Game Over – Changeling (#DatingSiMonth)

For me, Changeling was a bit of an off-brand pick for #DatingSiMonth. I have very limited experience with visual novels, and I’ve found them to be very hit or miss. However, the few I have really enjoyed have not been romanced-focused; it’s just not my genre. However, when looking through some of the games I’ve picked up in bundles, Changeling caught my eye for a couple of reasons. First, being about high schoolers was a fairly good indicator that it would be light on graphic sexual content. Secondly, while romance is part of the story, and the final choice you make in the common route locks you into a single romantic interest, each route you play through gives you more and more information about the overarching mystery surrounding the protagonist.

Still, I wasn’t too sure that I’d get invested, but I figured I’d dedicate an evening or two and see at least one story arc before I decided whether or not to continue. I went in completely blind, so the path I ended up taking was not the one I would have chosen if I had realized the decision was one about which boy I’d be spending time with, but I just went with it.

Despite coming to a very dismal end with Corvin’s Route, I was undeterred. I figured I’d try one more route, and see how much the story changed. Now understanding which decision determined the storyline, and having gotten to know the characters better during my first playthrough, I was better prepared to choose a love interest with whom I might actually be inclined to make “best ending” sort of choices.

I did not – in fact – make best ending choices, but I got a better ending with Elliot than I did with Corvin. More importantly, I learned so much more about my character and about what was going on around her. I wanted to see the rest of the stories. I was hooked.

Normally, however, I don’t have the patience to get through all the repetitive clicking to get back to a choice point, and when I started out, I hadn’t yet mastered the visual novel pro-tip of saving often. Very often. On the upside, Changeling‘s skip feature is phenomenal – it takes you to each decision point quickly, and without a whole lot of manual clicking.

I really didn’t have strong feelings about the art style, which may be a make it or break it for some visual novel fans. The writing was solid throughout, which is perfect for me as a plot-first reader because the world building and story is really interesting. The romantic scenes – at least the ones I’ve encountered – are sweet rather than sexy, which I very much appreciated. If I had any complaint, it’s very minor – the side characters (non-love interests) seem to fall neatly into the boxes of either being sympathetic and likeable, or are kind of broadly painted with the antagonist brush. That wasn’t really an issue for me, though, it might read a little dramatic but who among us wasn’t dramatic in high school?

Probably the strongest praise I can give to Changeling is this: after losing access to my original save file, I went back, and manually clicked my way through to be able to start all six possible love interest routes. I’ve found the Steam guides to all the best endings, but I don’t know that I’ll necessarily use them. I kind of want to find out just how bad I am at dating sims, and admittedly, I’m in for the story more than I am for the boys.

I don’t know yet if I will play them all, but I also pretty sure I want to know what happens on the other four routes. I’ve played for about six hours now, reached two of the god only knows how many endings, and I’m still eager to read more. I expect future progress will be somewhat slower since I’ll no longer be able to play on my Steam Deck in bed, but I don’t doubt there will be future progress.

(Bear in mind, I do read rather quickly – the developers estimate most people will need about 4-6 hours per route to reach an ending!)

I don’t know how this stands up againt games loved by visual novel enthusiasts, but if you’re curious about visual novels, and you are interested in a YA supernatural drama with a side of cute boys, this might be a good one to try out. Changeling was part of the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality back in June of 2020 as well as the Bundle for Ukraine from March of 2022. It is also available on and Steam for $19.99.

Steam NextFest – February 2023 Edition – Part One

I was way too ambitious this time around, and I knew it. As soon as the NextFest page went live, I started browsing and downloading demos. Before I knew it, I had racked up an obnoxiously large list of 26 demos – way more than I would have been able to get through no matter how much time I had for the project.

As it turned out, I didn’t have much time for Next Fest this time at all. Still, I managed to poke my head into 11 demos long enough to get a sense of them, most of those in the last 24 hours or so of the event. If you missed any of these games during the festival, it’s worth checking to see if the demo is still available – many developers keep them up for a bit after the end of the event – I’m hoping to play one or two more myself before doing part two!

Three minutes is not a long time to spend on a game. However, Sorted! has a pretty basic premise, but with a more-engaging-than-expected gameplay loop. There’s a conveyor belt with trash, and you need to sort it into the proper bins for recycling or disposal. Sounds easy? Maybe.

The first round I failed miserably, mainly because I struggled to identify the items on the belt. The second round went better, and by the third, I was starting to get the hang of combos. It’s definitely a neat little time waster game, something I’d keep an eye out for on a deep discount or in a bundle.

My time with Sushi for Robots wasn’t much longer, but it gave me a feel for the type of puzzles it would feature, and although it seemed like a neat idea and a competent puzzle game, I realized it probably wasn’t going to be for me.

