Cardboard Children – Tragedy Looper

Hello youse.

I’ve been very busy with the release of my horror feature film (on Vimeo On Demand and 10% of every rental or sale to women’s aid charities – do excuse the plug) but I’ve still had time to play some board games.

Shall we enter the loop?

TRAGEDY LOOPER

In this week’s column I am going to try to talk to you about a game called “Tragedy Looper”. If you come with me into this room, I’ll explain to you how the game works.

You are dead. The loop is over.

TRAGEDY LOOPER

In this week’s column I am going to try to talk to you about a game called “Tragedy Looper”. If you come with me into this room, I’ll explain to you how the game works.

No? You want to stay here? Okay.

Tragedy Looper is a Japanese design, and it’s like nothing else I’ve ever played. The English language edition of the game has just been released by Z-Man Games, and I worry that the game might pass by without getting the attention it deserves.

It is utterly weird and brilliant.

First of all, it reminds you of the Japanese video game RPG Persona.

Have you played that game? You have?

You are dead. The loop is over.

TRAGEDY LOOPER

In this week’s column I am going to try to talk to you about a game called “Tragedy Looper”. If you come with me into this room, I’ll explain to you how the game works.

No? You want to stay here? Okay.

Tragedy Looper is a Japanese design, and it’s like nothing else I’ve ever played. The English language edition of the game has just been released by Z-Man Games, and I worry that the game might pass by without getting the attention it deserves.

It is utterly weird and brilliant.

First of all, it reminds you of the Japanese video game RPG Persona.

Have you played that game? You haven’t? Okay.

Well, it has that nice anime look, and it’s set in a School, a City, a Shrine and a Hospital. These locations are massively important. For example, come with me to the Shrine, and we’ll talk about why the locations matter so much.

I am dead. The loop is over.

TRAGEDY LOOPER

In this week’s column I am going to try to talk to you about a game called “Tragedy Looper”. If you come with me into this room, I’ll explain to you how the game works.

No? You want to stay here? Okay.

Tragedy Looper is a Japanese design, and it’s like nothing else I’ve ever played. The English language edition of the game has just been released by Z-Man Games, and I worry that the game might pass by without getting the attention it deserves.

It is utterly weird and brilliant.

First of all, it reminds you of the Japanese video game RPG Persona.

Have you played that game? You haven’t? Okay.

Well, it has that nice anime look, and it’s set in a School, a City, a Shrine and a Hospital. These locations are massively important. For example, come with me to the Shrine, and we’ll talk about why the locations matter so much. No? We’re going to the City?

Okay.

Tragedy Looper is a game for up to 4 players. One player must be the Mastermind, pulling the strings to make sure that every day passes the way it is supposed to, so that tragedies might occur.

The other players are time travellers. They are repeating the events of these fateful days again and again, in “loops”. The board is laid out with four locations – School, City, Shrine, Hospital. For each “script” in the game, each “scenario” (of which there are ten), there are a number of characters to be placed on the board.

Every player has a set of action cards that can be used to move characters, or increase their paranoia and intrigue levels. The loopers, the good guys, can also place Goodwill on characters, so that they can use their special powers. Once every player has played cards on the locations and characters, the cards are resolved and –

if a certain game state develops

according to the script

the loop ends in tragedy and resets to the very first day.

If not, a new day dawns. If the players can reach the end of the script’s days without losing the game, they win immediately.

EXPLAINING TRAGEDY LOOPER

How the hell do you explain Tragedy Looper?

I am the Mastermind. It is my job to make time flow to my liking.
You are the protagonists, and you must try to stop a tragedy from happening.
You do not know what that tragedy is.

It’s like Quantum Leap, a bit. You arrive at the start of a story. Something is going to happen. Something bad. But you don’t know what. Your first loop is usually spent watching what is happening on the table and around you. The Mastermind increases paranoia on the Police Inspector. Interesting. The Mastermind moves the Schoolgirl to the shrine. The Shrine Maiden is alone with her. Hm. The Schoolgirl is DEAD. The loop ends there.

Do we save the Schoolgirl? Is that why we are here? It’s like Quantum Leap, except with no Al and Ziggy to explain what the fuck you’re doing there.

There is a script that I must follow. This script will contain a “Plot” and a number of “Subplots”. Any of these might lead to the end of the loop, bringing you protagonists closer to defeat.

