Review – Freelancers: A Crossroads Game
|Artist||Chris Bryan, Allison Carl, Sam Mameli, Sean McCoy, Karl Stjernberg|
|Publisher||Plaid Hat Games|
Freelancers is the latest in Plaid Hat Games’ Crossroads series. In this game, humanity has been wiped out, leaving behind nothing but trash and a broken gig economy. You are among the survivors, and your only sustenance comes from unenviable freelance work. It’s a terrible life, but hey, it’s what you’ve gotta do! Let’s check it out.
Like other games in the Crossroads series, Freelancers contains some PG-13 content, including swear words and references to violence. The designer weighed in about this on BoardGameGeek, and I agree with the publisher’s suggested age rating of 14+. I would encourage parents to try it themselves, or at least do their research, before playing with kids.
Freelancers continues the evolution of the Crossroads system. Like its predecessor Forgotten Waters, this game is heavily app-driven, with high-quality voice acting narrating the story. Also like Forgotten Waters, it is played in a spiral-bound book, and each player is assigned an individual role (in this case, the roles are things like Scout, Medic, etc.).
The game is scenario-based, so the win condition will vary from session to session. However, players lose if they either get too badly wounded, or if the threat dial reaches a “Game Over” space, signifying that the quest has become too dangerous to continue.
As players traverse the wasteland of humanity’s demise, they visit different locations in the game book. Upon arriving at a location, players start a timer in the app. They have until the timer runs out to select their actions, or else they take a penalty. Some actions can only be taken by one player, some can be taken by any number of players, and some are “required.” Required actions must be chosen first, before any voluntary actions.
Once everyone has chosen their actions, they resolve them in numerical order. Then, players enter the Round End code into the app to hear what happens next.
Players will often be asked to make skill checks. These are based on a d20 roll, plus a bonus if the player has advanced on that skill’s track. The first time a player advances in a skill, they earn a d4 modifier. Then, if they advance again, the modifier changes to a d6, then a d8, and so on. As an example, if a player had advanced twice in their Smarts skill, they would roll a d20 and a d6 on a Smarts check.
Then, according to the die result, the player enters a code into the app to progress the story. Sometimes, an action will require a player to “spend time.” For each time spent, the player must draw a token from a bag. Typically, the token effects are negative; many require players to take risks, which can move the threat dial and progress toward a loss.
The app is central to the experience, so if you don’t like apps in games, this is almost certainly not a game for you. It’s also not recommended for folks who crave deep strategy or are averse to silliness in games. Freelancers leans heavily on story and theme, so players should come in with the appropriate mindset and prepare for a wild ride.
There are other aspects to this game which will feel familiar to anyone who has played a tabletop RPG: gaining gold, earning XP, finding followers, etc. For the sake of brevity, I’m glossing over these, but I at least want to mention them.
Freelancers is very much an “RPG in a box,” in the vein of Forgotten Waters and Tales of the Arabian Nights. Like many of Plaid Hat’s games, it is theme-forward, harnessing a robust narrative to create an immersive dystopia.
The app is thoughtfully designed and helpful to the play experience. Players can learn the game from its tutorials, walk step-by-step through setup, and even save their game to return to later or play on a different device. The user interface is friendly and intuitive, and it integrates well into the game.
I also like how streamlined the character creation is. Each player takes a species sheet and a job sheet, puts them side-by-side, and *bam*, character created. (I’m partial to the Merfolk Dung Farmer, personally.)
The narrative brings the theme to life, with moments of tension, moments of humor, and top-notch voice acting. Like other Crossroads games, I would hesitate to play Freelancers with kids, but each parent can make their own call about that.
To the question of “Freelancers or Forgotten Waters?,” it largely depends on which theme players prefer. Both games are fun and immersive, with lots of memorable story moments. I would say they are different enough, mechanically and narratively, that there is room for both games in a collection. Personally, I will be keeping both, along with Dead of Winter.
Because of its nature as a scenario/campaign game, Freelancers is best played with a consistent group. Like many traditional RPGs, sessions can take a few hours to play, so it’s a bit of a time commitment, but the adventure is well worth it.
I really enjoy Freelancers, just as I enjoy other Crossroads games. I think it will be a great fit for fans of narrative-driven, RPG-style adventures. If that sounds like something your group would enjoy, check it out!
A review copy was provided by Plaid Hat Games.
The Bottom Line
Freelancers is an excellent narrative game. It has a strong, engaging story, and I highly recommend it for fans of theme-first adventure games.