Using the pieces you’re given, you need to make sure every robot gets the appropriate colored sushi plate in a set amount of moves. Although the store page says it “encourages creative problem solving” the puzzles I played through seemed to have only a single set solution. Still, the graphics were downright adorable, and for an enthusiastic puzzle gamer, this might be a bit hit.

Mineko’s Night Market has been on my wish list for over five years now, and for awhile I’d mostly assumed it was abandoned. So I was super excited to have a shot a playing the demo.

Which made it extra disappointing that I really, really didn’t care for it. I maybe could have gotten past the humor I didn’t find particularly amusing, but the mandatory sneaky puzzle section right near the beginning was very frustrating, and I ended up having to force quit because you could not return to menu once you started it. Thanks, but no thanks.

I’ve been a long time fan of the Cook, Serve, Delicious! franchise, so I was excited to see what they’d come up with next. The demo was quite short, and only featured the core game play (no menu selection or even any hint at the overarching story), and it felt like a huge departure from the previous titles.

Cook, Serve, Forever! seems to have parted ways with the varied preparations, and ingredient shortcut memorizations in favor of using just the arrow keys, presumably to make it even more controller-friendly. Initially, I was disappointed, but the concept grew on me, and I feel like even though it’s quite different, it could still be an enjoyable gameplay loop.

Shumi Come Home is an adorable little 3D platforming adventure that I was completely charmed by. It’s super wholesome, with new friends to meet, some of whom will need your help as you try to find your way to where you belong. I don’t expect most players to find it particularly challenging, but if you like games like A Short Hike or Haven Park with lots of exploring and no fail states, you might want to add Shumi Come Home to your wish list.

The Magical Mixture Mill was the game from this batch that kept me playing the longest. In this slow-paced crafting adventure game, you’ve been rescued by the elderly owner of Griselda’s Magical Mixtures, and she’s asked you to help her get her potion shop up and running again. Gather materials to brew potions, and to build up an automated potion making factory. This is definitely one I’d like to pick up when it comes out later this year.

In Review – January 2023

  • Make at least 10 blog posts during January.
  • Play and write about two games for #PuzzleGameMonth.
  • Get at least two more characters to level 70 in World of Warcraft.
  • Get the Loremaster of the Dragon Isles on at least one of my alts in World of Warcraft.
  • Participate in the group Humble Choice review.
  • Play and write about at least one game I bought during December.
  • Make a post about co-op game night.
  • Read at least four books.
  • Watch at least one new-to-me movie.
  • Watch at least one new-to-me season, series or mini-series.
  • Finish reorganizing my crafting area.
  • Do at least 2500 stitches on any current project or combination of current projects.

I feel like I did pretty good this month for how un-focused I was feeling. When it came to playing games and blogging, I mostly just did whatever felt right at the time, and I made a more determined push towards my other goals. Mostly, I’m happy with how it all shook out – I managed to keep myself from feeling overwhelmed while also avoiding decision-paralysis problems.


I expect that I’m probably pretty close to being done with Against the Storm, at least for awhile, but it dominated my January game time, with over 100 hours played. I’ve put well over 150 hours into this one since I started playing it late December, and although I’ve already turned the difficulty up once (something I rarely do in games), I don’t feel a particular need to make it even harder, so I think I’ve just about gotten what I can from it.

I expect my World of Warcraft time would have seen a dip this month, even if I hadn’t been enamored with another game, but the dip likely would have been a bit less, and I might have even met one or both of my WoW-related goals this month. I’m not upset about it by any means – I feel like I’m still playing enough to make the subscription cost worthwhile, but I’m hoping to find a better sense of pacing than how I’m currently playing.

Starbound was a one-and-done, we tried it out on co-op night, and neither of us much cared for the experience. Instead, we started up The Survivalists, which definitely has more than its share of flaws, but is still a pretty enjoyable co-op experience.

Everything else I played in January for any significant amount of time was either for the group Humble Choice review, or for #PuzzleGameMonth.

Gaming Related Spending

I mostly threw my money at other hobbies this month, which was a nice change. I did buy the Wadjet Eye bundle on Humble, and picked up a couple of games during Steam’s recent Base Builder Sale. I also grabbed a couple of companion pets for WoW at the beginning of the month that I didn’t have and that were leaving the store. When you add my Humble Choice and World of Warcraft subscriptions, my total gaming related spending for January was $78.



After a slow start, I ended up finishing five books this month, although I was lukewarm on most of them. The exception was In My Dreams I Hold a Knife, which I found myself reading a chapter or two of every chance I got until I finished it. Two of these books I picked up because of their associated TV adaptations, but I still find myself mostly picking books by whatever sounds good in the moment.


