The Game: Darkridge Reunion
How Many Players: 6-12
Age Range: 13+ (though 18+ players will get more out of it)
What Type of Game: Roleplaying party game
Average Length: 90 minutes per game
You should try it if you like: Murder mysteries, roleplaying, and improv acting
Geek to Geek Media was provided with a review copy of this game.
Darkridge Reunion is a murder mystery-themed roleplaying party game. Each player takes on the role of a high school graduate returning to their hometown for a class reunion. Players are divided into 3 teams, Geeks, Jocks, and Rebels corresponding to their respective high school cliques. Every character has their own personal goals they are trying to accomplish to score points for their team. Most of these goals come in the form of persuading other characters to do or say things. For example, the Computer Whiz character might need to convince players’ characters that Windows is superior to Mac OS. Since the game is divided into 3 acts, these goals change as you play.
Of course, the twist of this game is that one of these characters has a secondary role: a serial killer. Whoever is given this role still acts out their normal character part. However, they do it to mask their real goal: to kill off as many other characters as possible. Complicating things is the fact that dead characters come back as ghosts with opportunities for revenge. To defend themselves against the killer (or just score more points) other characters have secret abilities and objectives of their own.
At the end of the game, the remaining players tally up how many points they scored for their team. They can earn extra points by deducing which player was the killer.
What’s in the Box?
The most prominent item in the Darkridge Reunion box is the murder weapon, a large red foam knife. The player assigned the role of killer conceals this on their person throughout the game.
Less prominently but more importantly, are the character cards. These define the basic traits of each character and provide three different roles they can play. Using the Computer Whiz as an example again, they have the option of being a hacker, a software engineer, or a cyber security specialist. Each of these roles provides a slightly different take on the Computer Whiz character and a different set of goals. The character cards come with lanyards so that players can carry them around for easy reference, and easy identification for other players.
The remaining contents of the box include cards with secondary objectives, artifact cards, and ghost cards. The secondary objectives give the non-killer players more ways of defending themselves against the killer and scoring points. The ghost cards provide the killer’s victims with goals for the remainder of the game.
How I Played It
Darkridge Reunion is not a board game; it’s a social activity that requires being on your feet, moving around, and interacting with others directly. I played two different sessions with a group of 5 friends (i.e. 6 players total). We played both sessions in my house (which is relatively spacious) and set aside several areas to be used for the play space. My particular group is a mixed bunch of pretty outgoing men and women in their late 20s or 30s. I mention all this because who you play this with and where you play it can drastically impact the experience.
Darkridge Reunion is very effective as a role-playing party activity. Everyone loves a good murder mystery and the character cards provide solid roleplaying material for the non-killer characters. Since the characters are based on well-worn high school drama tropes, they should be familiar enough to allow the average person to get into their character. Another thing I liked about the characters is that each one has their own motivation for having one-on-one meetings with other characters. This makes it easier for the killer to blend in with the other characters.
In my first session with the game, my group didn’t initially understand what type of game this is. We focused too heavily on the rules, scoring, and winning/losing conditions. This diverted our attention from the game’s main appeal: roleplaying. Once we settled into our characters, however, it was a lot of fun wandering around the house and interacting with each other while pretending to be the most over-the-top possible high school cliches. The goals, scoring, and murder mystery aspects work well as prompts and as a source of tension for the roleplaying.
In my second session of the game, my friend group met up with a character-first mindset from the start and even wore costumes. This made for a really fun evening of goofing around, regardless of what the scores were. A good way to describe it would be doing an improv version of the TV show Riverdale while earning some achievements on the side.
What Doesn’t Work
The challenge with playing Darkridge Reunion is that its roles as a “game” and as a social activity are directly at odds with each other. In other words, the most fun way to play the game isn’t aligned with the game’s mechanics.
To illustrate my point, let’s go back to when I was playing as the Computer Whiz; it was pretty clear to other players that my attempts to convince them that Windows is superior to Mac OS was a way for my character to score points (even though I played it off as smoothly as I could). Thus, if the other players took a purely gaming-focused mindset, they would just refuse to agree with me or refuse to engage that topic to prevent me from scoring. However, doing that would kill the momentum of the roleplay. After all, the first rule of improv acting is “Yes, and..”. We as a group had to agree upfront that if our characters would do something, we would do it, regardless of what it meant for our scores as players. Without this sort of understanding, the whole thing grinds to a halt.
Regarding the scoring and rules, we found them to be a bit unbalanced. In our first session, the killer was highly effective and took out many of the other characters before the end of the game. You’d think this would mean he’d win, right? Not even close! Since each character he killed became a ghost and the ghosts can score points at a faster rate than the killer can, he lost to the ghosts he created by fulfilling his objective. In our second session, the killer tried to avoid killing anyone until the very end of the game to minimize the amount of time the ghosts would have to score. This meant she spent most of this session trying to hide that she had the killer role only to spring into action in the last few minutes and ultimately got found out before being able to take anyone out.
The general theme was that we found that would have to modify the rules, point values, and how we played the game to make it work. Otherwise, the game didn’t seem properly balanced for the killer or any of the teams to win. I had hoped to see if the scoring and rules would work better with 12 players as opposed to 6. Unfortunately, that proved to be too difficult to coordinate in time for this review. (Being a busy adult is hard!)
Another issue this game may pose is one of practicality and logistics. To play Darkridge Reunion, you need to be able to set up several private spaces where players can meet and not be easily seen or overheard by others. In my case, we were playing in my house and had two bedrooms and an office at our disposal. However, for people living in smaller homes or apartments, the space and privacy needs of this game could be a hurdle. The other practical consideration is the murder weapon; it’s a rather large foam knife! We found that the only way to make it possible to conceal it was if everyone agreed to wear costumes that included large bags or coats with breast pockets. In our first play session, we weren’t adequately prepared and just used a plastic spoon instead.
In the right circumstances, Darkridge Reunion is a great way to spice up a party. However, to make it work requires a lot of dedication from the players and a considerable amount of physical space. In other words, it’s not the type of thing you can just take out of the box and play with your friends; it requires preparation and being in the right mindset. If you can make these things happen, you’re in for a good time but many traditional boardgame or tabletop players may find that Darkridge Reunion is not their cup of tea.