Thursday, July 21, 2016

Book Review: Bubblegumshoe

Confession time:  I love mysteries and crime fiction, and nothing hits the nostalgia like teen detective stories: Encyclopedia Brown, Veronica Mars, Lumberjanes, Leave it to Chance, the 3 Investigators, Goldie Vance, Gotham Academy, Durarara!!, Persona 3 & 4, Scooby-Doo, the Hardy Boys, Danganronpa, Atlanta Burns etc.  So I'm an easy mark for these kinds of stories. Ever since Ken Hite mentioned Bubblegumshoe (BGS for short) over a year ago on KARTAS, I've been eagerly awaiting its release.

What is Bubblegumshoe? BGS applies the fantastic GUMSHOE system to the teen detective genre. Your sleuths assemble clues, expose secrets, snarl relationships, avoid the police, solve crimes, and generally get into trouble.  And since it's high school the stakes are incredibly high and incredibly low.  The GUMSHOE skill list is refined to bare necessities and more specialized information is obtained through WHO you know, rather than WHAT you know.

There are three ingredients that differentiate these stories from their adult counterparts: sleuth focused, entangled relationships, and verbal sparring.  When creating a Sleuth you define their place in school through socio-economic class, clique, clubs, etc. and their Goals.  Goals are outside the investigation and ground the character in the larger narrative, ranging from being class president to evading that bully.   Accomplishing your goals feeds into your character's Relationships, increasing their ratings.  Defined by a paradigm, (Like, Love, or Hate) that's how your get access to university book learning and adult resources (a car if the characters don't drive or a weapon from your mom's gun safe for example.)

Physical conflict isn't really a point of focus in these stories, in parallel BGS emphasizes social over physical confrontations. Called Throwdowns, they emulate the verbal cut-and-thrust of teen double speak and questioning. Interpersonal skills fill the role of more traditional fighting skills, allowing the characters a wide array of social tactics to get what they want. Reassurance, intimidation, flirtation, and more provide creative, and complicating, strategies than just talking at GMC's with an anemic diplomacy check.  I could write another blog post about Throwdowns.

One of the best things about GUMSHOE products is the modular campaign drifts and tools provided to assemble your own.  Pelgrane has cracked Bookhounds of London, Mutant City Spies, Shadows Over Filmland, Moondust Men and others.  BGS carries on this great tradition with some great examples in the back covering diverse teen sleuth flavors. For example, want super powered Hogwarts? Danvers Academy fits the bill. What about some sleuths with a weird sidekick? Then Ruby Hollow lets you assemble your own secret riddled township, complete with creepy old men driving down property values dressed as monsters.

The hardcover is only $20, it's the high quality typical for Evil Hat, the pdf is complimentary,  and the game design is top notch. If you're interested in playing teen detective stories then BGS is the best game for the job. Emily Care Boss, Kenneth Hite, and Lisa Steele have outdone themselves capturing the spirit of these stories.