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Islands of the Wheel

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I really enjoyed this scenario. It has a good sense of adventure and intrigue, and who doesn't love the evil snow goons?


According to Mel Gibson’s character in Conspiracy Theory, people who are known by three names are always patsies — Lee Harvey Oswald, John Wilkes Booth, etc. I wonder if that’s true.


All avid BOErs know Tarl Roger Kudrick (tarl AT charm DOT net) for Tatterdemalion, but, in this reviewer’s opinion, Tarl’s other scenario, Islands of The Wheel is a close rival to it’s better known sibling.


The story begins as your party finds itself stranded on a strange island, where food is plentiful, but where everyone is going insane, and there is no escape. Why have these islands been brought together? Why is everyone going insane? And how the heck do we get away? Exploring these mysteries is the focus of Islands of The Wheel, and I’m not cruel enough to spoil the mystery for you. However, I will say this unlike too many scenarios, IMHO, Islands of The Wheel spends a good deal of time developing an intricate and important plot, and it is time well spent.


Whatever the scenario may lack in other areas, its engaging plot more than makes up for. There are, however, a few parts of Islands of The Wheel I disliked. The designer experiments with odd terrain combinations in many places, an altogether noble motive. However, far too many times the experiments end up being either aesthetically offensive or merely an adequate representation that adds little overall to the scenario.


And I can’t even tell you how enraged I am that Tarl got to the Deranged Snow Goons before I could. But that’s just me being bitter.


Leaving those things aside, however, Islands of The Wheel is a very good, very engaging scenario, and I recommend you give this one a try. It’s rated PG, and is designed for medium to high level parties.


My score — Good

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I personally hated the experience, but see how it could have been enjoyable to some. Seeing how maximized utility on a perspective basis is good for judging, this scenario has excellent potential to entertain others. While some parts were lacking, the whole wasn't a bad piece of work, though many parts were below-par from what we would expect today. Good

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I regard IotW as by far the best scenario of its time. Notable as one of the first scenarios set entirely outside the Exile continuity, it was also the first scenario other than A Small Rebellion to have multiple endings (not that there was really all that much difference between the two endings, but it was still sorta neat). It shows its age a little now in terms of graphics and overall design, but its gradually-unfolding plot and memorable characters (who could forget Bigg Skull?) rival many of the better modern scenarios in quality. Good

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I just played this for the first time not too long ago. For being one of the first scenarios out there, it still has a comparatively fairly high level of quality. The story and characters are somewhat intriguing, but not developed to the level of some more recent releases. Still a decent and enjoyable work though. Good

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Harmless: bland but pleasant. The story lags. The significant action is over before the scenario begins. Gameplay then largely consists in slaughtering your way from one Plot Exposition Dispenser to another. The combat asks for little tactical imagination, and most towns remain thinly developed. But several of the episodes and set pieces are uniquely drawn, and there's always a clever diversion or two scattered around. So I don't know that I'd play it again, but I'm not disappointed to have done so once. Good

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The concept behind Islands of the Wheel was very nice, even providing an in-game reason for those mountains ringing the Edge of the World. The plot was decent, when you chanced to stumble on bits of it. And the addition of semi-cryptic journals was a very good feature.


However, there were many weaknesses.


Most areas were empty. There were no special outdoor encounters. There was no detail in the large stretches of water. Dungeon atmosphere was typically carried out by the floor plan and dungeon name, as there really was no descriptive text. Nodes to give the dungeons character were few and further between. Many of the side dungeons looked like they'd quickly been done with a once-over using the large brush and the large spray can.


Combat was typically uninteresting. The standard dungeon involved large open areas with the swarm combat -- all the monsters would come at you in waves, thereby cleaning out all or half of the dungeon. There seemed to be some sort of bug with the wandering monsters, as any wandering monsters quickly took damage off-screen till they died. Treasure was gratuitously excessive, more in quantity than any individual item, letting your mid-level characters build a warehouse of junk magic swords and magic shields and such.


There were occasional bugs, though no game-breaking ones. The biggest one was after killing a traitor in the town, every time you re-entered the town the message would appear that there was a traitor there, and said person would have returned. There were occasional minor bugs as well. Many of the new monsters made no sense -- what is a bunch of pick-up-sticks in a vaguely humanoid shape, anyway?





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Islands of the Wheel, a scenario by Tarl Roger Kudrick, was one of the initial scenarios designed for BOE, and as such, made good use of the early experience of the larger BOE community when it came to game design. However, for those players familiar with Tarl’s Tatterdemalion and some of the other tight scenarios which have come by of late, Islands may be a bit of a disappointment.


