Something about growing up in the Southwestern United States made the stories of boarding schools capture a sense of adventure that was never likely to happen. Teenagers who are too young to be adults are suddenly thrust into grand adventures only possible because of the freedom a lack of living at home brings them. Like a first run at adulthood most of us never get to have a shot at, this idea has given life to the young adult genre from the dramatic to fantasy: from Harry Potter to Catcher in the Rye and everything in between. Wintermoor Tactics Club aims to capture the sense that adventure is possible in a place that is potentially the most hyper-focused part of the human experience: high school.
High school isn’t easy for anyone, but for Alicia and her friends in the Tactics Club, a game of Curses & Catacombs can be a cure for even the crummiest of days. Whether it’s dismantling the fascist hierarchy running the school, or dealing with bully jocks with too much free time on their hands, nothing soothes the angsty soul like tabletop gaming with friends. The main cast of Wintermoor Tactics Club is helmed by three somewhat unlikely friends. Alicia is chomping at the bit to take on the role of her badass bookworm alter-ego, the mage Anjaya. Jacob is the rebel without a cause who decides to focus his attention on fighting “the establishment” with graffiti and pranks. His C&C character is the least serious, a complete copy of a generic rogue he lampshades with the “Roguey” (pronounced Rogue-guy). And rounding out their crew is the hardest role player of them all, Colin and his sincere, honor-bound paladin Eowald, a champion of all that is good and just.
The demo covered the introduction of the game as Alicia works to find her club mates and finish their ongoing campaign. After exploring the school to find Jacob fighting the good fight against The Man proudly declaring “Wintermoor is ______” (prompting player-input on how to finish his latest mural). After committing some minor crimes with Jacob, you need to get Colin, who is busy being accosted by a couple of jocks. Some quick thinking on your part frees him up.
Then, combat is introduced and you take control of the powerful fantasy identities the club members have created. Grid layout turn-based tactical combat ensues as you work your way through a group of kobald-inspired Dorklings who serve as the fodder for the instruction of your team’s powerful abilities and spells. Classes play as you’d expect, with the Paladin Eowald using his strength to put space between his allies and their enemies, all while taking the blows for them. Anjaya uses her spells from a distance to focus down her enemies with the conjured force of the elements. And Roguey, with all his lack of subtlety in name and appearance hits like a brick house, so much so you almost forgive Jacob for naming his character something like this. Taking the tabletop map by storm, using all three characters after the tutorial with just Anjaya really shows a firm grasp of how to diversify characters.
All of this is interrupted by a sudden announcement for all clubs to come to the auditorium for a special announcement. As you gather and take your seat, alongside representatives of the other clubs. Some you’d expect the school to have, like Drama Club or even the Historical Society, while others are a bit more unique. Like Paranormal Detectives, a group of students who investigate the strange occurrences around campus, and the Young Monarchists, a pull on the traditional Young Republicans and Democrats but for those who support the establishment of a monarchy.
Enter the Headmaster of Wintermoor, Principal Enfield.
Enfield, with his hard stoic look and wisened design invokes a very wizardly type of mentor: Dumbledore or Gandalf. This is all dashed to pieces as a flower-powered background and flipping long hair give us a look at the eccentric principal who once commissioned a modern art piece that injured several students when it debuted. Not known for well-thought plans, Enfield quiets the auditorium long enough to discuss his reason for calling them all there: a single-elimination snowball fighting tournament between the clubs.
Shock and panic reverberate from the students as they all try and make peace with their situation, with the Tactics Club retreating to their meeting room in the Library, only to be caught off guard by the aforementioned Young Monarchists who reveal themselves as your first opponents. As they saunter off smugly, Colin, Alicia, and Jacob discuss how best to approach the match. As they decide to turn towards their tactical prowess they’ve been honing, the demo came to an end.
However, Principal Enfield is concerned that some of the clubs may not take this seriously. To combat this, Enfield puts forward the ultimate prize. The winner gets to keep their club and all others will be disbanded.
There’s a lot of promise from the premise of Wintermoor Tactics Club. The easing into the depth of tactical combat that is presented gives enough of a taste for more. A minor point to focus on, that might just be important when the full game launches is we have only a vague idea of what the Snowball Tournament fights look like. From screenshots there’s an idea that the same system is used, albeit a bit more based in reality than fantasy.
The tale of a group of ragtag outsiders like the Tactics Club doing everything they can to save the only place they fit in isn’t new. But in the pantheon of The Goonies and Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo, Wintermoor Tactics Club has just enough of a vibe for a fun boarding school adventure that plays more into Harry Potter’s Hogwarts than Dead Poet Society’s Welton Academy. Whatever ties the world of Curses and Catacombs and Wintermoor together may just be what it takes to save the only place Alicia and her friends can call home.
EVC Games’ Wintermoor Tactics Club is available on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch Spring 2020.