The Real Truth – Review

In The Real Truth you play a “truth seeker” travelling the world to capture strange creatures and uncover conspiracies.

The game is based on The Last Podcast On The Left – a long-running dark comedy podcast that sees the hosts talk about all manner of horrors, both real and unexplained. Topics range from serial killers, cults and conspiracy theories to cryptids, ghosts, and UFO sightings.

Gameplay revolves around you travelling to various locations around the world, gathering resources as you go. Travelling across grey, green and red spaces on your turn will see you collecting some documents, plasma and tracks respectively, in the form of tokens. These resources are what you need to complete missions or capture creatures. When it comes to missions, you need to take your collected resources to a location on the board which is defined by the mission, where you can then complete that mission by trading in the resources. You’re then rewarded with the completed mission card which will (generally) get you more resources and grant you victory points at the end of the game.

Creatures are slightly different from missions in that they can move around. When you use your movement cards, which is how you move around the map, there’s some that let you “push” creatures to various locations.

There’s four different types of creatures in the game, each represented by its own deck. You have Terrestrial (things like Bigfoot), Spectral (ghosts and the like), Men in Black and Aliens. Within each of the four types there are a number of creatures, so for the terrestrial creatures there’s the Yeti, a Giant, a Mummy and so on.

Each creature has an “alignment”: a number between 1 and 10 and to capture it your character’s alignment has to be with +1 / -1 of the creature’s. So, if a creature had an alignment of 5, you could capture it if your character’s alignment was 4, 5 or 6. Some of your movement cards and other effects let you adjust your character’s alignment along your alignment track.

I had a few slight issues with the way that capturing creatures works. First, it’s not made clear what “alignment” represents thematically: it’s simply not explained. So, because it’s not explained, it feels purely mechanical: like an arbitrary road block that’s put in your way to give you something else to consider and to help differentiate creatures from missions. It’s made to feel even more arbitrary when you realise that your character’s starting alignment is based on a random token draw.

I was also left scratching my head about what “capturing a creature” actually means. Am I physically stuffing Sasquatch into the back of my car? Am I trapping a ghost in a jar? Or am I just capturing evidence of these creatures, such as photographs, audio recordings, tracks and so on? Again, the game does not make it clear. Faced with no explanation, I decided to go with the idea that I was capturing evidence of them, as it was the only way my brain could make sense of it.

I have a real fascination with cryptozoology: the idea that Bigfoot or other hidden animals could be out there is really intriguing to me, so interacting with the creatures was the thing I was looking forward to most about the game. But sadly, the game doesn’t offer up much information about them at all, giving no kind of flavour text or anything about them other than their name and a silhouetted image. I still have no idea what a ‘Muki’, or a ‘Cipactli‘ is. It would have been so cool to just have a little bit of flavour text on each card to really help bring out the theme (“Hundreds of Sasquatch sightings are reported each year in the Pacific North-West. The earliest sighting dates back to 1870”, or something), but it feels like a bit of a missed opportunity, sadly.

The mission cards, on the other hand, are full of well-written and often funny text and are, I think, the highlight of the game.

Each mission card ostensibly represents you investigating some kind of mystery, whether it be a bizarre, unexplained real-life event like the Dyatlov Pass incident (if you don’t know about it, look it up, it’s weird), or some kind of conspiracy theory. Some of the cards have a QR code which links to the podcast episode about the topic, which is a nice touch.

The game tackles the conspiracy theories in quite a tongue-in-cheek way, which is to its credit, as most of them are patently absurd: “Prince Charles is a Vampire”, “Politicians are actually Lizard People”, that kind of thing. I should note here that though the podcast discusses conspiracy theories, it doesn’t peddle them as truth as some other broadcasters may do. They simply discuss, laugh and poke fun.

There is an important point that I need to bring up here. Though many conspiracy theories are relatively harmless, and so absurd that they can be easily dismissed, there are some conspiracy theories which have in recent years taken root in the minds of many people and I think giving them exposure can actually be quite damaging if not handled correctly. Unfortunately, the game includes some of these theories as mission cards and I think the way it’s done is a little problematic.

Some of the theories presented, because they are grounded in reality and followed fervently by some people in real life, can be particularly harmful if not questioned, and the game doesn’t offer any kind of counterpoint to them. A small disclaimer in the rulebook about some of the theories being presented being untrue would have gone a long way here.

I think for fans of the podcast this won’t be an issue, as they will understand the context and the tone of how these things are addressed a little more, but for the uninitiated, seeing some of those real-life theories in a game, presented as they are, can be a bit jarring.

So, is the game fun? Well, I think for the most part, yes it is. The act of moving around the map collecting resources and cashing those in for rewards is a fundamentally enjoyable thing to do. You constantly feel like you’re being rewarded for what you’re doing, and it’s good that there are a number of different goals that you can always be working towards, whether they be the various creatures or the missions. The movement system is card-driven: you’re giving a small deck of cards which can be played to move around the board. You can then play a special card, which represents you staying in a hotel, to recharge and gather your used cards. You can also visit the South Pole locations to gain special movement cards. The movement system adds a nice layer of strategy, and it’s one of the stronger aspects of the game.

There’s a few more things to consider when it comes to gameplay. Each player has a hidden identity (Investigative Journalist, Ghost Hunter, Detective and so on) that gives them some kind of extra secret scoring condition to consider. The Ghost Hunter might get extra victory points for completing missions of the Spectral type, for example. You can also gather social media followers by moving over certain spaces on the board, marked with a follower symbol (a little image of a sheep, which is a nice touch). If your alignment is over a certain number and you move over the follower space, you collect that follower token. Followers, like creatures and missions, will give you victory points at the end of the game.

For me, it never quite felt like I was actually doing what I was supposed to be doing in the game. It didn’t feel like I was investigating or capturing creatures; it felt like I was moving around a map and dropping off resources at various points. Some stronger thematic ties, such as some flavour text on the creature cards, would have gone a long way. The process of moving around the map and achieving different missions is enjoyable, but it’s a shame that the theme doesn’t come out more strongly. I think it would have really helped the theme to give each location a name, as is done in something like Pandemic. That way, when you’re travelling the world, it would have felt like you were going to places rather than just spaces. It would have felt much more thematic to be able to go to Bluff Creek to investigate Sasquatch, or Area 51 to research UFO’s, rather than red space 4 or green space 7.

With the exception of a few problematic cards, as noted above, the highlight of the game, for me, is the writing on the mission cards which was consistently well done throughout.

Would I recommend this game? I think if you’re a fan of The Last Podcast On The Left, you’ll find plenty to enjoy here. For someone who is not a fan, it’s a bit of a harder sell.

The game has a cool concept, and is an enjoyable experience in play, but its inclusion of some slightly problematic material, without counterpoint or commentary, some missed opportunities and a theme which never quite leaps off the table, makes it harder for me to recommend to non-fans. If you can look past that and embrace the game’s tone, then I think that The Real Truth offers an enjoyable time.

Thank you to Goliath Games for providing me with a review copy of The Real Truth. All opinions are my own.

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