Hello, Barbarians! As an after-dinner mint for our Esoteric Hearts game, we played a just-for-fun session of Alice is Missing. I had the pleasure of setting it up and running it, so I thought I'd leave my notes for those of you who might be interested.
What is Alice is Missing? The Basic Overview
Alice is Missing is a single-session RPG where players (including the facilitator - yes everyone plays!) take on the role of the teenaged friends of Alice Briarwood. As Winter Break is about to begin, a poster showing that Alice is Missing goes up at school.
There are two main sections of gameplay. The voiced section allows players to collaboratively build relationships and information about Alice based on her Missing Poster (there are 10 possible Alices) and the prompts on the character/drive cards. Players also build up suspicions about the people and places in the town that they may encounter in the game. They then secretly record their last voicemail to Alice before she went missing.
The silent section has players turn to their devices and the timer start (game time is limited to 90 minutes in this section). The teenagers communicate via messaging. The facilitator sends the first group message of the game and then characters just start to interact and build upon the world. At timed intervals, random events (determined by card draws) are resolved by players around the table and incorporated into the 'text chain' as they try to figure out what happened to their missing friend. At the end of the game, the secret voicemails are played for the group.
Materials for Running the Game
When you read through the game document it is very easy to understand how the game should be setup, communicated, and played. Everything goes in order and there isn't really any room for confusion. Very much appreciated!
The art in the book and the player-facing cards is really nice. You can download image files of character cards and missing posters from the site as well (for more print and play or online play flexibility) but the images in the PDF are also formatted in such a way to make them very easy to copy and use in an online game.
The clue/event type cards are the only ones that are not made available as separate downloads. They offer a Roll20 version (which I do have) that handles these as decks (I'll talk a bit about that later) but again the PDF does make it easy enough to access the card art if you need to work electronically.
A 90-minute animated timer with a soundtrack is free on YouTube to use for the game: https://youtu.be/ysOOFIOAy7A
How it SHOULD be Played
It's obvious the game is least complicated when played in person. Even though the silent portion happens on devices/phones handling dealing the timed clue cards and being able to set a mood and speak out of character is something I can really seeing being the best environment for the game.
Adjusting for Social Distance
There is an official Roll20 version. I did originally get that version to facilitate our game, and it is pretty and really easy to navigate. There is even a whole playlist for how to use the Roll20 version by the game's creator: https://youtu.be/3k4h__DmSFk
My only issue was that I knew we'd already be using Zoom and between Roll20, Zoom, the timer, and however we handled messaging I didn't want it to be too window-intensive. So I opted to use a Discord variant. There is an official Discord template, which I did modify for our game, available on the publisher's site: https://www.huntersentertainment.com/alice-is-missing
How I Setup Our Game
First, I modified the Discord to streamline the number of channels and keep things as clear as I could. Since I knew I'd also be handling cards via Discord, I created a channel just for showing what would normally be face up on the table during the game as events progress.
I also created folders for each category of card and used either the available card downloads or saved cards from the PDF to make sure they would be available for displaying in Discord. I numbered the cards in each folder so that 'random drawing' could be handled by a die roll and then added a dice roller bot to the Discord to accommodate that.
From there, we were able to play on Discord in a way that closely mimicked the in-person setup with channels that worked for group and direct messages per character to keep everything in as few windows as possible. If you are using the template, just make sure to assign players to the Role in Discord for that character so that their view is simplified to just their group and direct chats. I had players write the text of their voicemail in their notes rather than recording it.
We used Zoom for our voiced section of the game, and used the screen share feature to run the timer as well. I used voice to prompt players to roll an appropriate die for timed events so that I could give them the card draw corresponding with that roll.
At the end of our game, we each read our voicemails in character to finish everything off.
How it Went and Final Thoughts
Although I missed a couple of rules I should have said up front (we all get to be nervous running new games, sometimes!) it ran pretty smoothly. The timer and timed events means things WILL happen and an ending WILL occur no matter what. That being said, the open-ended nature of the gameplay can be overwhelming to some players, so make sure they are prepared for this type of story building if they are used to playing more structured games.
Playing online in the way we did definitely puts more on the Facilitator's shoulders to manage, but it is very doable. I was still able to send and answer in-character messages between events.
I would love to play this again with an in-person crew (when times allow for such things) just to play it the way it really seems to be intended.
Overall, highly recommended since it's quick to play and easy to learn. It's really beautiful. There are enough random options to make it interesting to play more than once. It's very affordable and picking it up supports an indie developer and game.