We just played through Leverage and it has me thinking a lot about a lot of different pieces. On balance, we had a ton of fun with it, even with only a passing familiarity with the rules. I’m sure our second play through will be smoother.

As a license-based game, the system captures the feel of the original show amazingly well. You don’t play the original team; instead there’s a very compelling system of generating a few details of your character and having the rest revealed through your first job. I’ve not really thought deeply about the many ways to construct character creation rules, so this was fun to play with. Many of the bits left undefined are textual descriptors, which can be challenging to define without having played the character (as we’ve found with In a Dragon-Guarded Land). Defining them slightly later helps provide inspiration.

Nominally, the rules suggest that these details should be provided via flashback scenes, which is very much in the show’s style. However, we struggled to break out of our pre-conceptions about play needing to be done linearly. A lot of this game’s challenge lies in figuring out what to focus on and what to gloss over and fill in later with a flashback. The thing that’s most interesting about flashbacks in this game is that those scenes can be used for retroactive narrative positioning with no other mechanical effect. In theory, that’s a tool that could be used in any game.

The side-effect mechanics governing Complications was a lot of fun, but it seemed like fewer Complications arose than I was expecting. I can’t say if there weren’t enough Complications for the plot—I was just expecting they would be a bigger factor. In actual play, we had three. Plot points were, though, a much bigger deal than expected. Especially since the first job gives you points for defining parts of your character. I’m keen to see how things play out in the second job when opposition is harder and plot points are scarcer.

Talents are much much less significant than expected. Basically, they’re cute tricks that a player can invoke. But frankly, most of the players ended up not having selected all of theirs, despite being able to choose them on the fly. I’m not sold on them yet. Players like to have powers, I get that. I’m just not sure whether they add more value than complexity. More play is required.

I also thought there were too many kinds of actions. It wasn’t that it was hard to tell what kind of action was called for but the rules are slightly different for the different kinds which made arbitration difficult for me as a first time GM. Familiarity with the system will make that problem go away. We also had a scene that started as a contested social action that descended into a fight action. We decided to simply not get into the fight rules and to resolve the scene with the same stakes, but new dice. But as most of us were game designers, we’re quick to patch over edge cases with impromptu rulings. Above all, the writing extols the virtue of keeping the game running.

Speaking of keeping things running, I realized that having the NPCs stats in a summary block all in one place would’ve been a huge help. The quickstart job does list all the NPCs in the back but it was buried under the character descriptions. Austin made the point that I’m not really at my best when I’m running a pre-made adventure, and that’s true. I am amused that something as simple as “above the description” or “below the description” is enough to make me unable to find critical data. Also noteworthy was that there was a slight difficulty in keeping track of Complications and Assets beyond the scene I’m which they originated. I’ll have to keep a notepad for next time.

Anywho, our time with Leverage was a ton of fun, and we’re all looking forward to playing it again. It’s made me think a lot more about character generation and I’m looking forward to cracking into the supplements.

  • As a player in the game, I really liked Talents. I think they’ll shine when we can’t choose them arbitrarily, actually—they’ll encourage us to act in certain ways to make use of them, and that will be more interesting.

  • Nice summary! It’s always interesting to hear from folks who play through the Quickstart Job or other intro sessions and what they came up against in terms of rules bottlenecks or switches. Some people look the game over and say “oh it’s like Fate” and then play it and realize that’s not really the case. Others wonder why we kept the Attributes when Smallville does away with them. My theory is that, like any game, it grows on you organically. Once you play it a few times, more stuff emerges, and I like that a lot. This is true even of those of us who designed the thing. 🙂

    • Cam, thanks for stopping by. I admit I was skeptical about Attributes, but they play out fine. I’m always fascinated by the difference between how a ruleset looks and how it plays – especially with different groups. I’m hoping I can get together a game at Gen-Con – though we may be booked for time… 🙂