This review is one of the reviews I am doing as part of the peer review process for the “Last Chance” Game Chef game design competition.
In Task Force Trickster one player acts as the gamemaster (GM), and the rest play as agents of a super natural entity known as Coyote though the agents know it as Dr. Nuwisha. Agents are tasked with maintaining specific “tricks” setup by Coyote throughout history. I believe the game is intended to be played as a pickup game with a single mission per session, and new agents each session.
The booklet opens with a page briefly explaining the setting (the rest of the setting and purpose of play are described at the end of the booklet). The next section describes the agents, and their function. Character creation consists of coming up with a description concept for the agent, selecting a “type,” or base template, assigning points to ability stats, determining hit points, assigning dice to skills, and selecting the “tricks,” or spells known by the agent.
Each type comes with a stat bonus, list of starting skills (all at d4), special ability, and access to a trick group. Agent types include coyote, lantern, mimic, and vessel. The coyote type (not to be confused with THE Coyote) is a bestial agent, distinguished by their natural weapons and access to “Howl Tricks.” The lantern type is focused on light, and metaphorically illuminating truth, distinguished by their ability to summon magical light, and use “Lantern Tricks.” The mimic type represents shape changers, distinguished by their ability to alter their appearance, and access to “Mimic Tricks.” Vessel types are embodiments of strength, distinguished by their natural armor, and access to “Focus Tricks.”
The game has four primary ability stats: strength, reflexes, intelligence, and charisma. Agents start with six points to distribute between the skills. The stat score is added to rolls of associated skills. Each attribute is associated with four skills. Strength has fight, athletics, melee, and brawn. Reflexes has dodge, legerdemain, shoot, and sneak. Intelligence has academics, repair, language, and survival. Charisma has persuade, socialize, subterfuge, and perform. Skills are rated by dice size, starting at d4. Agents start with 8 “dice” that can be used to increase the size of starting dice, or to buy other skills. Presumably, if an agent does not have a skill they cannot attempt an action related to that skill.
Each agent has a trick skill, this skill is used whenever a trick calls for a die roll, though each trick type is associated with a different stat. The number of tricks an agent can know is spells with a total level of four, i.e. four level one, one level four, two level two, etc… Additionally, spells can be used a number of times per day based on their level; level one four times per day, level two three times per day, level three twice a day, and level four once a day. The game goes on to detail a variety of tricks for each trick group (each trick has a few sentence description) this comprises much of the total booklet.
Combat and missions is the final section of the booklet. Standard task resolution consists of rolling a skill die, adding a stat and comparing to a difficulty assigned by the GM. Combat differs in that attacks are compared to the targets reflexes stat plus their armor rating. If an attack meets the difficulty rating, the defender then gets to make a dodge roll. If the attacker passes the difficulty (including the dodge) they get to make a damage roll based on the type of weapon they are using. This damage is removed from the targets hit points, but the defend gets to reduce the total by their armor rating.
Missions in the game include a nebulous goal for the agents to complete, such as replacing the popes batteries. The GM is encouraged to give incomplete, or possibly incorrect information regarding the goal including equipping agents with the wrong equipment.
Advancement in the game follows a simple check mechanism to increase die size of skills, and if enough related skills are elevated their common stat is increased.
The game features a straight forward, pulpy theme. The idea of creating characters with knowledge and skills split throughout history is unique. I particularly like that each session can be completely different, and feature a different environment and time period. The gm player dynamic, rolling dice and adding modifiers should be readily understandable for most gamers.
The Less Good
The layout of the game posed a significant challenge for me in reading. I ended going through page by page in illustrator to remove the gradient background (it was really messing with my eyes). The game itself would benefit from an editors guiding hand. Beyond some confusing wording and inconsistencies, there are some structural issues with the text primary relating to talking about game features before they are defined for the reader. The game gives experienced gamers enough to play the game, however new players might not understand the basic concepts, for example there is practically no advice given to the GM regarding how to run the game. One ambiguity I noticed was that there are several trick types, but I was not clear about whether or not agents could choose tricks from other trick types.
Task Force Trickster seems like a fun, light hearted game. The basic mechanisms seem workable enough that I would be willing to give it a try filling in the blanks in play. I will be pitching the game to one of my play test groups (the one that likes beating things up), if it gets picked up I’m sure I will have more feedback in the future.