Review: Oh... Sir! The Insult Simulator10 Nov 2016 5
Review: Oh... Sir! The Insult Simulator
Released 25 Oct 2016
Oh…Sir! The Insult Simulator didn’t even register as a game during my weekly perusal of the app store, let alone one that I’d be interested in spending time with. It’s either my failure or a failure of branding, but the phrase “Insult Simulator” brought to mind the kind of stocking stuffer novelty hardcovers that don’t survive more than one cross-country move. Its inclusion in Tof’s weekly roundup piqued my interest, however, and the 48 hours since have been a blur of Monty Python references and procedurally generated smut.
Oh…Sir! comes in two flavors on the app store, both published by Gambitious Digital Entertainment and developed by Vile Monarch; the older Oh… Sir! is a result of the high pressure environment of a Global Game Jam, in which creators are challenged to bring a game from concept to reality in 48 hours and it has been available for free since December 2015. That game has since been refined and expanded into Oh…Sir! The Insult Simulator, which is the version I’ve been playing and is currently available without IAP for $1.99.
Describing the premise of Oh…Sir! puts one in the unenviable position of explaining a joke, but essentially you (the Protagonist, naturally) are dropped into an uncomfortable situation with an interlocutor and must tongue punch your way to victory (I’m using that right, aren’t I?). This game has all the trappings of classic fighting games, from the “health” bars at the top of the screen to the announcer exhorting players to “Settle It,” but subverts expectations by replacing the frantic physical combat with a turn-based battle of wits and witticisms.
The gameplay combines the emergent hilarity of phrasal template word games like Mad Libs or Cards Against Humanity with the phone booth knife fight of two player drafting games like Tides of Time and 7 Wonders: Duel. Players take turns selecting from a common pool of nine words, phrases and interjections, weighing the needs of their biting retort against the constraints of proper grammar. Each player also has access to two private phrases which can be refreshed once per round. Once both players have locked in their insults points are awarded by a just-opaque-enough algorithm. As far as I’ve gathered, length matters, but not as much as coherence. Humor is heavily weighted but as the hint screen will tell you “the developers decide what’s funny,” so YMMV.
To say Oh…Sir! is reminiscent of Monty Python is like saying Injustice: Gods Among Us is reminiscent of DC Comics. This is essentially Monty Python’s Flying Circus: The Game and the intended audience should be able to self-identify at this point, but if you need help, ask yourself: do you still think of Terry Gilliam primarily as an animator? Are you deathly afraid of rabbits? Do you think NetHack is the best roguelike ever made? If you answered yes to any of these questions… But it wouldn’t be enough if Vile Merchant just faithfully reproduced the content of Monty Python sketches (most high school drama clubs can manage that), they needed to capture the surreal spirit of those memorable skits and movies; this fan thinks they succeeded. For instance, they’ve cannily injected more contemporary cultural references among the Life of Brian quotes, so you might end up telling God (played by Morgan Freeman, obvs) that His Son sucks at Overwatch.
At this point, you might be wondering if it’s more helpful to think of Oh…Sir! as a competitive multiplayer game or a love letter to surreal British comedy, but the game succeeds so completely in both modes that I don’t want to diminish the experience by over ascribing it. The Vile Monarch team previously worked on another project that exists in two modes, This War of Mine. While it may seem counterintuitive to compare a game that revels in slapstick cruelty with one seemingly designed to give you survivor’s guilt, they both start with a very specific point of view and layer on solid, rewarding, game mechanisms.
To return to said mechanisms, I’ve already drawn incredulity from my gaming group for saying as much, but I would argue that Oh…Sir! is the best drafting game released this year, in any medium. After you’ve played through the tournament mode a few times and acquired all the unlockables you’ll quickly outpace the AI. The computer opponents put up a decent fight and are great as an extended tutorial, but the game really shines in multiplayer. The new edition retains the local multiplayer that proved popular with audiences at Global Game Jam and adds an excellent online play mode. The matchmaking system is quick and fairly stable; I’ve experienced more disconnections than I’d like during peak times, but not enough to significantly color the experience. There’s also an option to create private, password protected rooms. Keep in mind, all games are played in real time; there’s no asynchronous play at the moment and I don’t think drafting games lend themselves particularly well to this format due to the memory aspect.
Once you’ve settled into multiplayer the deep tactical nature of this game will really open up. The core tension of strategic play is the struggle for limited resources typical of drafting with the added wrinkle of several push-your-luck elements unique to Oh…Sir! First off, at some point you’ll want to refresh your two private words/phrases (by pausing for a sip of tea). You can do this at any time and it doesn’t consume your whole turn, but you only get the one refresh each round. Do you try to use your first two privates before your refresh to get the most mileage? Do you string out a long and luxurious insult hoping against hope you get an object for the prepositional phrase you’ve committed to knowing that if you can’t complete the sentence you’ll score zero points for the round? One “phrase” that will commonly pop up in the draft is an ellipsis, which offers another delightfully painful decision point. Selecting the ellipsis is the in-game equivalent of pausing for breath. You’re not going to be scoring any damage for the current round, but you’ll pick up where you left off next round so you can string together that truly epic curse unless your opponent is able to deal more than 15 damage in the round you choose to “…” in which case you popped your monocle and forgot everything you were about to say. You can (or might be forced to) ellipsis early and sweat out the rest of your opponents’ round, or if they tap out early and you’re pretty sure they’re scoring less than 15 damage you might just take an ellipsis of opportunity. These considerations are just the tip of what you should be processing during a tough match, there’s also the ever-present struggle for conjunctions, tactical time-outs and advanced hate drafting (where you make illegal choices and take damage to deny your opponent a key part of speech). All is fair in love and grammar!
Oh…Sir! has replaced Star Realms as my go to competitive online multiplayer game [Heresy! -ED]. The two games share a deceptive simplicity, but reward repeated play. If anything, I’d argue Oh…Sir! is the more skill dependent. There’s still some luck in the initial phrase distribution (some characters are more vulnerable to certain insults) and your private phrases may make or break a given insult, but I’ll bet if you look at the win percentages of top players months from now (when the user base is more stable) they’ll be well above the ~60% found in games of high variance like Star Realms, MTG and Baseball. I’m not arguing this makes it a de facto better game, and the learning curve may keep players away in the long run, but I would argue it’s satisfying to git gud. Just maybe don’t grief the newbs with “Father” excessively.
My minor critique of the system is that its accessibility derives from the fact that all it asks players to do is craft a grammatically correct sentence. Anyone can construct a sentence, right? But if you’re choosing words and phrases based on natural language you’ll bounce off the game’s stricter rules. I’d still consider it intuitive, but you’ll have to internalize a few of the game’s idiosyncrasies. My major critique is that there aren’t already five Oh…Sir! spinoffs. Where’s my The Great British Bake Off Judging Simulator? I want to unlock Gordon Ramsey, already! Obviously, this game is getting my highest recommendation, and I expect to see it on a few end of year lists. Get out there and start out-witting strangers with England’s greatest quips from the 70’s, 80’s and today.