Kemuel's Place

A diary of sorts, wherein I moonlight as a games writer. Under haphazard construction.

Category Archives: Board Games

All I wanna play right now: Tragedy Looper

One of the main reasons I started this place was so that I’d have somewhere to ramble on about games I really like without inflicting too much of my insufferable enthusiasm on unfortunate friends and passers-by, which isn’t really how I’ve been using it thus far.

Here we go.

Tragedy Looper didn’t convince me at first, but it turns out that this was because we were playing it wrong. We misunderstood something quite important, which is easily done to be fair, because it’s fucking complicated. There is an absolute mountain to climb before you will fully get your head around all the paranoia, intrigue, goodwill, roles, incidents and characters (and which of the above are and aren’t related to one another), but when you do.. oh wow.

Tragedy Looper’s a Japanese board game which sorta defies classification. It’s about time travel, detective work, bluffing, and in its final stages ends up vaguely resembling a demented kind of Chess. Every game follows a scripted scenario over the course of a number of days with one player acting as a Mastermind trying to complete a nefarious deed or two, and the other three attempting to stop them any way they can. The players start out in a state of abject confusion with no information about what the Mastermind’s win condition is, or what role any of the characters on the board will play in the script. By watching events unfold, they must begin to deduce what’s going on and try to successfully intervene. Or, like, just lose their shit completely in a fit of blind panic.

That guy was alone with the girl when she died. The other dude died alone apparently at random. Nobody who goes to the hospital comes out alive. The Shrine Maiden appears to be chasing that Schoolboy. A suicide was presaged on this day. Oh. dear. god.

Maybe the protagonists will play their movement cards to try and keep the murderous guy and the girl apart, maybe they’ll attempt to keep the suicidal dude’s spirits up by reducing his paranoia, maybe they’ll try and stop anyone going to the hospital by forbidding them by moving at all. And maybe it’ll be all for nothing when a bomb goes off and everyone dies anyway.

When the Mastermind completes their objective, they announce that the loop is closed, and time resets itself to the beginning of the first day. The Protagonists can then share their thoughts before everything starts again, trying to work out what the fuck just happened to them. I forgot to mention that throughout all this the Protagonists are not allowed to communicate with one another, which to begin with is every bit as insane as it sounds.

If the Mastermind wins the requisite number of times, the Protagonists get a chance to guess the identities of all the characters, and if they fail that, it’s game over. If the Protagonists even once manage get to the end of the number of days listed in the script without the Mastermind winning, then that’s it, they win everything.

The stakes are high on both sides, with every completed loop bringing the Protagonists closer to failure, but simultaneously providing them with more vital information about the roles of the characters and the Mastermind’s intentions. The Mastermind is utterly reliant on surprise, feeling the tricks up their sleeves dwindle as they listen in despair to the players’ discussions bringing them closer and closer to the mark.

All this writing has been a bit dry so far, because conveying the atmosphere during this game whilst giving a clear explanation of how it all works is actually really difficult. So much of the game hangs on lack of explanations, the lack of clarity in the chaotic events which occur. As the Mastermind it is utterly hilarious to simultaneously kill three characters, using three different means, and watch the players reaction of complete and utter WHAT THE FUCK as they desperately try to decipher which one was the key to the loop rebooting, and how they can go about averting it the following time.

The scripts I’ve played so far (and there are ten in the box to begin with, with guides for making your own) have all been broad enough to offer the opportunity for plenty of red herrings, and because the Protagonists don’t know what or even how many win conditions the Mastermind has, separating the truth from the decoys is a nightmare. All they have to help them is a forewarning of which days the special Incidents will occur upon, and the knowledge that roles of characters in the script will conform to one or more of the Plots written on their reference cards. No sign of a Serial Killer? Maybe the “Shadow of the Ripper” plot is not one of the ones that’s active. Pretty sure that guy’s a Conspiracy Theorist? Maybe we’re playing with “Unsettling Rumours”. He just placed some intrigue counters on the hospital.. does that mean it’s about to explode?

The design is just masterful. To begin with all the players are trying to do is gather information- work out which roles are active, which each of the characters on the board are playing, and what the Mastermind’s objectives are. But as the loops tick by, the nature of the game subtly changes. By the last loop they probably know who the killers are, they know whose lives they need to preserve; but can they actually do it? Can they prevent the Mastermind from moving all his pieces into place? Keep the Police Officer away from the Office Worker on the day of the murder? Stop anyone being left alone with the Doctor? Prevent the Boy Student’s paranoia reaching its limit on the day of the suicide? Chess. Sorta.

