I first saw Supercrew mentioned in a thread in RP Open on this very site, and I was intrigued by the website, so I downloaded the PDF version. It’s a rules-light superhero game, with the twist of having the rules presented in the form of comic-book panels. I have seen this tried a couple of times before (Champions Fusion comes to mind), but this time it really works- the rules are very clearly explained in the panels, and the style of play that should be expected is conveyed quite nicely as well (a lighthearted tone reminiscent of the Superfriends or Golden-Age comics). This is a capsule review since I have not yet played the game, so I will keep it short while hitting the high points of the game.
The basic idea is that the players are playing themselves as roleplayers playing ANOTHER RPG at the start of the Supercrew session, when trouble strikes. They have to come up with excuses to get away from the GM and ditch the game to change into their super identities, then the game switches to Supercrew. It sounds like a great way to start a one-shot game as well as a quick way to get the players together and into the action, but of course you don’t have to run the game like this.
Character creation is simple. First you roll on a table 3 times to determine your hero’s abilities and define what they are. Then you rank each one from 1 to 3. The ability with Rank 2 is the one you use most often in your crimefighting. Rank 3 is the very powerful ability that you only use once or twice an issue, and Rank 1 is the ability that causes you troubles. You can’t use the Rank 3 ability unless you spend a Hero Point. How do you earn Hero Points? By using the least effective Rank 1 power. A simple, self-balancing, hero point system that is an integral part of the rules instead of being grafted on- a rare and beautiful thing.
Now of course you don’t have to roll on the charts, you can just model your hero. I was trying to translate an old Hero System superhero that I have created in other systems, and I realized that Supercrew makes you look at your abilities from a different angle. When you are assigning abilities and ranking them, you have to think in general terms of what the power IS instead of what it DOES. A good example is the Massif- his Rank 2 ability is Super Strength, not Superleap or Shockwave or Thunderpunch or Lift Heavy Stuff or any of that- his Superstrength lets him do all of that and more. Now I know that there are a lot of other games that allow you to do this, but Supercrew’s mechanic of choose 3 abilities and rank them really encourages you to think in these terms.
You also get to define 3 Tricks, or once-per-game-use abilities that let you change the die roll, which is a really good way of differentiating heroes (at least as much as a rules-light game allows). You can re-roll, change one die to a 5, or change a roll to Effect 2 (more on this later).
The mechanics are simple as well. You roll one die for each rank in the power you are using, and look for a 4, 5, or 6 to count as a success (or Effect). You can keep re-rolling 6’s and get extra Effect. Effects are totaled to overcome obstacles and opponents. Heroes can work together and one can get an extra die from another’s previous attempt that partially succeeded. A hero can also get an extra die from an Anecdote Bonus (recalling a bit from a previous story). You spend and earn Hero Points by using rank 3 or rank 1 abilities as mentioned before.
Combat is fairly straightforward- each round, everyone chooses an ability and rolls for Effect, each character acting in order of Effect (ties act at the same time). If you are attacked, you can respond with a reflex defense or a powerful defense. A reflex defense only gives you one die, but if you use a powerful defense you lose your attack (and you can’t powerful defend if you already attacked this round). Effects are subtracted and the result is applied to Toughness (this game’s hitpoints; all heroes have 3, villains can have more). When you get to zero Toughness, you are knocked out (nobody ever dies in Supercrew). You can treat obstacles as either simple difficulties to equal with Effect, or as full-blown opponents with Toughness, abilities, and Tricks (the rulebook has a great example of the Supercrew ‘fighting’ a building fire).
The book is illustrated as well as written by the author (Tobias Radesater). When you start reading the book, the art is a little off-putting, but when you get further you realize that it perfectly suits the book. As I mentioned, the rulebook is laid out in comic book form, and Tobias does a fantastic job of explaining the rules in a clear, concise, and (most importantly to me) logically-ordered way with lots of examples. The rules are explained by Tobias himself, who wanders through a large game designer complex in his basement with some pretty funny sight gags along the way (he is the GM of the RPG session at the start of the book, whose players sneak away to become the Supercrew). Now I am convinced that this is what it would have looked like if Hans and Margaret Rey (Curious George) had written and illustrated a children’s superhero book, and since ‘The Stars’ is one of my all-time favorite books that is tops in my book.
Supercrew is a simple, fun superhero RPG that looks like it would be ideal for one-shot adventures or a change of pace from the regular game, or a regular campaign if you like rules-light games. The comic-book layout of the rules that perfectly evokes the feel of the game and clearly explains the rules, the hero-point mechanic, and the choose three and rank character creation are the definite high points and what made me want to review it. I would say it’s one of the best supers RPGs I’ve ever read, and I definitely look forward to playing it. For Style, Supercrew gets a resounding 5. For Substance, I’ll have to give it a 4 with the caveat that this is ONLY in comparison to longer, more ‘meaty’ games; in the realm of rules-light and indie games, it gets a 5.