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Agents of S.W.I.N.G. $9.99 $7.49
Average Rating:3.8 / 5
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Agents of S.W.I.N.G.
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Agents of S.W.I.N.G.
Publisher: Postmortem Studios
by Jason C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 01/20/2013 22:13:59

Everyone says my reviews are too long and nobody reads them. So here's my two paragraph summary first:

Want to see an amazing game that nails down a very slippery and specific genre and consistently and effectively pursues it? Buy this game.

Want a game that is mechanically well-balanced and won't lead you into crazy problems? Give it a pass.

Now for the lengthy/verbose/nonsensical analysis.

It seems hard to imagine at this late date, when if you wanted to watch every James Bond movie it would take two uninterrupted days, when the deliberate but tense 1970s Bourne novels have been made into a visceral action series, and when Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy can sucker us in with the professionalism of lying, but there was a time in history when espionage and counter-espionage was just coming into pop culture. Of course The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad was a 19th century venture into the popular spy novel (and modern readers will appreciate terrorism as its central conflict instead of the Cold War), but in the 1950s and 60s, the spy-as-hero jumped into prominence, and a good deal of it was an almost countercultural espionage - the spy not as defender of the stodgy status quo, but the swinger, the con artist, Mr. Suave, the femme fatale, and of course, the only person who could tell that the whole Cold War was a sham, a big crazy lie, man.

To some extent this was because the other arm of visible authority, the police officer, was engaged, quite publicly, in a heart-wrenching shift from primarily being concerned with order to primarily being concerned with law. Cops knew as much as everyone else that when they saw fire hoses turned on voting rights activists in Selma that being a police officer had to change. So in addition to the cop who was in touch with the kids, we gained the spy who didn't play by any rules. And sometimes these spy stories were lighthearted action romps - fantasies about what we'd do if we were trained to the top of our abilities and turned loose in the world with a gun, a quip and some cool gadget nobody else had.

It's hard to remember this now when we can count James Bond's genuine smiles since 1992 on one hand, but Austin Powers is a parody not of Bond but of the goofy/sexy spies that blossomed at the same time, but did not necessarily survive. (I have no idea why people chose to parody swingin' 60s spies in 1997. Why not parody balloonist adventure tales or picaresques about travelling to the Mysterious East? Those would be just as relevant. But that's far afield even for my normal rambling review style.)

It's this fantasy that Agents of SWING targets, and hits, dead on. Not the parody (though I guess you could use it for that) - this is not a satire game, this is a game about that lighthearted fantasy.

Your characters are in an implausible agency, given implausible covers, and must battle against implausible villains, while bedding their unbelievably attractive and somewhat reluctant lieutenants and sorting out ridiculous gadgets. All of these things are given a thorough once-over. The quick-moving FATE 3.0 system (with some changes, see below) is a great setup for this.

It's always a matter of walking a tightrope when replicating social attitudes of past times that might interfere with people's enjoyments - Agents of SWING, I feel, does a pretty decent job of emphasizing that players who are women will have opportunities for fun along with those that aren't. Because the agents are beyond the straitjacketed moralities of the (crumbling, it's 1967) square world they protect, they are able to forge their own way. You can even play up the tension by selecting Aspects that will emphasize this conflict - and you gain fate points when they cause problems for you, so you're actually encouraged to think about the issue and bring it to the table with your own spin on it. This game convinced me that FATE's Aspects (perhaps along with The Shadow of Yesterday's Keys) are an excellent mechanic for putting those issues into the hands of the players rather than having them feel imposed-upon by a GM or a group. There are a few examples of women characters who are not well-turned, but even if it's not a bullseye, this game gets a lot of credit from me for aiming at a difficult target and hitting at least within the first ring (to extend the metaphor.)

The game also replaces the normal FATE 3.0 "Spin" with a third "Swing Die" which you can earn, and then spend in future rolls. (It uses the d6-d6 FATE setup rather than Fate dice.) This is a pretty cool way of putting the application of Spin into the hands of the player and prevents something I've seen in other FATE games, which is people scratching their heads trying to figure out how to Spin something that doesn't really fit so that people don't feel like it's wasted. This is a really good solution to that - it shifts the probabilities significantly but doesn't necessarily make it a slam dunk. (You can put your Swing Die on top of your pile of Fate chips too - a nice stack of your player resources that you have available whenever you're planning for a roll.)

There are a number of ways this product could be improved:

For example, the stunt list doesn't hyperlink to the description of each stunt, so the list itself is pretty worthless.