Although I didn’t manage to get myself away from re-watching things this month, I still managed to catch a few things that were new to me.

Firstly, despite owning the entire series on DVD, I had never actually watched the entire final season of Sanctuary, which I have now remedied, and I appreciate the fact that the show didn’t go out on a huge cliffhanger. Then, on a whim, I binged the entirety of Panic on Amazon. It’s only a ten episode series, and it definitely lends itself well to a marathon watch. Amazon decided against making another season, which honestly, is probably best. It was a complete story, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with doing a limited series that doesn’t drag on into ridiculousness.

I managed to make a bit of time to squeeze in a movie, and I decided to go with Escape Room. I walked away with very mixed feelings. The puzzle design in the game was pretty impressive, but man, everything else about it felt mediocre. The acting was hit-or-miss, the plot was threadbare, and if you’re the type to struggle with a suspension of disbelief, it’s better to just skip the whole thing. There was almost nothing in the entire movie that felt even slightly plausible.

Stitchcraft Etc.

Logically, I realize that I’m just struggling a lot with this particular pattern, and I haven’t lost interest in the hobby itself, but this project is dragging on forever. I’m unwilling to abandon it, however, so I’ve been telling myself to just do 100 stitches every day. Some days, that’s all I can handle. Others, I end up working on it for twice that or more, and then there have been a few days where even that felt like too much, so I didn’t force it.

Sometime over the course of the month, I managed to eke past the midpoint, and although I expect this will take at least another couple months to finish up, I’m not longer questioning if I’ll be able to finish it.

However, I’ve been working on other types of projects that take far less concentration. I’d gotten away from yarn work because although I enjoy the process, and have no shortage of supplies to work with, I’d gotten tired of finished projects just piling up. I’m in a weird place with most types of crafts in that they are strictly hobbies, and I doubt that I’m proficient enough anyway to sell my work for anywhere near what I should based on material costs & time spent. I’ve also been doing it long enough that I’ve gifted many projects to family and friends, and I just don’t know what to do with any of it anymore.

The scarf I’m currently working on, though, that one I’m keeping for myself. It’s a fairly basic stitch, but a really lovely yarn.

I’ve also started playing with diamond paintings again, which are typically not very impressive when finished, but super meditative to do, and I’m okay with them being solely about the doing, and less about the having at the end.

Diversifying in this way means that no matter what kind of day I’m having, there’s something enjoyable I can work on, and I think that’s helped me get past some of my winter doldrums & frustrations.

I know we’re only a month in, but so far 2023 seems to be about figuring out how much space I need to make for myself for the things I enjoy, and what level of rigidity works best for me. It’s a process, but this feels like a pretty solid start.

Nerd Girl Goals – February 2023

I have been aimless more often than I like to be over the past month, and because of that, I’m putting a goal right into my intro paragraph for this month. I would like to resume using a content planning calendar, because I do better with schedules, even if they’re not as rigid as they could be. I am not entirely sure where January went, but I’m guessing the fact that I never knew what day it was a big part of the reason time felt even more floaty and unstable than usual.


World of Warcraft

I still haven’t quite figured out my optimal cadence with World of Warcraft right now. I’m still interested in doing a bit more than just raid logging, but I’m finding my interest in actually playing is not quite matching my ambitions. I’m finding most weeks I’m doing what I want to get done on my main most every week, but I’m not nearly as consistent with my max level alts, and I’m doing very little with my sub-70s still. I’m not sure yet if this is a sign of an impending period of being unsubbed, or just a natural reaction to the “less required content” vibe of Dragonflight.

Given all that, I’m going to make my World of Warcraft goals nigh unmissable for February. I’d like to get one more character to max level, and that should be easy with my hunter about a level from cap. I’d also like to max out renown with at least one faction on my main, probably one of the two that stops at 25 rather than 30. I’d also like to make at least one World of Warcraft related post.

Community Game-Along 2023

#DatingSiMonth seems like the perfect time to dive into something I picked up in one of the (too many) bundles. Although visual novels aren’t necessarily my go-to games, I picked out Changeling to play through during February.

But because I also like to have options, I’m going to either dive back into My Time at Portia or start up Potion Permit. While not strictly dating sims, both have romanceable characters, so I think those fit into the spirit of the theme.

No matter which way I end up going, I want to make one post for #DatingSiMonth.

Other Gaming

The latest iteration of Steam Next Fest is right around the corner. It’s usually not a struggle for me to find half a dozen demos I’d like to try out, so I’m going to set my goal for this one as at least one NextFest post. Sometimes, there’s oodles of stuff, and I do more than that, but I’d rather get out one post with games I was excited to play, than drag myself through a bunch of demos I don’t care about.

I’m also bringing forward a couple of things that have been working well for me – namely participating in the group Humble Choice review and playing and writing about a title purchased during the prior month.



