Review – Score: A Modern Heist RPG

Score is a tabletop RPG from Gila RPGs about planning and executing heists, broadly defined to include bank jobs, home invasions, planting evidence, rescue missions, and assassinations. Listed media inspirations include movies The Score, Heat, and The Dark Night and video games Payday and Grand Theft Auto. Score is a zine-format RPG, which means that it’s independently published and has a smallish footprint and page count (about 8.5 x 5.5 and 32 pages). The cover and pages were surprisingly high-quality, although I suspect that most who didn’t back the Kickstarter project will be getting the game in PDF format from DriveThruRPG.

Score is rules light, with almost everything mechanical being handled with three numbers – a character’s Cool and Heat, and the difficulty (from 2-6) set by the GM. The player rolls a number of six-sided dice equal to their Cool and a number of differently-colored six-sided dice equal to their Heat. At least one result equal to or better than the difficulty on a Cool die means success, with more success being more advantageous. At least one result lower than the difficulty on a Heat die means a complication. The player chooses whether the complication increases the Heat on that one character, or whether it raises the Threat Level for the whole job (when the Threat Meter fills up, the crew gets arrested and the heist is over). The crew also enters the heist with a limited supply of Prep dice, which can be added to a roll as Cool dice. Rising Heat, plus fewer available Prep dice, increase the tension as the heist goes on.

Players take on one of four roles, somewhat reminiscent of Powered by the Apocalypse playbooks, but with no customization – the Face, the Tech, the Specter, and the Hammer (the one with the big gun). Each role defines the character’s Cool, Heat, and Prep, some abilities, plus the standard gear they bring to a mission. Gear is one of several aspects of the game that don’t have a direct mechanical effect. Your gear just opens up for the character the appropriate sorts of actions – only the Tech has hacking equipment, so they’re the one who will be doing any hacking. Abilities have a mechanical effect. The Hammer might have higher difficulties when the Threat Meter is low, but once it starts filling up their difficulties go down. The Face can reduce the threat meter through negotiating with the right people.

Score provides the GM with some fairly extensive (relatively speaking) ideas for what type of heist to run and idiosyncrasies for this particular heist, occupying a full half of the book. You can pick your own, or randomize to determine that today’s heist will be a frame job with the goal of rigging an election, with the characters facing a light security presence in a busy three-story building. If things seem like they’ll be too easy for the players, maybe there’s only a limited window of time during which the heist can be completed. It does not, however, provide guidance on setting up the smaller details of the heist (e.g., what sort of security challenges the characters might have to overcome).

There are two ways to play in Score, as a one-shot or as a campaign (the game started as a one-shot and then added character advancement through a KS stretch goal). In one-shot mode, characters start with 2-4 Cool, 1 Heat, and two fixed abilities. In campaign mode, characters mostly start with 1 Cool, and no abilities. They each have a Cool goal (that increases Cool if achieved during a heist) and a Heat goal (that decreases Heat if achieved during a Heist). Abilities are unlocked by reducing Heat – so actually need to finish the Heists with Heat if they want to get better. Personally, I find the one-shot version much more appealing. This isn’t exactly a game that focuses on personal character stories that play out over time, which I think lends itself better to one-and-done play. Additionally, starting characters in campaign mode are pretty terrible. Rolling only a single Cool die means that they will fail a lot at pretty much anything of any real difficulty. This isn’t the stuff of high-tension, complicated, movie-style heists. Campaign mode feels more appealing if you want to create a more video-game experience with a small-time crew. Maybe they’re robbing a convenience store for that first heist and the game has a more “beer and pretzels” feel to it.

All told, Score presents a distinctive subgenre with mechanics that ratchet up the tension as the heist progresses, and is probably best run as a one-shot. With its rules-light nature and the absence of detailed guidance for the GM on laying out a heist, Score will reward loose, on-the-fly thinking but may be difficult for more detail-oriented GMs and players.

Promotional consideration was provided in the form of a review copy.

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