Improbably enough, I've yet to lose one of those games. But I'm definitely in over my head, here. Anyway, short-form reviews of my casual pony reading, compiled below the break.
Every Mare Needs Her Stallion, by InquisitorM
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Fluttershy is acting very unlike what Rarity expects, and Rarity intends to find out why she's so chipper and assertive all of a sudden.
A few thoughts: It's tough to be sure exactly what to say of this story. As anyone who's read a couple of the author's stories knows to expect, Mr. M keeps the focus here tightly on his characters' emotional reactions and impetuses, sometimes to the exclusion of all else. I felt that he nailed that side of the story; there are a lot of times throughout the fic when characters are acting subtly (or sometimes, not-so-subtly) off, but these never fail to serve the larger purpose of the story. However, understanding that story requires a lot of effort on the reader's part, filling in the barely-dropped hints and unstated but implied assumptions which dot this work. Readers with a taste for implication-heavy literature will definitely be impressed, but make no mistake; this isn't light reading.
Recommendation: This is a fic for those who like to be challenged by their reading; anyone looking for such will find here a deceptively straightforward story which, as a glance at the comments will quickly show, can quickly lead the unwary to confusion.
The Boy Who Cried Wolf, by InquisitorM
Zero-ish spoiler summary: A shaman comes to a frontier town, seeking a particular story which had its origin there--and about which he knows more than a little, himself.
A few thoughts: Like Stallion, this story is heavy on subtle emotional cues, but it's a much less demanding piece in terms of reader attentiveness, which I found more in line with my personal tastes. At its core, this is a story about the power of words--to craft a narrative, to define us and the world around us, and to evoke or deny reality--presented in a pleasingly high-stakes but low on the "epic" scale way. There's an air of tension all the way through this fic, which nicely fits with the claustrophobic setting and characters' intentions to create a perfectly appropriate mood.
Recommendation: This is a good one for anyone who's a fan of folktale deconstructions, especially those who like a little complexity to their clear-on-the-surface reading.
Bitter Harvest, by Esle Ynopemos
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Golden Harvest is definitely straight. She's got a coltfriend and everything... she does wish Applejack would stop being so distracting, though.
A few thoughts: With two deeply psychological stories commented on, how about we turn our attention to an irreverent comedy? Bitter Harvest does get Carrot Top's name wrong (add that to the list of things Chris can be surprisingly inflexible about, I guess), but Ynopemos shows a delightful knack for stream-of-consciousness-style representations of character thoughts and amusing tangential asides, both of which make this story feel remarkably short despite weighing in at just a bit south of 20k words. There are some missteps (Pinkie's (thankfully minor) role in the story is a particular disappointment), but the hits far outnumber the misses. And, although this is definitely a comedy, it was nice that Carrot Top's identity-turmoil was more than just an excuse for pony snogging (and was, by the standards of shipping stories, remarkably nuanced). It's not like there's a lot of depth here, but what there is is nice.
Recommendation: Fans of dry comedy, particularly of the observational or digressive variety, will definitely want to check this out.
The Dragon Who Would Not Sleep, by TheMessenger
Zero-ish spoiler summary: Three vignettes of times Spike didn't want to go to sleep.
A few thoughts: Although I didn't particularly dislike this story, it seemed to me there was less to it than met the eye. What was lacking for me as a strong connection between the three bedtimes shown beyond the fact that, well, Spike didn't want to go to sleep. The first two were well-written enough though, even lacking that; it was the third one where I felt the issue here. Without delving into spoilers, the lack of a lesson, or even a thematic or moral connection between it and the previous two made it hard for me to feel emotionally invested in it.
Recommendation: Readers with a fondness for "scenes from a life" stories will find this to be a well-constructed one, but those looking for much depth beyond that will probably find it lacking.