“Board games tells us one thing; roleplaying games, another. But, every now and then, we find something that belongs to both.”
That (twisted) quote was the first thing that popped into my head as I looked over Untold: Adventures Await. I’m not even sure this game should be listed under “board games,” and yet it’s sold and recognized as one.
Untold provides a more structured way to use Rory’s Story Cubes, the imaginative dice used in everything from education to problem-solving to storytelling. That’s what this game is, though – a cooperative storytelling experience far more similar to tabletop RPGs than board games.
Unlike standard board games, there is no “winning” in Untold: Adventures Await. The point of the game is not to beat other players or an in-game mechanic, but to tell a story as you progress.
The game revolves around the Story Cubes, dice with images that you roll to inspire your story. What Untold does is provide a framework through which you use those dice, namely an episode of a fictional TV show.
The initial set-up seems like a board game, as you shuffle cards and tiles, pass out tokens, provide each player with a personal board, etc. After that, however, this game takes on a distinctively indie-RPG experience, as it only gives you advice on how to set up your show.
It’s up to the players to determine what their show is about, from it’s premise to it’s setting, and the only limitation is one’s imagination. The group brainstorms each question and writes them down on the “Episode Guides” paper.
Although the questions and rules provide advice, the result is up to the players – there’s no dice rolling, card mechanics, or hard rules. This phase may be the most difficult for inexperienced gamers, non-roleplayers, or people who are shy (or don’t like) storytelling.
The next step is to frame the opening Scene for your show’s first episode, which always takes the form of A Dangerous Dilemma. You flip the first tile which provides tells you to figure out a location where some threat is doing something to a target; players roll the dice to determine what those are, with the interpretation of what the pictures mean entirely up to them.
In one of our stories, we used a picture of a fish to mean the location was at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor; our threat was a word bubble that we decided were protestors. A lot of how you interpret these cards is filtered through your setting; if your show is in space or Ancient Egypt, your dice may mean far different things.
This phase is also when you introduce your main characters, one played by each person. Again, the game takes on a distinctly RPG-like format, where the players use dice (or their imaginations) to come up with everything from their job and motivation to any special abilities or tools they have.
Once everyone is done creating their character, it’s time to resolve the Scene through Questions and Actions. Untold provides a bit more structure here as it restricts what you can ask, how to determine whether an Action is successful, and the maximum of either approach in each phase.
Questions are limited to the Five W’s and How, which still provide a lot of freedom. The answers are “determined” by the Story Cubes, meaning the player ultimately interprets them.
I started a session by asking, “Where are we in relation to the commotion?” and ended up choosing the picture of a bridge to determine we were on a walkway, overlooking the dilemma. The more precise and involved your question, the easier it will be to answer and progress the story.
Actions are declared as an “I want…” or “I try…” with an explanation of how you’re attempting the behavior. Instead of dice, however, whether you’re successful is determined by an Outcome card drawn from a deck.
Success or failure isn’t black-and-white, however, as you have caveats like “and” or “but” that affect the consequences. Also, some Outcomes require you to draw a Reaction card, which provides an emoji-like face – you apply that emotion to someone in the scene (including yourself), to gauge how they respond to what just happened.
Untold continues in this fashion through new scenes, each one turning over a tile, revealing some further aspect to the story, and progressing the episode through Questions and Actions. Each phase focuses on a standard television trope: The Plot Thickens, An Heroic Undertaking, The Truth Revealed, and The Final Showdown.
New phases may limit you to how many Questions or Actions you may use, or even if you’re able to take those approaches. They also can tie back to the other scenes, either through direct lines linking the tiles or by bringing back previous dice.
Another aspect of the game is player interference, where individuals may use tokens to adjust everything from other’s Questions and Actions to the dice themselves. These Ideas, Flashbacks, and Modifications can allow the players to throw in sudden inspiration without waiting for their turn.
Once more, the goal isn’t to “win” anything – it’s to tell a story and have fun in the process. The last phase sets you up for an ongoing series; if you choose to keep playing in that show, you can bring back your characters (which will gain new tools, abilities, etc.) and refer to previous episodes.
Our primary group had a blast with this game, but I want to be clear it’s probably not for everyone. I tried running it with people who prefer more mechanics-driven games or stumble at imaginative storytelling, and the session bombed.
Untold requires the players to not only make things up as they go along, but also work well off the dice, framework, and each other. Even if you enjoy story-driven campaigns like Imperial Assault or Stuffed Fables, you may not enjoy the “open box” style of the Story Cubes.
Another downside, even for those who enjoy cooperative storytelling, is the limitations on setting, style, and concept. Untold: Adventures Await focuses on action-adventure, even if it’s comedic, and the mechanics center around a show that involves conflicts, reveals, and showdowns.
Although you might be inclined to try and create sitcoms, dramas, etc., the game most definitely caters to genres like science-fiction, fantasy, superheroes, monsters, or even violent crime. This restriction can leave some groups stumped at first; once we understood that framework, however, we enjoyed everything from post-apocalyptic action-drama to comedic science-fiction.
Is Untold: Adventures Await really a board game? As someone plays all sorts of tabletop games and has been particularly involved in cooperative story-driven RPGs, I have to say: No.
Although Untold provides a board, game pieces, and rules, they are little more than a framework for the Story Dice and imaginations of the players. Unlike other games, there is no “winning or losing,” and even when the mechanics provide direction, interpretation of the results is solely in the players’ hands.
The similarities between this game and RPGs like Fiasco, Questlandia, or A Penny for My Thoughts are eerie. The use of rules to add some randomization and guidelines on creating a fun round-table storytelling experience suggests that Untold fits better into the realm of RPGs.
Untold also has a Play/Pause card that allows players to halt the story if they’re uncomfortable with something and talk about it with others. This concept shows just how much like a tabletop RPG this “board game” is, as it’s an obvious variation on the famous X-Card.
Regardless of whether you classify Untold: Adventures Await as a board game or roleplaying game, I enjoy the style. While Story Cubes are fun, they’re a little too open-ended in how they’re used.
Untold provides an excellent framework to use the dice within the format of an episodic action-adventure TV show. In fact, players may find their tales taking unusual twists, surprising themselves in a game where they’re the ones making everything up.
On top of the replayability of one’s imagination, Untold also works with any set of Story Cubes. I can safely say that this game has an infinite amount of possibility – another reason I believe it’s an RPG rather than a “board game.”
Untold may not be for everyone, but for those that enjoy this particular niche, it’s one of the best games available.
Untold: Adventures Await is on shelves now. 1-4 players, 45-60 minutes, Ages 8+.
I give Untold a heroic 4 undertakings out of 5.