I, like many others, first discovered Lucas Pope's games through Papers, Please which is still one of my favorite casual games to play. More recently in 2018, Return to the Obra Dinn was published and well-received. However, the concentration here will be his lesser known (and free!) projects he developed in a mere 48 hours each, either as practice or for game-making competitions. The style, sound, and feel of each game are consistent with his two official titles—they are all set in pixelated worlds with the familiar sounds of shuffling papers and button clicks. Outside of the paper-oriented games, I was pleased to find that he also built games that involved strategy and puzzle-solving. In fact, those are the ones I'm most excited to talk about. Common themes that appear to permeate all of the Lucas Pope's game worlds include dystopia, politics, war, sabotage, rebellion, and surveillance.
Pope has two more games that play very similarly to Papers, Please, though they are less embellished and therefore have less story and choice involvement, which is fair, given both were created in just 48 hours. The first, finished just a year before the release of Papers, Please is The Republia Times, where the protagonist is the editor-in-chief in a very watchful nation at war with Antegria in addition to internal conflicts with rebels, called terrorists by the government in news articles. Just like in Papers, Please, you have a family cared for by the nation and you can choose to print articles that keep yourself and your family on the good side of Republia, or you can choose to help the rebellion that eventually contacts you and promises you and your family freedom and safety. Whether you trust them or stay on the safe side and remain a loyal propagandist is up to you, but your choice here can lead to two different, but likely equally, dismal endings.
The second paper-filled title is Unsolicited, in which an employee of the form-letter mailing company Acme is rushed to fill all the orders of its new clients. It starts slow but exponentially picks up. As the small clock in the lower left corner ticks down, the employee risks failure if the strict quota is not met. Here, the player meets a different kind of propaganda: corporate loyalty and standards of excellence.
Most screens at the end of a round will tell you about new or lost clients and have only one button to click that always says something about working hard and maintaining the company's standards of excellence. As more clients are gained, there is also a button about working through lunch that you must click, increasing the numbers of forms and clients. The familiar shuffling of too many papers and increases in difficulty and tasks that were missing in The Republia Times are found here, but in contrast, there are no choices to be made as you sell your soul away to the heartless spam mail corporation, making you feel empty in a different way from the more politically-charged titles.
Now that the paperwork is out of the way, we can get into two quirky puzzle and strategy games.
The Sea Has No Claim, an embellished version of the classic board game Battleship, is the first of these games that I tried. It was quite the change from monotonous paper-filing—it actually required brainpower and didn't make me feel like a corporate slave or nationalist.
Though the first few tries went poorly as I experimented with different resources I could use to find wrecked ships, the learning curve spiked up exponentially from there. Once I figured out how to use the search ships, buoys, satellites, and everything else to efficiently figure out the exact locations of the ships, I started having a lot of fun trying to beat the clock and save every last person that was on board. Like with the other games, there was no time to be wasted here—as the timer in the form of a filled circle with a skull underneath drained, lives were lost. When I used resources quickly and efficiently enough to put my rescue ships in the right spots, I satisfyingly saved all of them.
I finished every round of the game in one sitting and replayed them again as the locations are randomly decided each time. As you can see below, there are still two circles I didn't completely fill due to some lost lives when I took too long to finish the mission. There's no doubt that I'll be getting back to those later and maybe experimenting again with different resource allocations in other rounds. Some rounds will take a few tries, but the game never becomes frustratingly challenging. I found it to be a good balance between mental effort and completion satisfaction.
Murder Mystery-esque Puzzle
Last but not least of his 48 hour games is my personal favorite: 6 Degrees of Sabotage! In this simple puzzle that has the feel of a murder mystery, there are a number of people working together to plant a bomb. A letter with bomb instructions is being passed between them and through surveillance footage it can be deduced which of our suspects are involved.
There are only a few steps in each round. In the beginning, I was told which two people the letter began and ended at—these two were the mastermind and bomb planter, respectively. In the first screen, I observed a few groups of people in the midst of a crowd walking to work to see which groups our suspects initially belonged. As I switched to the next two screens of security footage, I had to pick out which people were moving to different groups in order to hand off the illicit letter.
In that last screen, when all the information is assumed to be gathered, I had five bullets, and therefore five chances, to kill off the five saboteurs—two confirmed at the beginning and three I should have deduced from footage information. Unfortunately, I killed off a few bystanders in my first rounds, but after a few playthroughs I eventually caught all of my suspects.
This game, like the previous one, is also highly replayable as the suspects and groups of people are randomized each time.
If you loved Papers, Please and want more satisfying pixelated paper shuffling in your gaming life, pick up The Republia Times and Unsolicited, but skip them if you'd prefer a greater meaning to your paper shuffling. If you are a fan of shorter, easy-to-pick-up strategy games or puzzles (or murder mysteries for that matter), I highly recommend trying The Sea Has No Claim and 6 Degrees of Sabotage. They won't claim too much of your time at once, but certainly will pass it well.
After playing any game that I love, I relished in the satisfaction and enjoyment I got from the game and felt sad when my time with the story ended. However, I didn't always check for other games by the same developer or studio. I'm glad I did this time, and learned my lesson for next time. The styles of each Lucas Pope game are just as simple and intuitive to navigate as Papers, Please. Dangerously, they are also equally as simple to pick up, conducive to replay, and difficult to put down.
And again, they were all created in 48 hours. Think about that.