There's no real explanation of what the NPCs are for or how you decide what NPC stats should be. The advice is just "try to keep it balanced with the player characters", which is sort of bad advice given that there's likely to be 3-4 player characters for each villain, and player characters may have a HUGE swing in their abilities to face off against the villain, since they can buy their skills all the way up to +8 from character creation. This is fine for the somewhat lighthearted/cartoony source material, but can easily lead to one or two characters walking off with the game and leaving others feeling useless without some clear guidance on how to create opposition (or tighter instructions at character creation).

I'm not super thrilled with the handouts. While it's nice to see them divided up, the monospace font makes it hard to work out/remember where things are. (I guess they're a good starting point and I'm glad they're there because all games should have handouts in their PDFs, what are you gonna do, make me go to your website? My mouse only clicks so many times per game, pal.) Also, the stunt section of the character sheet doesn't really give enough space to explain some of the more complicated stunts.

I actually rated this one a bit lower at first because of the difficulty in getting from the player characters to a workable scenario, but I have to reviewer tilt up one because it chases after something very specific, something rarely seen these days, and comes a lot closer than I thought it might when I first began reading the introduction. All in all, this is a pretty special game and it's one that I've returned to many times.

[4 of 5 Stars!]
Agents of S.W.I.N.G.
Publisher: Postmortem Studios
by Chris H. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/26/2012 15:23:00

Let's talk about a fun little game called Agents of S.W.I.N.G. It came out from Postmortem Studios and was written by James Desborough (you may have heard of him). I'm writing this review because because this is a cool little game that deserves the attention, and because James is a creator who also deserves the attention. Now, I'm not a fan of everything that Postmortem does, but I am a fan of this game.

Agents of S.W.I.N.G. uses a Fate 3.0 hack at its core, but unlike many other of the contemporary Fate hacks, this version is a bit more streamlined than what you are going to find in other third party builds. Don't let that 344 pages on the RPGNow fool you because Agents of S.W.I.N.G. is a digest-sized book, unlike the letter-sized books that the other Fate hacks have been. If Agents had been done in a letter size it would have been a much slimmer book.

James shows an understanding of the underlying concepts and mechanics of the Fate rules when he digs in and streamlines the mechanics to get to what he wants to do with them. I'll get back to that in just a bit because I want to talk about the setting, and then get back to how the rules make this setting work. Agents of S.W.I.N.G. is a solid game that everyone who enjoys cinematic, fast-paced espionage gaming should own.

Agents of S.W.I.N.G. is a game of Swinging 60s British Spy-Fi television and movies.Shows like The Avengers, The Man From UNCLE, Danger Man and The Prisoner are the basis of this game. For those who might not know about Spy-Fi, Wikipedia gives a nice definition:

It often uses a secret agent (solo or in a team) or superspy whose mission is a showcase of science fiction elements such as technology and ideas used for extortion, plots for world domination or world destruction, futuristic weapons, gadgets and fast vehicles that can travel on land, fly, or sail on or under the sea. Spy-fi does not necessarily present espionage as it is practiced in reality. It is escapist fantasy that emphasizes glamour, adventure and derring-do.

This isn't a game, or setting of gritty espionage, like the current James Bond movies or the spate of Bourne movies, but one that embraces the pulpiness of the genre. Agents of S.W.I.N.G. is a game where John Drake can rub elbows with the Doctor and go off and fight Communist tyranny. In fact, if you look closely at the extensive collection of NPCs in the book you might just find analogues for both of those characters. There is even plenty of support for the Sci-Fi gadgetry that is so important to this genre.

Then we get to Fate. As we all know, Fate 3.0 is the engine that was built for Evil Hat's Spirit of the Century game, a high-flying game of pulp adventure, that has been adapted to be used for everything from urban fantasy to space opera to traditional fantasy games. The inherent pulpiness of Fate makes it a great match for this genre. James then streamlines and customizes the rules in his build, to make the rules fit into the concepts of Spy-Fi even better. One of the fundamental (to me) changes is the change to the adjective ladder of Fate. Fate (and the Fudge rules from which it is derived) is built around the concept of the adjective ladder as both a tool for descriptions and as the core resolution mechanic. This is the adjective ladder used in Agents of S.W.I.N.G.:

8: Out of sight 7: Far out 6: Fab 5: Groovy 4: Neat 3: Solid 2: Hip 1: Cool 0: Yawn -1: Bent -2: Crummy -3: Bummer

James cooked the Swinging 1960s London right into the core of the system. This is a good thing, because the rules help to reinforce the mindset of the setting and pull the players both into the setting and their characters. Each time you roll the dice in Agents of S.W.I.N.G. you are sucked into thinking like someone in Swinging London.

