Review - Undo: Curse from the Past
This is a spoiler-free review. All photos are of setup and anytime I discuss a minor spoiler I will note it ahead of time so you can skip it.
Publisher: Pegasus Spiele
Player Count: 2-6
Undo: Curse from the Past is a game in which players are “Weavers of Fate”, time travellers aiming to prevent a sudden death by making changes to the past. Players do this by choosing from a selection of cards representing times and places and making decisions about how to influence an event described on the card. Currently, three Undo games have been released. The series appears to be modelling itself on the Exit and Unlock games, providing cheap, one-off adventures for a low price. This specific scenario sees players travelling to 20th century Germany and ancient Egypt.
How to Play
Upon opening the game box, players will see two decks of cards with large warning to stop on them. The cards instruct the player on how to setup the game and must be read in the order indicated. Do not shuffle the decks. Roughly speaking, once setup is complete players will have thirteen story cards (which indicate a location/time) set up in front of them with a clue card below each story card. Space is also left for fate cards, which indicate your decision to influence an event, above each story card. Players also have nine time cards and four magnifier cards.
On each turn, players discard one of their nine time cards, these cards act as a timer for the end of the game. As a group, players discuss what story card to visit. In all cases the player who’s turn it is has final say on a decision. Once players decide where to go, the card is turned over and the text is read aloud. Players will have three choices for how to influence the event. Before deciding players can spend one of their four magnifier cards to flip over the clue below this story card or a previous story card that was visited. Once players, decide how to influence the event they find the corresponding fate card, flip it over and place it above the story card. The fate card will have a score that is either -1, 0, +1, or +2 indicating whether you have changed the story for better or worse.
At the end of the game, the sum of scores on the revealed fate cards indicates your score.
Undo: Curse from the Past is pretty lacking in engaging gameplay. There is a real lack of player agency in how this game is designed. Sure, mechanically you have agency over the individual decisions you make to gain a score, but these decisions have no impact on the story. In explaining how the game works, we are told that all decisions you make will have an impact simultaneously at the end of the game. This means that decisions you make by going to an event in the distant past don’t effect the game when you jump to the more recent past. This is counterintuitive and players will continually have to remind themselves that the decision they have made has not had an effect. Similar games, like Unlock at least allow the players actions to push forward the story and change the environment by opening a door or combining two clues, this brings the world and story to life and makes the player a part of it.
This seems like lazy design. The core idea of this game sounds great, to change time and unravel a mystery of how to save someone’s life, but in choosing not to branch the narrative the entire game feels stale and separate from you the player. I’m sure a branching narrative could have been incorporated into this game design with more development time, the gameplay feels like a first pass at a design and a design philosophy of meh, this will do.
For the most part clue cards were totally useless. They feel like an afterthought, added in to give an extra decision to players for the sake of it. Choosing what story card to go to each turn seems like it will be interesting choice and thematically it is. Unfortunately, mechanically it doesn’t work. Early choices are made almost entirely blindly so it doesn’t feel like a very satisfying decision to make. Later choices are a little bit more satisfying since inferences can be made based on information you already have but it still feels like a rather blind decision.
The game box says that this game is for two to six players. I played it with two and that may have been too many. The plot and decisions are not complicated enough to require much discussion between players. My experience of the game would suggest that playing with more would be worse and that playing with six would be painful.
This is a one and done game like the Unlock and Exit series. You could replay it with different decisions to get a better score but, the content doesn’t change at all. Since the narrative doesn’t branch at all, and since you will visit nine of the thirteen story cards in a game, you’ll need to repeat five of the story cards in your next game. I can’t imagine many people would find replaying the game satisfying at all.
Undo: Curse from the Past is one of the simplest, laziest stories I have ever read. There is nothing original to the theme of this game beyond the interesting elevator pitch of you’re travelling to different times to change events to stop someone from dying.
The story itself is poorly explained. This makes sense while playing since you’re supposed to come up with your own theories but unforgiveable when you get to the resolution of the story and it isn’t particularly well explained. Most of the events that you influenced are glossed over almost entirely in the final explanation of the story.
The decision to give each decision you make a numerical score is weak and the way your score is interpreted at the end of the game is pathetic. Your score is converted into a vague, one sentence statement that can be summed up as very bad, bad, average, good, or very good with no reference to the story at all. There is no paragraph to explain what changed if you did change the story or how things are different for the characters involved, just congrats you changed things. *VERY MINOR SPOILER* In our game we made decisions that should have made the death impossible but we scored six or less so no change happened. This just didn’t make sense and was not satisfying in the least.
*MINOR SPOILER – SKIP TO THE NEXT PARAGRAPH* The story of Undo: Curse from the Past can be summed up as tropes, tropes, and more tropes. Most of the correct decisions I made in the game came from me thinking, if I was writing the simplest story connecting ancient Egypt to the modern day what would be happening. Most of the times we got things wrong it was by giving the game too much credit and assuming the narrative couldn’t be that simple.
Art and Components
The story cards do a great job of setting the tone and look nice when laid out at the start of the game. The art on the cards throughout is great and feels consistent. This is a major plus for the game. The story cards are about the size of tarot cards and are a decent thickness. Some of the other cards are very small but are also a decent thickness. Unfortunately, the cards are littered with typos. It feels like it wasn’t proof read by a native English speaker at all before being printed which is pretty irritating.
The game comes with a useless plastic insert that fits the story cards snugly but the smaller cards move about in the part of the insert from them. It’s just a waste of plastic.
Undo: Curse from the Past was a concept that instantly appealed to me. Unfortunately, it is one of the worst games I’ve ever played. I don’t recommend anyone buy this and to be honest I’m not even sure I want to inflict this on one of my friends by giving it to them as a gift. As noted the design feels lazy and decisions couldn’t be less interesting.