It’s getting harder to find a way to break into what has become a little niche in board gaming – small box card games that are an analogue of puzzle or escape rooms. So when I came across a demo of the UNDO series at Origins, I was intrigued enough to stop and get the lowdown. The initial run of the series is 3 games – Cherry Blossom Festival, Blood in the Gutter and Curse from the Past. I’ve played each of them through, and I’ll give my overall impressions of the game system and these titles – without spoiling the stories, of course!
When it comes down to brass tacks, the UNDO system is basically a choose-your-own-adventure time travel murder mystery. Each of the games has the same structure in the deck to help you set up and give you the basics of how to play the game (that’s right, no rule book!). The game is played by visiting a number of times/locations by jumping to a card – there will be 13 of them laid out in a tableau, each with a clue for that location and “answer” cards. Players start at the time of death card and have 9 “jumps” they can take around the tableau before the game is up. Four clue cards are provided, which players must decide to use in order to flip the clue card at their location over. So, it’s a bit of a balancing act of not just where and when to go, but just how much information you want or need.
And what does that information do? Well, you’ll be charged with assessing the situation of the card and once that is done, select one of three options listed to try and shift the timeline a little bit to prevent the fate of the deceased. Depending on your choice, you flip the answer card that matches that location – it will show you a number score, which indicates if (at all) you’ve changed fate. A zero, of course, means nothing has changed. But you could be luck and receive a +1 or even +2; at the same time, a bad decision will leave you with a -1 or -2. Once all of your jumps have completed, your changes fall into place – meaning, you will tally your score and see how you did!
I must mention at this point: this is quite a subjective game. You’re not finding clues to solve a puzzle with only one answer. Given the setting of the game and the overall description of each card (approximately a paragraph or two in most cases), players must discuss what outcome they think will have impact. What’s the significance of where and when you are? Perhaps an object or person has come into play that will sway your choice. For example – does the deceased at a certain point pick up a phone when it rings? Players could discuss who it could be, why the timing of the call is important and much more. Suffice to say, you really do want to play this game with folks who are willing to go with a story and pick bits of a timeline apart to run with hunches and possibilities.
While the player count on the box is 2 – 6 people, I would encourage you to keep it right in the middle of that range or things could get hectic. I’ve played each with three players and it was just enough to come up with some good ideas without one person making all the decisions and avoiding the group not agreeing on a choice. Just enough what-ifs without the game dragging!
My experience of the three stories was overall great, bar the fact that I really started with the weakest of the three stories unknowingly (Curse from the Past). It didn’t have the drive and flavour that the other two stories had – Cherry Blossom Festival and Blood in the Gutter set their scenes really well and you got to know characters even just from the snippets of text on cards. They felt a lot easier to mull over and deduce than Curse, which left me feeling much better at our results. We managed to scrape through a victory in Cherry Blossom and save the deceased (woo!) but ended up JUST missing out on helping the gentleman in Blood, sadly. Hard times, 1920s Chicago.
If you’re looking for an interesting evening of sussing out stories, I’d give these a try! The price point is quite good – similar to Exit or Unlock games – and if you do end up failing there’s opportunity to try again (given some time so you don’t remember everything, avoiding a situation like putting your finger in as a bookmark in a choose-your-own-adventure book and getting to quickly switch back if you don’t like what happened). If you’re after an escape room/puzzle vibe, I’d avoid this overall. It’s certainly a mystery to solve, with all of the hitches that come with that – but the way it’s timed by the amount of jumps you get to take gives you an interesting approach that’s different to the “how long did it take you” scoring for escape room games, that’s for sure. Be savvy with your choices and you may just save someone’s life!
The UNDO series consists of stand-alone small box murder mystery card games for 2 – 6 people, taking anywhere from 30 – 120 minutes to play. They are designed by Michael Palm & Lukas Zach, with art by Lea Fröhlich and Lisa Lenz and published by Pegasus Spiele.