Review: Risk & Win

Jose Barbosa on Theatre of Love's new interactive show, Risk and Win

When we enter the foyer of the Aotea Centre, a man with a bulging leather satchel slung across his chest approaches us. We're early. "While you wait for the other teams," he tells us, "You can watch this video." He hands us a small tablet and a pair of headphones.

Risk & Win, we learn, is a locally-operated game company. Through breathless voiceover, we're told how CEO Arthur D. Skillington built his entire empire on board games like Dislocation (think Operation, but muckier), before moving onto video games like Orbital Deerhunter and the successful Bloodbath series. We even get to see the man himself, briefly expounding his game-making philosophy and coming off like a more self-aware version of Bomber.

The man - who we later discover is Skillington's assistant - returns to retrieve the tablet. "All clear as mud?" he asks wryly. "Yes," I say. "No," says my girlfriend. He looks confused, smiles vacantly, and hands the tablet to the next group. It might have been a long way from True Detective, but this was how we came to spend one-and-a-half hours on a Friday evening investigating a missing persons report.

Risk & Win is an interactive theatrical experience developed by Theatre of Love, currently on as part of the Auckland Fringe. Played between teams of two, the game takes place over several locations in Auckland's CBD. The basic plot is that Skillington’s protege and the company's marketing executive, Cara, has disappeared and is feared to be dead. Your job is to discover what has happened to her. It’s a task which takes you across the city to discover clues and interrogate people who may or may not have information to pass on. The game mechanics are fairly simple. Your team receives tokens for asking pertinent questions, working out clues, solving puzzles or making the 'right' decision at the right time. The team with the most tokens at the end of the game wins - and yes, there are prizes to be won.

To say more would spoil the show, even though the unfolding story is simple, predictable and fairly unrealistic. This isn't the point of the whole thing, of course. The point is to lose yourself in the trail of events and details. The more you do, the more fun you’ll have. At one point I got such a fright from a particularly tense moment, I jumped, let out a wrangled cry and demanded my girlfriend stand in front of me. It was glorious fun. As was the time, later on in the game, when I theatrically berated a member of the other team who (wrongly as it turned out), I was accusing of leaking information to the just revealed Big Bad. “You naive fool!” I shouted at him outside the Town Hall while perturbed pedestrians filed by.

Skillington's assistant (played by Paul Ballard) shadows the group around the different locations, and achieves with cool frustration the hard task of moving us along and throwing in a few curveballs, while the rest of the cast skilfully adapted to the various demands and questions of the teams.

In terms of the game's mechanics, there’s quite a bit of walking, which creates a real sense of it being played 'in the city', but it meant a lot of time was spent on the hoof as opposed to being 'in game'. It'd also be worthwhile for the makers to look at increasing the amount of agency players have, because at no point do you have the opportunity to feel like your actions could change the narrative. Ultimately, however, Risk & Win is a lot of fun and, for the most part, it delivers. I’ll be keen to see what Theatre Of Love come up with next in this space. With enough thought and experimentation, something special could be just around the corner.

Risk & Win plays in the CBD from 11-28 February
Tickets available through iTicket

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The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.

The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.

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