SO WE ARE FATED DEATH BY WILLOWS:
We broke with ancient covenant,
grew unthoughtful and wicked,
fell away from worship of our ancestors,
incurred their sudden and mighty wrath.
Their bodies came alive again,
monstrous, hungering for blood,
and we are entirely without hope.
The War of the Willows pits the player in single combat against a tree.
More specifically you get a choice of desire (survival/forgiveness/love/power), recipient of sacrifices (Nyeru/Hobark/Athena/geneus/Vordak) and luck charm (rose/coin/star/locket). Then you enter battle with the choice to strike, advance, retreat, evade, or pray to one’s god.
That’s everything. It’s hence a mini-strategy game nearly like one of the BASIC type-ins of the 70s.
At a mechanical level I found it both too complex and too simple.
It’s too complex in that I didn’t understand all the moving pieces, and especially didn’t understand choices like what advantages a rose has over a star. There was no ratiocrination or planning or tactics. It’s too simple in that even without those things I was able to defeat the living willow in combat with no thoughtfulness at all: just attack, advance, attack, and so forth.
I’m guessing there’s many elements going on “under the hood” but they weren’t transparent enough for the player to use them in play nor complicated enough to stymie a player using a “button mashing technique” in combat.
Despite all that, The War of the Willows has something novel going for it: everything is in poetry form. This has shown up in the competition before; see Graham Nelson’s Shakespeare team-up The Tempest from 1997 or Valentine Kopteltsev’s underrated work A Night Guest from 2001.
In the best places the poetry has a gritty feel, like a a lost companion volume to Beowulf.
A black bull and a red bull,
three calves and a white goat,
burnt live upon Lebanon cedar.
White-green flash of copper powder —
the King of Fire accepts his offering.
Unfortunately the author seems to be running on gut instinct rather than any careful thematic or rhythmic control, because the words occasionally run amuck.
Came they upon the library
ripped each book to shreds,
slept that night in the confetti.
Ancient … confetti? Also, the second and third lines drop like weights and either need rephrasing or some sort of connective word.
Branches enwrap you like muscular snakes,
threatening to bind you entirely
as willow-whips lash your face.
You wriggle between them,
fighting for freedom.
The above stanza comes across more as a sentence with line breaks than a poem. (This is, admittedly, an accusation that can be leveled at much of modern poetry. However, The War of the Willows does not seem to be shooting for modern.)
Still, everything is well-fashioned enough to reward close reading (which I might get to after I finish reviewing the 1000+ games for this competition and my eyes stop bleeding and oh god make the pain stop).
Burned its bones to boil water,
looked from the parapet window
as the great ranks of them
tore stones from the walls,
disassembled the gate
of our last redoubt,
with a cool, solid fury,
fields pink to the sunset
with the arcs of their flowers.
My question mark next to “finished” on the top of this post indicates I’m not sure if I got an optimal ending. The willows still won even after I won the battle. I am suspecting there is a trick I missed (perhaps involving a well-timed prayer) but I wasn’t able to nudge anything out. If someone wants to provide a hint in the comments I’d be appreciative.