PC, Nintendo Switch
September 15, 2022
Foretales is a card-based experience all about adventure. With involved mechanics and inspirations from a balanced mix of tabletop and digital video games, a tantalising and twist-filled journey is all within your reach. It’s a genre foray worth experiencing. Just expect a few roadblocks and an at times confusing design along the way.
Volepain, an anthropomorphic crow is your main hero. They’re an everyday man, progressively joined by more party members and, inevitably, this party serves as the holder of the universe’s fate. What becomes quickly clear is that the story is entirely up to you. Early on it is revealed that Volepain can foresee future events, both broad and cataclysmic in nature. What this looks like to the player is a long map of cards laid out upon a table, where you’ll be able to choose a certain route (mission) to proceed through.
Often two face cards will be revealed at a given time, as the player chooses how they want to proceed. Do they want to free enslaved miners or warn the royal capital of an impending apocalypse? Choose one path and you will often lose access to the other, setting, in turn, irreversible effects that may very well be for the better, or spell a deep dark doom. This branching narrative opportunity is very complimentary to the card-based setting on offer.
Foretales is strongest in its art and writing and how that taps into how one might play a tabletop adventure. You’re situated at a table. Atop it, a 2×2 grid of environment cards makes up for where events and your navigation will take place. Throughout, you will have one or two additional party members at any given time. Each party member has their own deck of ‘movement’ cards, complete with abilities. This, and the item cards you pick up along the way, are used against the grid cards to progress to new areas, meet new people, and discover secrets.
A great challenge comes in managing the many intricacies that come with your skillset and items at hand. Your movement cards will always push you forward but the attached ability can also aid or abet you even further. For instance, one of Volpane’s pickpocketing cards will often net you gold and another key item, but will also cause a bounty on the party’s head. On the other side of the coin, an elephant diplomat by the name of Isabeau can use her silver tongue to recruit mercs, scholars, townspeople and the likes. Often these are handy meatshields in battle or can be used to access routes or items otherwise inaccessible by your party.
Of course, each member’s movement hand doesn’t shuffle or reset automatically. Each card is one use. A rest mechanic restocks three of each member’s cards at a given time, but can only be used a few times before you’re forced into choosing the ‘give up’ option, ending a mission’s run. This is where an equal reliance on the item cards will aid in not only diversifying the ways you can go about overcoming an obstacle, but may very well be the last saving grace to keep you alive. Players can earn gold, food, fame and grim, along with additional attacks and heals. Gold will let you bribe guards to look the other way while food can not only heal you but be fed to the poor to have them on your side, tilting the world’s scales more in your favour. Lastly, fame and grim (the former achieved by good deeds, the latter from crimes) can be used to influence or intimidate your way out of a situation, including avoiding battle entirely.
That’s a lot I just explained, but not all of it is all that clear. Just why does pickpocketing also make the character move? Don’t think about it too much. You may feel in over your head. I was for a long time until it all clicked. The unfortunate downside to Foretales offering many ways to go about any challenge is that you will often feel overwhelmed with what to do. That too is a result of the fact that a little more tutorialisation could be offered for the player. Only then could they understand how to be better equipped for a situation.
All of these cards are aptly coloured bright and cartoonish, drawing more and more of that tabletop campaign feel. It’s joyous to look at the deck art itself, something I can easily envision translating well to the real world on the rare chance the team choose to go physical. This only really lets up in the sense that at times, the game aesthetically can feel a bit samey — you are after all always looking at six cards at a time on screen on top of a digital table, never really doing much in the background. Still, this boils down to preference. I’ve been somewhat spoilt by Voice of Cards’ gorgeous, captivating aesthetic design rule of “every single thing you see is cards.”
As discussed earlier, Foretales does have a good sense of adventure. My journey saw me cover a whole breadth. I freed the enslaved. I committed heinous crimes, killing royals and robbing city folk, all just so I can be imprisoned and perform a jailbreak with a key target. I even stared at the impending apocalypse, ignoring that I knew a way to prevent it and instead joining a dark cult. I mention all this because I’ve avidly enjoyed my escapades, but I haven’t actually been able to complete them and roll credits.
This is where Foretales holds its last issue which serves as a bit of a personal problem. The RNG and luck of the draw that comes with each card being dealt out to you (attempts to unearth x movement card so you’re taken to the next environment card and so on) can feel a bit harsh from time to time, resulting in a cruel loss. Thankfully, this doesn’t mean a whole campaign restart, just that single mission. However, some of these missions in the late half can run a little long and don’t at all offer any checkpoints, no matter how many regions you traverse.
I can see why a lack of checkpointing may be a deliberate choice, further simulating tough tabletop games. Still, it sometimes feels a bit at ends with the whole of Foretales. With the amount of mechanics and techniques on offer to see you careening forward in your campaign, I should surely think developer Alkemi’s utmost importance would be getting players to see as much of the game as possible. Yet, here I am with roadblocks I wished I wasn’t at. I’m so late that I can no longer choose to go down a different mission path. Only one lies ahead. All that otherwise potentially awaits is restarting my story entirely, finding a new trajectory to drift down.
- Broad and sweeping tabletop adventure style narrative with branching paths
- Colourful and enchanting character and environment art
- Many ways to go about overcoming an obstacle
- Checkpoint system could resolve the occasional roadblock
- Better tutorialisation needed
At the end of the day, Foretales offers a broad and delightful journey all within a digital tabletop setting. Its card art and party are diverse. Clever and varied card mechanics, along with party members’ abilities, make for a fun suite of solution tools to use against some tough and fantastical narrative-based obstacles. However, with a lack of checkpoints, players may at times feel like they have bitten off more than they can chew in a run. Still, this remains a funky, unique little indie worth checking out for ambition and coziness alone. Carry on.