Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Thoughts on Top Secret

Scene from a bar in Sprechenhaltestelle, 1953
We only got about four or five sessions of Top Secret in before I got a new job at the Post Office and all my gaming time got tanked. I was enjoying running the Sprechenhaltestelle mini-sandbox, but I think my players were having problems switching from the D&D "mug & loot" mindset to a more nuanced way of executing a mission. You know, like spies. Things generally devolved into slug-fests and shoot-outs rather quickly, which is fun and all, but not conducive to a subtle investigative adventure. Plus, there was the problem of the clunky old combat rules which did have a tendency to slow down momentum with fiddly bits. Some quick thoughts:

  • The gun combat seems simple on paper, but really takes up too much game time to execute. I think I could re-work it with just a little effort though. Interesting that the type of gun has nothing to do with how much damage it deals. Wounds are dealt with in different, also clunky, rules. Gun combat is dangerous, though, and that is important. It also really plays up the real-life non-accuracy of pistols.
  • The hand-to-hand combat is pretty fun in execution for the first few times when things are not literally life-and-death but its unwieldiness and unpredictability becomes a liability for an agent in the field. I think the players felt a lack of control over the outcomes, which is ironic, because the rules are written in a way trying to granulize HTH with specific moves and stuff, but really it feels more random than gun combat. (Maybe that is actually how real life HTH fighting is... I wouldn't know.)
  • Basically, combat is the most rules intensive part of the entire game—everything else is extremely simple and generally left up to the GM to adjudicate. Which is cool. They game went pretty smoothly outside of combat.
  • There is an actual rule for aliens about paragraph long... which is basically, "they have 1–20 hit points." It makes you wonder why its there at all, but I guess I am glad it is.
  • My plan was to run a late '50s spy adventure like Ian Fleming's original Bond novels and I discovered that Top Secret is pretty much geared for that straight out of the gate. The whole flavor of the game seems to come from that era already, down to the weapon choices.
  • Having access to the internet really opened up possibilities for the game. The simple thing of being able to Google a picture of available weapons increased my flavor by an order of magnitude. I actually think that might have hampered my enjoyment of the game back in the day. A list of guns with no pictures really means nothing to me (especially as a kid).
  • More coming...