Have you ever wanted to recreate the high-stakes “witch’s games” from Umineko and Higurashi? Well, now you can, thanks to the unique Japanese board game Tragedy Looper. Originally released by the doujin circle BakaFire in 2011, it was published last year in English, and quickly gained buzz as one of 2014’s most innovative board games.
Each game of Tragedy Looper uses a unique script. Scripts list the secret roles of each character, as well as plot twists and possible tragedies lurking behind the scenes. With this script in hand, a single Mastermind takes on a team of 1-3 Protagonists. While the Mastermind is privy to the entire script, the Protagonists start each game in the dark. To prevent the tragedy, they must discover the Mastermind’s secrets through trial and error. Mostly error, of course, as the Mastermind tries to trigger murders, suicides, and worse. After each Bad End, the Protagonists get a chance to loop back in time and try again. It’s a struggle of wits, as the Protagonists try to untangle the script’s mysteries before they run out of loops.
Each turn, the Mastermind plays cards face-down to different characters and locations. Then, the Protagonists play their own cards, before everything is flipped up and resolved. They know where the Mastermind’s playing, but not what he’s playing. This leads to many tense mind games. Is the Mastermind adding to that character’s paranoia, so they’re demoned away? Or is that face-down card just a feint, concealing his real attack?
The stage is set for the 1st script.
Tragedy Looper is one of those rare “board games with spoilers.” Each script is designed to be played only once as a protagonist (though you can play it as Mastermind any number of times). Although the game comes packaged with 10 pre-made scripts, some might worry about it’s replay value. Don’t worry, though: it’s replay value is infinite! For Masterminds with a few games under their belt, it’s easy to create new scripts. In fact, this can be the most fun part of the game: watching your friends puzzle out your own devious creations.
Tragedy Looper is a game with many moving parts. For new players, it can take a while to “click.” The occasionally confusing terminology doesn’t help. “Wait, so someone can be the Culprit of a Murder, but the Killer is a totally different thing?” Once it does click, though, the experience is extremely rewarding. Even if you don’t have enough friends up for the challenge, the game lends itself well to playing by forum. I’ve even run a few myself; if you’d like to try the game yourself, feel free to let me know!