Part 1 - Review
While a reivew of a game is good, there is nothing quite like actually playing it. Since there was a request for information on how it runs, it seemed like a great excuse to get one of my groups together and put Double Cross through the paces.
Stating the obvious, this game isn't for everyone. Not every game has to be, nor should it be. Double Cross is no exception to that. That being said, all of the players and myself enjoyed Double Cross a great deal, despite some of the stumbling that we encountered. Be aware, it doesn't necessarily play how it reads, for better or worse.
What it offers is a game that has a tight narrative structure. The Encroachment mechanic keeps each scene focused and players generally don't feel the need to get involved in every interaction. This keeps the action moving forward and reduces events from getting bogged down; everyone was invested in maintaining the pacing.
Some groups may find this to be a bug, rather than a feature. If players are likely to be distracted if not directly involved in a given scene, then a structure where everyone has something to do in a given scene will be important to maintain. In a more global sense, this means that your scene economy will likely be reduced as players accumulate more Encroachment simply by interacting with the world around them.
The session was overall low intensity; I was more interested in getting a feel for things than really stressing the limits. Even then, I expected Encroachment to be a more significant issue than it was. Whenever the opportunity presented itself, every character let loose with the biggest combo at their disposal. Despite having no restraint whatsoever, only one character was in danger of becoming a Gjaum at the end of the session, and they backtracked from the edge.
Behind this disparity is, without a doubt, how combat proceeded. Since I wasn't familiar with the nuances of how the powers interacted on my first read-through, I decided to trust in the wisdom of the pregens. While this wasn't strictly a mistake, none of the characters at the table had a defensive ability to their name. One NPC had a defensive ability, though it was okay, and the other just had a big sack of hit points.
The overall impact of this is that there were four glass cannons at the table. The fifth character, Evergreen Apostle, was... really boring. Don't let anyone play that character as written (there are better ways to put together a support character in the system). Without fail, if a PC took damage, they were taken out. Luckily, there are a variety of ways to bring them back into the fight, so it wasn't really a deal. At the same time, they could dispense with ridiculous quantities of violence as well.
For example: In the first combat, the antagonist was downed with the first attack. Then I realized he had a guard ability (see below). My players graciously allowed him to use his power and live, take someone down, then go down to the very next attack against him.
There are two forms of defense: dodging and guarding. The former is all or nothing, the latter reduces the damage you take. They are mutually exclusive and it is a very straightforward setup, which is nice and easy to communicate. None of the characters had anything that really impacted this. Dodging was pretty useless since attack pools were considerably higher and invariably reduced the result required to critical.
An aside: Typically 10 is a critical, allowing you to reroll until you don't roll a critical. Some powers allow you to reduce this number, 7 being a common limit. When you reroll a 7, it still counts as a 10. The end result is relatively fast to deal with, since you are just counting the rerolls, rather than adding up all of the dice (you only take the highest number rolled).This is very effective and worth doing every time you get the chance. When rolling against someone that has not reduced their critical, it isn't a competition.
The good news is that there are a number of powers for each Syndrome that can affect this in interesting and thematic ways. Some have powers that give them bonuses to dodging (which allows you to reduce that critical value), others give bonuses to guard to directly reduce damage. Some: all of the above. None of the pregens had them. Any of them. So keep that in mind.
There is a certain amount of system mastery required to begin to take advantage of the power structure. It isn't difficult to acquire that system mastery in the first place, which is always a bonus for everyone. The Syndromes don't have any hidden traps and a specialist and a generalist can each be effective.
While everything moves quickly when it is tallied out ahead of time, if your players start combining powers on the fly, things can potentially slow down. This is where the system mastery really comes in. There are some simple and straightforward guidelines on what can be combined, but there is also a lot of information to process. If they want some variety, I would suggest putting together a few different combinations on notecards (one listing for below 100% Encroachment, another for over 100%) and just using those.
As I indicated at the beginning, Double Cross is a fun game. The crunch is quite crunchy, but it isn't complicated and there is a sense reward behind that for some players. I honestly wouldn't consider my players really into mechanics, they certainly don't shy away from them, but it's not their thing. Despite that, they picked up on everything quickly and at least seemed to have fun with the mechanics. Which is a definite plus.
It plays quickly and has a nice narrative structure; if you have long enough and/or your players really keep up the pace, you could easily fit two scenarios into a session. Just play your first scenario knowing that mistakes will be made and to roll with it; it should all fall into place without too much effort. Plain and simple: my group had fun, despite the fumbling around at times. That is a pretty good litmus test for how it will go when everyone is familiar with the game - also, they are interested in playing it again.