Recently I have had the pleasure of being given a copy of the RPG Spy Master to read. It was given to me for review and at the time I had a lot on my plate between a convention, the holidays and real-life work and out of state visitors. I politely informed Symatt that it would take me a little time to get to the review and it definitely did.
Straight off I can tell you, my readers, Spy Master was more than worth the wait. I am glad that I sat down to read this book when I had the time to fully take it in for what it is and I totally enjoy it and what it brings to the table!
Spy Master is a rules-light setting where you are playing International spies. Right off the bat, this caught my eye as I do enjoy some good spy games antics. Yet sadly, often they are bogged down with too much crunch to enjoy. Refreshingly, this is where Spy Master stands out from the crowd!
Spy Master is at its heart a love letter to the James Bond era of suit wearing, casino royale backdrops of cash guns and high stakes adventure. Spy Master thrives in a world where your so good you not only confront the bad guy at his own party, you sit down with him over drinks and tell him just how you are going to take him down to his face over a game of cards.
How is it played?
Well, the absolute best possible way that a 1970s spy movie game could ever be played that’s how WITH CARDS! You read that right, In Spy Master, if you want to complete a task in the game you’re playing Black Jack against the Director (GM) that is some awesome shit right there! Honestly, I tweeted out when I first saw the cover of the game that if this game did not play with cards I was going to be heartbroken.
Spy Master characters have 4 Attributes Hearts, Diamonds, Clubs & Spades each represents something different in the game.
- Diamonds: All Intellect skills
- Hearts: All Emotional Skills
- Clubs: All Physical Skills
- Spades: All Dexterity Skills
When you make your agent you simply draw 5 cards and place the best 4 where you wish. These are assigned they are the base card in any task you attempt in the game. So if you have a 10 in Clubs. Before you draw any cards you always will have a 10 base skill in physical tasks.
Agents also have 4 chips! During a scene, a player can opt to throw a chip and discard a card that they have drawn and draw a new card to replace it in their hand. Each scene these chips refresh. You can only cash in chips once per card but you can spend as many chips as you like during a hand or scene.
Agents (players/Main Characters) have 21 health. All other Thugs (minions) have the value of the card they draw in health.
Setting the Scene
The Cards handle all the heavy lifting in the game from assisting in setting the scenes and how everything from bribery to fisticuffs is resolved. Yet the understanding that not every action needs to be a game of Black Jack between the Director and the player’s Spy Master also makes use of Static Difficulties to keep the pace of the game moving. At any time the Director can instead set a static target that they players simply need to draw against to complete a task. This is a great tool to keep the pace of the game going between dramatic moments at the table I think.
This book could easily have been only 10-15 pages of content and still been very good. One of the reasons why this product is very good is because of its length. At 79 pages The team took their time giving plenty of detailed example of gameplay for many aspects of the game. This is tremendously helpful. It hand delivers the game feel of Spy Master to the reader so you can fully understand what they are giving you beyond just, Hey here is an RPG that uses Black Jack instead of D20’s.
The last half of the book walk Directors through writing adventures in the Spy Master setting with plenty of tables and even more examples to help you along the way. Much of the content in these pages of the book is ripe to be minded for just about any modern game. A lot of thought went into what is presented to the reader. The book wraps up with a sample adventure, examples of SOLO play, leveling up and how to use Dice if your too stubborn to use cards.
It has been a long time since I have been this impressed by a DTRPG product sent to me out of the blue and I have had many sent to me in the 4 years I have been writing these reviews. I love the feel of this setting and system. While I am not sure how well it would hold up to extended gameplay in part due to its rules-light system. I love it for its rules-light system!
I am going to give it a 17! It is an Outstanding product, Any product with a rank of 16-19 is a cut above the rest. These are must-have products. Often products of this level strike a chord with their audience and Spy Master will hit that sweet spot for Bond loving Spy gamers. The book is an easy read & page-turners that you find yourself reading from beginning to end.
If you are a fan of rules-light systems, Spys and Black Jack. You would be a fool not to give Spy Master a Try!