Comic books have never been just superheroes. Like any media they’ve explored all sorts of genres from romance to crime to fantasy. Comics like Yoko Tsuno and Tintin, for example, offer worlds full of globetrotting adventure, lost treasures and exotic locations. Comics like these are the inspiration for The Troubleshooters from Helmgast. While I’m not very familiar with these comics, I felt immediately at home with the review copy of this game that they sent. I saw elements of things I did recognize like the adventures of master thief Carmen Sandiego and the spy-fi world of the 60s as seen in The Avengers and The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
The rules are a fairly simple percentile system. Characters start out with the same spread of percentiles across skills with several archetypes to choose from. Most of the templates stretch from earnest heroes like the Caring Veterinarian to scoundrels with a heart of gold like the Cat Burglar. Creating your own template is covered shortly thereafter which highlights one of the things I really like about this core book. The rules are presented in a straightforward manner and most sections are followed by advice on how to create and modify your own elements of the game.
There are two elements that give the rules a little more heft. The first are Story Points that can be spent for various cinematic effects. The most common effect is being able to flip the numbers on the dice for a better outcome.on a roll. For example, if you need to hit a 60 or under and roll a 73, you can spend story points to turn that roll into a 37. Having a corresponding talent often gives a character a discount on flipping the roll in a specific circumstance. Players get Story Points for being clever and entertaining, for choosing to activate flaws that hinder them or for playing along with genre tropes. For example, if a player chooses to get knocked out and captured by the bad guys, they get a big handful of Story Points to use in their escape after listening to the bad guy explain his plan in a monologue. Unlike heist games like Blades in the Dark or Leverage, the game doesn’t have an explicit flashback mechanic, but I think you could sneak a flashback in when a player spends Story Points if it makes sense.
The other bit of rules connect to gear. Players have access to kits, which offer a bonus to rolls as well as a list of items within the kit to use for inspiration. Sure, you can use the first aid kit for medical rolls with a bonus, but I can see a player also using the included tweezers to pick a lock if needed. There’s a lot of ways to access these kits; they can be selected as part of the planning phase of a job, they can be purchased with Story Points at the time of need and they can even be created by skill rolls during town time.
When used with the proper skill, they provide pips of advantage which is where things get a little confusing. Pips are positive and negative modifiers to a roll that checks the ones digit instead of the tens digit first. Even if you fail, if your ones digit comes up equal to or less than the pip, you still succeed. It seems like an unnecessary complication to what’s otherwise a pretty straight forward system. The game explains it as a way to avoid weird math cases where a person can’t succeed or fail because of modifiers. It offers an alternate path shortly after explaining pips where multiplying them by 5 and modifying the roll works about as well. This felt like a design darling that Krister Sundelin didn’t want to get rid of, but was a small bump on an otherwise smooth percentile rules set.
The clean, gorgeous layout echoes the smoother system. The art in this book is amazing and really captures the lighthearted heist action the game wants to portray. Not only do the illustrations feel like they are from a comic book, but the game also uses the signature characters to discuss the rules. I love games that do this like Atomic Robo or Cartoon Action Hour and it works well here to show off the nuances of the rules. This attention to detail extends to the deluxe character sheets which are made up to look like passports. It makes me want to find some cool country stamps to decorate the PC’s sheets as they bounce around the world saving the day.
The setting comes together in an alternate 1960s where Japan and France were the first to land on the moon in 1964. Because of that, Europe is going through a resurgence after World War II with the focus of the game being the continent as a home base. The setting is broadly “the 60s” then without worrying about specific historical detail or specific countries or cities. It reminds me a little of shows like Mission: Impossible where they would work their clever magic in non-specific Eastern European regimes or tropical dictatorships.The book also includes discussions of some real world series to mix in, with interesting locations, adventure hooks and even why you should use the city in your adventure. This section reminds me of the Thrilling Locations parts of the classic James Bond 007 RPG.
Speaking of bad guys, there’s a broad organization that the players will come up against. The Octopus is built like evil spy organizations such as SPECTRE or THRUSH with agents everywhere and plots brewing beneath the surface. The Octopus is doing everything from hoarding lost Nazi gold to building orbital lasers to holdnations hostage. Their plans are big and slightly silly, making them the perfect target for heroes of the same size and seriousness.
Tables looking to run lighthearted adventure romps will find a lot to love in The Troubleshooters. It’s also a great example of how pictures are worth a thousand dice rolls.