I’ve been playing the original Corporation RPG continuously for over six years, mostly as a GM. I love the game and the Brutal Engine game system. Corporation is my all-time favourite RPG. That’s my background for writing this review.
The quick-start is a 40 page (not counting front & back cover) document that breaks down as follows: a one-page introduction, 5 pages of introductory background to the Corporation setting, 16 pages of rules for the S5S system, 5 pages covering four pre-generated characters and their abilities, and 13 pages for an introductory scenario. There are no maps (they’re not needed) and little artwork, all of which is unrelated to the content.
The introduction has a bit of waffle about what cyberpunk is. I’ve never thought of Corporation as cyberpunk, so didn’t think this added anything. There is also a paragraph on what gear you need to use the product (dice, 3-4 players, etc).
The background section is very bare bones (as you’d expect from a quick-start) but is adequate and does introduce the UIG and the big five corporations that are central to the setting. These blurbs are brief but OK as far as they go. There is also two pages on spires, underswells and old cities, which are there to set the scene for the introductory scenario, which is set in a spire. Overall, this section achieves what is needed, but nothing more.
The rules section covers the basics of Nightfall Games’ in-house S5S system. This gives you enough to play the introductory scenario and nothing more. I found it gave an adequate explanation of the rules but still left a few ambiguities. So it required some GM interpretation when I ran the game. This could have been fixed with more detailed examples, especially a full combat play through going through the full hit and damage process with options.
One point of concern for me was that a character’s PSI rating provides a small pool of points that act as both Fate Points (for everyone) as well as being used to power psychic powers for those with that ability. On the face of it, this doesn’t make taking psychic powers very attractive. Be interested to see how this works in the full rules.
The pre-generated characters are intentionally left bland so that players can freely personalise them. This makes sense and is a good idea. There is no indication as to what “level” these agents are or how many XP they have, but I assume they are starting level characters. Their stats and skills certainly suggest this. While it doesn’t state which corporation the agents work for, reading the character sheets indicates they all have the languages (E.I.) skill. This would imply that they are E.I. agents and therefore the setting is an E.I. spire. The character sheets themselves are very functional, being easy to read and follow.
The scenario is very generic and basic, being designed to take players through the rudiments of the S5S rules system. This is just as it should be and it does this reasonably well. However, don’t expect detailed plots or roleplaying opportunities (it’s a quick-start scenario!). Basically, you’re an agent team in a generic unnamed (E.I.) spire that has to deal with a riot from the underswells.
So how does it play?
Well first up, I took one of the pre-generated agents (agent Cole) out to the range for some old fashioned target practice. His/her marksmanship ability is the lowest in the team (and the same as agent Butcher’s). The target was stationary, had no armour, and only 12 HP (the stats of the weakest foe given in the booklet). So what did we learn?
Agent Cole is a very bad shot and should not have graduated from agent training. Even firing at good range at such an easy target he/she had only a 30% chance of hitting (as per the rules system). Furthermore, the standard Black Cougar pistol is a garbage weapon that doesn’t really hurt people. Our weak, unarmoured target required an average of 4 hits to bring down. That is garbage!!
The first run through took 24 combat rounds to fire the 15 round magazine of the Black Cougar (yes, you count rounds). Of these combat rounds, 8 rounds resulted in misses + jams, meaning another 8 rounds were spent on the Recovery action to un-jam the weapon. The remaining 8 rounds resulted in 4 misses, 3 hits, and a weapon reload (Recovery action). This produced a total of 9 damage against our 12 HP, unarmoured, stationary target. Pathetic!
For the second run through we decided agent Cole would use the Prepare action to aim before firing. This reduced the DV to 7, resulting in a 40% chance to hit but only firing every second round. In this instance, it only took 12 combat rounds and 6 bullets to eventually bring the same target down. That’s not great either. Fortunately, there were no jams to recover from. How can an agent, and an iconic weapon, be so utterly useless. They really need to fix the lethality of the Black Cougar; enemies should be scared of the weapon, not laughing at it.
Unarmed combat didn’t go much better, with both agent Cole and Butcher getting their lights punched out by starving civilians. It’s a sad day when supposedly highly trained and augmented agents can’t win a fist fight against malnourished civilians. Even agent Cooper, the best melee fighter of the team, didn’t seem to do that well. Actually, the fist fights became a bit of a pain, as it took many, many combat rounds to finally land enough blows to deal enough damage to knock out a target. Although, funnily enough, fists have a higher minimum damage (2) than the Black Cougar pistol (1)!!
Going into the scenario, we found the agents were failing more than they were succeeding at what they attempted, and the players began to find this somewhat frustrating. Our experience was that your character needed a skill bonus (i.e. stat + skill) of 5 for the required skill check to have a reasonable chance of succeeding. Also, skill points seem vastly more valuable than stat points, as they are what provide the Skill dice for the roll. These are the dice that give you bonuses and prevent a failed roll becoming a debacle. So having stat 0 & skill 5 would appear to be much better than having stat 3 & skill 2. The full rules system will hopefully balance this more.
The player who took the psychic character (agent Butcher) didn’t find him/her very effective or find much use the power he/she had. The player wound up expending PSI points to try and pass rolls, leaving little left to activate powers. Recovery of PSI points wasn’t covered in the quick start. To be fair, I don’t think the quick start really gives you enough to properly evaluate the game’s psychic powers. Best to wait for the full rules.
Overall, the agents presented in this booklet were pretty underwhelming and struggled to achieve anything. The rules system seems weighted against success, at least as far as the given characters are concerned. There’s also a bit of book keeping in that you’re tracking rounds fired, armour ablation, PSI points expended, etc. I don’t see this as a big problem, but others might. Combat also seems to take a long time to resolve.
Now this review is based on our first play through, so take that as a caveat. Our group are all experienced Corporation players, but are new to the S5S system, so we likely made more than a few mistakes. Also, as I recall, the dice were not particularly kind to the players. So I’d encourage others to give it a go and provide their experience.