Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Calling HQ: Review of Cosmic Patrol

Finally, the long-awaited review of Cosmic Patrol that I almost, sort-of promised a long time back that no one but me probably remembers. Take that, sentence structure!

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The Feel

First off, Cosmic Patrol (Cosmic-P hereafter) is a very particular sort of a game. Its native setting explodes with retro-future moxie. Keeping the peace in our solar system, it's the Cosmic Patrol to the rescue! Drawn from a pool of the best and brightest across three planets (Earth, Mars, and Venus), the Patrol explores the reaches of the known universe and beyond. 

Cosmic-P is a rule-of-cool, anything goes, narrative-driven, GM-less game. In case that list of adjectives isn't quite elucidating enough, allow me to explain further. Cosmic-P, in essence, revolves around collaborative storytelling. The players are all coming together to craft a fun story on the fly. (Almost) all the rules are written to aid in this process. Everyone involved can be reasonably assured of an equal opportunity to direct the plot. Be Warned: No real effort has been made towards verisimilitude. In other words, this is soft scifi by the seat of your pants! There are lizard-aliens and tentacled boxes and  mind plants, oh my!

As you might have noticed, it's a bit difficult to speak of the Cosmic-P in any other form that the exlcamative! The 135 page corebook is written in an enthusiastic and casual tone. Overall it's intuitively structured, pleasant to read, and easy to use.  

The Mechanics

The actual workings of the game are as dead simple as a narrativist game ought to be. Stats have dice values. Wanna do something? Roll your stat + d12 vs a d20. Simple. Combat? Roll your combat stat vs the other guy's combat stat to lay down some damage. Every character has Stats in Brawn, Brains, Charisma, and Combat plus one Special Stat that helps to differentiate him/her from everybody else. Who's turn is it? The turn order flows according to the actual seating arrangement (as good a method as any for a story game like this).

Speaking of characters, the default assumption is that you'll be playing pregenerated characters. Those included cover the spread from marines to scientists to capitalists. The characters are described in terms of Stats as well as Cues and some other brief descriptors. Cues: These little gems are quotes that really drive home who the characters are and, in a pinch, give the players something to quip when the gonzo has 'em speechless. 

The Innovation

Like I stated above, there are no Game Masters. Instead, Cosmic-P  has everyone take turns at being Lead Narrator (LN). The LN takes up the tasks of the GM: describing the environment, rolling the vs die during stat checks, rolling for bad guys, etc. The role shifts to another player at each scene.

Scenes are defined by Mission Briefs, the Cosmic-P version of modules. Each mission brief includes the familiar Cues as well as Objectives, Tags, Enemies, and Obstacles. These brief descriptors are there for the LN to riff off of while running his/her scene, but the LN isn't the only one allowed to alter or make-up the plot.

 At any time, any player can cash in a plot point to alter or add to the plot as the player sees fit! In Cosmic-P anything goes...  the rules recommend that anytime someone alters the plot -no matter how zany- you simply reply, "Yes and...". (How very improv.) Here's the real kicker: when it's your character's turn to act if you find yourself without Plot Points to spend, you get another one. The game practically shoves you into twisting the plot.

(Rules and blank sheets are available to craft Patrolmen and Mission Briefs of your very own.) 

The Glitz

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The corebook is smartly laid-out in an excellent modern-style suffused with raygun gothic. The illustrations have a bit of a cartoon bent to them and are perfectly suited to the subject matter. In high contrast, stepped-on red with white lettering, the cover strikes a bold note which is continued through the black, white, and grey-scale interior.  This is a sharp-looking book, and I wish I could afford the dead tree version. That being said, the PDF is thoroughly bookmarked, reads easily on a 7" tablet, and prints well to boot.

The Bleh

My two very minor complaints about this tome par excellence both revolve around combat. For one thing, a game like this ought to be very fast-paced. The number of armor pips the bad guys have make things drag a bit during combat. This is easily avoided via Plot Points and creative narration, but I'm not sure I want to spend Plot Points every single combat. Next time we play, I think we may just ignore the top and bottom rows of armor pips on baddies or jack up the weapons damage. Secondly, combat rolls not having d12 accompany them was counterintuitive. I understand this helps to speed combat up slightly; it just caused a bit of confusion. 

All in all,  Cosmic-P is one hell of a good time. You will need at least one or two very creative, energetic folk to push things along, but by the end of the session everyone'll be throwing down Plot Points like candy and smiling like mad. 

Should you buy this? Yes.

Score of 9.5/10

Check Out www.cosmicpatrol.com for more!