Updated: Sep 20
Many DOALG followers will know Steve Dee of Tin*Star Games (tinstargames.com). They will likely remember that our Dinogirl reviewed the couples/two-player roleplay game Partners (which scored very highly - you can check it out in the linked reviews).
We were delighted when Steve got in touch again, asking us to review Tin*Star's new offering: The Score.
Players 1-6 Ages: 13+ Game Time: 18 minutes
What is The Score? Well, it's best described as a randomised collaborative storytelling engine. Personally, I don't categorise it as a game per se, as there is no point scoring, player stats or even winning/losing. Unless you go by the old adage 'if you're having fun you are all winners'. And without jumping to a premature conclusion, believe me, there is plenty of fun to be had.
The Score is designed to be rules-light, have minimal components, and (unbelievably) plays in only 18 minutes. The physical components of The Score comprise of a set of rules, 18 game cards (plus a six-card mini-expansion), five act cards, and character sheets. When I first looked over the information for The Score, I had significant doubts about how entertaining it could be, but I was pleasantly surprised by this little gem.
By now I'm sure you are wondering how a 'game' with so little presence a) works and b) entertains. First I must describe the cards. Each game card has four aspects:
Location (see some examples below)
With these, you generate your theme, characters, and story. First, you shuffle all the cards, then randomly put aside cards until you only have 18 cards remaining. Then, draw two cards. Your group then looks at the locations and goals on the cards drawn and chooses from these suggestions what you are stealing and where it is being kept. You can choose these from separate cards and optionally take some extra time to build a little backstory. The rules also suggest giving a name to your heist/story at this point.
The two cards used get shuffled back into the deck and 12 cards are dealt between the players leaving six unclaimed even if some players have fewer cards. Each player then looks at their cards making a note of their skills on a character sheet. They can then take a moment to build a background for their character. For example, you have the skills of control, gunplay, and coercion to make a grifter who grew up on a ranch and knows her way around firearms. Or signals, history, and technician to have a veteran tech expert. Once you have your characters, you need to figure out how everyone gets on the same job
... queue recruit a crew montage...
Unlike in many stories and tabletop roleplay games where everyone is encouraged to have a reason to be in the same starting point (usually a tavern), The Score works differently. Starting with the first player, each player introduces their character, describing their background and skills. They then come up with how they meet/recruit the person to their left who then does the same until all have done this.
Once this is done, all 18 cards are shuffled and then blindly stacked, placing act cards at set or semi-random intervals. The game then plays out one card at a time. During acts one, three, and five, the heist is going well (more or less) when a card is revealed matching a skill of a character. The relevant player describes the scene of how their skill progresses the heist towards the goal. But if a card with no character match is revealed, then a player must describe how that skill is not of use in this story.
Now, this is fairly entertaining all by itself, but we need drama. We need threat, antagonists, and failure to build a great story together. We need acts two and four. In acts two and four, things do not go smoothly for your crew. When you describe using your skills here, you must say how you are unsuccessful. But what happens when you draw a skill not possessed by your crew is the real danger. Here, a player must describe the opposition or bad guys' attempts to stop the crew. Injury, delay, and capture are all good possibilities. I would advise against killing off characters unless they have either used all of their skills, or you can then pull off a dramatic reveal of how they actually survived.
But like any great heist or con movie/TV show it all comes down to the final moment. The last card drawn seals the fate of your crew. If you have the skill in your team, you get to describe how you get out clean and cash in your goal. However, if the last card is not a crew skill you describe how the enemy thwarts you at the last second an the goal slips from your reach.
I was amazed by how well the group storytelling system worked with random elements, turn-taking, and success/failure all coming together to create a unique experience full of drama. The quick light and social nature of the 'game' make this a great ice breaker for new groups or before/between heavier games. While the game is always going to be short, players can be as detailed as they want in setting up the world and character backgrounds and playing out their turn. In fact, there is nothing stopping you from acting out some short scenes.
One thing I particularly like is that this storytelling engine still works well with just two players. Furthermore, you can even use it solo to build a story if you are willing to play multiple characters.
I honestly can't think of anything concrete that detracts from the playthrough experience. Things like wanting more cards for variety and easier shuffling or more ways to randomise success/fail are just nice-to-haves that could be met with expansion or house rules.
And so how does The Score score on the DOALG dice rating system?
Well done Tin*Star Games you've done it again! I encourage all readers to check out the Kickstarter campaign, which is live NOW and is only a short 12-day campaign. So if you think The Score is for you, back it ASAP to avoid disappointment.
And so to all, I say stay safe and keep gaming!