Title: Wintermoor Tactics Club
Publisher: Versus Evil
Website: Wintermoor Tactics Club
Genre: Turn-based tactics, Point and click adventure
Release Date: May 5, 2020
Version Tested: PC
Wintermoor Tactics Club is a turn-based tactics game with adventure game elements set in a New England boarding school in the 1980s. The game’s narrative, mechanics, and aesthetic work together to examine the coming of age themes while the game is successful in a few key moments; some flaws hold it back from being really great.
Coming of Age Story in Wintermoor Tactics Club
The story of Wintermoor Tactics Club begins when the Principal of the school decides that the school needs to determine which of its many clubs is the ultimate. The method chosen for this determination is a snowball fight tournament. A fitting choice for the middle of a New England winter. Any club that loses a match of the tournament is disbanded. These stakes lead the members of the titular Tactics Club to prepare by working versions of their real-life opponents into their Curses & Catacombs campaign. C&C is a nod to D&D, which is where most of the game’s turn-based tactics sequences take place.
As the story progresses and clubs are disbanded, the player gets the opportunity to add new players to the Tactics Club. The tension that this causes in the club and the greater student body is where most of the thematic content of the game comes from. On its face, the message of the game is wholesome to the point of becoming pretty corny at times. There are one or two genuinely touching story beats and conversations here and there, but the majority of the game lays it on a bit thick in general.
The best example of the way Wintermoore Tactics Club misses the mark thematically is how it handles gatekeeping. As the story progresses and the Tactics Club’s ranks grow, one of the original members gets upset about how the group’s dynamic changes. The argument that ensues will be pretty familiar to a lot of people in the TTRPG and wider gaming communities. It’s essentially a textbook gatekeeping argument with the club founder on the side of excluding people and the player’s character on the side of inclusivity. The problem the game runs into is that it takes the excuses of the club leader, named Colin, for being a jerk, fear of change, and being bullied, at face value. The game also washes his hands of the worst behavior using a possession/mind control plotline. It goes so far that the player character, Alicia, apologies for hurting his feelings. If this game had been made in the 1980s and not just set in that time, this kind of naivete would make sense, but gaming communities know better now. Gatekeeping isn’t about fear of change or past trauma. It’s about control, entitlement, and very often racism and bigotry.
On the other hand, a lot of what Wintermoor Tactics Club has to say about isolation and anxiety about reaching out to others is quite touching. The game also goes out of its way to include a variety of marginalized people in a positive way.
Playing ‘Curses & Catacombs’
The main gameplay element of Wintermoor Tactics Club is, fittingly, tactical battles. The game is broken into chapters that end with a snowball fight. In the run-up to those chapter-ending battles, the Tactics Club can prepare by playing scenarios in C&C. The battles themselves feel fairly flat. Characters never get access to more than four or five abilities, maps are all pretty small, and there aren’t many different enemy types. The game does do some interesting things with ground effects and chaining magical attacks, but the enemy AI never seems to learn to counter these barriers and tactics. Overall the combat system feels like it was designed for kids but doesn’t give them enough credit.
When not playing C&C or throwing snowballs, Alicia wanders the Whitmoor campus unraveling the mystery surrounding the tournament and solving problems for the student’s adventure game style. There’s a lot of fetching an item for people, talking to someone on someone else’s behalf, and finding people with specialized knowledge to answer a question. It’s all very charming and cute and even heartwarming in some cases. Occasionally the game tries to be funny, but it never really ends up working out. The characters are either too earnest or too dumb to laugh at, depending on who the joke is supposed to be on. These point-and-click sections are also where most of the combat gear for the characters are unlocked. The character’s max out at two slots for equipment making this another area the game has streamlined to the point of being over-simple.
Illustrations and Music in Wintermoor Tactics Club
The aesthetic of Wintermoor Tactics Club does a really great job of tying the story and gameplay together. Switching back and forth from what is essentially a D&D campaign written by middle schoolers and a boarding school could be jarring with the wrong art style. The 2D art unifies the fantasy and real-world sequences while also clearly differentiating them. It does help that all of the fantasy sequences take place on the tactical maps. The Music for the game is atmospheric and pleasant. Here and there, the score effectively mimics music from the 80s, which does more to ground the story in that time than anything else in the game.
Verdict: Wintermoor Tactics Club is a simple and heartwarming combination of turn-based tactics and adventure games mechanics. Unfortunately, the game is held back by being too simple and a bit naive in some places.
- Nice Art and Music
- Heartwarming Story
- Mishandled Themes
- Too Simple Combat