We played another session of The Sprawl yesterday and it was pretty fun! Now that we’ve been through setting creation and built a little bit of momentum, I’m getting a much clearer idea of how the game works going forward.
I felt a tiny bit blah about how the game mechanically operates, and I couldn’t figure out why until today. My working theory is that its basic moves aren’t very genre-evocative. Like…they cover the same ground Apocalypse World covers: using violence to get your way, extracting useful situational information from the GM, keeping your cool under pressure. A couple moves do stand out: Research and Hit the Streets. Research feels like Assess without the right-now urgency, and Hit the Streets is…well, it’s okay. It’s the main way you get your Contacts to do anything, with a small chance of generating more intel/gear.
The moves are okay. But they’re not really evocative of anything distinctly and thematically cyberpunk at all. They facilitate the doing-of-missions, for sure. And given The Sprawl’s tight focus on missions, I can’t really fault the choice.
In some ways that’s a very good thing! It means that you need almost no shift in perspective at all from playing straight Apocalypse World. Just add the intel/gear economies to the game and you’re off and running.
But if you’ve been reading me a while, you know I do love seeing a tighter marriage between a game’s themes and its procedures.
The playbook moves are good. Quite good! We’re running a Hunter, an Infiltrator and a Pusher, and they feel different and interesting in play. There’s some functional overlap between the Infiltrator and the Hunter but it’s not bad. And the Pusher’s little gang of activists/criminals is weird and interesting. Top marks for those playbooks, at least.
But playbook moves aren’t really bread and butter. The Hunter gets his intel/gear points when the action phase starts and that’s great, but it’s not rolled, it’s not a point of tension or uncertainty, and it’s pretty abstract. I do like those economies, though. Again, really good support for the doing-of-missions.
This has gotten me thinking about my favorite AW hacks and how much deeper they feel. Urban Shadows has moves like Let It Out that just don’t appear anywhere else. Very distinctive! Or the interactive moves in Night Witches built around opening up to one another. Or literally everything about Sagas of the Icelanders.
I guess the tl;dr is that The Sprawl feels most like a reskin of any of the PbtA games I’ve played yet. And because of my own aesthetics, that leaves me feeling blah about it.
We’re gonna play one more session of it for sure. And the campaign-y stuff we’ve set up is really great! I’m loving the corporations we cooked up, and it’s really fun to interweave everyone’s Contacts (although I fear it plays out out like Urban Shadows’ tendency toward overcomplicated relationship maps after a few sessions). It’s a fun challenge to get everyone’s Personal Directives into play, and that’s maybe my favorite part of the game — but they also feel a little generic.
Anyway, enjoying it, probably great for cons.