Agents of S.W.I.N.G. introduces a point-buy system to Fate that does away with pyramids and extensive stunts and perquisites. The point buy system for Skills in this game is particularly good (and time saving). Something that I plan to use should I run another Fate game myself. Basically, what James does is make each rank worth a point (so a skill purchased at Hip costs 2 points and a skill purchased at Groovy costs 5 points) and then gives starting characters 20 points with which to purchase skills. You can get a surprisingly adept character out of this method, which I am sure was the point. Stunts are similarly broken down and streamlined.

You can find an expanded review over at my blog: http://dorkland.blogspot.com/2012/06/lets-talk-about-agents-of-swing.html

[4 of 5 Stars!]
Agents of S.W.I.N.G.
Publisher: Postmortem Studios
by Emlyn F. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 02/05/2012 02:27:37

I must humbly disagree with the other reviews. I own every FATE game on the market, as well as having looked at every fan-hack I've found available—and I find Agents of SWING the most amateurish, irritating version I've seen, and I am very angry I paid even $10 for it.

The layout is ugly and hard to read, without any pictures or even tables (equipment chapter notwithstanding) to break up the monotype text. The sections are badly organized, with tons of concepts laid out without explanation or even a reassuring "we'll get to this later"—a notable example being the dice section, which describes getting three dice, and setting one aside... and not explaining what to do with that third die until five pages later. SWING's "sections" are also laid out long before explaining what relevance they will have to the game, and the long section laying out (seemingly random) events from the sixties and seventies didn't spark any ideas on how to incorporate those ideas into a game. Even the core combat concept of "zones" is ONLY explained in the "handouts" chapter in the back of the book. The writers pulled a lot of their material from the other FATE products, and I have no problem with that. However, when you're going to change the terminology, change it consistently: The "Minions" conceit from Spirit of the Century is used interchangeably with the term "Goons" throughout the book.

The balance of the game is also thrown off in bizarre fashions from other FATE products. FATE games universally use a skill "pyramid" or "column" to ensure its characters represent relatively well-rounded individuals, and incorporate a maximum skill level a character can purchase a skill at, usually +3 to +5, depending on the game. SWING not only allows characters to take skills without any balance, they can go up to the top level possible on the results ladder, +8. This means that a character could take Guns at +8, making it impossible for virtually any other character to defend, and meaning that in all likelihood, the character will regularly roll results well above the levels the game is designed to handle or even has terms for. Other bizarre decisions include removing stunts from being associated with skills (a fairly common practice), but without replacing it with rules for building your own stunts, resulting in a long list of uncategorized stunts (repeated twice throughout the book before they are described) and stripping away skill "trappings," making the skills more "rules-lite," but so ill-defined they seem very difficult to use in play.

The SWINGERS chapter is simply bizarre: nearly forty characters laid out without explanation on how to use them—are they intended pre-generated PCs? NPCs? Only a couple are described as support staff, the rest seem like they could only be pre-gens... but what do you need with thirty-odd pregenerated PCs, especially when the much more useful "villains" chapter is anemic and undersupported in comparison. A facet of this chapter that I'm torn on is that most (if not all, I'm not terribly well-versed with 60s spy fiction) of the characters appear to be licensed characters with their serial numbers filed off: "John Chain" is James Bond, "Number 8" is Number 6 from the Prisoner, "Joanna Pare and James Ryde" are Emma Peel and John Steed, even "The Professor" is the Third Doctor of "Doctor Who." While it's kind of fun to see game stats for these pop culture icons, I think more general, genre-appropriate but original characters (as shown in the original FATE game, Spirit of the Century) would be much more useful and effective.

I like the idea of a swinging sixties spy-fi game, especially one that takes advantage of the innovative and elegant FATE ruleset. This, however, is not that game. All of the game's good ideas (with the possible exception of the SWING die, a bonus die you can earn by doing well and spend later to help a bad roll) are taken directly from "Starblazer Adventures," while taking away much of that game's charm. If you want to play James Bond or the Avengers, pick up... ANY other FATE game and spend an evening converting it, instead of wasting ten dollars on this badly-designed, ill-formatted mess.

