Last wednesday we finally got around to run our first The Department session. We managed to play five scenarios and stopped only because I didn't have the required terrain for the sixth one ready (abandoned warehouse).
Let me write a few things about the game itself and what I think about it.
First of all, The Department is not your typical sci-fi skirmish game. It is meant to be played as a campaign of about five to ten scenarios, trying to collect evidence to unlock the last scenarios which is typically a raid to capture or kill the prime suspect, typically a terrorist cell leader or other dangerous criminal.
The game is set in 2070s U.S.A. where humanoid robots, so-called Fabricants, have largely replaced all menial labour in huge factories, leaving jobs that require creativity or initiative to humans. With this evolution of course came new problems for law enforcement agencies. Fabricants could be stolen, reprogrammed to commit crimes, go haywire and run amok, and other things that do or don't involve human criminal masterminds. Investigating all these crimes is The Department of Fabricant Management, aka The Department.
The game is played cooperatively. Players create characters who can have different strengths and weaknesses, one may be a crack interrogator, a firearms expert, close combat specialist, and more. It's important that a certain range of skills is covered by the investigating team. I created six sample characters from which we chose three:
1. Stone, based on rutger Hauer's character Harly Stone from the British 1992 sci-fi film Split Second, a firearms expert with a grudge against Fabricants, armed with an unpermitted Assault Rifle, a cigar and a bad temper. He's also adept at intimidating perps.
2. Lebrowski, based on Billy Zane's character Jo Dee Fostar from The Silence of the Hams. He is a rookie officer with not much experience at working with evidence or booked supsects, but he's a natural athlete who can bring down any foe in close combat.
3. Tanner, based on Crystal Steele from the 1997 Blade Runner videogame, interrogations specialist and good at combining different pieces of evidence back at the station.
We just chose the first prime suspect, a terrorist cell leader who uses Fabricants as mobile bombs and equips them with a very lifelike synthetic skin job, making them extremely hard to distinguish from humans. Before we could get to him, we had to collect enough evidence though, so we played through the first five scenarios trying to solve a murder, meeting with an informant amid crowds ready to riot, arrested a drug dealer and his bodyguard, broke into a nightclub to install wiretabs, and other things.
Each scenario is played on a 4x4 table (for 28mm), with buildings and streets layout however feels right. I just laid out a portion of the city beforehand and we played four of the five missions on the same table, turning it after the first two so we had to change starting positions. Two things that make The Department special are the A.I. routine used for all suspects, which determine how they act based on how many officers they can see, among other things, and a special kind of "terrain" which are crowds of peope that affect movement and can turn hostile or dissolve if there's a fight nearby. After each mission, the investigators return to the police station where they may interrogate arested suspects, combine evidence to get new kinds of evidence (there are five different types), ask for more budget, heal their wounds, and so on. The Budget is set before the campaign starts and each weapon that is used, each additional station action, and most scenarios costs budget points. Characters can also gain Internal Affairs Points (IAP) if they do things like gun down innocents, beat up non-hostile suspects, fire their weapons near a crowd, etc. The scenarios play pretty quick, so you can possibly make it through a full campaign on an extended evening, or split it amongst two night for more casual play.
As for the rules written by Joseph Dragovich , they are based on the GoalSystem rules by Scott Pyle some may know from Goalsystem Delves which also saw a successful kickstart fund drive. Basically, for each test, a certain number of dice are rolled depending on attribute and skill value, and all 4s, 5s and 6s are goals (6s count double). If the required Theshold number is reached, the test was successful. It's an easy to understand system that allows for good granularity and can be used for pretty much every situation that may arise. The rulebook has a few errors that slipped through playtesting, but there's a FAQ on the official website so be sure to head there to get up to date
What I learned from five games of The Department
The Department is more RPG-Lite than skirmish game (although it can just be played as a straight head-to-head combat game without the campaign framework).In five games, not one single shot was fired, and only one melee attack was made (after which the offending suspect was quickly arrested).
The A.I. could use improvement if you want a deadlier or more interesting experience. They mostly just seem to flee once they see an officer or stay put, only seldomly turning hostile.
Prepare to spent some time planning your campaign, I strongly suggest using premade characters. I will also cough up some random events on the table and while in the station to spice things up.
You need lots of civilian models for the crowds (one scenario has six crowds!) to achieve that nice future street look. Each crowd has a radius of 6 inches at 28mm, although you could just use a flat marker instead of actual models. I suggest having at least 20 civilians, with 30 being ideal.
The skills relevant to subduing and arresting suspects and combining evidence are extremly important, make sure your characters cover those sufficiently!
I liked the game a lot, it has a strong RPG flavor and is very thematic. It's really like playing a crime procedural drama such as the various CSI series. My friends had a lot of fun as well, alhough I would have liked a little bit more combat (or rather, combat at all! ). I'll probably change the A.I. routines a bit so that suspects become a bit more short-tempered.. I blame it on rampant drug abuse in future America!
