Tragedy Looper

Tragedy Looper

Played the first scenario last night against three players, allegedly the “training scenario.”

It’s a really interesting game but holy crap is it hard to teach, learn and play well. I’m no stranger to games that you need to train on — Vlaada Chvaitl does it a lot, too — but this one feels qualitatively different.

The big hiccup on the Mastermind side is that you need to be really fluent in what is going on on your side so that you can smoothly bluff. This means understanding the various economies (there are three!), understanding that you have lots of ways to make the loopers lose, and understanding the timing and interactions of the various secret roles the characters have. I felt a lot of nervousness because one screw-up can ruin the game, as can one poorly timed reveal or bluff (which I did).

On the player side, the immediate problem is that they can’t hook into the scenario right away. They need to let the first loop basically play out just to get their feet on the ground. And that’s frustrating because they want to do things and they can’t do things without information. My wife was ready to give up on the first loop because she didn’t care about anything, and didn’t know what she was supposed to care about.

I beat the loopers but it felt unrewarding: there were four ways to kill the Key Person, and they’d figured out two of them (two roles in play) but hadn’t seen an Incident play out, and that’s what closed the loop the final time. So now they’ve seen how the game works but they’re hesitant to play again because the first time through was so vexing.

The game is also wide open to field commanders running the game, particularly when everyone is learning and table talk is allowed. There’s also a handling time issue where the players really should not discuss playing in front of me because I can adapt my plays to their planning, so they learned to be quiet while I worked out my game.

So, a mixed event. I want to play it again but I also don’t want to burn out my players.

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9 thoughts on “Tragedy Looper”

  1. I played this once, with an experienced person as one of the players and a person who’d been a player before Masterminding, and yeah – it was a weird experience, with a lot of “well, it will never hurt to do X” player actions steered by the experienced player. I think we won? I don’t actually remember.

    I remember being super impressed with the amount of pure design that went into the game, but not really being interested in playing again. Maaaaybe with all experienced players where we know up front how to get the fun out of it?

  2. So, a Big Thing is that the nature of the game is that the tragedy has already happened once, and that’s why they know to loop in the first place.

    So, they do know, before anything begins, the key players. They just don’t know which archetypal cards are the key players, with the exception of the victim, and why she was killed. So, they know that there’s an assassin, but is the assassin the business man? The police officer? The male student? I can’t remember if the serial killer is revealed out of the gate, but given that the assassin needs more to happen then simply being alone with the student, that knowledge is enough for the players to immediately realize that the shrine maiden is a serial killer. 

    Since they do get a reference sheet telling them what each role does, it’s a big hint when certain powers trigger. There are still a lot of moving pieces, but they are given tools to figure things out very quickly if they just keep the key players in mind, and observe what happens. It’s basically a fluid logic puzzle.

    But yeah, I had to run it a few times before it really clicked that the players are supposed to have a certain amount of information at the outset. A lot of the key players are common knowledge, and the goals are also common knowledge.

  3. I don’t believe the players start knowing what the tragedy is. Learning the end-of-game condition is one is the things they have to do.

    I might be wrong! I’m not near the rulebook, can someone find a reference clarifying what the players start out knowing?

    I had this conversation with James Stuart​ yesterday re the idea of having already been through the loop, because that’s not actually a rule. (I thought it was!)

  4. Some thoughts bundled in with a small piece of advice.

    I found a good thought about Pandemic Legacy, and how it helps with one of the mastermindiest co-op games out there. It’s not that PL does anything at all to fight it, except for that the way the game plays out makes it such that everybody cares about the game: in a sense, you all become masterminds, because you’re all bought in at a high level.

    The first loop in Tragedy Looper is always a low attachment loop, (especially in the first game, where you don’t even really know what to look for). I find that leaving table talk on for a first game is actually a bad thing. The more you can short circuit talking, the more people will just play, and then realize how their plays can matter.

    I agree with pretty much everything you said: it’s a weird, dense game to get a handle on, and it suffers from the same problem a lot of the bigger co-op games have: it’s hard to get new people to play without dragging the game back to the training missions.

    I wish it were just a tiny bit faster? Like, the first Space Alert play is rough, but the game takes 25 minutes, so you get to play again and get into the groove. But the game is just too long to be like: “Okay, warm up game, now we play again.”

  5. I pulled out the Mastermind handbook. 🙂

    So, the rules go into explaining Plots and Roles and things. Most of the scenarios do hide the Key Person, but the training one does not.

    At the beginning of each scenario is a story blurb. The blurb always ends in a question or statement aimed at the protagonists. For instance, the first scenario says, “A girl has learned a secret. And to silence her, some organization has sent out an assassin to get her. There’s also a serial killer in town, and a confused police officer, which makes things worse. Do you think you will be able to defend the young girl?”

    This one is very specific, as it’s for a training session, but they do get more vague, leaving the players with more to discover.

    Example: “To all young women there comes a moment where you need to fight. And now three such young women stand in the crossroads of fate. The mysterious something that has appeared forces the girls into making a choice. One of them is tired of playing the perfect student. Another sees the exhausted face of her best friend going home from a day at school. One thing is for certain: without the Protagonists, this will end in disaster and pain.”

    So, they do get some information to start.

  6. Then why does it ask the players a question? And why do they get progressively vaguer? Lame.

    Fictionally and mechanically, it makes more sense to me for them to have some idea of what’s going on. For buy-in, so their first round doesn’t feel wasted, and so they can start puzzling it out immediately.

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