[1 of 5 Stars!]
Agents of S.W.I.N.G.
Publisher: Postmortem Studios
by Thomas B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 05/26/2011 00:46:28

WHAT WORKS: I think I actually "get" FATE now, in part because of the author's writing and examples, and in part because of my experience with ICONS, which really does work as an "introduction to FATE". The author does a great job, however, especially with providing examples and with laying out the functions of SWING...the part about Sections and what they do in and out of the field is just great work. I admit I'm not up on my Spy-Fi, so I know I missed some references in the SWINGers chapter, but the ones I did catch were pretty great. The art, when used, is pretty evocative of the tone and never overwhelms the book.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: I'm still not sold on FATE as being something me or my normal players would be huge fans of, but that's a personal preference and not a knock on the writing. Really, my biggest complaint is that I think it could have been organized better...especially when you have things like a two page list of Stunts...and later a list of stunts with a quick description...and then a whole chapter devoted to explaining each of the stunts...and then a handout with all those stunts on it. I like quick reference, but that felt excessive. Ultimately, it is a minor complaint as the book never feels "padded" and is certainly not overpriced, in my view. That said, I would have liked a sample treatment on Supernatural and Extranormal adversaries, since a whole section of the Agency is devoted to them.

For my full review, please visit: http://mostunreadblogever.blogspot.com/2011/05/tommys-take-on-agents-of-swing.html

CONCLUSION: I think it says a lot that FATE is considered "rules-lite", but the author got nearly 20 pages of handouts out of the system. Personally, I'm still not sold on FATE outside of the "beginner's version" found in ICONS, BUT this is a well written incarnation that remains focused on what it is trying to do (with the Spy-Fi genre). As mentioned above, I would have liked a few examples of using supernatural type opposition, since there is a whole Section of the Agency dedicated to it, especially for GMs who have little prior FATE experience to draw from.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Agents of S.W.I.N.G.
Publisher: Postmortem Studios
by Judd G. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 05/22/2011 09:42:35

A pitch perfect rendition of the genre mixed with a light and tight FATE backbone. This game has much to recommend it: 60's styling, genre background info, and sample characters that are most of the signature characters of the genre with teh serial numbers filed off. Groups looking to run a "League of Extraordinarily Groovy Gentlemen" style game, a homage to an old favorite, or just set out on that show you wished they'd made will be very hard-pressed to find a game better suited.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Agents of S.W.I.N.G.
Publisher: Postmortem Studios
by Andrew F. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 05/21/2011 07:55:54

This is an excellent game that perfectly captures the feel of the 60s and 70s "spy-fi" genre. It can be used to emulate anything from James Bond (from the serious early and latest movies to the goofiest of the Moore movies from the 70s) to The Prisoner to The Avengers to Austin Powers. It is a worthy successor to Spycraft as the go-to game for action-oriented superspy adventures.

The game uses the excellent FATE system and it keeps that "pulpy" feel from earlier FATE games Spirit of the Century and Star Blazer Adventures. It expands some mechanics (organization rules), cleans up some rules (skills and stunts), and introduces some interesting new twists of its own (Swing dice). It also includes lots of examples, including sample characters, vehicles and organizations.

Don't let the page count intimidate you. The physical book is a nice, tidy, compact digest-sized book. It's neatly organized and easy to flip through.

Agents of S.W.I.N.G is a good buy for anyone looking for an action spy game or any fans of the FATE system.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Agents of S.W.I.N.G.
Publisher: Postmortem Studios
by Tim L. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 05/20/2011 09:39:46

This is how you write a FATE or Fudge game. Clear organization, plenty of sample characters. Even an adventure. Although based off Starblazers and Legends of Anglerre, it is light enough to play on its own.

Favorite bits: the characters, everything from Emma Peal-inspred Avengers to The Doctor (circa John Pertwee) to a Moriarty-style Fu Manchu. The only FATE/Fudge game to change the attribute ratings (instead of a character being Average, they are Yawn. Instead of Mediocre, they are Bent; Good is Cool). I also enjoy the silohettes that may be traced for easy character drawings (as on the cover). The tone can range from somewhat ludicrous to serious and cinematic (or seriously cinematic). To use one of the adjectives on their own ladder: Far Out.

Take the strong Mature Audiences Only Warning seriously. I counted at least one f-bomb, but in context it made perfect sense.

One of the best written and easiest games. I went and ordered the paper back. It's that good.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
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