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These are the IF pieces that I like a lot and think everybody should play. My tastes run somewhat to new-school games (that is, with relatively low puzzle difficulty, a literary focus, avoidance of certain tropes), so if you prefer traditional puzzly games with low-def PCs this is probably not the most helpful list for you. Far from comprehensive: some games aren't here because I haven't played or completed them, or drawn a little picture yet.

This page, or some version of it, has been up since... at any rate, before there was IFDB or its predecessor IF Ratings. It's just a touch Web 1.0 now (and barely competent to boot), but I'm still fond of it. The icons are all basically fanart, but some of them have been adopted around the time that cover-art became more standard on ifWiki and IFDB. (Metamorphoses, Best of Three and A Day for Fresh Sushi are the ones that come to mind. If you are an author and want to gank these, have at it.)

Not suitable for new players, usually due to hard puzzles or reliance on in-genre references.Of strong theoretical interest.Recommended for new players.

Savoir Faire by Emily Short. In all likelihood my favourite IF piece. Structurally it's an old-skool puzzler, though almost all the puzzles are strikingly innovative. It's also beautifully written, evocative and large. Beautiful.
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Lock & Key by Adam Cadre. This is only IF by default: it's a sort of tower-defence game from before that genre existed, mostly rendered in prose. It's also very funny, devilishly difficult and deeply satisfying to complete. Schlock-fantasy, with all the trimmings; a lovingly ornamented puzzle-box rather than a great story.
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Fallacy of Dawn by Robb Sherwin. Blade Runner meets Red Dwarf in order to eat pizza and talk about videogames. Sherwin's writing is distinctive and consistently funny, although his implementation is buggy in parts. Earns extra points for thoroughly appropriate graphics use.
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Photopia by Adam Cadre. Emotionally powerful -- many people cite this as the first IF that made them cry -- though much-criticised for its heavily linear structure and arguable lack of interactivity; ironic given its opening lines. A landmark work, however.
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Metamorphoses by Emily Short. The most overtly Neoplatonic of Short's games; a shameless puzzlefest in an idiom of Renaissance occult.
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Galatea by Emily Short. A showcase of NPC conversation; a bristling phalanx of multiple endings; a joy to play. Galatea set the bar for conversation in IF; sadly, since its publication few writers, other than Short herself, have surpassed it.
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Anchorhead by Michael Gentry. Lovecraftian horror; a superb example of how wandering about solving puzzles for hours and hours needn't be detrimental to atmosphere and plot. The climax is an inevitable disappointment, but only because it does such a superb job of steadily building the tension.
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Bronze by Emily Short. A retelling of Beauty and the Beast with vague structural similarities to Savoir-Faire, but considerably shorter and somewhat easier.
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Spider and Web by Andrew Plotkin. Dark; high-tech espionage on a Cold War-like backdrop. Insanely difficult, with a marvellous narrative structure.
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Shrapnel by Adam Cadre. Short, chaotic and with a whole lot of visceral impact.
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City of Secrets by Emily Short. Massive, NPC-heavy, richly detailed, thematically rich. Sprawling, which may or may not be an advantage; high-quality writing throughout, however.
Disclaimer: I was a betatester on this.

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The Moonlit Tower by Yoon Ha Lee. A beautifully delicate piece, if somewhat directionless and vague; the agglomeration of Far Eastern mythologies is ever so slightly grating, and the puzzles get a little abtruse at times, but overall I love this.
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Lost Pig by Admiral Jota. Apparently unambitious and unassuming, but implemented with exceptional craft and thoroughness. Charming, fun, light.
Disclaimer: I was a betatester on this.

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Bad Machine by Dan Shiovitz. An impressive feat of implementation if nothing else; demands a radically different style of approach from the player. Macabre, complex, and difficult.
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Best of Three by Emily Short. Conversation-heavy, more mundane and down-to-earth and in some ways more personal than the rest of Short's stuff. A lot of fun to explore.
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Varicella by Adam Cadre. Machiavellian intrigue set against Italian city-states with modern fittings. Dark and funny, the two things Adam does best.
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Slouching Towards Bedlam by Daniel Ravipinto and Star Foster. Dark steampunk-with-cabbala stuff. A little slow to get off the ground, but otherwise excellent.
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Vespers by Jason Devlin. Medieval: plague, snow, wolves, starvation, sin, fire, and God turning his face away. If you can take the bleakness and the headgames, this is a joy to play.
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Violet by Jeremy Freese. The puzzles are run-of-the-mill, the NPC gimmick is kind of a cop-out and the ending is a horrible misstep. Nonetheless, this is a masterful, charming piece of writing with a strong grasp of the basic reward-the-player dynamic.
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Ad Verbum by Nick Montfort. An illustration of IF's relationship to riddles (a theme Montfort expounded on in his book Twisty Little Passages), and a mixed success; the alliterative rooms are the high point.
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Hoist Sail for the Heliopause and Home by Andrew Plotkin. Short and friendly science-fantasy, managing a sense of epic tall-tale.
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Alabaster, ed. Emily Short, contributors John Cater, Rob Dubbin, Eric Eve, Elizabeth Heller, Jayzee, Kazuki Mishima, Sarah Morayati, Mark Musante, Adam Thornton, Ziv Wities. Dark fairytale, deep conversation; the most successful experiment to date in large-collaboration IF.
Disclaimer: I was a betatester on this.