While I’m glad I’ve gotten back into reading and not just listening, I do wish I were able to be a little less “all or nothing” between formats. In an attempt to nudge myself in this direction, I’m going to set my goals at read any four books and listen to at least one audiobook.


Here again, I’m pretty pleased with where I’m putting my focus, so I’m going to repeat my January goal of watching one new-to-me movie and one new-to-me series / mini-series / season this month.

Stitchcraft Etc.

For the first time in ages, I find myself wanting to diversify my crafting time. While that’s not been fantastic for my stitch count, I’ve been glad to have things to work on that require a little bit less intense focus, and that I can do away from my desk. However, I also know that I can be extremely fickle with these things, so while I’d like to include them, I don’t want to invest too much. I think that finishing a non-cross-stitch project would be a reasonable goal this month, as well as another 2,500 stitches on any cross-stitch project in progress.

I also intend to re-organize my craft cabinet this month so that I can more easily find the things I’m looking for (and so that I have room for the craft supplies I don’t need but keep buying anyway).

(Image is of the diamond painting kit I started working on recently – it’s a fairly small one, and although these never look quite as good as the artwork they’re made from, they’re usually cheap enough that I don’t care as much about the final product as I do about the process of it.)


  • Start using my content planning calendar again.
  • Make at least 10 blog posts in February.
  • Get at least one more character to level 70 in World of Warcraft.
  • Max out at least one faction of renown on one character in World of Warcraft.
  • Make at least one post related to World of Warcraft.
  • Make at least one post for #DatingSiMonth
  • Make at least one post for Steam NextFest.
  • Play and write about one title purchased in Janaury 2023.
  • Participate in the group review of the February Humble Choice.
  • Read / listen to at least four books.
  • Listen to at least one audiobook.
  • Watch at least one new-to-me movie.
  • Watch at least one new-to-me series, mini-series or season.
  • Do at least 2,500 stitches on a cross-stitch project in progress.
  • Finish any non-cross-stitch project in progress.
  • Re-organize my craft cabinet.

Blaugust Reviews – Humble Choice January 2023 Edition

I’m filling in for the incomparable UnwiseOwl this month on summing up our group review of the offerings in this month’s Humble Choice bundle. Every month, when the bundle releases, a bunch of us get together on the Blaugust Discord and hash out which games we’re most excited about and divvy up the titles for us each to look at during the month. Some folks just take a quick look, and some really go all in, but we want to give you a jumping off point to help you decide if this month’s bundle is going to be worth it for you.

This month’s headliner title is DOOM Eternal. Magi from Indiecator had done a post on this particular game back in 2021. This is a title probably best played with a gamepad or controller, and has a somewhat spiky difficulty, but he found that all in all, it was a gory good time!

I personally took a quick peek at Tribes of Midgard, not nearly long enough to form a cohesive opinion on the title. This one requires you to be always online, even in single player, which might turn some folks off. So far, it seems to be an odd hybrid of survival and ARPG, but you’re dropped into the world with only your bare hands and your underwear and very little guidance. However, if you’re looking for a new co-op title, and you’re fine with a somewhat slow and confusing start, you might find this game right up your alley.

Stalking Vengeance of Cubic Creativity took a deep dive into post-apocalyptic RPG Encased. They spent around 15 hours exploring the world of this Fallout-inspired turn-based RPG, and felt that the world building & story was pretty good, but that the game got somewhat bogged down in a million little systems, each with their own tiny flaws. If you like exploring wastelands and complex character creation, and don’t lose immersion when you spot the rough edges, then this one might be for you. However, check your Epic account first – this one was part of their game-a-day holiday giveaway this past December.

Magi from Indiecator indie-cated that he was very excited about OlliOlli World – Rad Edition in his Humble Choice preview post this month. This skateboarding platformer requires a controller to play, which is kind of unfortunate for us dedicated keyboard and mouse players. However, this edition does include the season pass, and as such, is a pretty good value if this is a title you’ve been looking for a deal on.

Paeroka of Nerdy Bookahs dipped her toes into Grow: Song of the Evertree this month, but found it a little too slow-starting for her taste. However, I played this game shortly after it released in November of 2021, and really enjoyed it. This adorable, absolutely-no-pressure title won’t appeal to most gamers, but if cozy gaming is your jam, the cute-factor on this one might make it worth a try.

Conan Chop Chop was the one title this month that no one was very excited about. It’s a co-op action roguelike with an overly-cute aesthetic and a whole bunch of cartoon gore & violence. Reviews are mixed on Steam, and it has one of the lowest retail prices in the bundle at only $14.99, so this probably isn’t the game that anyone is grabbing this month’s bundle for.