It is crucial to understand that the players have NOTHING to go on at the start of the game. They have a reference chart that show the possible “plots” of the story. By cross-referencing which roles they think are in play and which game-states are developing, they might be able to deduce which story is actually taking place. Maybe. MAYBE. It’s not good enough just to work it out, though. They also have to prevent it.

This murder plot is in play, yes. But what you fools don’t know is that there is a serial killer subplot in play too, to complicate matters. A conspiracy, yes. A pre-meditated murder. Yes. But also a serial killer, killing seemingly at random. Good luck to you.

Good luck, indeed. All these characters on the board may have hidden roles. The Shrine Maiden might be a serial killer. Now – she might not have anything to do with the main plot. But she still might end a loop, if she kills a key person. Now, consider this – even the protagonists, the good guys, can manipulate the serial killer if they work out who that serial killer is.

So, you use my own puppets against me. You deduced that there is an Assassin in this story, and that the Assassin is here to kill the schoolgirl. So you moved my assassin until he was alone with my serial killer. And my assassin died. Very clever. But there are other ways to reach our fated end.

With enough knowledge, the story can be pushed in different directions by the players. As long as the script’s game-end states never take shape, the good guys are going to win.

But on certain days, incidents occur. Everyone at the table knows when these incidents will happen, and what they are.

On Day 2 – a murder.

On Day 3 – a suicide.

Only the Mastermind knows who might commit a murder, and who might take their own life. It’s his job to place enough paranoia onto these characters to make the events take place. Remember, this all happens through simple face-down card play. The Mastermind raises some paranoia. The players lower that paranoia. Fine, but what if that is all a bluff? What if that stuff is completely off-script, and the Mastermind is pursuing his plot elsewhere?

By placing Goodwill on characters, the players can use the characters’ unique special abilities to further tweak events.

BLANK EXPRESSIONS

Tragedy Looper is a dark, weird game that is completely baffling at first. It leans on exactly none of the popular mechanics of current board games. It is it’s own thing. The central concept of replaying the same situation over and over again is frankly bizarre, but eventually wonderful. People, here is a game where you don’t even know how to win.

Look, here’s what the game really is – an all-versus-one battle to avoid certain game states.

The first time a loop ends on the players is always shockingly, brilliantly brutal.

A character is moved somewhere and then the Mastermind says – “The Office Worker is dead. The loop ends.”

No more information than that.

That’s when the game is afoot. Why did he die? How did he die? Who killed him? Why does it matter that he died? Why did he end the loop? What role is he playing? WHAT STORY IS THIS?

WHAT STORY IS THIS?

We’re talking about a game that has you asking “WHAT STORY IS THIS?” How wonderful is that?

Do you think it’s wonderful?

You are dead. The loop ends.

TRAGEDY LOOPER

In this week’s column I am going to try to talk to you about a game called “Tragedy Looper”. If you come with me into this room, I’ll explain to you how the game works.

No? You want to stay here? Okay.

Tragedy Looper is a Japanese design, and it’s like nothing else I’ve ever played. The English language edition of the game has just been released by Z-Man Games, and I worry that the game might pass by without getting the attention it deserves.

It is utterly weird and brilliant.

First of all, it reminds you of the Japanese video game RPG Persona.

Have you played that game? You haven’t? Okay.

Well, it has that nice anime look, and it’s set in a School, a City, a Shrine and a Hospital. These locations are massively important. For example, come with me to the Shrine, and we’ll talk about why the locations matter so much. No? We’re going to the City?

Okay.

Tragedy Looper is a game for up to 4 players. One player must be the Mastermind, pulling the strings to make sure that every day passes the way it is supposed to, so that tragedies might occur.

The other players are time travellers. They are repeating the events of these fateful days again and again, in “loops”. The board is laid out with four locations – School, City, Shrine, Hospital. For each “script” in the game, each “scenario” (of which there are ten), there are a number of characters to be placed on the board.

Every player has a set of action cards that can be used to move characters, or increase their paranoia and intrigue levels. The loopers, the good guys, can also place Goodwill on characters, so that they can use their special powers. Once every player has played cards on the locations and characters, the cards are resolved and –

if a certain game state develops

according to the script

the loop ends in tragedy and resets to the very first day.

If not, a new day dawns. If the players can reach the end of the script’s allotted number of days without losing the game, they win immediately.

EXPLAINING TRAGEDY LOOPER

How the hell do you explain Tragedy Looper?

