Review and Playtest of The Dark

Review and Playtest of The Dark

At Amalara Game Studio, we not only make games, we play them, too! I had the great pleasure to recently play through The Dark, a solo horror game by Kirby Franklin of Disaster Tourism. It's based on the Wretched and Alone system by Chris Bisette, and requires a deck of cards, some candles, and both a six and four-sided die. It does not use the classic block tower that many W&A games use, but uses the combination of dice and candles in a very atmospheric way instead. In addition to being appropriately spooky, this set of tools makes the game far more portable and easier to play in small or quiet spaces.

In The Dark, you play as “the last remaining of a group of friends who set out for adventure in the wilderness in Scandinavia.” Your friends get killed off by a supernatural darkness in the prologue, so the narrative you weave is one of isolation, fear, and darkness.

The setup is so good and the prompts are so well crafted that I ended up writing almost 3000 words over the course of the few hours I played. I leaned hard into the characterizations of my dead friends and the memories I conjured of them.

Below, you’ll find my complete playthrough — so beware that minor spoilers abound. When you start the game, you’ll be asked to create a person you once loved but who is now gone, the memory of whom provides the only possible avenue for survival. Instead of a person, I opted for a cat.

Then the game asks you to create the four friends you went adventuring with, each of whom corresponds to one of the suits in the deck of cards. You’ll roll the d4 to determine how many cards to draw during each hour of game time and occasionally be prompted to roll the d6 to see if a candle goes out. Lose all four candles or draw all four queens, and you die.

You’re most likely going to die. I did. But I had a tremendous amount of fun doing it. If you like games, play this because it’s a well crafted games. If you like creative writing, play this because it’s one of the best horror story prompts I’ve ever experienced.

The Dark was recently crowdsourced, so the initial supporters have received digital and physical copies. It will be made available to the general public very soon.

And now I present to you the record of my playthrough. CW: potty words, dead things, and things that should not be.

The Dark

Playthrough by David Garrett of Amalara Game Studio

July 28, 2022

My Love

My cat, Hildegard. Sweet, patient, loved to be cuddled and get belly rubs. Slept on me every night. Loved to bring me rabbit heads. Disgusting, but she clearly wanted me to be happy, so I always smiled and told her "thank you." She'd strut off, proudly.

She died last year. She was old. She'd been with me since I was a baby and cats don't live forever. I'd like to think I gave her a good life, though.

My Friends

Jack (Spades). Good dude. Philosophy major, but in a serious way, not a dilettante kind of way. Deep thinker, but also laughed easily. Freshman year we bonded over our shared love of Mario Kart. Sophomore year we roomed together–the only downside to Jack is that he's a pain in the ass roomie. Almost ruined our friendship.

Annie (Diamonds). Super sweet, down to earth–not what you'd expect from a soon to be neurosurgeon. We grew up next door to each other. Played together when we were little. Drank together when we were big. I introduced her to Jack, and now she and he argue incessantly, but they always manage to do it in a really respectful way. I like that she's so good for Jack and that he's so good for her.

Sal (Clubs). Where Jack is thoughtful, Sal is spontaneous. Enormous heart. Would do anything for anyone, but also prone to driving halfway across the country at a moment's notice. Glad we kept him on track long enough to get him on this trip. If only I could get him to keep focused at work.

Ella (Hearts). She's something. Super smart. Brutally direct. We dated for a time after meeting each other in a college class. She wanted sex to be rough. She kept wanting to...escalate. It made me uncomfortable. So we called it quits and weirdly grew a lot closer. Now we talk just about every day. I even introduced her to Sal and, well...I have never seen her so...relaxed. There are a few things we don't talk about.

Hour 1 (4 cards)

5C. Sal's great, but he's not very reliable. Sometimes you just have to take a deep breath and march forward. If he's there for you, then he's there, and if he's not... Roll for candles: 5. All still lit.