I took a look at Hokko Life, which was the title in this month’s offerings I was most excited about. I could get past the uncanny valley of anthropomorphic animal friends, but I found the game play tedious. This might be a better fit for players that are super into customizing and decorating, but I found myself sleeping most of my Hokko Life away.

I also took The Serpent Rogue, the final title in this month’s bundle, for a quick spin. The art was fantastic, but I just didn’t gel with the gameplay. This action adventure title combines survival mechanics, puzzle solving, action combat, and picking flowers in an interesting way, but is light on the guidance and heavy on learning-by-doing. For the gamer that likes that sort of thing, this might be a nice addition, but again, probably not a primary motivator in grabbing this month’s bundle.

In the end, this bundle seems to be more of a miss than it might appear at first glance. If you really want Doom Eternal, which has a $40 regular price, or if you’ve been waiting for a deal on OlliOlli World – Rad Edition, then this month’s Humble Choice might be worth it for either of those titles alone. However, everything else feels like it’s really niche, and a mixed bag to boot.

If you picked up the bundle, and especially if Conan Chop Chop was one of your main motivators, please let us know what you thought!

Quick Look – The Serpent Rogue (Humble Choice – January 2023)

Most months, Humble Choice includes at least one quirky indie title that I’ve never heard of. This month, that title was The Serpent Rogue. The developers describe it as a botanical action-adventure, with a heavy focus on gathering and crafting. The Serpent Rogue has a regular price of $19.99, and according to HowLongToBeat, a playtime of about three hours for the main story line, although there’s quite a lot of extras stuff to do if one wanted to.

At a glance, The Serpent Rogue looks like it would be exactly the type of game I’d enjoy. It’s stunningly beautiful, the introduction is almost lyrical, and I was absolutely ready to dive into the grimdark world and start looking for all the plants I was going to need to save the world.

After a brief introduction where you learn how to sprint and not much else, you’re unceremoniously dumped into a world with very little guidance. Now, I realize that there are multiple schools of thought on how tutorials should be handled, but I’m a strong proponent of not having the challenge of the game play be about how to play the game. The first few minutes are fine, but after that, you’ve got a not-very-open world to explore, a bunch of stuff you can break open, and a journal full of quests you may not even realize you’re receiving.

I picked some berries, and used my portable research table to study them. I poked around some more, grabbed a couple of pumpkins that were just lying around. I figured out what it means to go fishing in this game. However, I was also frustrated by areas that told me I needed an axe or a shovel, but with no indication of where to obtain these starter tools. I muddled around for a bit, but by the third area of the game, I knew it just wasn’t going to click for me.

I did manage to die once, and I learned a few things from the experience. First, that you drop all your stuff, and if you die again before retrieving it, it’s gone for good. Second, if you see a little bag hanging from a tree branch, it probably has stuff in it that you want. In fact, on my first pass I had missed one such bag, and I’m guessing that was the thing preventing me from moving to the next area, but I can’t say 100% for sure.

You will need to worry about survival mechanics, like hunger and rest, and the game gives you very little guidance on how these systems work. You’ll run into the occasional NPC, who will speak in riddles. If you’re diligent in your explorations, you’ll find some books, that give you a little bit of additional information about the world (and ostensibly, clues to solving the puzzles within it), but I’d mentally checked out already. I didn’t think I’d signed up for a game where everything was the puzzle – I just wanted to pick flowers, make some potions, and make friends with the animals.

I feel like this game isn’t doing itself any favors with its marketing – someone expecting a somewhat chill gameplay loop will likely be frustrated, while someone who really loves being dropped, mostly unguided, into a weird world and left on their own to survive may be turned off by the game’s description. I hope that being featured in this month’s Humble Choice will help A Serpent Rogue find it’s intended audience, but I learned pretty quickly that I am not a part of it.

Game Over – Strange Horticulture (#PuzzleGameMonth)

I picked up Strange Horticulture almost a year ago, on the strength of the demo I played back in October of 2021 during one of many Steam NextFests. Originally, I had planned for it to be one of the last games I covered for the #JustOnePercent project, before I decided to stick to only games that actually released in 2021. So, in reality, I could have played this anytime over the last year! Thankfully, I decided to get back onto the Community Game Along train, and January is #PuzzleGameMonth, so it was a good excuse to stop putting it off and actually play the damn game.

You have inherited a botanist’s shop from your uncle, and the game dumps you right in the middle of a story in progress. Your customers will come to you asking for plants, sure, but they will also be dropping tons of news and gossip over you counter as well. However, none of the specimens in the shop are labeled, so you’ll need to closely examine the plants and compare them to the notations in your herbalism book to figure out how to fill customer requests. You’ll also have ample opportunities to explore the wider world to acquire even more plants for your shop. Some hints will come directly from your clients, but you’ll also get your share of instructions by mail to help you find every strange plant that can be found.

