I don’t know about you, but a lot of the video games I play are Japanese in origin, from Final Fantasy to Ys to Resident Evil. That’s not the case with board games, of course. In fact, I’d be hard pressed to name a single board I own that was originally published in Japan. At least, that was the case until I bought Tragedy Looper and its expansions.
Tragedy Looper was originally published in Japan as 惨劇RoopeR in 2011; the first English version was released by Z-Man Games in 2014. If you’re familiar with the “time loop” mystery genre made popular by films like Groundhog Day, Happy Death Day, Edge of Tomorrow, Before I Fall, and Source Code, the intriguing premise of Time Looper will make immediate sense. While it’s not a role playing game, it’s complex enough to require a Mastermind who sets the game up and unfolds events for the players.
At its core Tragedy Looper is a deduction game played on four location boards by one mastermind and up to three protagonists. After the programmed tragedies occur, players can travel back in time, restarting the scenario from the beginning in an attempt to find out precisely what happened, who the culprit was, and what their secret motive was. Each scenario features a set number of characters and character roles (eg: murderer, conspiracy theorist, victim). The players win if they ultimately manage to shield key individuals from tragedy; if they fail, the mastermind triumphs.
[Click the images for time-sized versions.]
Here’s the basic pitch from the back of the box.
You know the “Time Loop” fiction genre, where the main cast can go back in time to try to avoid whatever disaster is going to happen? Well, now that power is yours! Tragedy Looper allows a team of Protagonists to go back in time to stop tragedies from happening. A Mastermind will try to unfold those tragedies while the Protagonists have to find out what patterns are hidden, what evil plots are at work, and what roles the characters are before they run out of hope.
In each loop, the Protagonists try to gain as much information as possible in order to stop the tragedies in the next loop. Sometimes they will have the help of characters if the Protagonists can form goodwill bonds with them. But if the characters become too paranoid, bad things can happen. And if the intrigue of the plots come to fruition, the characters, or even the Protagonists, can perish!
Tragedy Looper contains 10 scenarios of various plots and subplots. One player will be the Mastermind, whose goal is to make sure the tragedies unfold. The other players are the Protagonists, whose job it is to stop those tragedies from occurring. And these scenarios are only the beginning. This box contains everything you need to create more adventures for the Protagonists, and more devious plots for the Mastermind!
The core game contains:
5 Game Boards
1 Leader Card
4 Extra Cards
34 Action Cards
20 Script Cards
4 Summary Sheets
1 Player’s Handbook
1 Mastermind’s Handbook
Mark Newheiser’s Amazon review was one of the first to pique my interest. Here’s a snippet.
A ten game campaign of deduction
Tragedy Looper is a slick little co-op game that gradually ramps up in its complexity. It avoids a typical problem of co-op games in having one player effectively run the group by forcing everyone to make independent decisions by limiting communication: our group plays to not allow discussion after the mastermind plays cards, forcing everyone to reach their own conclusions about how to counter.
Each scenario is a mystery set up according to a set of rules available to all players. The protagonists (after the first two scenarios) can win by either figuring out all the roles assigned to characters, or getting through a loop without any of the “tragedies” occurring to force them to repeat it. You gradually learn more information each loop, and hopefully box the mystery into a corner where you can either make a play to win or solve it completely.
The only downsides I see is that you need a dedicated player as the mastermind, who serves as more of a Dungeon Master than a player… The other downside is that there are only 10 scenarios… our games have taken progressively longer as we spend a lot of time debating and deciding between plays, so there’s no doubt in my mind we’re getting our money’s worth, it’ll just be a shame to see it end (until Z-Man brings over the expansions). The rulebook also contains guidelines on creating your own scenarios and balancing them according to how many loops would be required to solve them.
The core game Tragedy Looper was published in 2014, and retails for $39.99.
As Mark mentioned, one common critique of Time Looper is the limited number of original scenarios. However, there are additional scenarios available online, and since the game was released in 2014 two expansion packs have appeared.
The first expansion pack was Midnight Circle (2015), which adds three new Basic Tragedy Scripts, and nine more in two completely new cycles.
Tragedy Looper: Midnight Circle is an expansion for the international version of Tragedy Looper and includes some of the material previously released in the Japanese booklet expansions Midnight Zone and Mystery Circle. It also includes four all-new characters: Forensic, Illusion, A.I. and Scientist. In more detail, Tragedy Looper: Midnight Circle includes three Basic Tragedy scripts akin to those in the base game and nine scripts located in the Tragedy Sets of Midnight Zone and Mystery Circle.
In Midnight Zone, you must be wary of believing everything that you hear for lies abound; in Mystery Circle, all supernatural elements have been banished, leaving players to rely only on logic and deduction.
Midnight Circle retails for $19.99.
Tragedy Looper: Cosmic Evil was published by Z-Man in 2016. It brings a horror-movie vibe to the game with the addition of supernatural villains like vampires and werewolves, as well as Lovecraftian magic and dark spells.
This second expansion set for the international version of Tragedy Looper contains one new Basic Tragedy Script, and nine scripts that take on two new Tragedy Sets: Prime Evil and Cosmic Mythology. In Prime Evil, experience a classic horror movie setting, chased by werewolves and vampires, while in Cosmic Mythology, gain access to ancient magic left over from an ancient time. It also contains four new characters: Teacher, Soldier, New Student and Cat, and variant versions of the characters Police Officer and Informer.
The two tragedy sets in this expansion are equivalent to the japanese original two expansions Haunted Stage and Weird Mythology. However, the original “Haunted Stage” from 2012 was for this re-release much re-vamped, and saw many changes of plots, roles and incidents.
Cosmic Evil retails for $39.99.
The basic premise of Tragedy Looper is a compelling one, and the well written Scripts keep things constantly fresh. So far my favorite take on the game has been the more creepy, supernatural scenarios in Cosmic Evil (and to a lesser extent in Midnight Circle), but every scenario has its own appeal.
All three products are still available. I bought a brand new set of all three games for $59.99 (including shipping) from seller shopvillestore on eBay in May; if you’re interested in that bundle it’s still available here.
Our previous coverage of Z-Man Games titles includes:
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