Thursday, March 19, 2015

Game Review: 'The Department' & 'Ghosts of Hefei' by Joseph Dragovich

I started reading back over the rules for miniature game system by Joseph Dragovich called, The Department, and its related sister rules set, Ghosts of Hefei.  I didn’t back the Kickstarter for The Department, although I regret that now, but I did back the Kickstarter for Ghosts of Hefei after buying a PDF of The Department from Effigy Miniatures, which is now defunct, but you can still buy a PDF copy from  I also got one set of the 15mm figures for The Department (six in total), but I can only seem to find four of them right now.  Unfortunately, I don’t think that they will be remade (here is to hoping that they are remade.)  As of now, I have the PDF of the Ghosts of Hefei rules, but I am still waiting on the figures (according to the last update, all of the figures have now been cast and now the books and T-shirts are off to the printers to be made).
The 15mm figures for 'The Department'

Both game systems are set in the same setting, but in different parts of the world and different objects using the same game mechanics, Goalsystem, which was designed by Scott Pyle.  The games are designed to be totally independent of each other, or to be used together, so one does not need to have a copy of The Department to play Ghosts of Hefei.   The Goalsystem is a fairly simple system.  Basically you roll the number of d6 dice that you have in a skill, or damage from a weapon, etc., and look for a 4+ which counts for ‘goals’ or successes, with a ‘6’ equaling two ‘goals’.  Actually, it might be worth it to make your own set of dice with 3x0, 2x1, 1x2 on the faces if you were to play a lot of Goalsystem games for ease in counting ‘goals'.  
The Department is the most interesting of the two games in my opinion because its subject matter, primarily, and that it was designed to be a solo game that can handle up to four players as a cooperative game.  The background of the game is in future USA were Fabricants, or androids, are being used, or acting on their own programs, for legal and illegal activities.  The Fabricants don’t have the same equal rights as humans, much like in the movie, Blade Runner (1982).   Matter of fact, the design of this game is very heavily under the influence of the movie, Blade Runner.  The player(s) are police detectives for the Dept. of Fabricant Management, sort of a cross between the FBI and the Blade Runner’s bounty hunters.  What is really nice is that the game can easily be transferred into different time periods with some minor modifications to do any detective style miniature game. 
In The Department, there are several scenarios and a campaign system.  I really like how the scenarios and campaign are set up, besides the fact that they are meant to be played on a 2'x2' area for 15mm figures.  First is that you create your primary characters, the protagonists for your stories.  You start off with 100 character points, but you are limited to 50 points per character.  So you will have at least two characters, but you could have more if you spend fewer points on your characters’ abilities.  But I don’t think you want to go over four characters as it appears that characters with less than 25 points will be extremely weak. 
Next, you start off with a budget to use through the entire campaign.  This is not like Warhammer where you buy all of your goodies at the beginning and have them show up every time in every game.  This is because at the end of each scenario, most of the stuff goes away and it can’t be used in the next scenario as part of the campaign!  Also, if any time your budget reaches 0, the campaign ends automatically as a failure if you have not successful defeated the primary suspect.  So, you really have to learn how to husband your budget and make it last throughout the entire campaign.  But no fear, because as the campaign progresses, you can request more budget resources based on evidence gathered.  This reminds me a lot of the another classic Sci-Fi movie, THX 1138 (1971), (Also it is George Lucas’ first movie!) In the movie the police almost have to end their pursue of Robert Duvall’s and Donald Pleasence’s characters several times, only to have their budget increased because they committed another crime, allowing them to continue on trying to catch them.  If you have never seen this movie, rent it.
In the scenarios, the characters can gather certain types of evidence to build a case.  There are five types of evidence, Person, Place, Physical, Electronic, and Financial.  Some are harder to get than others, with Person being the most easy to get.  Plus certain scenarios can not be played until the characters have gathered enough of the right types of evidence first.   As you gather evidence, you can also get certain items to assist your characters in the next game, maybe with a little loss of your budget too, like Arrest Warrants. 
But how do you keep players from being gun happy thugs and think every encounter should end like the final scenes of Bonnie & Clyde (1967)?  Now this is the best part of the game in my opinion, there is a system for Internal Affairs investigations that can range from a reprimand, to a temporary suspension (i.e., the character can’t be used in some number of future games), to getting fired and removed from the campaign.  During the course of the game, if the characters do something undesirable, like shooting at a suspect in crowd (for every shot!), he gains Internal Affair Points (IAP).  At the end of the game, you roll the number of IAPs earned in the course of the game with the same number of dice looking for ‘goals’, but these ‘goals’ you don’t want.  Depending on the number of ‘goals’, it will determined the punishment of the character.  But you can also gain IAPs for in-between games actions, like interrogating a prisoner too hard (yes, there are rules for this too!) 
Ghosts of Hefei, as mentioned above, is set in the same setting as The Department, but it has a different objective.  This game takes place in Hefei, China, a large industrial city that makes fabricants.  In this game, the players are competing against each other in a more traditional type of game.  The players build a gang of criminals whom job is to steal fabricants through hacking and other means and build their power on the streets.  In this campaign system, your gang can either win by eliminating all of the other gangs (players), gather enough wealth to go legit, or gain enough reputation that you can rule city hall.

In Ghosts, the player must choose one type of gang to be from, but other players can also pick the same type as a rival faction.  The gangs available are the following:  Iranians, Russians, Tong, and Yakuza.  There is an option to play the police too, but it only suggested if you have two or more players running gangs for the campaign.  Like The Department, there is a set number of character points and resource points to build your characters, the rest of the gang, and outfitting them.  But in Ghosts, you have more character points so you can easy get five or six characters for your gang, plus some standard thugs.  The author pretty much state that your gang needs at least one character that is a hacker to take control of fabricants. 

Also in Ghosts, there are cyber implant rules.  As the game system is the same as The Department, you can easily transfer the cyber implants and hacking rules to your The Department campaign and play something more in line of the Ghost in the Shell animated series or even Cowboy Bebop rather than Blade Runner.
Some lovely 15mm Sci-Fi civilian vehicles from Darkest Star Games.  They also have some great not-Tachikomas for a "Ghost in the Shell" games
While I have yet to actually play a game of either game, just from reading the rules, they are a fairly solid system.  I think the only thing that would improve them would be have vehicle rules as there are none. One other set of rules I think that are missing for a proper noir type game are for Femme Fatales.  With both of those rules, I could even turn the system into a James Bond like campaign!

It is not Noir without a sexy Femme Fatale!
"I've seen things you people wouldn't believe..." Roy Batty


Pete. said...

Really like the sound of the Internal Investigations to keep things on track- could be a useful tool is wielded well.



Sapper Joe said...

I agree!



Mad the Recidivist said...

Look for the Goal System game "Roadkill," from West Wind Productions. Has a great set of fully customizable vehicle rules that slot into other Goal System games effortlessly, as well as having rules for vampires, werewolves, and others that provide handy extra abilities for fabricants and cybernetic implants (or let you add supernatural and post-apocalyptic elements, if you so desire.)

If you want to add Lovecraftian elements, cultists, some Roaring 20s mystique, and maybe a bit of femme fatale, keep an eye out for the Goal System game Chaos In Cairo, as well (which will also essentially fit right into place with any/all of the above).

Months and months late, I know, but hopefully still helpful!

Sapper Joe said...


I was familiar with both rules sets before, but never looked into either one for different reasons. I thought Chaos in Cairo was heavy in mummies and Egypt, so never really looked into it. Roadkill I didn't realized was Goalsystem, I thought that it was the same system as Vampire Wars.