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Video Game / The Fool's Errand

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Puzzle-addicted students hated me because they flunked their exams. Business folks hated me for arriving blurry-eyed on the job. And even newlyweds hated me for ruining the honeymoon.
Cliff Johnson

The Fool's Errand is a 1987 Puzzle Game based on Tarot Motifs, with players helping The Fool outwit the sinister High Priestess. Some puzzles are old standbys like crosswords and jigsaws; others could only be realized electronically, such as forming shapes by switching on and off overlapping regions that cancel each other out. The endgame incorporates clues obtained from each of the 80 sections, making this the first "meta-puzzle" video game.

It was designed by Cliff Johnson for the Apple Macintosh, and ported to MS-DOS, Amiga, and Atari ST. With the original publishers out of business, Johnson has deemed the game Freeware, along with his other classics At The Carnival and 3 in Three. Downloads are here.

A sequel, The Fool and His Money, was announced in 2003...and triumphantly released in 2012 after being postponed 38 times. It can now be purchased for Windows or OS X.


Tropes found in The Fool's Errand:

  • Bindle Stick: Carried by the fool.
  • The Blacksmith: He forges monogrammed dinner plates.
  • Cutscene: The Prologue and Finale, which combined filled a 400K floppy to the brim.
  • Cutscene Incompetence: In the Finale, the fool bets the High Priestess his life that he can solve one last puzzle... and we watch helplessly as he gets it wrong. Subverted by The Reveal that he was Briar Patching, aware that if she commanded her stolen MacGuffin to murder, she would be Hoist by Her Own Petard.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: Johnson considers his original black and white version definitive.
    Keep in mind, I spent nearly two years perfecting a look and feel that took best advantage of the Mac's high resolution black & white. To then see the game close up in gaudy IBM colors and chunky oblong pixels gave me the willies. But viewed from 15 feet away, it looks okay. Kinda.
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  • Epileptic Flashing Lights: The game's go-to special effect.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: The fool has one at the end of his journey. Successful players will have many.
  • Eye Beams: The Book of Thoth incarnates as a laser-blasting Eye of Horus.
  • The Face of the Sun: It even talks to the fool... and hands him a map.
  • Fearless Fool: The story begins with our hero about to cheerfully walk off a cliff rather than stray from his path. He's only saved by the sun's interruption: "Your folly is most curious. Have you no fear of death?"
  • Fictional Sport: The game of Thoth, played with tarot cards.
  • The Game of the Book: The original Fool's Errand was a homemade 35-page book, of which Johnson gave dozens of copies as gifts. Only three recipients worked out the solution: "Merry Christmas."
  • Guide Dang It!: The Hint Book sold more copies than the game itself. There was no GameFAQs back then, and even the pirates were desperate enough to pay for hints.
  • Hidden in Plain Sight: The solution to what many players considered That One Puzzle is all but spelled out elsewhere in the game.
  • Iris Out: Not to black, but to the checkerboard grey of the Mac desktop. Which then fades to black for the Closing Credits.
  • It's the Journey That Counts: The fool's real treasure is the gift of wisdom.
  • Linked List Clue Methodology: The Path of Six puzzle follows this route.
  • Literal-Minded: The fool, to the point of Insane Troll Logic. When a woman says of a hedge maze "I wouldn't go in there if I were you," he reasons that since she isn't him, she's encouraging him to go in.
  • Living Shadow: The Empress is cursed with one.
  • The Maze: With some cruel variations, like walls that are really passages and vice versa, semi-random teleportation, and Fog of War.
  • Nintendo Hard: The Fool's Errand was absolutely not a game for the impatient or simple-minded gamer.
  • Out of the Inferno: How the High Priestess first appears to the fool.
  • Phantom Zone Picture: The High Priestess can trap people inside tarot cards.
  • Satan: The Devil possesses "the wings of a bat, the horns of a ram, the legs of a goat, and the feet of a bird."
  • Signature Style: Seeking to evoke the mystery of the Tarot in monochrome pixel art, Johnson was inspired by The Adventures of Prince Achmed to depict people only as black silhouettes. This became his artistic trademark, even as graphics evolved and he designed more comedic games.
  • Skull for a Head
    • The High Priestess initially appears this way, then develops a face.
    • Death's head is a skull "writhing with worms".
  • Turns Red: The 99 Enchantments have to be clicked in precise order. When you've cleared two thirds of them, they start changing position every couple seconds. Towards the end, they get much faster.
  • Unexpected Gameplay Change: A few of the puzzles are based on dexterity instead of reflection, and one is a card game dependent largelyon luck (though, of course, once you deduce the rules, a little skill can help to even the odds.)
    Cliff Johnson: I'm a big fan of collage, montage, and assemblage, so I endeavored to imbue the game with endless variety, that is, as much variety as I could pack onto a 400K floppy.

Tropes found in The Fool and His Money:

  • Added Alliterative Appeal: There are 70 alliterative bewitchments, such as Wentworth's Wager and Ursula's Umbrage.
  • Pre-Order Bonus: The in-game Compendium of True Believers honors over a thousand players who stood by their pre-orders through up to 10 years of development, even as naysayers claimed that the project was "performance art" with a title mocking its backers.
  • Rule of Seven: We haven't seen this many sevens since Marathon.
  • Sequel Escalation: "Overall there are twice as many puzzles as the original and thrice as many on the Moon's Map."

Alternative Title(s): The Fool And His Money