May 6, 2020
Set in 1981 in a boarding school named Wintermoor Academy, you play as Alicia, a smart and responsible student whose only friends are her fellow Tactics Club members, Jacob and Colin. Together, they play a game called Curses and Catacombs – the game’s take on Dungeons and Dragons. Curses and Catacombs campaigns take the shape of turn-based tactical battles in-game, where you fight enemies on a grid with other members from the Tactics Club.
Trouble starts when the Wintermoor principal, Principal Enfield, announces a snowball tournament in which every single one of the school’s clubs is to face off against each other in epic snowball fights. According to the principal, every losing club will be disbanded immediately. It’s up to Alicia and her friends to save their beloved Tactics Club, and in the process, solve a dangerous mystery. Once the tournament begins, these in-game matches between clubs take the shape of Curses and Catacombs battles, signifying Alicia and her friends’ abilities to use their Curses and Catacombs knowledge to their advantage in the tournament’s snowball fights.
While I found the in-game tactical battles a clever way to break up the visual novel format, the story was what really drew me into Wintermoor Tactics Club. The school is populated with a range of quirky characters, and plenty of the clubs that Alicia and her friends take on make for some amusing dialogue and cutscenes. There’s the equestrian club that’s still having club meetings despite horses no longer being allowed on campus, the animal identification club who believe they are actual animals, the monarchists who campaign for a different form of government, and many more. Each of these clubs come with a handful of characters that deliver some hilarious lines of dialogue and, despite the tongue-in-cheek writing, feel like proper three-dimensional characters with a unique outlook on the world.
As you progress through the game, Alicia befriends some of these different characters and even recruits some new members for the Tactics Club. Throughout a playthrough, you can see Alicia come out of her shell, grow as a character, and push herself through meeting new people and writing her own Curses and Catacombs campaigns. I enjoyed experiencing Alicia’s journey as well as seeing some of the other characters evolve over time in the game. One of the things Wintermoor Tactics does very well is include a range of diverse characters without sacrificing authenticity. Students at Wintermoor come from all sorts of different backgrounds, and the writing doesn’t shy away from highlighting certain characters’ privileged backgrounds without it feeling forced or heavy-handed. As a player, you quickly find yourself invested in these characters’ lives and wanting the best for them.
“As a player, you quickly find yourself invested in these characters’ lives and wanting the best for them.”
While the moral of Wintermoor Tactics’ story is certainly heart-warming, some of the dialogue can feel a little didactic and on the nose at times. This, coupled with the many jokes that seemed to be written for older players, often made me wonder if the game’s developers knew who their audience really was. While I enjoyed the jokes and dialogue the most, some of the side missions and tactical battles often proved to be too simple and repetitive for me, and it felt like these segments were aimed at younger players. However, if younger gamers were to get into Wintermoor Tactics Club, I think many jokes may go over their heads. In this sense, the game seems to lack focus in places, and I often found myself fast-forwarding through battles to get back to the story.
While the battle setup is impressive considering the game’s format, I found the combat mechanics too simplistic to be truly immersive. After a while, both Curses and Catacombs campaigns and snowball fights all started to blend into one another, and any combat failed to offer up a real challenge. These simple battles stood in an especially sharp contrast to the very last boss battle in the game, in which the difficulty suddenly spikes to an absurd degree. Just as with previous battles, I found myself just wanting to skip ahead to the game’s ending just to see what would happen to the characters. This once again proved to me that the game’s strength lies within the writing. I doubt, however, that I will be replaying Wintermoor Tactics Club after knowing its story in full.
That said, there’s still plenty to love about Wintermoor’s story, both for younger and for older players. With its beautifully drawn graphics and funny dialogue, Wintermoor Tactics provides players with a cosy gaming experience perfect for a rainy afternoon. The game’s story feels akin to that of a good indie comic like Fence or Giant Days and provides players with the perfect adventure to escape in if they’re keen to play something gentle and not too complicated.
- Great writing and dialogue
- Plenty of diverse characters with unique and distinct personalities
- Beautifully drawn graphics
- Immersive story
- Lacks focus in places
- Tactical battles can feel repetitive
- Not a lot of replayability value
Wintermoor Tactics Club easily offers players an immersive story with engaging characters and witty dialogue. Its combat system may lack polish and focus in places, but overall the game is a beautiful indie gem with its heart in the right place. If you enjoy visual novels and a good laugh, Wintermoor Tactics Club is sure to be a good fit for your library.