Author – Ziva McPherson (@Zivatalks)
Where to Buy – https://zivawrites.itch.io/beneath-the-wishing-tree or, while it’s available, you can buy this as part of the Solo But Not Alone #2 bundle here – https://itch.io/b/1227/solo-but-not-alone-2
I’m a simple man. A bit weird, sure, but simple. I see a TTRPG that prominently features unicorns, I buy it. Sometimes those games don’t pan out. Okay, a lot of times those games don’t pan out. But sometimes they’re absolute gems. The ratio of bad and good unicorn games is…rough…but thankfully Ziva McPherson is helping swing the needle in the other direction with Beneath the Wishing Tree.
Beneath the Wishing Tree is a solo TTRPG that uses a tarot deck to generate story prompts in lieu of a standard playing card deck. Generally, I find games utilizing tarot cards over playing cards don’t benefit greatly from that choice. In fact, in most cases it does little for the game beyond limiting who can play it given the proliferation of playing cards compared to tarot. With Beneath the Wishing Tree, I understand completely why the author made the choice she did.
In Beneath the Wishing Tree, players create the story of someone desperate to have a wish granted. The wish-seeker undergoes three trials along their journey before at last speaking with one of the 21 wish-granting unicorns (each represented by one of the major arcana) at the end of the game. Depending on the cards the player draws and the decisions they make, the unicorn will grant or deny their wish. It’s a straightforward premise executed perfectly, and that’s what makes this game special.
Many solo games feel more like journal generators – you turn a card over, read what it says, and interpret that through the eyes and actions of your character. That’s fine, and I’ve played many enjoyable games like that, but Beneath the Wishing Tree improves on that by making your choices truly matter in the end game.
Players spend the majority of the game drawing and interpreting cards that will ultimately decide if their wish is granted or denied. Each unicorn, of which the players will randomly and secretly draw one at the beginning of the game, has different prerequisites the players must meet before their wishes are granted. Some of these prerequisites are based on the number of a certain type of card players draw during play (kings, pentacles, etc.) whereas others are based on the choices made during each trial. After revealing the unicorn at the end of the game and tallying the points accrued, players will read a small bit of box text unique to each unicorn telling them if they succeeded in their task or if they failed.
Could this game be played with a d20 chart to determine the unicorn and a standard deck of playing cards? I’m sure it could, however it would lose some of the magic that makes it special. The tarot, the writing, the art and layout, it all plays an important part in making this game a magical experience. And that’s exactly what it is. I’ve played it through twice now and each time was unique and special. This is truly a unicorn of a game.
DISCLAIMER: I do not know anyone involved with this game, nor did I receive anything for free in exchange for this review. I plan on reviewing more solo RPGs for the next few months in an effort to bring more attention to the amazing Solo But Not Alone #2 bundle on itch.io. I hope you’ll stick around and consider supporting an amazing charity that’s doing a lot of good work to help prevent suicides.