Although the plant-identifying puzzle makes up the meat of the gameplay, it’s not the only kind of puzzle Strange Horticulture has to offer. Make too many mistakes, and you’ll be tasked with a reassembly puzzle or a key matching puzzle. Sometimes, your directions for exploration are straightforward, but many of them require figuring out what that scrap of paper someone pressed into your hand could possibly mean.

Making too many errors will force you into a different type of puzzle. I got two different ones during my playthrough, but it’s entirely possible there are more types I didn’t see.

In the early days, your book is fairly small. Completing orders or talking to people out in the world will often reward you with new pages. It is possible to – sort of – soft lock your progress if you get stuck on one of the map puzzles; more than once I had a customer come in and ask for a plant I didn’t yet have. Since there’s no way to refuse a customer order that I could find, you may need to either break your mind (which seems to restart the day, and open up the possibility of a different customer order) or water the plants you do have until you get enough Will to Explore to go out and try again. The hint button can be useful if you’re not sure if you already have a plant in your possession, but it certainly isn’t going to figure it out for you.

It took me just over four hours to play through and reach one of the possible endings. A not insignificant portion of that time was spent rearranging my plants in hopes of having a more logical order to things, which would quickly be undone by the discovery of new plants. When you pick up new plants, they’re tossed somewhere on your shelf, and with 77 plants to find, it doesn’t take long for any organizational system to fail. Thankfully, you are given the tools to label each plant as you figure out what it is, or if you prefer, there’s a setting to auto-label any plants you successfully identify. It’s an opt-in system though, which I am happy to report I discovered before I’d manually labeled more than half a dozen plants.

Once you reach an ending and get credits, the game isn’t quite over, however. No, one of your regulars comes in for a post-game opportunity to obtain any remaining plants and identify them all. It gives a nice bit of completion to the game, and I appreciated the opportunity to “officially” identify everything.

The only part of the game that – at least to me – felt a little half baked was the making of elixirs. The ability doesn’t unlock until about halfway through the game, and even once it does, you only have occasion (and the recipes) to do so a few times. It wasn’t that it felt out of place, so much, as sort of unfinished. However, it also really took nothing away from the game play experience to only have it matter a few times, so it’s a small gripe in an otherwise really solid game.

I’ve focused mostly on the game play, because it’s nearly impossible to talk about the story without spoilers. It’s dark, it’s gritty, and at times, it’s delightfully cryptic. Even the dialogue with the less important customers is interesting, and also? You can pet the cat pretty much whenever you like. There are a handful of times where you’re given a choice to make, and those choices do affect the endings you’re eligible to receive on that playthrough. Although there are several different ways for the game to end, I don’t see myself replaying this one anytime soon, but there’s definitely lots more to do if you’re a completionist.

Overall, I enjoyed Strange Horticulture a lot, and played the entire game over a single sitting. This was partially because I was so captivated, but also in part because I was worried that if I didn’t get back to it right away, I would be completely lost. Your mileage may vary on that one, but it was definitely a concern for me. Still, a four hour playtime isn’t unreasonable for a single sitting game, and what a fascinating sitting it turned out to be.

Quick Look – Hokko Life (Humble Choice – January 2023)

If you’ve ever wanted to play an Animal Crossing game, but without the restrictions that come from being tied to the real world clock, you might have given Hokko Life a long look. This cutsey life sim has a heavy focus on gathering, crafting, decorating and cute anthropomorphic animal neighbors. It retails for $19.99, but is available now as part of the January 2023 Humble Choice.

Much like I wanted to like Animal Crossing: New Horizons on the Nintendo Switch, I really thought I’d enjoy having Hokko Life to play on the Steam Deck. Sure, the fiddly decoration parts of the game are kind of lost on me, but I can zone out and chop wood for hours with the best of them. However, for several reasons, this one – at least for me – just wasn’t a good fit.

If you’re here for the story, you’re best off just stopping right here and finding a different cozy game. Basically, you fall asleep on a train, and end up disembarking in the town of Hokko. Since approximately four people live here, I’m not entirely sure how it got its own train station, but this is far from the last time Hokko Life will beg you to suspend your disbelief. You wander into the local inn, run by pink elephant Oma, who offers you her spare room for the night.

And then she offers you a free house.

There’s a catch, of course. The house is in a pretty serious state of disrepair, and you’ll need to gather up the materials to make it habitable. Okay, sure. So you chop some wood, throw it into a box, and bam, you’ve got a barebones place to live. It was about here, I started to think that just maybe, I’d bumbled my way into some sort of cult.