I am the Mastermind. It is my job to make time flow to my liking.
You are the protagonists, and you must try to stop a tragedy from happening.
You do not know what that tragedy is.

It’s like Quantum Leap, a bit. You arrive at the start of a story. Something is going to happen. Something bad. But you don’t know what. Your first loop is usually spent watching what is happening on the table and around you. The Mastermind increases paranoia on the Police Inspector. Interesting. The Mastermind moves the Schoolgirl to the shrine. The Shrine Maiden is alone with her. Hm. The Schoolgirl is DEAD. The loop ends there.

Do we save the Schoolgirl? Is that why we are here? It’s like Quantum Leap, except with no Al and Ziggy to explain what the fuck you’re doing there.

There is a script that I must follow. This script will contain a “Plot” and a number of “Subplots”. Any of these might lead to the end of the loop, bringing you protagonists closer to defeat.

It is crucial to understand that the players have NOTHING to go on at the start of the game. They have a reference chart that show the possible “plots” of the story. By cross-referencing which roles they think are in play and which game-states are developing, they might be able to deduce which story is actually taking place. Maybe. MAYBE. It’s not good enough just to work it out, though. They also have to prevent it.

This murder plot is in play, yes. But what you fools don’t know is that there is a serial killer subplot in play too, to complicate matters. A conspiracy, yes. A pre-meditated murder. Yes. But also a serial killer, killing seemingly at random. Good luck to you.

Good luck, indeed. All these characters on the board may have hidden roles. The Shrine Maiden might be a serial killer. Now – she might not have anything to do with the main plot. But she still might end a loop, if she kills a key person. Now, consider this – even the protagonists, the good guys, can manipulate the serial killer if they work out who that serial killer is.

So, you use my own puppets against me. You deduced that there is an Assassin in this story, and that the Assassin is here to kill the schoolgirl. So you moved my assassin until he was alone with my serial killer. And my assassin died. Very clever. But there are other ways to reach our fated end.

With enough knowledge, the story can be pushed in different directions by the players. As long as the script’s game-end states never take shape, the good guys are going to win.

But on certain days, incidents occur. Everyone at the table knows when these incidents will happen, and what they are.

On Day 2 – a murder.

On Day 3 – a suicide.

Only the Mastermind knows who might commit a murder, and who might take their own life. It’s his job to place enough paranoia onto these characters to make the events take place. Remember, this all happens through simple face-down card play. The Mastermind raises some paranoia. The players lower that paranoia. Fine, but what if that is all a bluff? What if that stuff is completely off-script, and the Mastermind is pursuing his plot elsewhere?

By placing Goodwill on characters, the players can use the characters’ unique special abilities to further tweak events.

BLANK EXPRESSIONS

Tragedy Looper is a dark, weird game that is completely baffling at first. It leans on exactly none of the popular mechanics of current board games. It is it’s own thing. The central concept of replaying the same situation over and over again is frankly bizarre, but eventually wonderful. People, here is a game where you don’t even know how to win.

Look, here’s what the game really is – an all-versus-one battle to avoid certain game states.

The first time a loop ends on the players is always shockingly, brilliantly brutal.

A character is moved somewhere and then the Mastermind says – “The Office Worker is dead. The loop ends.”

No more information than that.

That’s when the game is afoot. Why did he die? How did he die? Who killed him? Why does it matter that he died? Why did he end the loop? What role is he playing? WHAT STORY IS THIS?

WHAT STORY IS THIS?

We’re talking about a game that has you asking “WHAT STORY IS THIS?” How wonderful is that?

Do you think it’s wonderful?

You don’t? You don’t even understand it?

TO SUM UP

This is the most exciting game I’ve played this year. I need to dig into it some more, and dabble with the script-creation tools that are included with the game. I need to get my head around it – right around it. But you must play it. If you have any interest in game design at all, you must play this startling, mind-bending thing.

I thought I knew what my Game of the Year was going to be.

And then I got stuck in this loop.

From this site

25 Comments

  1. Dilapinated says:

    Oh wow, this sounds fantastic!

    • Spacewalk says:

      Do you think this sounds fantastic?

      You are dead. The loop is over.

      • wraithgr says:

        Are you dead? Is the loop over?

        You are dead. The loop is over.

  2. Scurra says:

    I suspect this game will fail far more often than it will succeed. But with the right group…? I honestly can’t wait to play this.

    • Archonsod says:

      Only complaints I’ve had was that some players felt the game skewed a bit towards the mastermind after the first play, but usually it’s because they missed something somewhere. Every time once I explain what I think they did wrong you get that “eureka” moment and a demand for another crack at it.