The plot itself is well developed — you start stranded on a strange island where everything is provided but all the inhabitants slowly lose their minds. The story unfolds slowly, as you meet the few lucid individuals still around and discover journals left behind by previous adventurers. The bits and pieces you get here and there can be assembled into a somewhat cohesive whole, and many of them actually play multiple roles in the development of the overall story as well as the plot.


However, gathering these bits can be tedious. This is not a scenario for people who dislike wide open, empty, spaces. Plenty of those abound, both on land and at sea. Additionally, the choice of graphics in many locations runs counter to the way the standard graphics are typically used. This creates aesthetic problems, generates confusion, and is generally distracting. Further, many of the clues you are searching for (journals, etc.) are hidden in locations that you might not check (for instance, in a chair). This may lead you to spend extended periods of real time searching for places you figure must exist, because you missed stuff from the places you have been.


The scenario is solvable, and one can reach the climactic battle(s) with some effort. Those battles are a bit of a let down, however, both in terms of tactical challenge and plot development. Even after you have put together all the pieces of the puzzle, you are left with a feeling of “and...”, and are in many ways left hanging even though the scenario has ended. The story and plot, while interesting, resolve themselves only part way.


Overall it was an interesting scenario, but one which has been surpassed by many. My score Average

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At over two years old, Islands of the Wheel is vintage in Blades terms. It’s also the first truly good scenario ever designed. Around this time (way back in early ‘98), there was an awful lot of garbage flooding the Blades landscape, and even the well-received scenarios were really just hunks of mediocrity players were desperate to like simply because they had nothing better (read: Erika’s Legacy, Treacherous Waters). Islands of the Wheel proved that even mere mortals, with real jobs who weren’t getting paid, could compete with — and even exceed — Spiderweb’s three scenarios, the best of which, A Small Rebellion, was hardly revolutionary.


Granted, Islands is not a revolution either. But that it included custom graphics at all, back when designers seemed reluctant and even afraid to include them, is quite a step. That the graphics are pretty good is another step on that stairmaster of scenario superiority. That the scenario itself is cohesive, challenging, winnable, and often fun is the best part of all. The Bigg Skull is a blast, the Elementals are clever and exciting, the insanity aspect is well-turned, to name just a few positive vestiges.


Frankly, if I were reviewing this “back in the day,” I’d shoot for the moon and give it at least a 9.0. But I’m not reviewing it in 1998; I’m reviewing it in 2000, after a host of superb scenarios appeared (Tatterdemalion, of course, by Islands scribe Tarl Kudrick — which ironically enough did get him paid $500, Redemption, and a select few others in the pantheon of greatness). Throw in the slew of very competent scenarios about as good as Islands and it becomes impossible to rate it as highly as the greats.


Reasons are many: the lack of initial direction creates as much frustration as it does intrigue, too many great spells are either for sale or easily found, the deliberate graphical incompatibility looks as ugly as it does interesting, and there are several plots holes (SPOILER if the Nyre are powerful enough to create the whole world of islands, how did the not-too-tough Zuwhiel steal their artifact? Why is the universe so endangered by the equally not-too-tough Whisperers, whom the Nyre were able to capture in the first place?)


Worst of all....I couldn’t get the snow goons to work! Now, maybe this last aspect isn’t Tarl’s fault — I’m sure, in fact, it isn’t. However, after emailing the man a few times, I realized I wasn’t doing a damned thing wrong. Maybe it’s my version of Blades, or a corrupt copy of Islands (dubious...I d/l’ed it again), but the “reveal town” special that allows access to the Calvin & Hobbes-derived snow goons never properly functioned. As Alcritas once said in pointing out the flaws of the Blades editor, the reveal town special just plain doesn’t work. While this is in no way Mr. Kudrick’s responsibility, it could have been worked around using if-thens that allow access to a town that was never technically “hidden.” Though I was able to win Islands of the Wheel, missing out on such cool-sounding creatures was a big let-down, and simply peering at the graphics file is hardly a substitute.


But, in all fairness, fighting the snow goon subplot would not have totally redeemed this solid, but not stellar, scenario. Like an old Hitchcock film from the nascent days of cinema, you can’t blame it for being inferior to later works — but you still prefer those following films. Islands gets Good from me. I respect it, just as I respect Sabotage and Foreign Correspondent, but I’ll take Tatterdemalion and North by Northwest over them any day.

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