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Impressions: The Yawhg

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From the minds of Damian Sommer and Emily Carroll comes The Yawhg, a choose-your-own-adventure game about… well, something called the Yawhg. This most evil of all evil things will come to town and wreak havoc in the near future. It cannot be stopped, but the action of a few brave citizens will determine the outcome of this tale. This is where you come in.

With up to four players – or rather 1-4 playable characters – you choose your actions in the weeks before the calamity. You’re free to take part in a lot of different activities; be it chopping wood in the forest, fighting crime in the slums, researching magic, helping out at the hospital, or merrily wasting your time at the tavern. All of these things influence your character stats. Additionally, there are random events occuring, the outcome of which is determined by your choices and the aforementioned stats. These events range from the mundane (“You did something nice. Here, have a cookie!”) to the disastrous (“You poisoned the town’s water supply with a magical potion. Oopsie.”) They can also have long-lasting consequences for the town, and it is a brilliant, wonderful thing to discover them (even if most of them end in disaster).

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You see, your choices do matter here, and since the random events have such a huge influence on the way the narrative unfolds, your first few playthroughs might be radically different from each other. And then the Yawhg is upon the town and everything changes. This is where the way you “built up” your character(s) will matter the most, because now all those decisions you made earlier lead to one last big choice, which affects the ending the town and the characters get. And then you’ll probably just start all over again to experience another story, another Yawhg. All of this might sound a bit complicated, when in truth a single playthrough shouldn’t take more than 10 to 20 minutes.

The game’s presentation is superb, with artwork from Emily Carroll (if you’re not familiar with her dark, dark tales, you should change that right now) and music from Ryan Roth, who also worked on Droqen’s Starseed Pilgrim. Its writing also fits the mood and helps create a rather unique atmosphere somewhere between “grim” and “just a tiny bit hopeful”. Mostly grim though. This is not one of those happy fairy tales.

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It is time to address the big grey animal that is not a giant rat in the room: The Yawhg might not appeal to everyone. It feels more like a narrative experiment than a “proper game” at times – but this statement couldn’t be more wrong. If we follow Sid Meier’s definition of a game as “a series of meaningful choices”, then The Yawhg is indeed the gamiest of all the games. It is all about the choices you make. Still, there might be people out there who will think that there’s not enough, uh, game in this game.

In the end it doesn’t really matter though, I have no problem whatsoever with thinking of this as a “mood piece”. I enjoyed it immensely. Sometimes it is rather straightforward, sometimes it is deliciously dark and twisted. It is an astonishing, unique thing and I am very glad that it is out there. I didn’t quite get why The Yawhg was advertised as a multiplayer game at first, but it does make sense to watch someone else make their decisions alongside you, someone else shaping the story in ways you wouldn’t have.

There is no way to really win the game, anyway (despite there being three different endings for the town and more than 50 endings for your characters); this is all about how the story unfolds. The game does have a lot of replayability, even when the game mechanics become quite apparent eventually and the question of “what is a Yawhg, anyway?” has been answered. How much enjoyment you’ll get out of it is entirely up to you and your personal taste for these kinds of games, though.

The Yawhg will be released on May 30th for $10. If you pre-order the game, you’ll get a generous 50% discount. And I really, really suggest you do just that.

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