A retro roleplaying romp
To outsiders, Dungeons & Dragons can appear complex, intimidating, and – let’s face it – a little lame. But ask a D&Der, and they’ll likely gush about its imaginative escapism, and how its campaigns encourage camaraderie and problem-solving. Wintermoor Tactics Club is a tactics-lite-cum-visual-novel which extols these virtues through the story of an extracurricular club of an 80s boarding school.
You play Alicia, a member of Wintermoor Academy’s ‘Tactics Club.’ Flanked by troublemaker Jacob and catacomb master Colin, she spends her free time roleplaying in Curses & Catacombs, a cheekily thin-veiled reference to D&D. After-school clubs are a big part of life at Wintermoor – that is until the principal pits them against each other in a snowball tournament.
The catch? Each club knocked out of the tournament must be disbanded with immediate effect, until there is only one club left: the ‘Ultimate Club.’
Welcome to the club
With the Tactics Club providing a sense of belonging and identity, Alicia, Jacob and Colin – or Anjaya, Roguey and Eodwald, to give them their C&C names – are devastated at the prospect of losing it. But despite their lack of real-world fighting experience, they soon learn to adapt what they’ve learned in C&C to the icy battlegrounds that determine the fate of their organisation.
Playing C&C campaigns and fighting in the tournament are both represented via isometric turn-based-tactics battles. These simplify strategy to the nth degree, reminiscent of Into The Breach with their miniature grids, short playtime and puzzle-like structure. The difference is, they’re a hell of a lot more forgiving.
Accessibility was clearly at the forefront of EVC Games’ minds while designing every aspect of Wintermoor Tactics Club. Its simple concepts and mechanics are introduced gently. There are no surprises, from the clear attack and movement radiuses to exactly how much damage your moves are going to do – even going as far as to tell you which player each enemy is planning to attack.
Beyond their approachability, however, Wintermoor Tactics Club’s battles are a bit of a pushover. I’m no tactical mastermind – X-COM and Fire Emblem have me swearing at times – but here I was barely breaking a sweat. As if that wasn’t enough, there’s an option to reduce the level of challenge even further.
Once, I actually did botch a mission. I lost a player early on and almost killed off another. Eking my way past the finish line, I was somehow still bestowed with an “Astounding” rating. Astounding, indeed.
The other side of the coin is the visual novel-style interactions outside of battle, which are equally painless. There are light side quests comprising of going back and forth across the campus, the game firmly pointing you in the direction of where to go and what to do. Critical thinking is not required here.
Play your role
The lack of difficulty will clearly not appeal to everyone. But it has its upsides. This is a distinctly chilled-out experience, with the story-prioritising sensibilities of a visual novel. You’ll make new friends and strengthen bonds with existing ones, all while fighting for your club’s future and unravelling the shady circumstances of the tournament. It has heart.
As the story progresses, you recruit a few new members into the Tactics Club. With each new character, you get to customise their backstory from a few multiple-choice options. A nice touch, if ultimately inconsequential.
It benefits from a little playfulness and humour, too. Take some of the other school clubs, for example. The sovereignty-loving Young Monarchists. The Equestrian Club, who continue to meet despite horses having been removed from the school due to budget cuts, opting to build a papier-mache horse robot instead. Or the “Disco Must Die” club, which disbanded when disco actually died.
The picture ain’t worth a thousand words
There’s one major disappointment I felt with Wintermoor Tactics Club, however. While the story and dialogue made me warm to its characters and immersed me in its world, I can’t say the same for its visuals.
Character portraits in conversation are gorgeous. Unfortunately, these production values don’t carry over to the rest of the game’s design. Characters don’t even look quite the same as their portraits at times – take psychic Jania, who exudes quirkiness and energy in her portrait, but within the game world looks indifferent and straight-up bored.
Environments, too, are static and lifeless. Often, nothing moves, save for a few snow particles and Alicia’s three-frame idle animation. Assets feel mismatched, with nicely detailed and shaded elements sitting alongside simple line drawings and repetitive terrain tiles. Even the outlines on some objects are inconsistent.
A captivating campaign?
The art isn’t bad, per se. I just wish it was better. It feels halfway there, a promising bunch of hashed-out concepts and placeholders never fully realised. Some extra detail and flair could have gone a long way in bringing Wintermoor to life.
Nonetheless, Wintermoor Tactics Club is a lovely bit of escapism. Those looking for challenging strategy should look elsewhere, and its presentation lets it down in places, but this school-life D&D adventure has its heart in the right place.
[Reviewed on PC]
James loves a deep action-adventure game, RPG or Metroidvania. He can often be found in The Indie Game Website’s review section casting his critical eye over the latest indie games.