I’m not ususally one for casual games. Stuff liked Bejeweled, Tetris and those innumerable motorcycle-driving flash games just seem pointless, and I shy away from Farmville and Frontierville because it seems like they would be either huge time vampires or things I would never, ever play after the first week. Plus, they would ruin my gamer cred.
Essentially, the problem I have with most casual games is that there is no story to keep me engaged, and without a reason to play, the challenges posed by these games and the time they require just doesn’t seem worth it in the face of all my real-world work.
Echo Bazaar is quite different because it is nothing but story and atmosphere, presented subtly in tiny chunks over the course of hours and days. It’s free to play, although you can buy “Fate,” which is used in-game to purchase extra actions and special content. It also requires no reflexes whatsoever (although there is an optional thing called “Knife and Candle” that I haven’t tried). The story of Echo Bazaar unfolds based solely on your decisions.
I won’t say much about said story, partly because I don’t want to give it away, and partly because there are many, many layers I haven’t uncovered myself. The story takes place in Fallen London, which is…well, London. But underground (close to Hell, in fact), and vaguely Victorian in its social tone. The city is controlled by…actually, I have no idea. But some of the influential (and very mysterious) personages are the Masters of the Bazaar (who are named after commodities: Mr. Wines, Mr. Veils, Mr. Spices, etc.), the Duchess (who disapproves of cruelty to cats) and the Traitor Empress (who is analogous to the Queen of England, but seems to be unpopular). The city is full of intrigue, mystery, danger, and shady business, and thus the four major skills (or Qualities) are Dangerous, Watchful, Persuasive, and Shadowy. There are also many Quirks: Subtle, Magnanimous, Ruthless, Fascinating (used for seductions), Inspired (used for artistic commissions), Hedonist, Heartless, Austere, Daring, and others, gained by making certain choices. For example, if you end up writing an editorial to the Magazine Formerly Known as the London Magazine decrying gambling on races, you get +something to Austere.
Bottom line: the story is fantastic (creepy, intriguing, and funny all in one) and your play time is limited, so you can’t waste too much time on it. Check it out!