Thursday, May 30, 2024

Freelancers Is An Adorable, Snarky Love Letter To Tabletop Adventure

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Humanity is gone, and who is left to pick up the pieces? Why, you of course. You being the players of Freelancers, the latest storytelling adventure from Plaid Hat Games (Neon Gods, Abomination: Heir of Frankenstein). It follows the same general formula as other “Crossroads” titles like Dead of Winter and Forgotten Waters, but is more akin to their lighter titles like Familiar Tales in its overall vibe. Designed by Donald Shults with art by Sam Mamelli aka Skullboy and Allison Carl, it was Plaid Hat’s big release at this year’s Gen Con. I got the chance to check this game out for myself and, as a fan of tabletop adventures AND a working freelancer myself, I was hyped to get it to the table. So let’s dig into Freelancers.

What’s In The Box?

Freelancers box and contents
  • 1 Rulebook
  • 1 Location Book
  • 1 Time Bag
  • 2 20-Sided Dice
  • 2 12-Sided Dice
  • 2 10-Sided Dice
  • 2 8-Sided Dice
  • 2 6-Sided Dice
  • 2 4-Sided Dice
  • 1 Lookout Board
  • 1 Scout Board
  • 1 Medic Board
  • 1 Game Master Tile
  • 1 Bookkeeper Tile
  • 1 Cartographer Tile
  • 1 Influencer Board
  • 1 Pad of Map Sheets
  • 1 Pad of Species Sheets
  • 9 Starting Weapon Cards (mini-sized)
  • 80 Treasure Cards  (mini-sized)
  • 78 Story Cards  (mini-sized)
  • 20 Follower Cards  (mini-sized)
  • 26 Follower Tokens
  • 20 Luck Tokens
  • 20 Corruption Tokens
  • 20 Stress Tokens
  • 7 Wound Tokens
  • 8 Risk Tokens
  • 7 Supplies Tokens
  • 5 Threat Tokens
  • 7 Lock Tokens
  • 9 Influence Markers
  • 9 Character Standees

The art style for the game is out of sight. Absolutely charming in the way that it renders a rather cozy apocalypse, you get the perfect mix of goofy, adventurous, and creepy. Everything feels slightly “used” in a way, but in a warm lived in manner as opposed to a worn out way.

I’ll also go ahead and comment on the App while I’m here. I’m never going to 100% be a fan of games that rely on an app to function. My personal taste is that the joy of a board game is in its analog quality, the ability to take it anywhere and for anyone to play. However, the Plaid Hat titles are often a rare exception to my problem in that they use the technology in a way that only one person needs the app to play, and it maximizes the use of the app to help with setup and learning. Plus the voice cast they got for the audio portion of the game is killer, especially Christopher freakin’ Sabat (You know, the guy who plays Piccolo) as the narrator!

How’s It Play?

Freelancers Character Creation

Despite a seemingly daunting array of mechanics, the game is fairly straightforward. See, the goal is to capture the feel of an entire adventure in one night, so things happen very quickly and your action economy is rather limited (but in a good way). You’ll start with character creation, which is half about mechanics and half mad-libs style fun. Traditional races like dwarf or elf are supplemented by the moth-like tallstrider, the goblin, and the feline mouser. Similarly the “occupation” options can be regular jobs like Paladin or Warrior but they also can be a a garbageman or a baker. It’s really a fun little system that lets you play a real “everyperson” that fits into the world well. I especially like how the occupation and race pages go together to form one coherent sheet, allowing you to see all your bonuses and traits in one go.

Freelancers map and action choice

Like previous titles in the Crossroad line, you’ll be adventuring through a spiral bound book. Each section of the book contains multiple actions you can take. Some are public, some are limited, and some are even required. Each player chooses an action then, once everyone has placed their freelancer, the actions take place. Actions might simply get you an item or cause an event, while others require skill checks. Skill checks in this game are done with a d20 (naturally) and an additional bonus die dictated by the skills your character has. Different outcomes lead to different story results, which you’ll punch into the app to get the results read out to you or even acted out by the cast depending on who is involved.

Once you’ve finished out a location you’ll move around the map, with the different locations corresponding to different possible outcomes like treasure, an inn, or even a dungeon or two. You’ll gain titles and followers as you go, as well as some fun loot, while managing your influence, your time, and your health. If you get too hurt or things get too dangerous, you’ll end up losing the game. But if you can reach the end of your quest and complete your goal then you’ll win and be a true hero!

Gain new weapons and followers to help you on your journey

The leveling up mechanic in this game is really fun, since it’s a simple grid that you scratch out as you move along it. Everything is rendered with symbols so you can easily pick up on what you gain or lose for different actions. All of the jobs (influencer, time keeper, etc.) and equipped items and followers form around your pages so you can see your character grow as time goes on.

The Verdict?

Freelancers dice and Leveling up

I’m a sucker for a good story game and this one immediately hooked me thanks to its heaps of charm and colorful, unique aesthetic. The tone is playful and frequently skewers common fantasy tropes, but knows when to make things more tense and exciting. I especially love how quick the game goes. Most games in this genre are things that take about as long as a “real deal” TTRPG game, but not Freelancers. You get the full experience in one session.

This is maybe the most accessible “Crossroads” title yet. I wouldn’t say it skews as young as Familiar Tales, it’s definitely something teens and older kids can really enjoy. A good gateway game to this genre and any tabletop storytelling, really. The quickness and creativity makes it perfect for game nights too (though I’d not bring it anywhere public). So my advice is sign up and become a Freelancer at the first chance you get!

Images via Plaid Hat Games

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