Welcome to The Right Hand of Mr. Big! In this game, Mr. Big wants an object, and he's sent his best pair of agents to get it. However, Mr. Big's chief rival, Mr. Small, does not want to give up this object, and has sent his own pair of agents to guard it. The players will take on the role of these two teams, acting in the stead of their masters, attempting to achieve their goals. For the sake of clarity, any reference to 'Mr. Big' is meant as a reference to the person the teams are working for.
This game draws from inspirations like the Soderbergh Oceans 11, Sneakers, Mission Impossible, the James Bond franchise, games like Splinter Cell, and the comic book series The Losers. So think modern setting, with technology standing in for magic as a means for otherwise human characters to get impossible or improbable things accomplished.
The game aims to be fast and competitive, with each team creating new complications to confuse, block, and delight their opponents.
1) CREATIVE AND EFFECTIVE INCORPORATION OF RULES (1-10): 9
This game used the time constraint of 1x2-hour session. The game is specifically designed to be short and easy to play, and in fact it would probably not scale well to a longer session. The fast-paced nature of the game makes it relate quite well to the genre chosen as source material, and the system is successful at keeping things moving so that play can be completed within two hours. Overall, I thought that time was used extremely well.
The ingredients used, though they were not listed, were actor, law and team. Two of the three ingredients were used in a creative and interesting way. The team play is a core element of both the setting and the gameplay, and is carried through the entire game. The notion of using ‘actor’ in the sense of ‘one who acts on behalf of another’ was original and very cool, and the player characters as cats-paws is very in-genre. Finally, law was, I suppose, used because the characters operate outside the law. This seemed reasonable to me, but it didn’t actively impress me like the use of the other ingredients did. Still, I thought this was overall a very strong entry, rules-wise.
2) CLARITY (1-10): 7
This game was quite well-written, but could have used better structure and editing. Additionally, some key rules questions were left a bit open-ended – and the answers to these would heavily modify the success of this game in play. A bit more attention to detail in writing up the game would have made it much more immediately accessible and playable.
One major rules question which was left ambiguous, for example, was whether dice in an ability are used up only when you are the initiator, or when you are both the initiator and the defender. The answer to this question matters a lot, as the first introduces negative feedback into a system that might otherwise run into an accumulating-advantage problem, while the second does not resolve this potentially severe issue. Similarly, the issue of what happens to ‘moved dice’ at the end of a conflict is significant, but was not clearly addressed.
Sections which were particularly unclear were the ‘Other Stakes’ section, which took me quite a while to puzzle out, and the section on ‘Informational Stakes’, which was fairly clear in and of itself, but should have come before the dice-resolving sections. In fact, a whole section on ‘Setting Stakes’ probably belongs before discussion of the dice, as you can’t roll dice until you know what stakes you’re rolling for.
3) COMPLETENESS (1-10): 6
This game is intended to be short to play, and so the shortness of the rules is fairly appropriate. Nonetheless, there were some rules issues that were missing, and more importantly, some more supporting narrative material would have been very helpful.
System-wise, the issues I found were relatively minor. There is the one paragraph that ends abruptly in the middle of explaining rules, which wasn’t so good, but I think I was able to figure out what was intended. The question I raised above about when dice get ‘used up’ is quite significant, but the issue is mentioned (just not entirely clearly). Similarly, I had questions about whether I can count information gathered about the other team as stakes that will help me get the object – a minor but important point which was not addressed. I also wanted more examples of play, particularly with regard to negotiating stakes. Stake-negotiating is a fairly free-form, social activity, but it would have been helpful to even have a sidebar about the problems that one might run into when negotiating stakes and how to handle it.
Story-wise, I felt like this game definitely needed more supporting material. The references to the movies at the beginning were very useful, helping the player establish ideas about who their team could be, what they might do, and what kinds of plot you might introduce. Nonetheless, for players who might be less familiar with the genre, there needed to be more material introduced about what makes a good obstacle, lists of possible stakes, and ‘story starters’ or sample characters to help an inexperienced player get started.
Overall, I thought this was a good first draft, and definitely enough for an experienced player to work with. If this game were going to be released to the world, though, there would need to be a lot more added.
4) ESTIMATED EFFECTIVENESS IN PLAY (1-10): 7
This game wanted to be a fast-paced action-oriented heist game, and I think it achieved its goals quite well. I had two major concerns, though. The first is the extent to which the game supports role-playing – a concern which I think could be addressed in a more complete version of the game. The second, related, concern has to do with the way that the game would go with fewer than four players.
First, the good news: I found the system quite playable and appropriately brief for a short game. The four stats were obvious and understandable, as well as being very in-genre. Resolving a conflict goes quite quickly, as players simply have to choose a stat, decide what they are doing about bonus dice, roll the dice and compare them. The incentives for players to work together do add complexity to the system, but in appropriate ways. When players work together then the system itself encourages role-playing and player interaction, something I really liked.
Structuring the players into two competing teams is often really hard to do. However, this game did a good job of providing the players with concrete ways to think about the obstacles that they might introduce, through the four stats. Similarly, asking the active team to declare their stakes helps determine what a particular scene might be about.
There are some system concerns. The game definitely needs to put brakes on one team getting an accumulating advantage over the other. For example, if a team can cripple the other team’s remaining stat(s) in one conflict, then they gain an advantage in the next one. While this rewards good gameplay, I think that it also risks making the game tilt rapidly toward whoever gains an early advantage when dice bonuses are at stake.
However, my biggest concerns were role-playing related. While this game certainly helps the players tell a great story, I didn’t feel that the players would ever interact in-character, or even that they were encouraged to develop a particular character. Heist movies are interesting not just because of the cool action scenes, but also because of the interpersonal relationships between the characters on the team, which provide a much-needed contrast to the go-go-go of the rest of the story. The game would have benefited from some way to include non-action scenes between teammates or with NPCs. For example, having each team run a personal scene at the end of each round would have made the game feel more like a heist movie, as well as allowed for a wider variety of play rather than the strict “we go for the object, now you do” structure.
This concern is particularly strong with the two or three-player versions of this game. With four players, the teams can interact both among themselves and with each other. Even though there is little formal incentive for non-conflict role-playing, it will likely naturally happen, particularly as players decide whether or not to step in to help their teammates during a conflict. With fewer players, the role-playing aspects become less central and this becomes more like a dice game with some story elements.
I would actually suggest having four players as the minimum, not the maximum, number of players that this game can support. Multiple players per team encourages role-playing, not just story construction, and it also makes collaboration between players during conflicts much more interesting. When it isn’t simply a choice of whether or not your teammate will help you, but who will help you and how, I think the intra-team interactions become more rich.
Overall, though, I felt that I could play this game quite successfully as it was written. I imagine that it would still need some ‘house rules’ to make it work right, but that’s hard to tell without a play-test. From my reading of it, it definitely seems workable – and, just as important, fun!
5) SWING VOTE (1-10): 9
I really liked this game. It set itself achievable goals and it met them! I thought the genre choice was cool, original and fun, and that the system supported the story without overpowering it. This game could be played in a very ‘gamey’ way but could also support some very cool stories. The design choices that this game made were all consistent with one another and quite coherent as well as successful. Although I think the game still has some problems, particularly in encouraging role-playing outside the structure of conflict, I would play it tomorrow if I had the time. With some more work, I think this game would do a fantastic job of helping players tell their own heist stories, and I would love to see future versions of this as the designer continues the project!
TOTAL SCORE (add items 1 through 5, above): 38/50
DESIGN SCORE (a la Ben Lehman): 16/20