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Kaged by Ian Finley. Orwellian dystopia, anyone?
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Nevermore by Nate Cull. An appropriately melodramatic interpretation of Poe; heavily dark and metaphysical, and with lots of drug abuse. Some of the alchemy is a little excessive, though.
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Voices by Aris Katsaris. A dialogue-driven interpretation of the Joan of Arc story; perhaps a little constrictive, but adds some interesting angles and does a good job of raising questions. An excellent example of IF dealing with religion in ways that work.
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1893: A World's Fair Mystery by Peter Nepstad. Huge, professional and sprawling, this is basically a simple puzzlefest writ exceptionally large, and the setting is really the star. Character, prose and (to an extent) plot take a back seat.
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this game in exchange for reviewing it on IF-Review.
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Edifice by Lucian Smith. A clever evolutionary fable, with a much-vaunted language puzzle. I liked the first section the most, and thought the last section uninspiring, but overall it's a worthy piece.
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Worlds Apart by Suzanne Britton. Big, very polished and well-written, if a little bit too New-Agey in flavour for my tastes.
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First Things First by J. Robinson Wheeler. A sizeable and highly engaging (if somewhat oldskoolish) time-travel puzzlefest.
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Rameses by Stephen Bond. Linear and with limited interactivity. Deeply angsty. Nonetheless quite powerful; the counterfactual in many discussions about agency in IF.
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The Tale of the Kissing Bandit by J. Robinson Wheeler. Linear and somewhat sparsely implemented, but very funny indeed.
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Textfire Golf by Adam Cadre. Hilarious. A golf simulation, but the emphasis is on social climbing; winning the game may not be your goal. I have no interest whatsoever in golf, but became addicted to this.
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Shade by Andrew Plotkin. Banal on the surface; beneath that, surreal and troubling. Four days a week I think it's not a very good game, but it comes up in discussion a great deal.
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Babel by Ian Finley. Very clichéd - amnesiac protagonist, a structure built around triggering flashbacks by touching objects, hubristic science leads to catastrophe - but powerful nonetheless, and is often the touchstone when people are talking about those standard forms.
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Rematch by Andrew Pontious. A brilliant and intricate exploration of the one-turn game. Difficult, but rewarding; one extended puzzle.
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Kissing the Buddha's Feet by Leon Lin. This starts out on a fairly basic dumb-student-house premise, but develops a sense of chaos very pleasantly. Simple puzzles, and nothing very deep, but amusing and responsive.
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Necrotic Drift by Robb Sherwin. A lot more polished than Fallacy of Dawn, and with more of an attempt to grapple with Real-Life Issues through genre, but ultimately not as great a game. Geekery abounds.
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Christminster by Gareth Rees. One of the paradigmatic Middle Period games, it's often unfair and awkward but is a great game underneath. Extra points for Oxbridge setting.
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The Cabal by Stephen Bond. Utterly mystifying if you're not familiar with certain ancient jokes about rec.[arts/games].int-fiction trolls; thoroughly amusing if you are.
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Firebird by Bonnie Montgomery. Wacky retelling of Russian folk story; bursting with good bits.
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An Act of Murder by Christopher Huang. Murder mystery with a randomly determined killer: ambitious and not entirely successful, but probably the best example of the genre in IF.
Disclaimer: I was a betatester on this.

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Time Bastard by Matt Fendalaheen. It's only a transcript of a non-existent game, but it'd be one hell of a game if it had ever been implemented. Psychopathic gross-out injokes with Cthulhu on the side? Lovely. IF Archive
Shadows on the Mirror by Chrysoula Tzavelas. Conversation-driven; moody and atmospheric, although I feel it becomes a little overblown towards the end.
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Gun Mute by C.E.J. Pacian. An arcade shoot-em-up in IF format; works surprisingly well. Postapocalyptic Western, but less dull than Stephen King.
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Varkana by Maryam Gousheh-Forgeot. Pleasant, girly light fantasy. Rich development of setting, although the game ends just as the plot starts to kick in.
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Walker & Silhouette by C.E.J. Pacian. Steampunk detective stuff; as with Gun Mute, there's an over-the-top action-comic feel with gorgeous, iconic leads. Experiments with a single-word parser, after the model of Blue Lacuna.
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Everybody Dies by Jim Munroe. Short, well-observed, strongly written; the central mechanic doesn't have enough room to really shine, but there's excellent realist prose and clever use of illustrations.
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Floatpoint by Emily Short. Sci-fi about diplomacy with strange cultures; strong setting, though interaction is perhaps a little tough.
Disclaimer: I was a betatester on this.

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Deadline Enchanter by Alan DeNiro. Sparse, surreal, gesture-worldbuilding game that plays with the idea of game as an artefact of its own setting.
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Blue Lacuna by Aaron Reed. Vast and deeply implemented, with a staggeringly good intro sequence.
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If you like your games brief and unpolished you could look at the best of SpeedIF.Or if you have entirely lost your mind you could play my IF games.