In Tragedy Looper, you and your friends play time detectives trying to protect the timeline. Well, most of you are anyway. One of you, will trade in your badge and gun to become the evil mastermind with a new goal of getting away with a murderous plot.
As a time detective, you start the game only knowing that there’s some evil afoot. You must figure out what the mastermind is plotting, and how to stop it. To do this, you must influence people around town, moving them to different areas, calming and removing their paranoia, or gaining their goodwill.
But you can’t take too long. After some time a tragedy will trigger, and when it does, you will have failed.
Then, the characters return to their starting positions, the counters reset, and the game begins anew. That’s right, you’re stuck in a time loop. Only this time you’re armed with the information from the loop before. Now you know what’s going to happen, you need to make sure it doesn’t.
On the other hand, the mastermind has all the information knows exactly what’s going on, and what causes the tragedy. It’s their job to obfuscate the clues and make it impossible for the detectives to figure out.
For the detectives to win, they only need to survive the time loop without the tragedy. But after a certain number of loops, the mastermind prevails and corrupts the timeline for good.
Sounds great, how on Earth does it work?
Tragedy Looper is tough game to wrap your head around, thanks in part to a rule book that prattles on like a senior citizen off their medication. However, it’s not so complicated once you understand it, and then they’ve done a great job putting all the required information on the board and cards. Meaning you rarely have to return to the old folks home of a rulebook.
At the beginning of the game, several characters are spawned across the four areas on the board. These characters have secret roles, that only the mastermind knows. For example, the Class Rep might start at the School location and their role might be the Serial Killer; killing anyone alone with them at the end of the round.
While the locations are always the same, the roles and characters involved always change based on the scenario selected. Additionally, the scenario gives the mastermind several different tragedies that can occur based on the conditions outlined. Usually, completing these tragedies will win the game for the mastermind.
Despite only the mastermind knowing how to trigger these events, it’s surprisingly challenging for them to change the board state to meet these conditions. There are a lot of roles, actions, events, and ending conditions at your disposal, but getting it all straight inside your head is like pulling strands of spaghetti from the bowl.
Doubly so, as you’re trying to hide your intentions from the time detectives who will be watching and questioning your every move. Any information they glean from actions, will be used against you in future loops.
Tragedy Looper mixes bluff and logic
So far we’ve talked about the high level game cat and mouse going on in Tragedy Looper. But how does that play out in a turn by turn basis?
Each loop has a number of days (or rounds), broken into two parts. First, the mastermind takes three cards from their hand of cards and places them facedown on the board. They can place these cards on people or locations, and will cause them to move or generate status tokens.
Now that the time detectives know where the facedown cards are, they get a chance to react and place 3 cards as well.
Then all cards are revealed and activated. If both the the mastermind and time detectives played a movement card to the same character, the movement is combined before being carried out. For example, if mastermind plays a south card, and the detectives play a west card, then the character moves southwest.
While the top level deduction aspect of causing tragedies, and figuring them out, is on par with the best deduction board games. It’s this card play, and potential for bluffing that truly makes Tragedy Looper exceptional.
Trying to figure out what the other players are doing, and how they can intefere with your plans puts you on the edge of your seat every turn.
As such, Tragedy Looper holds one of my favourite board game experiences. Where as the mastermind, I sat quietly listening to the time detectives discuss the cards I just played. When one of the detectives figured out exactly what I planned.
Fortunately, the team overruled him and they went with another strategy. But for those few sweaty seconds the tension and excitement was palpable. Creating a board gaming experience I won’t soon forget.
Time for another loop
As a time detective, the start of the game might be overwhelming. All you get is a table of roles, and possible tragedies, like it was a logic puzzle in the newspaper. You have no idea who’s who, or what will cause the tragedy.
That is until the tragedy hits, and you’ve lost the loop.
However, the board shows everything that’s happened to cause the tragedy. So next loop, you change your tactics. You move people to different locations, or get help from others.
Another tragedy occurs.
Yet again, you’ve learned something.
This continual progress of learning is so engaging that you no longer play the time detective, you become them. Unravelling the mystery one loop at a time.
Now, if there’s one downside to Tragedy Looper it’s the components. Particularly, the piece of paper with roles and tragedies. As you’ll want to write on it, but doing so will ruin it.
The first thing I did with Tragedy Looper was laminate these sheets and get a pack of nice erasable markers. But really, I shouldn’t have had to do that.
Otherwise, Tragedy Looper is my favourite deduction board game, and that’s against some heavy competition from Cryptid and Letters From Whitechapel. It both an excellent turn-by-turn game of bluffing and double bluffing, but also is fantastic on that higher level with the slow reveal of information. Culminating in an incredible execution of a very difficult design idea and a phenominal board game.
Publisher: Z-Man Games
See how Tragedy Looper compares to all of the other board games I’ve reviewed.