It’s such a nightmare to initially learn, though. Hopefully you’ve got a reasonable idea of how it works from my writing, but in practice you need to get your head around exactly what Paranoia tokens will do, why they’re different to Intrigue, and how someone could theoretically be the culprit of the “Murder” Incident, but not the “Killer” role. Three separate characters might die, one killed by the Killer, one killed by the Serial Killer, and one killed by the culprit of the  Murder, and they’d all be under completely different circumstances with different clues as to which was which. I’m not entirely convinced the cheat sheets with every single role, character, incident, plot and subplot listed on them really help with the inevitable information overload here, but they’re sorta essential to the players’ detective work.

Learning shouldn’t take more than a single full game, and over the course of that game you’ll learn the characters and roles in play inside out, but that’s still a couple of hours of your life that you need to invest before you even start to get the best of it. It should go without saying I think it’s totally worth it, though. If only because I am in sore need of more people to play with so I can stop Masterminding and try the player side out for once. It’s fun pulling the strings, but the pressure knowing that a single slip-up will cost you everything is a bit intense, even if you do start out holding all the cards.

So yeah, give it a look! Or like, at the very least, don’t get that deer-in-the-headlights look when I start yelling at you to let me teach you. I just wanna play moar..




Eurogamer 2014

Weeks have slipped by, and this is now very, very late. xD

So the weird thing about Eurogamer this year was that I’d already played the game that was at the top of the billing for me. My chance encounter with Evolve at MCM left me looking over the rest of the games on show, trying to work out what else I should be getting excited about spending hours queuing for. Alien Isolation? NOPE. Not after Rezzed. Far Cry 4? Meh. Borderlands 3-not-really-3? Maybe? This year’s Assassin’s Creed, whatever the hell that is by this point? Meh.

I found plenty of cool stuff over the two days I was there, but I felt like I was actively hunting for it more than usual, rather than vaguely knowing in advance what it was probably-more-or-less-likely-to-be, and then finding the odd surprise along the way. This was fun, because after I’d spent the first few quiet hours of Thursday queuing up for Evolve, Far Cry 4 and whatever the hell this year’s Assassin’s Creed is (the demo felt exactly the same as the one I played at Eurogamer last year!), I didn’t really know what to do with myself next.

I spent most of my time trying all the interesting-looking stuff in the PC area, because of course I did, but found lots of cool stuff outside as well. My favourite game of the show took me completely by surprise, as did my biggest letdown. So yeah, here’s the stuff that was noteworthy for me in the entirely arbitrary order of whatever springs to mind:

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The Dice of FTL


Like a lot of people this past week or so, I’ve taken the release of the free patch for FTL: Faster Than Light as a barely-needed excuse to make the jump back in, racking up another few dozen hours’ play and sorting out some unfinished business.

When my attention to the basic game waned back at the start of 2013, drifting off to orbit some shiny new pretender, I had, at around80 hours playtime on the clock, all but one of the playable ships unlocked, and all but two alternate floorplans unlocked for the rest. This was despite only having beaten the game’s boss twice in total, in Easy mode, no less. Once to unlock the Alliance Cruiser, and once again to.. prove it wasn’t just a fluke? I’ve still not managed a third.

Some of this I can blame on my dogged pursuit of achievements to unlock the alternate floorplans, some on how I get excited and barf money at shopkeepers whenever a new weapon or ship system appears which I haven’t used before. I also have a terrible habit of forgetting to switch the oxygen back on. Or sometimes I’ll get a message from someone on Facebook and when I look back at the game, an airlock will be open and someone important will have died along with the invaders I was trying to flush. Occasionally it’ll feel like the game’s screwed me, like a type of ship’s shown up that I’m particularly ill-prepared to fight, or the randomly-stocked shops and encounters haven’t provided me with sufficient weaponry to spend my mounting piles of scrap metal on; but the more I play, and the better I get at efficiently visiting as many stars in a sector as possible, broadening my choices, the less this seems to occur.

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Of Rooms and Booms on Tabletop Gaming Day 2014

When I arrived at Leisure Games in London for their Tabletop Gaming Day event last weekend I was wondering whether anything would justify the £15 train fare and lost Saturday morning. I’d almost bailed on going at the last minute, thanks to visions of a tiny, overcrowded store, full of nothing but full, already-in-progress games and nowhere to sit or stand. When I was greeted by exactly this as I stepped in the door, my heart sank. Quinns could be heard busily conducting a game of One-Night Werewolf, and I was immediately terrified by the prospect of making a gibbering arse of myself to him, but with the exception of that it didn’t look like there was going to be much else to do. I mean, the first game I got a chance to sit down and play was Ticket to Ride and that’s about trains.

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