Inside an old, abandoned office building near Queen’s Park in Toronto, four members of the resistance are working out what their next move should be. They all live in an alternate universe post-WW2 society where the allies did not win and it’s a dystopia where magic exists. The “Elders” are those who wish to stop them using magic and keep the dystopia from progress. Can the resistance stand up to the Elders? Will they find out what the secret agenda of their organization really is? And what is up with that demon, anyhow? Tune in for: ‘You Gotta Fight For Your Right to Party’, episode 1 of Torontopia.
If this doesn’t sound like the premise for a board game you’ve heard of, it’s because it’s not! But an intrepid band of adventurers and myself crafted a story in 5 acts all of our own, with the assistance of the Untold: Adventures Await system, powered by Rory’s Story Cubes. For those unfamiliar with the Story Cubes, they’re sets of dice with simple imagery (some sets are themed) that are used to improvise stories. Untold comes with the base set of cubes, to get you on your way – using these, players make characters and then play through an “episode” of a TV show created together.
The game starts by players collaborating ideas for a setting for the story – where is it set? In what time period? An alternate universe, perhaps? You can use the story cubes for inspiration, but our group just threw some quick ideas around and came up with a fun mix, as you can see above. Players then create characters (again, optionally inspired by the story cubes), giving them a role and motivation – as well as a couple of other unique abilities or items. You’re then ready to leap into the story!
Over 5 acts, players will develop the story – primarily by asking questions or taking actions, and sometimes with some flashback help. There is a great variety of the scene cards that come in the box, that are designed to mix together certain story elements that will direct players and help them interpret the story cube results in certain ways – especially when placed on the scene cards. You’ll start with “A Dangerous Dilemma”, move through “The Plot Thickens”, “An Heroic Undertaking”, and “The Truth Revealed” before hitting “The Final Showdown.” Depending on the place in the story and the variant of the card, you might place from 1 up to 3 story cubes on various elements to set up that scene – a location, a foe, if they’re attacking, if someone’s been captured, etc.
For each scene, the available story cubes are rolled, and out of that pool, players decide which little images make the most sense and can be tied to their story. For instance, we had the walking cane symbol show up, and used that to represent our foes, The Elders. I thought it would be really tough to interpret the symbols on the dice to fit with a storyline, but it honestly worked out terrifically. During the scenes, the questions players ask are also driven by the story cubes as prompts. When a player asks a question, they specify what they want to know, and then sort of divine what fits out of the results of rolling. Slightly differently, when they take an action, players have to specify they really want to do or obtain something by a specific method – and the results are decided by drawing from an outcome deck. Regardless of if it’s a successful outcome or not, the player describes what happens. You will often be directed to draw from the “reaction” desk also, which can be something the player’s character or someone else does as a response to the outcome. This is possibly the most flexible part of the game, but can be the toughest to improvise!
I really love the way that Untold guides players through the progression of a story, but not so firmly they don’t feel like they have agency. It’s somewhere snugly between a role playing game (very very sandbox-y) and perhaps a campaign board game with a structured story – you are directed to progress through the scenes and finish up at a specific point, but what happens along the way is variable due to the game’s setup and also the way players use the story cubes, ask questions and take their actions. Our group was constantly laughing and exclaiming, thrilled when certain story cubes came up with, somehow, the most apropos symbols for us to weave into our tale.
As well as offering the episodic format that can carry players and characters over multiple games, I think this system would work just as well as a one-off play. One player could set up a scenario and use the system to almost “DM” in a setting they’ve crafted, but want to play around in with friends. This gets Untold out of the sticky bind of “legacy” and campaign games that have a set format and often a set length, which can be tough to sustain for certain play groups. With the right folks you could have a fantastic time regardless of your repeated (or not) plays.
With that mention of “the right folks”, I must really give a caveat for this game. You may be put off by the improvisation and storytelling of this game – that’s why I like having the story cubes and scene cards there, to give a push in the right direction. And even if you aren’t normally the RPGish type, I feel like this game offers something to you. Regardless, I made sure that I said to everyone when we had found a group at sat down that it was going to be a storytelling game powered by Rory’s Story Cubes and that we’d be getting creative – we had a blast, and we made sure that everyone got a little taste of the action, trying out questions and taking actions so there was no dominant quarterback driving the story.
I love what a fresh take this game has for creativity and storytelling in board games, and I’m thrilled to see it in such a simple format. A friend I played with had his full set of story cubes with him, and I’m certainly tempted to mix it up next time with maybe some of the animal ones, or the magic ones, just to see what sparks of creativity they can create. I encourage you to give this one a try, especially with families or regular game groups, and let me know what adventures await! It’s high time my healer Matilda got to revisit Torontopia again, let me tell you.