Now that you’ve fixed up on dilapitated house, well, maybe you might not mind fixing up another? I mean, since you’re here and all, besides wouldn’t it be just lovely to have some more neighbors? So I go through the process a second time, chopping wood, handing it over, and now Benny (the bunny, naturally) has moved in right next door in the house I fixed up … and got no compensation for, I might add.

It’s about this time that everyone starts asking you to do them small favors. You know, because these things would be nice to have but not nice enough for anyone else to want to do them. You build a bridge and plant some trees, and before you know it, a real estate agent has rolled up on Hokko to set up shop, and move people into the houses I am supposed to build.

Now, I don’t mind gathering wood. I don’t even – really – mind giving it away afterwards. But Rosa the real estate agent has other plans. Not only does she expect me to round up all the materials that go into the building of a new home, but she expects me to pay for the privilege of putting up new houses that I neither plan to live in nor to profit from? I don’t know about this, Rosa, but it’s an interesting business plan.

Almost 90 minutes into the game, and my prospects for making money look pretty dire. I’ve given in and built one house, rendering me flat broke. Now, my choices are to sell my gathered wood, or run around catching butterflies all day, which are worth about 1/100th of a cheap house in Hokko’s economy. My backpack is small (which necessitates running to and from the shop – complete with mandatory load screen) frequently, or sleeping in my sad little sleeping bag for about 20 hours a day, waiting and hoping someone in town is going to think of something else that would be so cool to have around, and hope they pay me well for doing it for them.

Hokko Life is incredibly slow, even among it’s contemporaries. It’s also a little creepy, if we’re being completely honest. Maybe if I were more patient, and more into the decoration mechanics, I would have enjoyed it more, but everything feels like crawling through quicksand, and yet, time also seems to pass so very very slowly in game. It’s a little disappointing, because this was one of the main reasons I picked up this month’s bundle, and at the end of the (very very long) day, it was a big ol’ bust.

Self-Reflection Sunday: The Whys of Goal-Setting

Every month, when I sit down to write my goal post for the upcoming month, I think about how there are probably a lot of people out there who think I’ve completely lost my marbles. I’ll admit it felt weird at first, making a to-do list for my leisure activities & hobbies. In fact, most of the time, I don’t even have anything written down to keep me on-track in any other aspect of my life, but I’ve kept up with Nerd Girl Goals since September of 2019, so more than three years now.

Obviously, it’s a thing that I feel is working for me on some level, even though, most months I don’t come anywhere close to checking off everything on my list. In fact, I pretty regularly refer back to the bulleted list several times throughout the month. Why do I do it? What do I get out of it? Well, the answer is … complicated, as I find it serves multiple purposes for me.

Outsmarting Decision Paralysis & The Punishment Loop

Magi does a pretty good job of explaining decision paralysis in his recent blog post on the topic, but to put it very simply, decision paralysis occurs when someone has too many choices of how to spend their time, money, or energy. And we live in a world that seems almost designed to cause this condition – no matter what it is you might need, want, or think you need or want, there’s likely to be more than a handful of options.

Several years ago, I determined that my number one problem with time management wasn’t a time management problem at all – it was decision paralysis! Since leaving my last job in late 2014, I’ve had more free time than the average adult, and yet I always felt like I got less done, and that what I did manage to get done, whether it be for productivity or leisure, never really felt satisfying. Either I would flit aimlessly from one task to the next, never making much progress in anything, or I would fixate on something that if – for whatever reason – I could not do, would prevent me from doing anything else meaningful.

It was immensely frustrating fairly regularly, and often led to something I like even less than decision paralysis – the dreaded punishment loop. See, if couldn’t focus, or I couldn’t focus on what I perceived to be the right thing, then I would not allow myself to do much of anything else. Nothing productive, nothing relaxing or enjoyable. I basically put myself in a weird mental time out, where only the least satisfying of time-waster tasks were allowed. It was awful.

It took me longer than I care to admit to to realize what I was doing, and even longer still to break that pattern. I still find myself slipping once in a while, but once I recognize the pattern starting to happen, I will often refer to my monthly project list, and find something on there that feels like I can handle it. I tell myself I’ll try the new game I wanted to write about for half an hour, or that I’ll do around 50 stitches on a cross-stitch pattern I’m working on. Usually, it’s enough to break me out of that cycle, even if whatever task I initially choose doesn’t stick.

Having a quick reference of things I want to do – or at the very least, want to get done – often gets me back on track. Where I maybe couldn’t choose from all the various options available to me, I find it far easier to choose one of eight to ten line items.

The Satisfaction of Faux Productivity

So. What do I mean by faux productivity? Well, it’s a crutch I rely on when for whatever reason either my brain or my body won’t allow me to do what it considers to be real work. It’s work that doesn’t actually matter. There’s no consequences for missing a deadline, or ignoring a task, but it does allow for a spark of happy chemicals in the brain for making progress towards a goal.

