Alice is Missing is an immersive RPG from designer Spenser Starke, Hunters Entertainment, and Renegade Game Studios. This game is designed to be silent with all communication after a certain point being done via text message. It’s also designed to be a one-shot you run instead of a longer campaign. I have been lucky enough to get both physical and digital review copies of the game, because I absolutely loved it!
If you want a game that’s heavy on the role-play aspect of role-playing games, Alice is Missing is just that. There’s no combat. The first 45 minutes or so, you and the other players will create the world and the characters for the session. These can and will be different every time which adds a nice level of replayability that I look forward to exploring. Once the world and characters are set up, it’s time for everyone to shut up, start the timer, and play for 90 minutes plus some extra time to help debrief everyone at the end. Another important thing to note is that there’s no formal Dungeon or Game Master. There does need to be a rules facilitator to make sure everything goes smoothly, but the facilitator takes on a character as well and knows where the story is going just as well as anyone else.
Now, a little caveat before I dive much deeper is that there are plenty of places where player error probably affected how the game was played and therefore my experience with it.
Let’s start with the setup portion first. This is when you and your other players go around creating your characters. Each character already has a name and a title such as The Secret Girlfriend or The Best Friend. These titles describe the character’s relationship with Alice. Beyond these two bits, there’s nothing that will stay the same between playthroughs. There are no stats, but instead, you’re given prompts to answer such as questions for your background and a secret. Each person is also randomly dealt a card that provides a different motive such as defending Alice every time that something negative is said about her. These all add flavor and really allow for the players to connect with their character. Characters also get to assign relationships to each other such as knowing or thinking another character doesn’t like yours.
During setup, you’ll also work together to define 5 key locations and 5 key suspects that your players will possibly encounter. This part can be a little tricky because these places and people need to be tied to Alice without already weaving a narrative of them being the culprit/location. You also need to make sure that all the characters somehow have a tie to the place or know the character. This can be a hard line to balance, but with some practice, gets easier.
Now, during the physical game, it’s recommended that you use your phones and change everyone’s names in your contacts to the names of their characters. You can also do this virtually, but me and my group decided to use Discord (there’s a fantastic template on the official site for the game). I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t use the Discord server for the physical version as well.
Once you start playing, you’ll have 90 minutes to find Alice. There’s an animated timer with a gorgeous soundtrack available which I’ve included in this article. The main mechanic for Alice is Missing is their clue cards. These are cards dealt out to the players and are flipped up at set intervals. All of the timestamps have three different clue cards except the very first one (the 90-minute card) which allows for different scenarios in different games and different outcomes. When the time strikes the time on your clue card, you’ll flip it over and typically reveal a Location or a Suspect and then be given a prompt to use to organically weave the information into a text message. Remember, all communication is done via text message. This definitely creates an interesting atmosphere as you play.
Now, I do want to address something real quick. The game has a timer for 90 minutes and that might seem like a good amount of time, but it was the fastest 90 minutes of my life I think. It’s so easy to get sucked into the game and the characters that you don’t realize it’s time to flip your clue card or the game is about to end. It’s crazy how easy it is to get immersed. Everything just works so well.
Another thing that I love is Starke’s care for the players. He really wants to make sure that you and the other players feel safe. In the rulebook it talks about Lines and Veils (content boundaries) and the X card, to make sure that everyone knows that if something comes up, even mid-game, that boundaries can and will be respected.
One final little touch I love are the voicemails. Before starting the game, each character is supposed to record a voicemail using a prompt on their character card. Then, after the timer hits 0, the facilitator plays the voicemails with more of the amazing music playing behind them. This creates an amazing moment that I absolutely love.
I know, I’ve been hyping this game up quite a bit and it really is amazing and you should check it out. However, I did have a couple of things that were less than ideal in my session. First, there’s a rule where no two characters can be in the same location. Once the location of Alice is revealed, this gets really hard to abide by as everyone naturally wants to go to that location. The problem is, there’s really nothing to do at the location outside of the clue cards in the last few minutes of the game. At the 10-minute mark, the person revealed who the culprit was and we knew where, but there wasn’t really anything we could do except yell “be careful” and come up with reasons why we couldn’t be there or something. The first 80 minutes or so of the game were amazing and then the last 10 or so minutes just seemed to fall apart. Now, this could just be me and my group, but I do wish there was a bit more guidance for the last few minutes of the game.
Now, if you’re like me and are unable to play with your friends in person, don’t let that stop you. You can play virtually. There are even suggestions on how to do it in the rulebook. I already mentioned the Discord template and the other thing that I would say is a must is to purchase the module on Roll20. I was going to run it without Roll20, but as I really learned how to play, I realized that without Roll20, it was going to be a nightmare and really hinder the game experience for me and my friends. I cannot recommend the Roll20 version enough.
Alice is Missing is a fantastic RPG that is the most unique game I’ve played in a really long time and deserves to be played. Also, make sure that after you play, you and the other players go through the debrief process and talk about the game. Tie up loose ends, take a minute to just talk about the experience, and unwind. The game gets very intense, but it feels so amazing at the end. It’s very hard to describe.