The “Roaring Twenties” was a time of extremes in the United States. While Prohibition had outlawed alcohol, drinking and vice were on the rise in secret speakeasies. Police officers might be everywhere enforcing the morality laws of the day but the attention pushed criminals to organize and grow more powerful than ever. Some women were out marching for the right to vote but others were flinging balls of lightning with their bare hands.
This is CAPERS.
Recently, Craig Campbell of Nerdburger Games posted on his blog that he was willing to give out a preview copy of his new game CAPERS to the first three people who expressed interest. Based on his awesome game Murders & Acquisitions (a game which finally answers the question of what would happen should you beat the hell out of that awful coworker), I decided to send him an email to see what this new game had in store. I helped to Kickstart M&A so I already had an interest in Campbell’s games but the premise of CAPERS really intrigued me.
All this is to just set the stage and also to put in a disclaimer since I technically got a preview version from the game’s author… This was a preview version that I actively sought out but it’s a present nonetheless so, there you are.
I love the amazing historical superhero games from Arc Dream Publishing: The Kerberos Club, This Favored Land, Progenitor, and (of course) Godlike. I’m hoping to capture the same excitement with CAPERS, though it is hampered by being only a preview version at this point. According to the author, the preview version will be released for general consumption in the next few weeks (likely through DrivethruRPG considering his previous releases). The full version? “That depends entirely on getting the rest of what I need to deal with funded through Kickstarter,” he told me in an email. “I’ll be nailing down the Kickstarter date in the next few weeks and let everyone know as soon as I can.”
So what does the preview version look like? To coin a phrase, “like the cat’s meow.” The style is great and really makes it easy to flip through the book and get a sense of both the spirit and the nature of CAPERS. As you can probably tell from the art in this post, it resembles one of the mini-campaign settings that Evil Hat Productions has put out for FATE (like Prism, Uranium Chef, or Blood On the Trail). It has a fun, light aspect to it that fits with the sort of party-spirit in the 1920s, though there is depth to it and a richness of story. The introduction bears this out with mentions of the games themes which include the balance of virtue and vice, the complexity of gangster organizations, and the tragic mission of law enforcement.
Like other historical superhero games, the world of CAPERS follows the history of our own until the appearance of superpowered individuals. For this world, it’s all going along as normal until a superstrong, spider-climbing thief in 1912 made headlines. From this first “Caper” there are other superpowered people, though they don’t seem to have diverted history too strongly. The Great War still happens, the Volstead Act still passes, Al Capone still runs Chicago… Part of this is scale, since CAPERS strives for street-level (but still superpowered) characters over the sort of world-saving folks you expect from The Avengers or Masks.
The mechanics of the game are also reasonably slick and fun. When you attempt something, the GM decides on a Target Score and then you draw from a deck of playing cards to try and beat that number. Other games from Deadlands to Upwind have card-based systems but something that sets this one apart for me is the use of card suits. The number (including face cards) determines whether you succeed or fail but the suit determines how you succeed or fail. It’s summed up in the chart to the right, but the upshot is that Hearts and Diamonds are regular results, Spades are extra good, and Clubs are extra bad.
This carries on to combat (damage is determined by suit with Spades being great and Clubs being low) and superpowers. Not everyone in CAPERS is superpowered but, let’s face it, most people are going to want to be. Superpowers can be minor (specific powers that often require a check to use) or major (broad powers that are always on). It’s very unclear how you determine what a fair set of powers is (the preview relies on pregenerated characters) so I don’t know how to compare these two and it looks like minors are not necessarily less powerful than majors. For example, one major power is Dimension Step that lets you teleport. This is obviously more powerful than the minor power Hypnosis but it’s arguably less powerful than the minor power Weather Manipulation.
Those issues aside, I think this is a strong game and I’m looking forward to the Kickstarter. It’s a fun system that offers something more out of the cards than “look, we’re not using dice!” It also has some good background information on the 1920s that makes me think the setting will be interesting and strong. That said, the setting info is a little thin at the moment so I’m waiting to see what sort of “famous Capers” are out there to pit my superpowered gangster against. Also, preserving history is all well and good but Capers have been around in this setting for more than a decade at this point so what crazy comic book hijinks have they done? Was the Mount Rushmore Monument carved in a day? Do the Bolsheviks have a bunch of their own Capers who are strutting around making sure socialism is taken seriously? How do you become a Caper, is it from birth or could Houdini miraculously gain powers? Maybe he’s been a Caper all along! Twist!
Anyways, I’m excited by what I’ve seen so far and intend to try out the preview version of CAPERS as soon as I get a handful of poker decks to outfit a table with them.