This review is one of the reviews I am doing as part of the peer review process for the “Last Chance” Game Chef game design competition.
Epistolary is a monster hunting mystery game that is setup to recreate the feel of an epistolary novel. While the feel of an epistolary novel is captured, there is a reason that game texts are not written that way. I had to read through the game three times, and I feel like I only have a tenuous understanding of the rules. There is a GM, and at least four players, and at any given time one of the players is the narrator. The general feel of the game is that the GM takes on a mostly facilitation role, and shares the actual running of scenes with the narrator. Resolution is driving by drawing cards and scoring by suit (there are several intricacies to the system that add depth to the system, but I am not entirely confident enough to describe them).
The tone of the game tends to focus around the possibility of the monster actually infiltrating the investigators. It gives it a sort of Clue vibe that could be fun to play out. I did not see much that indicated how the GM was intended to manage and facilitate this, and other subplots within the game. I fear that play may end up stalling halfway through due to lack of ability to track progress towards the characters goals.
Ultimately, I am glad the author took the risk to approach the game in such a novel way. The idea of the epistolary is sound, but presenting sophisticated rules buried in proses makes the game difficult to pickup. I would like to see the actual mechanics of the game presented in a more clear format, perhaps separated from the settings materials that could be presented in epistolary format.