      It is a hard game to teach precisely because the protagonists are going to feel lost and overwhelmed (that’s intentional!). and the two booklets aren’t ideally set out (the translation isn’t 100% perfect either). I think if anything, this would be the main reason it could fall flat, but if you can get over that what you’ve basically got is a game that has a fairly broad appeal – a group deduction game, or a player vs player bluff and move game.

  3. Haphaz77 says:

    I was reading this while my mind was drifting on other things. Reading through Rab’s writing here really grabbed my full attention. Nicely done. Sounds a mind-bendingly different game.

  4. Morph says:

    Played this twice and yeah it’s mind bendingly amazing.

  5. Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

    If I buy this, I’ll need to buy a new cudgel and set of blindfolds to… ah… gather players.

  6. Puppaz says:

    Only really play boardgames with the girlfriend, whilst this sounds amazing, will it really work so well with just two people playing?

    • Lacero says:

      The problem is the game is balanced so people not discussing and just playing cards works, and people discussing while the mastermind can hear them works.

      Someone discussing in their head where the mastermind can’t hear them might be too hard for the mastermind to win.

    • Archonsod says:

      It works fine with two, although it’s a slightly different experience – there’s a little less emphasis on deduction and a little more on adversarial play.

      The only thing I would be careful of is cracking open the mastermind’s guide straight away. Unless your happy for one of you to always play the mastermind it’s probably worth putting something in place to allow each of you a shot at some of the scenarios in the box (the scenario building guide is easy enough to use, however the scenarios the game ships with are something of a tutorial designed to teach certain nuances and quirks of the game to the mastermind and protagonists).

  7. Shazbut says:

    Sounds a bit like Cross Channel

  8. poetfoxpaul says:

    Madoka Magica the board game?

    Dayum, first cardboard children in a while that really got my attention.

  9. WibbsterVan says:

    I generally only play coop games for two players (with my wife), but this has certainly piqued my interest. I love games, whether they be board or computer, that do something completely individual and different.

  10. AXAXAXAS MLO II: MLO HARDER says:

    Sounds like the board game of a really great, off-kilter manga or anime.

  11. Radiant says:

    With the limited number of scenarios does this mean a limited number of plays?

    • WibbsterVan says:

      He comments that there are guidelines for creating your own scenarios included

    • Archonsod says:

      Nope. There’s four expansions currently available in Japan, Z-Man have said they’d be bringing them over if this does well.
      Really the scenarios this ships with are just there to teach the game more than anything else. After that the players should be equipped to launch into creating their own scenarios. The scenario building rules are straightforward pick and mix (basically you have a tragedy set, which is a collection of main plots and sub plots, and the mastermind simply picks a main plot and then a couple of sub-plots and you’ve pretty much got your scenario). The way the game usually works even if you have exactly the same main plot and sub plots it’s unlikely to play out the same way.

  12. webs1 says:

    This sounds intriguing, but I fear there will be no German version, and I won’t get my friends to dive into such depths of strangeness in Englisch..

    Btw, Rab, did you buy the new Battle of five armies game, and will you review it here?
    This seems to have gone under the radar of most people, strangely..

  13. Kitsunin says:

    Oh, I’m so thankful you wrote this! I usually have the opportunity to buy board games once a year, and if I would have missed this one that would be so disappointing. Now I want the next five months to pass quickly so I can get my mitts on this :D

  14. Icepick says:

    Sold!

  15. PastyAndUnhealthy says:

    Twenty-four hours and no one has mentioned Higurashi or Umineko?

    You all die horribly. The loop ends.

    (My FLGS literally just got a copy in, so now it’s mine!)

    • BooleanBob says:

      To be fair, time looping is kind of an exhausted trope in Japanese media. I’d imagine it arose because it’s such a snug fit for the same story/multiple branches of a visual novel, then bled into other media as creators were influenced by playing those, but that might not be the whole story. People already mentioned Cross Channel and Madoka, but you could just as easily point to Forest, Zero Escape, or Haruhi’s Endless Eight episodes – or countless other things.

      Taking that cliche and converting into a board game, though? You have to applaud the lateral thinking, if nothing else!

  16. Synt_x says:

    Can’t wait for the Möbius sequel

  17. Sertun says:

    One of the greatest games I’ve played and all thanks to this article! Thank you, Rob!