4D. When we were kids, we didn't have a lot. We weren't poor. We certainly weren't dirt poor, like some of the kids in our town. But Annie and I had middle class families with one working parent each, so sometimes we'd just sit in the woods out behind our houses and make toys out of sticks and leaves and rocks and mud. Annie liked to build dolls out of leaves and then play hospital with them.

JH. Ella wanted to tie me up once, but I really don't like being constrained. As soon as I realized that I couldn't move my hands, I started to panic. I took some deep breaths and tried to calm down, but I started shouting our safe word over and over and over and over. Oh god, I wish I had a safe word, now. Roll for candles: 5. All still lit.

QH. Oh shit. Ow, fuck! Tripped over a goddamn rock in the middle of the fucking path. Oh crap that hurts. I need to sit down for a minute. Roll for candles: 4. All still lit.

Hour 2 (4 cards)

8C. Holy shit, that's Sal's watch. Oh my God. He told me how his grandfather gave him the watch right off his wrist when he dropped him off for his first day at college and said to "always be on time." Hah! Fucking Sal's never been on time in his life, but he'd tell that story to anyone who noticed his watch. Always had it on him. Oh, fuck. Sal, man. If I get out of this fucking woods, I swear to all that is holy that I'll get this watch back to your grandpa, man. Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck.

5S. Jack and Annie argue–about everything. They're just people who both like to argue, and normally it's super respectful because they're also both people who are super smart. But Jack thinks he's the smartest. He's always thought he was the smartest. In every situation. Which makes him intolerable to live with because you can't get away. Sometimes, he'll say something that lets you know that he knows that he's smarter than you and it'll pierce straight through any ego, because he's usually right. So when he does that to Annie, I feel my face flush and my anger rise and I want to straight up punch him in the fucking face. But I don't, because he's my friend, and Annie just smiles and shakes her head because she knows that he knows that of the two of them, he's not.

AH. The night after I had a panic attack in bed, Ella and I went out to eat. Quiet place. There was a lot of awkwardness, but finally I told her about how I fell down a well when I was six. I was stuck for hours. Yelling. Screaming. Crying. My arms were pinned to my sides and I couldn't move and all I could think about was how I was going to die there in the dark. My parents eventually came looking and my dad just reached down and pulled me out by my collar. So it wasn't national news. But it left me with a phobia of confined spaces and also the knowledge that I can endure just about anything. I can do this.

9S. Hilde, stop licking my face, you little shit. Hilde. Wait. What? Owwwww! Oh, fuck, my head! Oh, fuck, my ankle! Fuuuuuuck. It must have given out and I fell and hit my head on a rock. Ugh, yeah, bloody head, bloody rock. That tracks. Middle of a fucking forest in the middle of fucking nowhere and my friends all got eaten by who the fuck knows what. I mean, why not hit my head and black out? Roll for candles: 1. All candles still lit.

Hour 3 (3 cards)

JS. When Bella got diagnosed with glioblastoma, Annie wouldn't stop crying. She took her role as big sister pretty seriously and was always, always, always there to protect Bella. But now she couldn't. And I remember sitting there in the dorm lounge as Annie sobbed next to me and Jack, fucking Jack, said exactly the wrong thing, and I had to hold Annie back to keep her from punching him in the face. I don't know why she didn't end it right there. God, I don't even remember what he said. Anyway, she didn't end it and Jack toned himself way down after that and I remember the three of us sitting in Bella's room and just hearing those shallow breaths as she lay there, unconscious, waiting to die. "Ok, deep breaths," Annie would say to Bella, but really to all of us. "Deep breaths." I wish she was here to say that now... Roll for candles: 1. All candles still lit

10C. Annie and I were each other's first kiss, when we were both seven. It grossed both of out so much that we never even thought about anything romantic between us ever again. Last night, Sal broke out a bottle of tequila, because that's how Sal rolls, and we all got a little too drunk for the night before a big camping trip. So Jack stumbled to bed first, and then Sal stumbled to his room, and Ella stumbled behind him, and then Annie came and sat next to me. She leaned in very close, and then kissed me. I kissed her back and then we both pulled away. She smiled, "Still gross, huh?" I nodded–still gross.

