These comments are regarding the 2017 interactive fiction competition, going on right now!
I used to live in Seattle, where I enjoyed visiting the Ballard locks. A fish ladder has been constructed to allow migrating fish to bypass the locks. Tens of thousands of fish swim up the narrow fish ladder each year. There is a colony of seals living nearby and that has created sort of a problem. With such a high concentration of fish swimming up the narrow passage, there is little incentive for the seals to finish a meal. They grab a fish, take a single bite, throw it onto the grass to decay, then grab another.
With 80 games in this year's competition, I feel like one of those seals. Overwhelmed with options, I open a game, dabble, then move on without having formed any opinion.
There are two games I have finished already and that alone speaks well for them. A finished game is finishable, and also engaging enough to be finished, which are both desirable attributes.
"Redstone" by Fred Snyder is a web based story, with some menu driven interaction. The graphics and interface are both old-school. Descriptions are short and simple. This would have fit in nicely amongst the graphic text adventures of the early 80s. A murder has taken place at a rural casino, and the player has been called in to sort things out before the FBI arrives. A simple but engaging work of IF noir. Maybe it felt even darker, to me, in relation to the Las Vegas tragedy that had just taken place.
"Ultimate Escape Room: IF city" by Mark Stahl is a glulx game, with parser based interactivity. I chose to play this game from the description, because I have plans to visit a recreational "escape room" for my birthday later this month.
Players who want their puzzles integrated into a complex narrative may be disappointed. These are puzzles for their own sake, varied and just the right difficulty. The parser vocabulary is constrained to the standard verbs (as far as I could tell) which keeps it both simple and satisfying. I was able to complete the game in under an hour without any hints or clues. The end featured a little twist, which bumped it in the narrative complexity I mentioned earlier.