Back in the day (the ’80s), I loved the Choose Your Own Adventure books.
They start as normal books do, with an opening chapter laying out the characters and the story, but at the end of the scene or chapter, you get to decide where the narrative goes by choosing between two or more options. The story’s ending depends on your choices. Sometimes, your adventure concludes with your character falling into a spiked pit or being melted by lasers. Of course, if you were wise or lucky, you’d finish the book with a satisfying triumph by finding the lost treasure or defeating the evil scientist.
Recently, I’ve been enamored with a couple of board games that use decision-based storytelling.
ABOVE AND BELOW and NEAR AND FAR by Ryan Laukat of Red Raven Games.
In ABOVE AND BELOW, you manage a village(above) or delve an underground world(below). The storytelling happens when you send your villagers to explore. On your turn, another player reads you one of the two-hundred passages in the story book. After hearing the passage, you make a decision based on the strength of your adventurers. You can be chivalrous or vile, and the success of your choice will determine your rewards.
What will you do? Reputation isn’t everything, right? Mwahahaha.
NEAR AND FAR delivers another great storytelling experience, but it focuses on character building like a role playing game. Instead of managing a group of villagers, you focus on a single, unique character that grows in abilities and narrative. The game offers a few variations, either focusing on the world or on the characters. The storytelling is just as wonderful, if not deeper and more nuanced. Your decisions will have long lasting consequences in your protagonists tale. Each of their stories are well crafted, with developed arcs, just as in a good book.
This is Grear. His story is poignant. At the beginning of his adventure, he is dying. Grear forever.
Besides the wonderful storytelling, the game is a joy to look at, with whimsical art matching the best picture books. Most importantly, the games are fun.