3C. Sal was the daredevil of our group. Almost reckless. He drank too much, wandered too much, just did too much of everything. He had no fear of death–he'd laugh at it. Every time he'd almost die, he'd get this glint in his eyes and just let out an unearthly guffaw. "Beat you again, fucker," he'd yell as he pumped his fists in the air. "Catch you next time!" Roll for candles: 3. All candles still lit.

Hour 4 (2 cards)

3D. That night in the dorm when Annie learned about her sister's cancer diagnosis was the last time I saw her cry. She didn't cry the day Bella died. She didn't cry at her funeral. I've never seen her cry since. It's like a little wall went up and she became impenetrable. The kid I grew up with was gone. The distance between us grew. We stopped talking about certain subjects. Maybe that was inevitable–just a result of taking our own paths in life. I don't know. And now she's gone. Roll for candles: 5. All candles still lit.

4S. I remember the first camping trip we took as a group–sophomore year. Jack planned it just after Ella and I started dating. He wanted to go to Yellowstone, so we all packed in his car and drove to Yellowstone. We slept under the stars. In the middle of the night, I would wake up and just watch the Milky Way transit the sky. It made me feel...well...not small. Not insignificant. It made me feel connected -- to my friends, to my family, to everyone who had ever looked up at those same stars in the middle of the night, and to everyone who would ever look up at those stars in the middle of the night. It was oddly spiritual.

Hour 5 (2 cards)

4C. Oh my god, I smell pancakes. Sal's pancakes. That dude makes the world's best pancakes. Oh, man, I remember that camping trip to Vermont with the amazing maple syrup! Those were some good pancakes.

10H. I remember that time, shortly before we broke up, when Ella hung up her phone, turned to me, and said, "That was my mom. My dad just died." I rushed to comfort her, but she brushed me off. "It's ok," she said with a faraway look in her eyes, "he was an asshole."

Hour 6 (4 cards)

KH. Oh god, whatever took them is here. It's behind me. While I was thinking about pancakes, that fucking thing suck up right behind me. Oh my god, my ankle! I've got to keep running! I can feel it's breath on my neck! I've got to keep running! I've got to keep running!

8S. What? A shotgun? Holy fuck! A shotgun! Last time I used one of these was when I was, what, thirteen? At camp. And I couldn't hit the broadside of a barn. So maybe I should keep running. But I'm taking this fucker with me.

8H. Oh my God. Who the fuck is that! Is that my reflection? I...oh shit. Where's my face? What's wrapped around me? Chains? Dark, black chains? Is that why my chest feels so tight?

5H. I've got to keep moving. I've got to, shit! What? Oh my God! Ella! Oh my God, Ella. What...what did this to you? Oh my God, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry....wait. What is that? The key necklace? That I gave you? "Hey babe, this is the key to my heart." Fuck, what a dumbass I was. But why do you still have this? Why are you still wearing it? None of this makes any sense. Roll for candles: 4. All candles still lit.

Hour 7 (2 cards)

JC. What was that? Sal? What are you doing? Oh god, what are you doing, Sal? Get off me! GET OFF ME! OH FUCK MY FINGERS! YOU BIT OFF MY FINGERS! YOU BIT OFF MY FUCKING FINGERS! FINE! YOU WANT IT, CHECK THIS OUT! I'VE GOT A FUCKING SHOTGUN, MOTHERFUCKER! Roll for candles: 6. Only 3 candles left.

7D. Well, Sal bit off three of my fingers; Ella's been torn to pieces; and now, Annie's a headless tree person who is trying to talk to me, except she has no head so she can't actually talk. Right. Right. The forest is trying to kill me. Yep. Pretty sure I'm gonna die out here. Roll for candles: 2. Only 3 candles left.

