16 November 2017
Come up with your own gripping hour of TV in this inventive family-friendly roleplaying game
Rod Bassman, fish PI, kicks down the door and bursts into the room. He had heard a muffled scream from student Janey Chips as the starfish that snuck through her open window tried to smother her in her sleep. She had struggled to tear the evil echinoderm from her face, but Bassman somehow succeeds, flinging the sea creature into a corner. Why was Janey the target? Why a starfish? How was Bassman’s boss, Sergeant Batter, tied up in all of this? All of this would become clear – after all, this was only the opening scene of Fish & Chips.
More accurately, it was the first few minutes of our first Untold: Adventures Await episode. An episode that would take us from a vague premise and groan-worthy pun to a shock twist and gripping final showdown with the malevolent Batter and his corrupt fish forces in under an hour, while hinting at the wider revelations to come in the rest of the season. We know you’ll be tuning in.
Untold is a fast and loose roleplaying game built around storytelling toy Rory’s Story Cubes, a series of nine dice that dictate the flow of a tale with their suggestive symbol faces. Nine dice are included in the Untold box, but can be substituted easily for any of the countless Story Cubes variations out there, opening up the door for this to become a Batman, Adventure Time or Doctor Who RPG – or even a mashup. With the game embracing the open invention of players, it’s just as effective plotting a gritty detective drama (with fish) as a whimsical treasure hunt on an alien planet.
Framed in the format of a TV series – each hour-long playthrough makes up one episode, with characters, world and story able to carry over into a longer season – Untold uses Story Cubes in combination with random boards that lay out the action of five scenes using a basic sentence structure (“In [BLANK], [BLANK] was attacking [BLANK].”), where the blanks are filled with the results of the pictorial dice. These charmingly-illustrated boards form the backbone of each episode, offering up links between people, places and things to pull the whole thing together in a way that feels comfortable and cohesive rather than being five random events with little character or story progression.
Within each scene, the group can ask a specific number of questions, which built out the wider world and narrative, and perform actions. Actions are resolved using a rudimentary card system: an outcome card dictates whether the result is positive or negative, with potential modifiers (“And…”, “But…”) leading to emotional reactions from a second deck of facial expressions. It’s simple but surprisingly elegant in execution, gently encouraging players to improvise the drama with enough agency to shape the story without overwhelming them with options or the pressure to invent every last element of the narrative.
As well as the shared scene tokens, each player also has their own personal stash of tokens, allowing them to offer two ideas to other players, re-roll a Story Cube or flashback out of the current scene to further develop a character or plot point. This gently encourages quieter players to get involved and help build up a more established world, while doubling up as a way of stopping one or two people controlling the entire story throughout. There’s even a play/pause card for each player that can be used to stop the game and ask for help if they feel a little lost – an especially welcoming touch.
Although Untold is clearly designed for younger players as a first introduction to roleplaying and storytelling techniques (you’ll probably still need an older player to lead things with those aged under 10), that doesn’t stop it being buckets of fun with adults. Those seeking the true flexibility of grown-up RPGs may find the partial hand-holding and limitation to the direction of Story Cubes a little frustrating, yet it serves as such a delightful bite-sized chunk of improvisation and yarn-spinning that it’s impossible to do anything but smile your whole way through.
Untold adds just enough direction to the random storytelling of Story Cubes without getting rid of the room for players to tell their own tales, improvise and have loads of fun. It’s a memorable, entertaining roleplaying experience in under an hour – beat that.
Publisher: The Creativity Hub
Time: 60 minutes
This review originally appeared in the October/November 2017 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here – or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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