Wintermoor Tactics Club is an emotional roller coaster ride of a video game. One minute you’re soaring high, playing Curses & Catacombs (a tabletop role-playing game obviously inspired by classic dungeon crawling romp Monopoly) with your friends. The next, you’re slogging through dull combat or are in the middle of walking from point A to point B in what this game ambitiously calls a side quest.
But even at its lowest moments, Wintermoor Tactics Club’s story and characters bolster the experience. What should be dull combat and mindless side-questing are instead a delivery vehicle for hanging out with old friends and making new ones. That’s what this game is really all about, and that’s what ultimately makes it so special. Roller coasters are fun, after all.
Wintermoor’s Story 1st Edition Story Module
In the simplest terms, Wintermoor Tactics Club is a hybrid tactical-RPG/visual novel. There’s a high emphasis on story, with plenty of dialog and characters to interact with, but there’s plenty of combat here too.
Set in Wintermoor Academy, you play as Alicia, a member of the school’s Tactics Club. She and the other members of the club play a game called Curses & Catacombs, which is where the tactics side of the game comes into play. If you’re familiar with the excellent tabletop segments in Life is Strange: Before the Storm, the setup is similar, but here it’s much more in-depth, and takes place over the entire game.
It doesn’t take long before C&C becomes more than a game, however. Principal Enfield turns the school on its head when he creates what he calls the Ultimate Club Tournament, a snowball fight between all the schools club for the title of Ultimate Club. If a club loses or refuses to participate, they’re disbanded immediately. Why he’s holding this tournament is the core mystery of the game, but it spirals into a bigger conspiracy as you investigate the tournament while also taking part in it.
There’s a deeper story here than you might at first think. Get past the game’s goofy presentation, and you’ll soon learn this is a game about Alicia’s deep depression and social anxieties, and trying to overcome them. It’s about all the students of the school needing to face some inner conflict, how you can help them, and how they can help you in return. Wintermoor’s balance of comedy with the seriousness of depression, and the other issues facing these students, is masterful.
Exploring the Catacombs
You’ll spend much of your time in Wintermoor Tactics Club roaming the academy halls. There are six locations you can visit at any time, each containing NPCs you’re free to talk to. Some will have side quests for you, while others will just want to chat.
Completing side quests will grant you extra abilities to use in combat, which sounds great in theory, until you complete your first few of these objectives. That’s when you realize they all consist of traveling from one location to the next, talking to NPCs, then returning to the quest giver for your reward. There’s no challenge to overcome or puzzles to solve; it’s just walking around until you’re told to stop. But the story carries these quests. You’ll end up doing them anyway, knowing it’s unlikely you’ll get anything useful out of them, just so you can spend more time with these characters. That alone makes them worth it.
There are the occasional dialogue options that add a little personality to the conversations, but they don’t influence the story much. They’re there more to add your own personal flair to Alicia and make the player feel more engaged than to change the course of the narrative, and in that regard, they work well. The more interesting moments of player choice are when you draw a poster to solve a puzzle later on, decide what party members to take into combat and what abilities to give them, and when you get to write your own Curses & Catacombs campaigns.
Rolling a 3 For Combat
The combat is where Wintermoor Tactics Club falters. Curses and Catacombs campaigns pop up all the time, whether it be an actual C&C game or a tournament snowball fight that plays like a tabletop game.
These segments are the standard tactical RPG fare. There’s a grid full of enemies, you place your characters in a set location at the start, and pummel your opponents until they’re dead. Each character gets an attack and a powerful secondary attack that’s limited to a cool down, but that’s all there is to it. No healing, no items to use, and no cover to lessen attacks. It’s just you and a handful of baddies to stab or throw some magic at. It’s as simple as this type of combat gets.
There’s not much in the way of strategy. Yes, there are multiple abilities, each on a cool down, and you need to use standard attacks to build up a meter to use the abilities. But since maps are so small, there can only be so many enemies, and since those enemies have so little health, you’ll often use abilities only once or twice per encounter.
If you’re looking for a tough as nails tactical RPG, this ain’t it. Aside from an absurd difficulty spike against the final boss, I died a grand total of two times in whole the game. Even when (or if) you perish, fights are so quick here because of the small maps that death is more of a temporary roadblock than a real penalty. On the flipside, battles ending so quickly also means they don’t overstay their welcome, so they never become too boring or grueling.
Combat’s Saving Grace
These fights illustrate how Wintermoor’s story holds the rest of the game up. The club doesn’t have many figurines, so the same handful of types represent a vast array of enemies, and a salt shaker stands in for bosses. Character dialogue during C&C games adds extra flavor, as opposing clubs will all taunt you and lament the fact that they’ve gone down, and your club-mates will role play as their characters in C&C games.
The combat encounters often lead back to Alicia’s depression, too. She keeps having nightmares about the clubs she defeats, forcing her to doubt herself. She’s assailed by her classmates telling her they hate her, how she ruined their lives just so she can keep playing a silly game. Her life is otherwise going great, but she’s tormented by how she thinks other people view her anyway. As someone who struggles with depression, I felt connected to Alicia from the outset because of this.
Wintermoor Than the Sum of its Parts
Wintermoor Tactics Club is a game anchored by its characters and story. Each person you meet is bursting with hidden depth. The cliched high school presentation is there to be broken down, to represent that each of these students might look like one thing, but are so much more than that.
On paper, it’s easy to nitpick Wintermoor Tactics Club’s many flaws. But while you’re playing the game, those issues melt away to reveal a fantastic experience at its core.