Alice is Missing is a silent role-playing game played through text messages. You play as the friends of high school student Alice Briarwood who has disappeared.
To begin with, you each choose one of the five set characters. Alice is Missing is played without a GM, but one player will have to learn the rules in-depth and act as facilitator. This player takes the role of Charlie Barnes who has different starting information to the other characters.
Each character card has a secret and a prompt to flesh out their relationship with Alice. This is combined with a drive, which states the character’s motive for how they act, as well as two relationship prompts you assign to other characters.
Once characters are created, you discuss your starting hunches about the five set locations and suspects. Why would you think that they could be involved with the disappearance?
Every player also records their character’s last voice message to Alice, on the facilitator's phone.
Finally, you either create a group chat or exchange mobile numbers. Make sure to name everyone with character names for the sake of immersion.
The game begins three days after Alice was last seen. The facilitator, as Charlie, opens the group chat by asking if anyone has heard from her recently. From then on, the game takes place in the chat. Players stay quiet for the full 90 minutes a game takes.
You start out with just your hunches and character secrets to go by. The early parts of the chat will reflect this. As the game progresses, events and new pieces of information will help to guide and narrow down your speculations.
Events and information are introduced by clue cards. Throughout the 90 minutes, you take turns revealing these at set intervals and relaying their contents in the chat. Clue cards often ask you to draw from the decks of locations or suspects to see who or where is involved in the clue.
Characters can also choose to go to one of the locations unprompted. You then draw a search card to see what they find there, like a loaded gun or a white van.
The further in the game, the more specific the clue cards get. Eventually, you find out who took Alice, where she is, and what state you find her in.
Once the timer hits 0, your character writes one final message in the group chat. Then you listen to the voice mails you recorded during setup and debrief.
Alice is Missing takes place in the small town of Silent Falls, Northern California, during the winter break. Apart from the high school which most of the player characters (and some of the suspects) attend, the town encompasses locations such as the Dripping Dagger Nightclub, the Kalisto Rivers State Park, and the Lighthouse on the Howling Sea Cliffs.
I loved playing Alice is Missing, largely due to the game’s atmosphere and format.
The rulebook recommends that you use the combined soundtrack and timer from the game’s homepage and it is great. The soundtrack sets the perfect atmosphere for the game. Starting out light but eerie, and getting more and more intense as the timer approaches turning points and game end.
The silence between players adds a lot of appropriate tension, too. As does seeing the dots as a character is typing, especially after a clue card has been revealed.
Role-playing through text also afforded me more time to think of good responses and to decide what to do with the prompts on my clue cards. You aren’t put on the spot in the same way as during a verbal role-playing conversation. The only pressure is that you should relay your clue card’s information before the next card is revealed, giving you 5-10 minutes.
I also really enjoyed how the mystery unfolds via the clue cards, search cards, and character prompts. There isn’t a set solution from the beginning, rather you and the other players are trying to piece together and create a narrative from the clues currently available.
Finally, I like that the game has a set duration, with the clue cards and prompts assuring that the story will have a beginning, middle, and conclusion. It’s a very unified experience. With setup, everyone learning the rules, and playing through the full game, our session took about 3 hours. It is a game well suited as a centrepiece event either on its own or as part of a game night.
It is important to emphasise that Alice is Missing is a game centred around a missing person case about a teenage girl.
The game is very aware of the heaviness of its theme. The rulebook provides thorough guidance on how to use safety tools within the text format, and discussing what kind of topics the players do not want to explore in the game is part of the setup. It is also possible to avoid the possibility that Alice could be dead by leaving out certain clue cards. Furthermore, the game ends with the players debriefing, which includes checking that everyone is okay.
These are excellent tools and aspects, I found them very helpful during our game. But the core of the game is always going to be that a teenager has disappeared, and it’s good to keep that in mind before playing.
Alice is Missing, to me, is quite a unique role-playing experience. However, if you think that what I described above isn’t entirely the kind of game you want to play, I have some suggestions you might like instead.
If you like the idea of playing as mystery-solving teenagers in a small town as well as the potential for tough themes, but you would like to play out loud and work towards a set solution run by a GM, Things from the Flood might be the system for you.
If you want to solve small-town mysteries with teenage characters but you don’t want to role play, and you would like to be able to play on your own, you could try Chronicles of Crime: Welcome to Redview.
Finally, if you are not necessarily keen on the theme but like the idea of a role-playing system that can be learned and taught quickly and where you can have a full, unified session within a couple of hours, the Fiasco system might suit your needs.
The rulebooks state that “[t]he same group” if playing again “will see opportunities where they didn’t before, but getting together a new group to play is likely to take the story in directions you didn’t previously explore”. This suggests that Alice is Missing was made to be replayable, just not with the same exact group. There is a lot of potential for vastly different stories to play out.
Each interval of play has three possible clue cards, one is picked at random during setup. This means that it is unlikely that two games will have the same combination of story beats. Moreover, each card contains a prompt for the player to answer and flavour, not one set thing that happens. If you play enough times, you might learn the general array of the clue card, as well as all the character secrets. But what the players bring to them will be different every time.
If you want to try a different kind of role-playing experience, I cannot recommend Alice is Missing enough. Provided, of course, that you are comfortable with the theme. The game lets you play through a strong, unified narrative that you create together. And, as everything is played through texts, you will even be able to read back over it after the game has ended.