I am a rules-lite person. Complex rules do not interest me, though I celebrate and encourage others who love it. Some of my favorite games are one-shots. Ones that don’t require several weeks or months of commitment. If that game can also have simplified rules? That’s even better. Ten Candles is one of my favorite games because of its quick setup, fast execution, and roleplay-heavy mechanics. It was a perfect horror story and different every time. But I could only run that game online so many times before players wanted something different.
Alice is Missing was a game people spoke about as a high school sweetheart, filled with memories, emotions, and nostalgia. It is a game that creates beautiful, deep, and intimate connections within a short period of time through silent roleplay. A new love, a new way of gaming, and a new way of experiencing relationships. After about the tenth time I saw someone express their intense love for this game, I knew it was time.
Alice is Missing can be broken into a simple explanation:
“ALICE IS MISSING is a silent role playing game about the disappearance of Alice Briarwood, a high school junior in the sleepy Northern California town of Silent Falls. During the game, players use their phones to send text messages to each other as they unearth clues about what happened to Alice.”Spenser Starke, Alice is Missing Rulebook
After reading this, I was instantly hit with Life is Strange and Oxenfree vibes, two video games on the list for inspiration. Beautiful artwork that evokes a specific type of season, the feeling of being young and carefree, with strange and memorable experiences, but the world’s reality is just around the corner.
This game is a one-shot, three-ish hour session that leans heavily on roleplay and interactions. The game is for 3 – 5 players (you’re included as a player if you are running it!) It sounded perfect, especially since the weather outside felt like Silent Falls at the beginning of winter. The corebook is 48 pages with big fonts and beautiful artwork, so in actuality, the corebook is not long in the least bit.
As an artist, I deeply appreciated the care and touch of the artwork and layout chosen for Alice is Missing. Julianne Grepp’s cover art is such a compelling piece and it sets the tone for the rest of the book. Swirls of autumn sunsets in purples, pinks, and blues in a dreamy, almost euphoric, silhouette of what is assumed to be Alice. The rest of the book carries the skill of Caleb Cleveland, Julianne Grepp and Christopher J. De La Rosa with layout by Stephanie Gottesman into what feels like a scrapbook or even a notebook you passed between your best friends in high school. Headers are on ripped pages or taped into the layout, with sketches and handwritten fonts among the very readable body text. Watercolor splashes and old postcard locations can be seen sprinkled throughout as well, but it never distracts from the overall core game manuscript.
At the time of release, Alice is Missing was for in-person sessions only. But, by the time I got the chance to check it out, it felt like fate that Hunters Entertainment had just released a Roll20 Version + Discord Template for online play. This was an excellent opportunity to try something new with friends where all the tools were at our fingertips.
I posted a mutuals-only post on Twitter and asked friends if they wanted to try it with me. Immediately, I had responses, especially from people who hadn’t played before. I spent a week preparing for it, excitedly emailing them to choose their characters and give them some aesthetics and vibes for the game. To note, this game is probably the lowest amount of prep but my chill is that of the sun and I like to feel overly prepared for games.
The Discord Connection makes the server for you. You have to do the slightest editing to channels and add a few things depending on how many players you have. This was also simple for the Roll20 setup, especially with the GM (Facilitator) video tutorial.
After reading the short rulebook, the game was incredibly easy to understand. Exact step-by-step processes while setting the tone with gorgeous artwork and visual representation.
I continued communicating with my fellow players, building the excitement for a few weeks. I asked people to pick their characters and I emailed them a card of their character and a card with a secret on it, privately. At random, I chose an “Alice” from the pile of Missing Posters included in the download so people could start their connection with her.
The rules themselves are simple. Specific minutes on the countdown clock mean certain cards are flipped, a responsibility all players have. But it doesn’t take away from the texting or the investment because the card flipping is usually one or two cards per player. These cards support what happens next, and it is up to the players to weave the reaction through their communication.
A handful of rules make sense for the game to go smoothly, such as two player characters cannot be at the same location at the exact same time. Also, you can’t just ‘find Alice’ until a card says you have. These rules help move the game forward but doesn’t take away the agency and creativity from players.
On a Wednesday evening, we all jumped on Discord together. We spent the first few minutes catching up with real-life updates and enjoyed seeing one another face-to-face after such a long time of interacting through social media, emails, and texts. It felt almost like a high school reunion, with five friends who trusted one another and were thrilled to play in the game.
