Board games are lovely and tactile things. Moving tiles, rolling dice, and playing with the pieces are all nice even without worrying about the rules, as anyone who’s ever set up the Moustrap board just for the fun of it knows. Visual novels are the polar opposite, though. Basically a digitized book with graphics and a few choices to make along the way, they aren’t known for being particularly gameplay-intensive. Traitor Nightly takes the two opposing genres and merges them into a short, unique experience, where the tiles and dice are just as important as the conversation with Grandmaster Karvanos. Strategy and listening both come into play, and once you understand the rules well enough to have a shot at winning it comes with a moral choice between pride and responsibility.
The board game aspect is very nicely designed. Traitor is played on a grid of hexes, dark and light black for the empire, dark and light red for the rebels. The rebels need to survive ten turns to win, while the empire must build three castles on the rebels’ dark red home territory. Each player’s pieces are made of three stacked disks, and losing in combat means discarding a disk to the well at the base of the game board. The player runs the rebels, with three units to keep track of, while the Grandmaster plays the empire with four armies at its disposal. Every turn you can move each piece once, although it’s not necessary to move all of them, and resting an army on a dark red hex heals a single disk back to its ranks. Each move carries a risk of encounter with it, but traveling through home territory is low odds while moving through black is more dangerous. Roll a die to determine an encounter, then roll again if combat happens, and tie or worse counts as a loss. Once you understand the goal is defense and survival it becomes much easier, and aggression is a rookie mistake.
The story plays out in conversations between player moves, with branching dialogue revealing information about the Grandmaster and the world he lives in. You play a news reporter on the show Traitor Nightly, where the Grandmaster defeats all comers as the empire squashing the rebels in a board game showdown. Needless to say it’s obvious propaganda, but through conversation is becomes clear the Grandmaster isn’t a puppet of the empire but rather an intelligent, conscientious person in a difficult job that carries unexpected risk. What you do with that information is a choice, but maybe not necessarily a hard one once you understand the consequences.
Traitor Nightly is currently working its way through Greenlight and available at itch.io. Check out the trailer below to get a sense of things, although it’s worth noting that, while the dialogue is narrated in the trailer, all conversation is pleasantly text-only in the full game.