I am very new to the world of tabletop gaming and RPGs. Like most people, the game I most heard about and saw represented in the mainstream was ‘Dungeons and Dragons’, a game that seemed to require the player to memorize a tome of lore and rules before being able to actually enjoy it. Luckily, this misconception was fixed for me after watching the Oxventure and Dungeonbreaker D&D videos, groups more interested in the storytelling aspect than the fighting. Suddenly, these kinds of games felt more accessible to a newbie like me – it isn’t all about stats and dice rolls, it can just be about creating something together. Pure improv.
Eventually, this new obsession lead me to the ‘Alice is Missing’ kickstarter. Right around the time that the problems of 2020 were starting to ramp up, this game appeared on my radar with the unique idea of roleplaying through texting. I’ve always been comfortable communicating via texting so it felt like a great fit for me. I backed the game and waited.
With everything going on and being stuck at home, the wise people at Hunters Entertainment pushed to get the online edition on Roll20 available soon after the Kickstarter ended. Right before the launch, the game’s creator – Spenser Starke – appeared at a virtual GenCon event and was part of a live playthrough of the game. I opened up the Twitch stream on my phone, thinking I would watch the initial few minutes before logging off for the night.
But I was mesmerized. I stared at the screen, zooming in on the text messages as they scrolled past, tracking the story and feeling fully engaged in a game I wasn’t even playing.
The game centers around a missing high school girl, Alice. You and four other players are her friends. After the setup, where you establish your relationship to Alice and to each other, along with describing locations in the town and the shady people that were in Alice’s circle, everyone goes to their phones. A 90 minute timer starts and the eerie melodies of a hand-picked soundtrack begin to play.
The game starts with a simple group text from Charlie, a friend that had moved out of town the year before but is returning for the holiday. Charlie texts the group, asking if any of them have heard from Alice because s/he hasn’t heard from her in days. And with that single text, the story begins to unfold with each message. Players are encouraged to have private messages between their characters, where personal exchanges, old wounds, and secrets can be discussed. Every few minutes, a player flips over a card that prompts them to reveal a location or suspect and create a scenario that ties them to Alice’s disappearance and fuel the tangled web of where she could possibly be.
To top things off, after you have sent those final texts, you hear voicemails that each character left for Alice (that you created prior to the start of the game) from the day before she disappeared. Suddenly, the little “Hey Alice…see you at school” hits harder than before, having become the characters over the course of an hour and a half.
In the last portion of the game, you go through a debrief and take a moment to return to yourself, get back into your headspace and say goodbye to the character you created. While it might sound silly on paper, it is actually a very important chance to talk to each other about what happened, about how you started the game and how it ended and what you liked and disliked about the person you were roleplaying. It lets players slip back into your own skin in a graceful way rather than just saying “game over” and walking away.
I have played the game twice now – once with just three people and another time with the full roster of five. Both times we used Roll20 and Discord (there is a helpful server template on the Hunters site) as our “chat service” though I used the app on my phone to give it that “real feel” of frantically texting people (plus this meant you could leave the animated timer on the screen, removing the distraction/temptation of everything else).
The first time I played as Evan, the one with the crush, and I played as a quiet, shy kid who adored Alice from afar and was heartbroken by her going missing and it all compounded as the conversations went on and Evan realized how many parties they hadn’t been invited to and how maybe they missed their chance to tell Alice how they really felt. The second time, I was Jack, the older brother, who I played as so painfully straight edge, by the end of the game, he had a melt down, unable to understand why bad things were happening when he had done everything he was supposed to do as a big brother.
Both were very satisfying storytelling experiences, both left me dazed at the end, the crescendo of events taking us to conclusions that left us all wanting more when the timer went off.
This game was my gateway into this genre. It feels like my 21st birthday and someone poured me a glass of $200 wine as my first drink – while I don’t have tons to compare it to, I know this is special and I’m worried that anything else I play won’t stand up to the experience.
(Sidenote: the game book artwork for is gorgeous and I want to buy prints to hang on my wall.)
If you’re a fan of storytelling, of video games like ‘Life is Strange’ or shows like ‘Riverdale’ (both are cited by Starke as inspiration for the game), then I urge you to pick up a copy of the game and/or join the Hunters Entertainment discord where you can find people looking for players to round out their sessions. This is how I found people for both my sessions. It’s a great way to find an experienced facilitator to take you through your first time and, especially in these difficult times, a way to find a group to play with when your local game stores and conventions are not ready to be open to the public.