Looking for a game of ne’er do wells, or perhaps an excuse to use the word abscond? Well, do I have a game for you! Published by ScratchPad Publishing (2018) after a successful Kickstarter, Dusk City Outlaws (DCO) is an all in one TTRPG packaged with board game like elements. DCO is not your typical TTRPG, but rather a self contained and structured RPG. Let me explain…
DCO takes place exclusively in the city of New Dunhaven. Imagine Venice and New York City had a baby in the early industrial era, and you will be able to get an idea of the visuals. A sprawling metropolis and extensive canal network combined with a melting pot of numerous multi-cultural influences. The city itself has been divided up into territories controlled by various cartels under the guiding influence of The Black Council, in a pact referred to as “The Agreement.”
Players will form a crew made up unique specialists from a sampling amongst the various cartels. This crew will then be used on a specific heist or “score.” Now here is where the game differs from a traditional RPG, as there is a strict time mechanic that the game adheres to. The crew is only given X amount of days to complete a score (Typically 3-4). Said days are broken into Day/Night Cycles wherein each member of the crew can take the lead on a legwork scene in order to advance their progress. In an interesting twist, the crew cannot plan anything (or even talk about the score) outside of a planning scene in which they are given 15 minutes to talk and plan. Despite what you may think, this time restriction actually makes the game run smoother, and puts a greater focus on the mission without straining the players or impacting difficulty.
During each cycle the crew will generate “heat,” represented as tokens for the GM to utilize as a currency against the crew. When used by the GM, heat can be used to add plot twists on the story, or obstacles for the crew to overcome. On the flip side, players being the game with a single influence token allowing them to purchase certain cartel and/or specialty related perks. Additional influence can only be rewarded by the GM for great acts of role play or daring. Once the day/night cycles have ended, its go time! All aspects of planning and preparation will go into the final score, and at this point the final score plays out like a longer scene.
Whats in the box?
Having mentioned that this game is self contained, you may be wonder what you will be paying for. You will be pleased to know that this box contains everything you will need to run the game. Manuals, dice, players sheets, tokens, a deck of enemies and much more. Personally, I liked the Traveler’s Guide to New Dunhaven, as it expanded on the setting and lore of the city without diving into too much detail. Everything you need to run a game will be in the box. No expansions or errata needed. The only thing you may want to consider purchasing in the future are additional “scores,” but you can just as easily create your own.
This game was perfectly created for a series of one shot adventures. The feeling of DCO is akin to playing an episode of Leverage, or perhaps Ocean’s Eleven (not Ocean’s Twelve, because that movie was just garbage). You don’t need a session zero to create characters, as you only need to choose a specialty and cartel, both of which are laid out for you. On that same note, there are 30+ specialties and about 10 cartels to choose from, so character variety rather robust. Having played DCO on both sides of the table, it’s easy to understand, quick to play and a great deal of fun, especially if your crew are creative.
One of the few complaints about DCO centers around the subjective nature of some elements. For instance, there is no monetary system in the game, so you have to rely on influence tokens to (sort of) act as alternative. Additionally, some of scenarios are written in a way that the GM will have to adapt quickly to fill in various overlooked details, which may slow the pace down a bit.
For those of you looking for campaign play, DCO was not really designed for it. In fact, characters are retired after about three scores. The up side of this is that it does encourage players to try new combinations, but I understand latching onto a character. Sadly, this also means that there is no character progression/leveling, but rather some outside perks that you are able to carry over (like additional influence).
Dusk City Outlaws is the perfect heist game. It’s quick, cinematic, easy to dive into, and adds just enough pressure to keep things interesting until the very end.