Hour 8 (3 cards)

4H. The last time I thought I was going to die in the woods was when we were at Yellowstone, all those years ago. Ella and I had wandered off to be kinky in the woods, and then it got dark, and then it got cold, and then we ended up huddled together, sheltered by a tree just like this one. We were there for hours, until the rest of the group came looking for us. But that time together was was the most connected I've felt with anyone.

7C. Oh my God, I'm so hungry. Steak and mashed potatoes and beer and ugh this looks so amazing. I can't believe this was right here in the woods this whole time. It's too bad the crew isn't here for this. Where are they, anyway? Oh man, this food smells fantastic. I wonder if I should wait for everyone. These mashed potatoes are...wait. Are those maggots? What the fuck? The steak's still twitching. Oh god, this isn't real. This isn't real! Roll for candles: 4. Only 3 candles remain.

10D. I can't believe Annie's gone. I can't believe that I'm never going to hear her voice again. She did leave me a voicemail that I haven't deleted yet, "Hey, Jack and I made it to the lodge. Waiting on you now! Love you bunches!" Shit. It's stupid that this is the last thing I have to remind me of her.

Hour 9 (3 cards)

AD. God damn it, Annie. There's the heart we carved into the tree when we were twelve and neither of us had even remotely started dating and we made a pact that if we weren't married by thirty, we'd marry each other. Shit. Shit, shit, shit. Hell-ass-shit-fuck! I can't believe this is happening. Why is this happening? What did any of us do to deserve this? What did Annie do to deserve this? Jack was going to propose to her on this trip. That's why we're all here! FUCK!

QC. Ok, fuck this shit. I've got to get out of here. Let's do this. Or, in Sal's words, "Beat you again, fucker!"

3H. Ella. Oh, Ella. I'm so sorry. I couldn't. I couldn't. I know what it's like to be trapped like that. To be helpless and not be able to move. I wanted to help you. I wanted to help you. I just...I couldn't even move. I couldn't squeeze in there. I just couldn't...I'm so sorry. Roll for candles: 2. Only three candles remain.

Hour 10 (3 cards)

8D. Ok, let's keep moving. Hopefully nothing's hiding behind the next tree. Hah! Like that time when we were kids that Annie jumped out from behind a tree in the woods and yelled, "Boo!" And then I literally peed myself. I don't even know why I wasn't mad–I just cracked up. I didn't know you could actually pee on yourself from being startled and it seemed like the funniest thing in the world at the time. Annie liked to tell that story whenever we went camping.

QS. Wait. WAIT! Jack slipped some old batteries in my pack the other day. There they are. Please work, please work, please...holy crap! They still work! Let there be light! YES! YES! I have the power! I HAVE THE POWER! Roll for candles: 2. 3 candles remain.

KD. Ok, I don't even know where I'm going and I'm freezing. I've got to stop, maybe give my flashlight a rest. Fuck. Gotta warm up my hands. Cold, cold, cold, cold. Huh. Why is there a cigarette in my pocket? Do I smoke and just not know it? No, I'm cold, not crazy. Annie used to smoke, but she quit years ago. Is this hers? Is it that old? Maybe I'll just put it back.

Hour 11 (1 card)

JD. I should have been a better friend. Tried to climb over that wall Annie put up to shut everyone out. Her sister died and Annie decided right there and then to become a neurosurgeon. If she couldn't save her sister, then she would save everyone else. But she had to put up that wall and nobody was allowed in. Nobody got to see the real Annie any more. Not me. Not Jack. But if anyone could have climbed over it, I could have. I should have. Roll for candles: 2. Three candles remain.

Hour 12 (1 card)

QD. Oh, god damn it! God damn it all to hell. First my ankle. Then my head. Now my leg. Is it broken? OH FUCKING CHRIST! Yes, it's broken. That's it. I can't do this any more. I'm so sorry. Sal. Ella. Jack, you miserable motherfucker. Annie. I can't do it. I'm done.


If you made it this far, don't bother to scroll back up, just go buy The Dark.

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