As someone who struggles with both mental and physical health issues, and is still fighting the programming that tells me that my worth as a person is inherently tied to my productivity, training myself to be satisfied by checking things off on a list that don’t actually need doing has pulled me out of a rut more times than I can count. No one is going to be upset with me if I don’t play that game, write that blog post, or watch that movie I said I was going to. More importantly, I’m not going to be upset with myself. It’s all carrot, no stick; it feels good to do it, but it doesn’t feel bad when I don’t.

Having goals centered around reading books and watching television give me something that feels meaningful on days I can barely get out of bed. Working on this blog and on craft projects give me something concrete I can look at and remind myself that I am doing things, even if they’re not the things society tells me I should be focusing on. It’s okay that these aren’t the things that are valued by the world; they’re things that I find valuable, and most of the time, that’s enough for me.

Sure, I realize that this is just a form of psychological chicanery, but I’m also not about to sabotage something that works when so very many things don’t.

Keeping a Tangible Record of Progress

This is, in a lot of ways, another little mental health trick. Usually, to do lists are destined for the nearest trash can whenever they’re either all checked off or given up on. Instead, I keep mine – digitally, and on the internet, sure, but I can always go back and see what I’ve done.

Time has felt very weird for the past few years, and having a record of how (at least in part) I spent the months that all seem to blend together has kept me grounded. It gives me a small semblance of structure, something that marks the passage of time, and a reference when I get down on myself. In fact, I’ve found it valuable enough that I think if I were to stop blogging for whatever reason, I’d keep something very similar in a journal.

As a bonus, it reminds me to make space and time in my life for things that bring me joy. That it’s okay to have goals that don’t lead to more money, or a cleaner house, or whatever else it is I’m supposed to be striving for. That it is perfectly acceptable to want things just for myself sometimes.

If you are a person who sets goals for yourself around your leisure-time activities, why do you do it? Does anything I talked about here resonate with you, or do you have completely different reasons?

If you aren’t a person who sets these kinds of goals, have you ever considered it? Do you think you might get something from it?

Feel free to respond in the comments, or if you prefer, to talk about this topic in your own space.

Game Over – Palindrome Syndrome (#PuzzleGameMonth)

For someone who has literally thousands of unplayed games in her library, I find I still am concerned about the longevity and/or the replay value of games when I’m shopping. So although I enjoy escape-room style puzzle games, I rarely buy them outside of bundles because I feel like more than most genres, these are one-and-done kind of games, and they’re usually fairly short as well. When a triple pack of escape room games from mc2games showed up in Fantatical’s Holiday Diamond pick-your-own bundle alongside a couple of other titles I’d been meaning to pick up, I figured getting three of these games for roughly $5 seemed like a good deal.

I’ve now played one of the three – Palindrome Syndrome – to completion, and although I enjoyed the game for what it was, I would have felt 100% ripped off if I’d bought it at its retail price of $10. I played on the Steam Deck over two sessions, and it took me just under two hours to complete the game. Calling the story of the game mediocre is probably a bit generous, but if you’re playing an escape room style puzzle game, you’re probably not in it for the story.

Full disclosure: I needed to look up hints twice during the game. Once to figure out what the puzzle was asking me to do, and the other because I was totally flummoxed. Both of these were in the last of the six game areas. Up until that point, I made steady, non-frustrating progress through the variety of puzzle types (although most are recycled a time or two throughout the game). The game does give you all the information you need to solve every puzzle it puts in front of you, however, sometimes, doing things out of order will leave you feeling like something was left out – just keep looking. It’s all there.

Instead, any frustration the game might have earned comes from design and user interface decisions. This was maybe made a little worse by playing on the Steam Deck, but it felt like the interactable areas were very small, and oddly placed. More than once, I only discovered something was interactable on my third or fourth lap around the room. I wouldn’t quite call it pixel-hunting, but the experience definitely could have been improved by increasing the size of the interactable areas. There are also a couple places where color is integral to solving a puzzle, and the color choices definitely could have been handled better – in one memorable place, there’s a purple and blue that look very similar, and in another, the clue is yellow, but the choice in the solution is much nearer to a green.

The other gripe I had was with the way notes were handled. Several times, you’ll pick up bits of written information that go into a notebook you can open to refer to them. However, you cannot open the notebook while actively attempting to solve a puzzle, so if you need to refer back to the information that the game has given you, you have to close out of the puzzle, open the notebook, find the correct document, and hope you remember everything when you get back to the solving part.

While I wouldn’t call Palindrome Syndrome a good adventure game, as a pure puzzler with some set decoration, it’s worth a playthrough, but certainly not at full price.