Enough talk, let's look at some photos.
[SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION] The first thing one of my gaming buddies said when he saw the table was "Ohhh, that looks good!" [/SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION]
A drug dealer and his two bodyguard loiter around a street corner (dunno why they do it in front of a police spinner, but hey... as I said above, can't reason with those junkies!). Lebrowksi sneaks from behind to apprehend the suspects.
Stone and Tanner investigate a murder scene in front of the White Dragon Noodle Bar. Nobody has seen anything... of course.
Looking down main street.
You may notice some some stuff on the table next to the actual play area. I made pre-generated character sheets and also equipment reference cards. If anyone is interested, the reference cards are available for download on the Department homepage, while the sample characters will hopefully be uploaded too as well (hint hint, Joe! )
Very cool high contrast b&w creation. I would love to play this game! I've been thinking of doing something similar with Frostgrave buildings and paper miniatures in Brian Aldiss and Mike Wilks Pile vein.
A lot of imagination and organization thought went into that city scene. I am truly impressed! I am not really a gamer, but I enjoy viewing the game setups, and I think you hit it square on the head with the black and white scheme.
marcpasquin: After Goscinny died, people thought it would be the end of Asterix as he was the writing part of the team but Uderzo managed to keep it going and eventually pass on the torch to new teams that still produce albums to this day.
Mar 26, 2020 7:08:19 GMT -9
marcpasquin: Asterix was such a big part of my childhood. Not only did I read all the albums but every years the cartoon movies were part of "Ciné-Cadeau", a holiday time programming block on Télé-Québec that showed animated movies for kids.
Mar 26, 2020 7:06:53 GMT -9
lightning: I cannot count how often I read Asterix and Obelix as a kid. Loved how it always ended at a big town dinner around a huge bonfire and the troubadour was gagged somewhere so he couldn't sing. Good times!
Mar 25, 2020 0:03:40 GMT -9
Parduz: I still love that comics. Some of them (around the middle age of Asterix production) have some of the best story/dialogues/jokes ever.
Mar 24, 2020 11:31:07 GMT -9
squirmydad: God I LOVED those books as a child. Sorry to see him pass.
Mar 24, 2020 8:50:27 GMT -9
wyvern: RIP Albert Uderzo, co-creator with René Goscinny of the Asterix comic books. [And no, he died from a heart attack.]
Mar 24, 2020 6:27:38 GMT -9
Vermin King: Trump is an S-hole, but Clinton should be in prison. I don't like Biden, but at least it's a step up from 2016
Mar 22, 2020 18:40:25 GMT -9
Vermin King: Well, my efforts to reboot 2020 haven't worked, so I probably won't try the others. BTW, I have always said I am an equal opportunity politician basher. Trump is undoubtedly an ass, but I still have to look at him being the lesser of two evils.
Mar 22, 2020 18:39:00 GMT -9
Parduz: well, then may i ask if we go pre 1994 so we could get rid of Bungasconi...
Mar 22, 2020 17:06:54 GMT -9
ignatious: perhaps a system restore on 2020 might work, and if we go pre 2016 maybe we could get rid of the trumpvirus.
Mar 22, 2020 8:19:43 GMT -9
Vermin King: I tried, but it hasn't worked so far. Maybe I will try again
Mar 22, 2020 4:46:23 GMT -9
Parduz: pls reboot the 2020, then.
Mar 22, 2020 1:07:14 GMT -9
Vermin King: Rebooting the whole system fixed it
Mar 21, 2020 5:47:43 GMT -9
lightning: and yet you are able to post here @vermin king?
Mar 21, 2020 5:34:43 GMT -9
Vermin King: Panic -- when you've been sick during a pandemic and have to self quarantine, and then wake up to no cable or internet
Mar 21, 2020 3:48:57 GMT -9
Parduz: ... and some upper lip mods? Perhaps?
Mar 20, 2020 14:44:52 GMT -9
marcpasquin: @vermin King to be fair, different hairstyle, costume type and about 15 years in between the 2 roles.
Mar 20, 2020 6:31:47 GMT -9
Vermin King: I feel like an idiot. Didn't realize that Vanessa (Deadpool) was Inara Serra until last night. Duh
Mar 20, 2020 4:10:55 GMT -9
Vermin King: temperature is down again this AM, but lots of drainage and throat is back to being sore
Mar 20, 2020 4:09:37 GMT -9
Vermin King: I was feeling better yesterday and fever was down all day, but I realized when the show I was watching on TV was almost over, that I hadn't drank anything for 30 minutes, so I took my temperature and it was back up. highest it has been actually
Mar 20, 2020 4:08:49 GMT -9