Cinco Paus

Cinco Paus

released on Dec 25, 2017

Cinco Paus

released on Dec 25, 2017

You have five magic wands but you don't know what they do. A Portuguese roguelike from Michael Brough.

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I'm a huge proponent of games which do more with less, so it's little wonder I adore Michael Brough and his design philosophy. He is a gem of the TIGSource-era indie scene who believes above all else that games are about making choices. Always making choices. His brand of roguelikes, endearingly referred to as Broughlikes, embody this ethos well, be they designed by Brough himself, or his ardent supporters. Their most important features are:
Small play areas
Zugzwang (compulsion to move)
Singular control (moving is identical to acting)
Predictable randomisation
Maximal exploration of a singular element of roguelikes

This foundation is an immediate and apparent departure from the prototypical roguelike experience, wherein boards can be very large, their spaces ultimately uninteresting, where players can freely wait for an advantage in combat, where actions are discrete from one another, where random elements can make the totality of the experience feel dependent on luck. That notion of luck is superficially present in Broughlikes as well, but only due to a lack of understanding fundamentals of their design.

As detailed in his dev notes, Broughlikes have each tackled different elements of Rogue[-likes] such as single-use items (Zaga-33), reusable spells (868-HACK), empowering items (Imbroglio), and in the case of Cinco Paus, item identification. Stemming from a conversation with Zach Gage, Brough wanted to explore how Rogue[-like] items don't need to be approached in binaries of knowing nothing and knowing everything, rather, if an item has multiple effects (like cursed items in many RPGs and roguelikes) some might be apparent up front, and others are only known later. Furthermore, some effects might be arcane to those unfamiliar with a game's vocabulary. Drawing from his own experience of learning Portuguese, Brough replicated this abstraction through having every scrap of text be in the world's sixth most spoken language.

As perhaps the most distinct of the Romance languages, this wonderfully approximates a vague understanding of the terms at play here. I can deduce, from context and my own scant knowledge of French and Spanish, that 'pontos' means 'points,' but cognates can only carry one so far. As one uses their wands to determine their effects, little icons appears next to them which can convey some meaning, but nonetheless leaves some layer of non-understanding. Only through greater experimentation then could one reasonably ascertain that 'Tesouro Escondido' means not only 'Hidden Treasure,' but that it mechanically requires your beam to end in an area with three walls. One of the most befuddling effects in my experience was 'Terremoto' -- 'Earthquake' -- which only goes into effect when the beam crosses the centre-most tile of the room.

When the particulars finally snap into place, the feeling of understanding is unmatched by almost anything else I've ever encountered in a game. It is a pitch-perfect recreation of how learning works. The issue is that, like learning, it is a largely uphill battle with little perceived reward until it is completed. This is perhaps what most puts people off of Cinco Paus, as they have not put in enough effort to reap the benefits of that effort. Without knowing how wands and effects and enemies and items and everything coincides with one another, it reads as chaotic, random, and arbitrary. Like with a puzzle, chance success reads as just that, chance, a feeling of 'How was I supposed to know that?' whereas naturally reaching the solution feels earned through the application of tools and rules.

Cinco Paus follows a stepped curve, much like learning. Progress is staggered and by no means smooth. With enough time and effort, one reaches a new plateau. The effects are learned incrementally, the mechanics comprehended, successful runs achieved only for additional layers of complication to, inevitably, be added on top. Collecting five talismans confers an artefact with its own specific effects and use outside the bounds of the wands. Further successful runs completed in sequence add modifiers to existing elements. There is always a next level of understanding to be achieved. That is precisely what has kept me coming back to Cinco Paus month after months, year after year. That is what keeps me coming back to Broughlikes in general. I stumble through 868-HACK runs. I have a low level knowledge of Imbroglio thanks to other people's decks. I am slowly improving at Cinco Paus. I see runs posted others and feel like I'm being presented differential equations. I come across strategies like this and my head aches. Much more than that, I see some of my favourite developers like Derek Yu and Raigan Burns falling head over heels for this goofy games with a silly blue wizard and I am infected by their passion. I see others replicating Brough's philosophy in their own games and I hope these constrained games never stop. Even if they do, the possibilities laid bare in those minuscule grids shows how Brough is a mind on the level of gaming's best and brightest.

This game is a perfect example of how to make discovery enjoyable. Figuring out what every rod does each run is fun and has you praying that it will help you in one way or another only for it to blow up in your face and have you almost die. Then on the next room, you use that explosion to kill 3 ghosts at once and find out it also kills the frogs instantly. Having all text in Portuguese is great because even though I don't speak Portuguese, it shares enough common roots with Spanish/French that as someone who had to take a language in high school/college, there are a few things that I can sort of understand and those clue me in on what things do. The art and sound are like nothing else and really help this game stand out. It's a ruthless strategy rogue-like that is nothing like I've ever played before. Very possibly the most unique game I've encountered, and one I see myself going back to often to try and discover more of its secrets.