Friday, 28 October 2016

revisiting Tragedy Looper

After trying the Bio-Terrorist Challenge in Pandemic: On The Brink with my colleagues, I thought it would be interesting to teach them Tragedy Looper, which is also a one-vs-many game.

Protagonist players: Benz, Xiao Zhu, Edwin. Observers: Jeixel, Tyle. We started with the first scenario. I was, of course, the evil mastermind. We decided to play 3 loops, which was easier for the protagonists. I had forgotten many details, and more importantly I had forgotten the techniques and tactics. I had to recall and reconstruct them while I played. Since I was rusty, I had to rely on the mastermind strategy guide in the mastermind handbook. One thing that I did remember, and felt again, was the tension of being the mastermind. It was nerve-racking. After playing Tragedy Looper, I felt drained - that kind of feeling when you are suddenly released from a long period of being tensed up. As mastermind, I needed to fully utilise every piece of informational advantage I had over the protagonists. Most of these advantages can only be used once, because once the protagonists learn of your weapon, they will also learn to disarm you. I needed to be prudent with how I used my weapons. I needed to avoid revealing too much, while still making sure I could trigger the tragedy before the current loop ends. Otherwise I would run out of reliable weapons. I had to plan ahead too. Many incidents and character actions could only be triggered if the relevant characters had enough paranoia or intrigue tokens placed on them. I needed to make sure I had enough turns to place the required numbers of tokens.

The strongest masterminds will be able to make good use of not just the main plots, subplots and incidents in a scenario. They will make use of even the main plots and subplots not in the scenario. The protagonists do not know which plots are in, so they need to consider all possibilities. If the mastermind can use this to throw red herrings, he can keep the protagonists off the right trail for longer. I am nowhere near that level yet. I already struggle with juggling in my head the main plot, subplot and incidents that are in the scenario. I need to keep finding ways to trigger the tragedy without getting disrupted by the protagonists. It feels like being hunted. As the protagonists uncover clue after clue, I see my options dwindling and I feel the net closing up.

A funny situation occurred in Scenario 1. In one of the loops, I had carefully planned a series of events that would trigger the tragedy. The protagonists didn't know yet how I was going to do it, but the actions they took got people killed (which was not what I had in mind), and ultimately ruined my plan. I needed the right people at the right place at the right time, so when some of them got killed at inopportune moments, my plans were foiled. I had to scramble to find another way to trigger the tragedy. Bad things happening can actually be good for the protagonists. Also, the best laid plans can be spoilt by the protagonists unintentionally.

Eventually it came down to the last day of the last loop. I had only one last chance to trigger the tragedy. There was only one method remaining to kill the character I needed dead, but in order to do that, I needed two specific characters to meet up. In Tragedy Looper, the mastermind plays his cards first, so the protagonists can always react. Also if both the mastermind and a protagonist have played movement cards on a character, the character often ends up moving in a direction neither party intended. I gambled on the second point, intentionally trying to send one of the key characters in a wrong direction. To my pleasant surprise, the protagonist did indeed play a movement card on him too, and the result was he moved in the true direction I wanted him to go in. I managed to trigger the tragedy once again, and won the game.

Protagonist players: Benz, Jeixel, Tyle. Observer: Eva. After the first game, Xiao Zhu and Edwin didn't seem too keen. Deduction games may not be their thing. However Jeixel and Tyle who had been watching us play looked interested. So Benz suggested they join the table to play the next scenario. The second scenario was a bit more complex. It had 5 days per loop, and we played 4 loops (easier for protagonists). Despite it being longer, we were able to play more quickly because we had a better grasp of the game mechanism.

This time victory was again decided on the final day of the final loop. By then I (mastermind) had almost run out of options. The protagonists knew most of my tricks and how to neutralise them. On that fateful final day, I could only pin my hopes on one particular character, who had the ability to place an intrigue token on another character. Each round (i.e. each day) I only had 3 action cards to play, and the three protagonists also had one each to play. Since I had to play my cards first, they could see where I played them and then play their cards on the same characters to try to foil my plan. Having that particular character was akin to having a fourth action card. The protagonists needed to decide which three among my three action cards and this character's ability to try to neutralise. Eventually they decided the character was too risky to leave be, so they moved him, and negated two of my three action cards. Thankfully, the most critical action I needed to execute was precisely the one they ignored. The game character was but a feint. The protagonists failed to save the day.

Both Scenarios 1 and 2 are introductory scenarios, so the number of characters in play is low. In standard scenarios there are more characters and more plots. I wonder when I'll get to Scenario 10. The base game has 10 scenarios. I think I've only played up to Scenario 3. I don't remember whether I've read the solution to Scenario 4 (which is a good thing - that means I can play it). I have already ordered the expansion. I hope I will eventually get to that. I still have not yet taught my children this game. I hope they will like it. Shee Yun (11) should be able to play it, but I think not Chen Rui (9).

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