Review of Leverage: The Quickstart Job

Review Summary
Capsule Review
Written Review

July 28, 2010

by: Laurence MacNaughton

Style: 5 (Excellent!)
Substance: 5 (Excellent!)

A fun little trial-sized game with a slick, big-budget wrapping over a savory indie center.

Laurence MacNaughton has written 1 reviews, with average style of 5.00 and average substance of 5.00

This review has been read 3639 times.

Product Summary
Name: Leverage: The Quickstart Job
Publisher: Margaret Weis Productions
Line: Cortex System
Author: Rob Donoghue, Clark Valentine, Cam Banks, Fred Hicks
Category: RPG

Pages: 16
Year: 2010

ISBN: 978-1931567855

Review of Leverage: The Quickstart Job

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This is a fun little trial-sized game with a slick, big-budget wrapping over a savory indie center. You need not be a fan of the TV show to appreciate this gem. It contains bare-bones rules, pre-generated characters and a solid (if brief) adventure. In all, it's a good evening's worth of entertainment.

The adventure itself is a heist story, just like the TV show that bears its name: the characters are wise-cracking crooks with hearts of gold and a convoluted plan to rip off the bad guy and help the underdog. Your zany crew will do an assortment of fast-talking, computer hacking, safe cracking and fist fighting, then wrap it all up with a cool flashback scene where each player "reveals" an aspect of the set-up.

If you, personally, are a fan of the TV show, or crime capers like Ocean's Eleven, Sneakers or The Ladykillers, then you'll probably fall in love with this game. It hits all of the right notes and makes you feel like a do-gooder operating outside the law.

If you're a number-crunching gamer with expectations of lots of power-ups, strategy, and ways to optimize your character, then your reaction may be tepid. Character scores are minimal. Task resolution is largely abstract, and driven heavily by the players' ability to make stuff up on the spot.

The Leverage RPG rules are quick. Players familiar with the Cortex system (Serenity, Battlestar Galactica, Supernatural) will have a leg up. But this is Cortex Plus, an ironically-named leaner version of the original system. The new generation seems to run even smoother, at least in this condensed form. (As I write this, the full game has not yet been released.)

Just a few paragraphs cover the key concepts of the game, then you're off and running. The core mechanic is deceptively simple. You roll one die for an attribute and another for your skill set, plus other bonus dice depending on the situation. You pick your two highest dice and add them together. The GM does the same. High roll wins.

If the designers left it at that, this game system would have very little to offer. But the genius, in this case, is in the details. Whenever a "1" comes up on a die, you add a special circumstance to the game, called an Asset or a Complication, that you get to make up on the spot. (Suggestions are included.) Players can improvise equipment, circumstances, even NPC actions. These story elements add real dice to someone's roll, giving players the ability to power-up their characters just by doing some quick thinking.

Let's say the heroes are negotiating with a villain and trying to stonewall him, but they flub the roll. As the GM, you can decide that the villain becomes annoyed and resists further chit-chat. Just write down "Annoyed d6" and instantly the villain gets a bonus d6 to future interactions. The heroes' attempts to fast-talk him just got a lot harder. Why? Because now he's annoyed.

It's so simple, and yet so brilliant.

Or, let's say you're a player, and your hero gets accosted by the guards. This time, while you're trying to bluff your way through security, the GM flubs the roll. You can capitalize on it by saying, "Now the guards are convinced that I work here!" Write down "Supposed To Be Here, d6" and voila, you have that bonus for the rest of the adventure.

Simple, powerful, and tons of fun. Laughs are nearly inescapable. Unfortunately, it does have the potential to blow up in the hands of a power gamer. But the benefits can outweigh the risk. Players may find a new sense of ownership of the game, since they are rewarded with bonus dice for contributing their ideas. They get to help tell the story, instead of just rolling the dice and praying.

Combat is quick, bloodless and abstract. You can get away with describing just about any zany action and then rolling the appropriate dice. This can be wonderfully freeing if you have imaginative players who like to ham up the action. But a few rounds of "I guess I'll just punch him again" may leave you snoring.

In the end, what you get out of The Quickstart Job depends on what you put into it. This game is not about combat, treasure or power. It's about wit.

There's a scene midway through the adventure where a character has the opportunity, if caught red-handed in the villain's headquarters, to grab a bottle of scotch and pretend to be a wandering drunk, gaining the asset "Tipsy Cover Act, d6". If the thought of playing out that scene makes you smile, then you owe it to yourself to try this game.

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