash, which you use to hire new charioteers, improve chariots, replace exploded horses with horses who have yet to explode, what have you. You can skip races, too, to let people recover.
The game is addicting in the best possible way, because even in a short race (you’re looking at maybe ten turns in the average race, which means about a minute and a half per race), anything can happen. Chariots tip over with alarming frequency. Maybe the guy in the other lane doesn’t like you. Or maybe one of the random events that open a race works against (or for you). Maybe you aren’t allowed to whip people anymore. Maybe an opponent was bribed to slow down. Maybe you eyeballed the lane change wrong, and collided with exploded horse remains, thus causing your own horses to explode. The fact remains that you will not win most of the time. You will be lucky to get top three most of the time. In my present campaign, I’ve done about 30 races, have won 7. That seems a fairly typical ratio.
Should you buy it? If $20 is standing between you and food or shelter, no. Otherwise, yes. If I haven’t convinced you yet, the fact that horses explode in a glorious burst of blood when they die (and they die frequently), only to fall on the track in such a way that makes them appear to be sleeping, should be worth the price of admission. The price is a tiny bit steep, compared to most indie games, but worth every cent. Papers, Please and FTL are both better bargains (and FTL just got a massive — and FREE — expansion). Yet Qvadriga is also constantly getting better. There are talks of multiplayer and fleshing out the campaign mode. If you are unwilling to part with $20, the demo (which only lets you do a single race) is free. It’s also available on iPad and Android, and the controls are very conducive to such a move. I don’t know if the price point is different; $20 for an Android game is too much, of course. Still, highly recommended. May you have many hours of horses exploding, particularly the other guy’s horses.