I will note, Alice is Missing will give you what you put into it. The players I chose were friends I loved to game with, wanted to game with, and that I trusted. Your mileage may vary on your setup, completely, and that is the joy of tabletop games.
When we were ready, we talked about who Alice was and our connection with her. We created a compelling story about how she impacted our characters’ lives while hiding a predetermined secret from one another. We collaborated in a very smooth and open way. Even in moments where one story might have contradicted the other, we stopped and compromised together.
Even before starting to play, we were already building relationships together and starting to bring Alice to life. We could imagine what she looked like, the classes she took, how we met her, and what she meant to us. As we created Alice, our characters took form alongside her. We wove stories about each of the players together and felt confident with our decisions.
What I loved about this part was the flexibility of the characters. The ability to change the character names slightly (ex: Jack, Alice’s older brother, was changed to Jackie to be Alice’s older sister instead) or their ideals without a long character description. The ability to take the most basic description and build onto it with so much room for imagination is so refreshing and beautiful.
We also went over lines and veils. While I am always pro-safety tools in every game, Alice is Missing, especially needs these tools as it covers some dark and heavier themes that not all players might feel safe or comfortable playing with. (As a note, in one of my later games, we removed a theme entirely from the session, which did not take away from the experience in the least bit.)
Next, we set up the game board in Roll20 together. We practiced flipping cards together, too, as we continued to build Silent Falls and her inhabitants. All players were instructed to record a voicemail, potentially revealing their secret, as the last voicemail they left Alice before she went missing. These would be played at the end when the 90 minutes ran out.
We got rid of our phones since we were playing on our laptops and desktops, turned off notifications on our computers, and I prepared to send the first text. I pulled up the game timer and hit play.
The songs are the only thing that you hear throughout the experience. The soundtrack is beautiful, and I cannot express how much it is needed for play. The songs chosen are perfectly paced and wonderfully brimming with different emotional impacts, different styles, and many enjoyable indie bands. In a way, it gives the game a certain nostalgic, emotional, and autumnal feeling while texting and searching for Alice.
The entire world around us stopped for 90 minutes when the soundtrack and timer started. There was no social media to scroll through, no work to worry about, and no responsibilities to weigh on us heavily outside the world we created. The time flew by, and before we knew it, we were listening to each other’s voicemails, holding back tears and allowing ourselves to have an end to the game. We spent time decompressing together and while we felt better for it, the conversations didn’t stop there. My best friend and I couldn’t resist calling one another the next day and talked for hours about what the game meant to us and how we felt closer to each other.
I could go on about how the game went, but it is an intimate experience you must have at least once. It’s not a secret society nor something that can’t be done unless you meet specific criteria, but the feeling and the experience you will have in your game will make Alice is Missing so unique to you. The game will be what you and your players put into it. If your players aren’t interested, they may not be willing to invest in the session, which is completely fine, and people are allowed to choose not to participate.
After running this game four times with four different sets of people, each game was a different adventure. I worried it would be the same, especially inviting my best friend for another session, but everyone gives to the world in their own way and makes their worldbuilding special. The game suggests not playing another session with the same group, and I agree wholeheartedly. Each session has its own beautiful and magical moments; replicating them again would be almost impossible.
In the years of the pandemic, this game brought myself and so many others closer together even though we were thousands of miles away. It helped us rekindle friendships, strengthen current ones, or even start new ones. I am beyond grateful that there is an opportunity for people to play it all over the world in the way they want to. I have yet to play this in-person, but don’t let that stop you from choosing that option for your session. There are the slightest of differences in setup and game play, but the impact will always stem from the people playing.
Spenser Starke, the creator of Alice is Missing and writer for games like Kids on Brooms, successfully created an experience that has brought so many people together in a way I have not personally seen in any other tabletop roleplaying game. It has won countless awards for a reason. It is beyond the scope of anything I could put down into words. Spenser’s creativity and brilliance shine through every page and session. He made something that changed so many people’s gaming experiences and exceeded their expectations of what could be achieved.
In 2024, we will be given the expansion, Alice is Missing: Silent Falls, and I cannot wait to see how my new sessions will be. There will be brand new stories with additional Suspect, Location, Character, Searching, and Clue cards, as well as new Relationship cards that help you to deepen your connections to the other characters.
Until then, may your journeys to Silent Falls be as beautiful and impactful as mine have been.
Get the Roll20 VTT Version and the PDF of Alice is Missing bundled at a discount!