Tingleverse sounds interesting from the outset. It’s a tabletop RPG set in a parallel universe where unicorns, raptors and bigfoots roam amongst humans, but other than that things are mostly the same as in our world. Though firearms haven’t been invented, alcohol doesn’t exist and there’s no internet, even though computers are available. Playing as a raptor biker who deals more damage whenever there’s heavy metal playing, or a pacifist unicorn who heals party members with the power of love, sounds pretty wild. The absurdity of the scenario is further elevated by character customization options. You can choose to have really muscular abs or calves that give you a bonus to your charisma whenever they are visible, or to suffer either from existential dread or metaknowledge (understanding that you are a character in a table top RPG) at the opposite ends of the spectrum. All that being said, sounds like the ingredients for a really weird and absurd adventure, right?
Unfortunately, I felt that the gameplay didn’t match the premise in its originality. As a smooth talking, street smart unicorn charmer not well endowed in the art of combat, I had the expectation of being able to finesse my party either into or out of surreal situations whilst wearing nothing but a pair of shades. Instead, I spent majority of the game being useless and watching my party members hack and slash their way through a bunch of unresponsive undead enemies. On practical terms, the game is merely a silly reskin of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. Character stats, attributes and classes all correspond to the archetypes seen in AD&D. This is an of itself isn’t an issue, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Using the framework of AD&D to build a basis for a new RPG is fine. The real issue is the similar focus on combat encounters and dungeon crawling; the one-off session of Tingleverse I played roughly consisted of character creation (35%), talking to a single NPC quest giver in a bar (1%) and subsequent dungeon crawling (64%). Being an enigmatic unicorn didn’t affect my experience in any way, in fact I would’ve had more fun had I made a more straightforward and mundane combat focused character.
Stacking dice was the most stimulating moment of my time with Tingleverse
Perhaps one game session isn’t enough to fairly assess a tabletop RPG of this sort, but my initial experience wasn’t very enjoyable. The fact that the gamemaster also called the game a “POS that wasn’t playtested” gives me confidence that I’m not alone in my opinion however. I would liken the experience to that of playing Earthbound (or the more obscure Superhero League of Hoboken), a console RPG on the SNES famous for its eccentricity; once you strip down the surface level fluff, the gameplay follows classic design tropes. With such a peculiar setting, I was expecting for unique and amusing gameplay mechanics as well. The idea of playing a bigfoot ballerina with a hard-on for alligators sounds amusing on paper, but once you get down to the core gameplay, it is easy to lose sight of the absurdity of the situation, at which point you might as well be whacking orcs and goblins with a sword.
Designer: Chuck Tingle
Publisher: Independently published
Release date: September 2, 2019