Preview – Foretales [Demo] PC

Foretales is a card game. Don’t worry though, it’s not another roguelike deck-builder. No, Foretales is a narrative choose-your-own-adventure type deal with resource management, morale decisions, a branching story, and combat. If I had to make a comparison to a board game, I’d say it’s a lot more like Eila and Something Shiny than Dominion. The card system is actually more a stylistic move than anything else, as even your hand of actions can pretty much be freely manipulated between the characters’ decks. I don’t know what it is but there’s something just so satisfying about playing with cards – flicking through them to see what you have available, or slapping them down on the table for an effect (even digitally!). In the main area they’re used to show locations, people, hazards, and missions; all opportunities to gain or lose precious supplies as well as continue through the chapter, which will unfold differently depending on how you act. The big changes, however, come from prioritising which chapters you even want to partake in at all and the order they’re tackled. This disorganised timeline of possibilities is used to show what paths are available to follow and which have been lost, discarded like rotten figs.

The design is what immediately stood out to me. The absolutely wonderful design of not just the table the cards are played onto, or the fantastic lighting and setting surrounding that, but the art on the cards, the sleek design of the cards themselves, and how they pull you into the game within the game so effortlessly. This is where you’ll notice the next thing that stands out – the fantastic writing. Even though it feels like a familiar fantasy world full of daring deeds, heroic confrontations, classic character tropes like the devilish rogue, and a little bit of magic, this universe and its anthropomorphic animal residents feel fleshed out and important. There are real problems troubling the habitants and the route you take can affect them as well as yourself. It also helps that, where applicable, the voice acting is superb. I mean, that’s only to be expected when Travis Willingham is at the helm as the narrator.

The game is played mostly by using a card in your hand with one of those on the table and then resolving the effects from it, whether that be using a steal action to lighten somebody’s pockets but also potentially alerting nearby guards, or by getting rid of said guards by spending some ‘fame’, which is usually earned by doing good deeds. Essentially getting away with whatever because of your reputation as a helper of the people. The trick is balancing these reserves of reputations (both good and bad), currency, food, and any other items that may have been picked up (such as lockpicks and healing plants), with the manoeuvres available. See, each character that tags along through a chapter has their own personal deck of skills that can be used to help the party. Leo is a survivor that can hunt and live in the wild. Karst is powerful but weakened by an ongoing injury. Isabeau is an aristocrat that is owed a lot of favours. And our protagonist, Volepain, is a sneaky cutpurse. These actions perfectly represent their backgrounds, personalities, and expertise, but they won’t always be available depending on the outcomes of particular events. More interestingly though, is how they allow the player to play their own way. Are you the type to take a life for a couple of coins if it means getting the job done easily, or would you prefer to finesse your way through negotiations where nobody comes to harm even if it was risky or costly? Small but engrossing choices like this are constantly being made.

The strategy is of course a lot of the fun here, especially when trying to continually avoid or escape combat with dwindling provisions, but best of all if how much sense the interactions make from a storytelling perspective. From playing just the first scenario most people could probably guess how any given card was going to work with another. Not that it’s necessary mind you, as each combination clearly states the consequences, allowing you to see all of the available options instead of making hopeful shots in the dark. But I bet that even if that wasn’t the case it would still work. Clearly using a pepper spray smoke bomb in a crowded tavern is going to instigate a brawl. Naturally shooting an unsuspecting gardener with an arrow would result in their demise and the collection of their basket of goods. But what about something more ‘out there’? How about eavesdropping on a guard post? Well the answer is that you’d discover some ‘local chit-chat’, which can be used to blackmail folk. I have to stress how difficult it must have been to make these synergies so seamless but damn do they feel good to play with.

Foretales is relatively basic in terms of gameplay but it’s somehow packed with so much nuance and interesting decision-making that it makes the whole experience profoundly satisfying. The whole thing can be replayed in order to experience the alternate journeys, there are rewards for accomplishing risky side-missions in the chapters such as permanent health upgrades and new actions to unlock, the rest deck is a great way to allow players to recover cards whilst simultaneously warning them that they need to start picking up the pace and even pushing them harder with negative effects, and so much more. Honestly I totally fell in love with it. I played through the incredibly generous four-hour(!) preview two and a half times to see how impactful my decisions were to the story (very much so, it turns out), and I even sat with my partner and watched her play through some because I was just so excited about the game that I had to share it. At first I was worried about having to redo so much of the game again when the full version gets released, expecting it to be an annoying grind, but it’s so fun that I really don’t even mind, especially now I know what I’m doing and how to get around. Plus, I have no doubt I’ll stumble on even more discoveries as I do so. This is a must play if you at all like the setting. I can’t wait to see where it goes and how its story and characters evolve.

DarkZero