PLAYlist 42: Undo

Jul 09, 2019 By Austin Trunick
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Reasonably priced and packing a design which teaches newcomers how to play as they go, the Undo series is a great way to fill an evening with entertainment for a wide range of player counts.

The brand new Undo games come in a similar-sized box and at a comparable price point to many of the Escape Room-in-a-Box games that have been extremely popular over the last few years. (The Exit and Unlock series are the two best-known examples of the genre.) Where these differ most from the typical escape room-style games is they’re played only with cards – you won’t find maps, photos, newspaper clippings, or the other bits and kabobs you’re normally asked to sift through for clues. Undo is played purely with cards, which arrive stacked in a way which explains both how you’ll set up your game and how you’ll play it. The Undo games come with no manual and don’t need one, which is the first really cool thing about them.

The second cool thing is their premise: you don’t try to solve murders in Undo, but prevent them from ever happening in the first place. You’ll be playing as time travelers with the ability to jump to specific points in a deceased person’s life. These time junctures are represented with cards you’ll flip over and read aloud. The paragraph of text will give a vivid account of an event in that person’s past, but leave out a few important details which, hopefully, you’ll be able to piece together based on information you received at other points in the game. (That’s the #1 puzzle in Undo, and your aptitude for correctly filling in gaps in the storyline will ultimately determine how successful you are in these games.) After reading and considering the card, you’ll be given three paths of action to choose from which will slightly alter the course of the dead person's life. These butterfly effect-like ripples may lead them to make better choices in the future, or remove dangerous influences from their lives. But, you need to be careful. Making the wrong choice can actually make matters worse for these poor folks. In the end, you’ll hope you’ve made more positive choices for your subject than negative ones. The higher your score, the better your chance to prevent the death. 

The first three Undo volumes received a sneaky early release at this year’s Origins festival and will be arriving in stores for a regular release in August of 2019. It was pitched to me as a tabletop Quantum Leap experience, which is a fun and totally applicable hook.

Each entry of the inaugural Undo releases offers a pretty unique case to solve, dipping into different eras and cultures for their stories. Blood in the Gutter centers on the murder of a jazz trumpeter in 1920s Chicago. Cherry Blossom Festival involves a case in contemporary Japan, where an old man is found on the floor of his living room with no clear signs of foul play: his tale will take you back to the pre-War era. The largest story tackled within these small boxes is found in Curse from the Past, another modern case (this time set in Germany) that will find players altering the course of history itself and making ripples throughout a timeline which stretches all the way back into ancient Egypt.

Giving the Undo games an extra wrinkle of difficulty is their built-in countdown timer. You have as much time as you’d like to discuss the clues and come to your decisions, but you’re limited in the number of time junctures you can visit before the game ends. Thus, you won’t get to see every scene in the deceased person’s life before you’ll have to tally your score. It's especially important that you think through which ones you’ll want to visit to maximize the information you’ll get about that person, as the game's writing has a knack for misleading players towards incorrect assumptions about its characters. To mitigate this, players have three chances per game to ask for additional information about a scene – these bonus cards shine a bright light on the character’s past, but deciding when you’ll flip them is a puzzle in itself. Revealing the right clue can open up part of a storyline where you were previously totally in the dark.

The Undo games can *technically* be played solo, but we’d recommend bringing a few friends along for the ride. The more people we played with, the more heated the discussions over making key choices became. Players will naturally interpret scenes in different ways, their unique experiences and outlooks coloring the way they view the characters’ actions. The more minds you have piecing together a plot, the more competing opinions you’ll collectively form and, frankly, the more fun you’ll have. We recommend ordering a pizza and inviting over a few pals to make-believe you’re heroic time travelers for an hour or two. (And because the components are so sparse, you won’t have to stress over getting pizza grease all over a board. Bonus!)

With any one-time use game like this one – be it a small escape room box, a legacy-style game, or a set of mysteries such as the classic Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective – we often encounter the same bugaboo, and it’s that some gamers can’t wrap their heads around something that’s only meant to played once. If the Undos were more expensive, we might have a hard time recommending them – but for $15 a pop at full price or closer to $11 online, they’re cheaper than that pizza we mentioned in the last paragraph. Games will stretch more than an hour with at least four players, and that’s likely cheaper than a movie ticket for a similar amount of entertainment. Plus, since you aren’t destroying components as you do in some escape room games, the Undo games can easily be reset and given away when you’re done. So don’t think of these as games that are one-and-done. Think of them as games that you play once and the pass along, like a well-loved paperback novel, albeit one stained with a teensy-yet-acceptable bit of pizza grease.  

The first wave of Undo games will arrive from publishers Pegasus Spiele in August and retail for an MSRP of $14.99 each.

It’s just a jump to the left, and a… card… flip… to the right? Okay, hopefully my playlist comes together better than my segue to it. Our theme today is, naturally, songs about time travel, from everyone’s favorite Rocky Horror dance number to Cher’s classic earworm, “If I Could Turn Back Time.” (Naturally, we’ve sprinkled a bit of Huey Lewis in there as well, because there’s no way we couldn’t.) Allons-y!

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Previous PLAYlist columns: GizmosImhotep, Hex Roller, The Table is Lava, Happy Salmon, The Quacks of QuedlinburgThe ClimbersNEOMCrusaders: Thy Will Be DoneReykholtPandemicEverdellKingdomino, CitrusHistory of the World, Altiplano, Pioneer Days, Crystal Clans, Jurassic Park: Danger!, PhotosynthesisIce CoolFood Truck ChampionArs Alchimia & LemuriaA Game of Thrones CatanTroyesTwilight Imperium: Fourth EditionFlip ShipsNMBR 9UnearthEscape from 100 Million B.C., Orleans (plus Trade & Intrigue)Whistle StopCaverna: Cave vs CaveTwilight StruggleHonshuBärenpark, Notre Dame & In the Year of the DragonYokohamaClank! A Deck-Building AdventureVillages of ValeriaNew York SliceWatson & HolmesHanamikoji.



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