Wintermoor Tactics Club is a story about friendship, determination, and embracing the creative side we all have within us. Previewing at PAX East 2020, I had a lot of hope for the game as it seemed to capture the modern fantasy that fell in line with the nostalgia many people clamor for. In a time of isolation across the world, where our fingers and eyes are glued to digital screens seeking an overabundance of information or desperate to escape into preconstructed escapism, a game like Wintermoor Tactics Club feels oddly out of place. And that might just be exactly what you need.
Wintermoor takes place in 1981, before the digital age was anything but what you’d find in a science-fiction novel. Alicia is a young woman of color who escapes the stress and anxiety of her northeastern boarding school, and the pressures of the typical high school experience, by leaping head first into worlds of sci-fi and fantasy. Imagination is a powerful force in this world and Alicia isn’t alone in her journey. Joined by a colorful and diverse cast of students, the struggles of teenage anxiety begin to bubble over as the Curses and Catacombs-playing Tactics Club is forced to risk its very existence in the War of the Clubs, a snowball tournament where the victor will be declared the Ultimate Club.
In a tale that feels like if the Goonies played D&D instead of going spelunking for treasure, the cast is made up of a number of diverse and colorful characters. Alicia succeeds in not only being likable and relatable, but inspirational as she acts as the cornerstone foundation of the group; and thanks to her unshakable faith in her friendships, she finds strength to overcome the challenges her club faces. As her Curses and Catacombs character Anjaya, she commands the elemental forces as a powerful sorceress. Colin is the de facto head of the club, taking the role of friend, mentor, and stalwart pillar for Alicia to rely on when she struggles to figure things out on her own. His paladin, Eowald, is no less a faithful representation of good nature and willingness to aid others. Rounding out the core three is Jacob, the smart-mouthed, graffiti-tagging, mischief maker who is far less concerned with stories of adventure and more for the strategic warfare he can execute on as his nun-chuck-wielding rogue, Roguey (pronounced “Rogue-guy”). The Tactics Club is precious to each of them, and this haven they’ve made for themselves has allowed these three erstwhile outcasts to feel like heroes.
The tactical gameplay is, for the most part, incredibly enjoyable, with plenty of quality of life settings available to forgive most blunders. It encourages smart decisions in setting up enemies for your allies, be it with smoke that amplifies magic attacks or a grappling hook that reposition the enemy miniatures. What’s truly nice is that no specific class is designated as the traditional Tank, Healer/Support, or DPS types, breaking away to focus on a central theme that grows as more of their abilities are unlocked and items add to the character customization. Equipment plays an important role with only one item allowed per character at a time. One such example is Roguey’s grappling hook, which adds the magic enhancement Smoke and unlocks new Tactics Abilities. As a tactics bar fills up over the course of a fight, skills like Smoke Bomb become available, which does devastating damage and creates a thick cloud of smoke that impedes movement. This feature is introduced in an easy-to-learn way without holding your hand through it.
One of the finer points of the game is the story and characters, not just of the core three characters, but their peers and fellow clubmates. Over the course of the game, more people join the Tactics Club and offer greater opportunities to mix up the party, as you can only use three at a time. Each of them are given a narrative hook that brings their C&C character into the group’s table top adventure. The clubs of Wintermoor Academy are lively, unique, and rambunctious in their own way. From the anime trope inspired ones like the quirky and intrusive Psychic Detectives, to the clubs with unique and identifiable uniforms like the New Wave Appreciation Club, Wintermoor does a lot to bring a feeling of diversity to the student body. Non-club students are often in need of help, with tasks ranging from a simple note recovery, all the way to interviewing people to find out why nobody wants to be friends with an over-privileged student. The cast is varied and presented with an incredible art style, allowing a vibrant breath of life to fill this game with wonder.
Rounding out the cast of students is Principal Enfield. Enfield’s design evokes a wizardly type of mentor, like Dumbledore or Gandalf, which is used to disguise a slightly deranged, albeit creative, personality. His calloused reaction to the plight of the newly clubless students inspires a distinct frustration as the results of his tournament eviscerate the morale and emotional stability of the student body. Despite all of this, every so often he exhibits a moment of sincere care and concern that feels genuine in contrast to his general behavior.
All of this culminates in the “snowball” battles. These Club Matches are some of the best parts of the game, as in between them your club prepares by gathering intelligence that can give real advantages in the coming battle. Interacting with students offers the chance for side quests to unlock more equipment pieces, and while some of them can be missed, Wintermoor does the good service of letting you know the cut off point where side quests become impossible to complete. While each of the Club Matches will differ wildly from one another, with some bringing on a unique mechanic or two, fights play out the same for the most part. This is what highlights the greatest weakness of Wintermoor Tactics Club: a lack of depth into its tactics mechanics. There is a very apparent shallow bottom to the game that makes it unlikely that someone with prior experience in tactics games will ever score below an A score in the post-battle report.
A fun and imaginative tactics battle system and a well-written, interesting story that focuses on the importance of our bonds of friendship combine to create a satisfying experience. While its combat can feel shallow at times, lacking a bit of depth in its mechanics, the colorful and diverse cast makes the adventure worthwhile. But despite the almost Neverland-like experience of a northeastern boarding school with its independence from parental supervision, there exists something very grounded about the story and characters of Wintermoor Academy. At its core, Wintermoor Tactics Club is a story about why what you’re doing isn’t ever as important as who you’re doing it with. And it’s a story worth playing.
8.0 / 10 That Great Game
- An incredibly diverse cast of characters and clubs.
- A story that delivers a strong and satisfying finish that pays off in tremendous ways.
- Tactics gameplay that is fun, well introduced, and easy to grasp.
- The transformation each club goes through from their introduction to the fantasy-styling they end up as during the Club Matches.
- A serious lack of depth and intricacy that doesn’t allow for some of the more incredulous moments of discovery that other games offer.
- Some side quests feel a little empty and without purpose, feeling more like padding or filler than interesting content.
Wintermoor Tactics Club review copy was provided by EVC Games. That Nerdy Site’s Review Scoring rubric can be found here.