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Subject: Good cop/Bad cop rss

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Travis R. Chance
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Hello, all!

In the interest of full disclosure, I should start with a few caveats:

1.) I consulted with David while he worked on this game, primarily in helping him organize an initial rules doc--this way many iterations ago in 2012--but also offered general feedback, as a fellow designer. I have a credit in the rules for this, though we had to come up a name for it, as I was a general helper monkey of sorts: 'creative editing.'

2.) Throughout this process, David and I became buddies. Though we have never met, we talk pretty regularly via email and Facebook. By virtue of this, I would consider myself in his corner, as it was. He is a guy worth knowing, as some of you may know.

3.) I am a massive nerd for all things cyberpunk. I myself have a game out in this very small and under-represented genre (Infamy). I am also wholly obsessed with Netrunner.

As a gesture for the aforementioned creative editing, David (and Stephen from Stronghold) sent me a copy of the game, which I received early last week and have played a few times since. As there is a lot of conversation about this game, good, bad, and otherwise, I thought I would take the time to share some of my own musings, considering the above caveats of course.

Let's start with the good stuff:


My absolute biggest and most immediate compliment is that, once again, David has created a world. Many of the elements and mechanics do a fantastic job in terms of translation from theme. The city is gritty and wrought with danger at every move. Defusing bombs is an intense endeavor. Assassins and criminals skulk through Rain City, hoping to evade detection and pursue their nefarious agendas. All of this is spot on, true to the zoomed in notions of what cyberpunk is. Every player I have shared this game with thus far, agrees: this feeling is undeniably palpable. Rain City feels like a place, and you feel like someone in that place. I think that David's ability to manifest these concepts is the reason why even dejectors of this game seem to all say 'I want to love this game.'

David has also managed to emulate what being an agent would entail by offering players with a number of possible actions to pursue. You can take out baddies, defuse bombs, gear up, upgrade your agent, set up a network of informants, and patrol the dangerous streets of Rain City. And while the multitude of choices may feel overwhelming at a glance, once you get the rules down, it's not hard to navigate at all. You must simply take into account that the game has a fixed amount of turns and within that time frame, you have limited actions--so choose them wisely.

Specifically, the bomb mini-game is awesome. Admittedly, I had told David that I thought the game had a few too many moving parts back then, and had commented on considering to edit this (and/or Android mode) out of the design. I was def wrong when it comes to the dealing with bombs. They are so simple, yet soooo cool. A game within a game!

Now, some criticisms:

As some people have commented, luck can affect game play. This would be my chief criticism: the implementation of dice, primarily with regard to arresting criminals. It can be a bit random and often punitive.

Now, I think the notion here is that Rain City is a dangerous place. Thugs prowl the streets, making even travel by cruiser a dangerous affair. Defusing bombs haphazardly could be end up with you in the city hospital. Criminals are primed to retaliate if you can't subdue them. Even rummaging for gear can wind up with you being ambushed. And while I think that the theme makes sense, it can make game play a bit grindy and sometimes frustrating. There are mitigators for things like the thugs when you move through precincts (spend ammo/informants/police squad), sure. My issue here is when it comes down to die rolls.

Arresting a criminal can be tough in the game. You have 3 red die base, of which there are two hits and a boost icon (that makes a hit on another die count as two hits). When attempting an arrest, you can spend ammo (up to 3) to add 1 black die to up your odds (these die have 1 hit and 1 boost). There is also a few upgrades that allow you to have 1 green die (same odds as black die), though these take some commitment to unlock--another small complaint. And while this may seem like ample die, the issue here is that there is no re-roll for this action; you succeed or you fail, almost always incurring a penalty for doing so.

I can see why David chose to not have a re-roll here, as success becomes almost too easy in doing so. However, as is, this action, which is an integral action, comes with too few of guarantees, even with the additional dice. And as actions are limited, not having some mitigator, some choice wherein you say I will take the lesser of two evils, can, well, stink. Intercepting criminals has a similar issue, in that you throw the dice and hope for a single icon out of six on the green die, meaning your action to do so is likely to fail for both interceptor and interceptee. The odds are simply against you, and if you do succeed it in no way reflects anything beyond chance.

Searching can also come with consequences, which isn't something I think is really necessary--though the marked difference here is you get 1 re-roll (a second one can be had through the agent upgrade track, though, as mentioned, these can be tough to unlock). I like the notion that danger is everywhere in the game, but failing a search is punishment enough; I can understand why this may come not be something some may enjoy. The game has a bevy of options which have an implicit system of freedom, but it seems a good many actions can result in being damaged: moving, arresting, searching, defusing bombs.

Also, as the re-roll is the only real manipulation in the game, attempting to pursue upgrades by way of die rolls can feel a bit incidental--you may not achieve the threshold needed to unlock upgrades you would like to pursue despite your best efforts (UNLESS you pay for them by way of the 'buy commodities' action). Searching seems to be the only action that implements all of the die faces, while other actions seem to only care about 1-2 icons relatively. With die that have as many as 5 different icons on them, I feel like some manipulation element would be a welcome mechanic to navigate the dice devils that be.

My last criticism is game length, and, in a roundabout way, this is something of a compliment. The world is highly immersive, and a timed game, in my opinion, sort of abruptly punctuates that feeling. I personally would have no issue in making the game be about the first to accrue X influence, or the game ends when X criminals escape or are captured--say, seed 3x criminals per player into the criminal deck, and those are the ones for this game (you def won't go through that whole stack in a game). A narrative of sorts takes place in these games, and an artificial timer can detract from that to some degree. I also feel that an open-ended length could offer some time for the bad beats of die rolls to level out over a session, actually adding some more narrative, if you will.

On the whole, this game is its own thing, which isn't something we can say about most games. There are a lot of very awesome ideas contained with that box; that is undeniable. In a world rife with deck-builders and worker placement, Rogue Agent is its own animal, for better or worse. The fact that people are taking the time to talk about it speaks volumes. And while I myself have my own opinions on what may help to improve the experience, I think David has once again made something unique and polarizing. No game appeals to everyone, right? And despite my own reservations, I still have kept the game out on my dining room table since it arrived, occasionally pouring over the criminal cards, and checking these very forums to see what people are saying, looking at it from across the room. It intrigues and perplexes me, and I think with a few adjustments this could easily be something many would laud a great game.

That's pretty much the long and short of what I wanted to share! Thanks for reading and I hope this helps. I genuinely think some variants can easily help to quash some of the inherit issues of chance within the game, bringing all of those awesome elements to the fore. Do feel free to share below!
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Scott Everts
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That's an interesting idea to make a more open ended game by reaching a VP amount or a certain number of criminals. Our game last weekend seemed to end just as it was getting interesting at 6 turns. In the future, I certainly will be playing to 8 turns and maybe try your idea of smaller deck of criminals and end the game when they all are either captured or leave the city.

Interesting review, thanks for doing such an in depth analysis of the game. You obviously have put a lot of thought into it.
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Stephen Buonocore
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Travis,

Thanks for the well thought out ideas on the game! Most appreciated.

And your objectivity was great. Thanks!

Thanks,
Stephen M. Buonocore
Stronghold Games LLC
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Travis R. Chance
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Glad to oblige! I sent David some ideas and expect he will dream up some rad variants for the game.
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Eric Engstrom
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Great review!

Sometimes we pretend we're judges from Judge Dredd. Every time we battle a criminal, we yell something like, "Freeze, perp!" or "I AM THE LAW!" before rolling. Really adds to the experience.
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