Jason recaps the events from Agents of Edgewatch S3|10: The Plan Is, There Is No Plan!
I bring you greetings from Pittsburgh, the land of collapsing bridges. If you’d like the slimmest of gaming tie-ins between this column and tabletop role-playing games, my brother and I used to walk from our home community (Edgewood) to our local gaming store in Squirrel Hill and cross that bridge in both directions. I TRANSPORTED A FIEND FOLIO ACROSS THAT BRIDGE 35 YEARS AGO, DAMNIT!
(To indulge in the briefest of asides, even though the photos make the bridge look like it’s in the middle of nowhere, Forbes Avenue is actually a major traffic artery linking the east suburbs with the Oakland section of town where the universities are. So that bridge got a LOT of car traffic and several major bus routes daily. We’re lucky it collapsed at 6 am when no one was on it.)
Sorry. We don’t make the national news often. Gotta make the most of it.
We start this week with a show… not even note, really… more of a rumination. We’ve actually had a little bit of a difficult time getting the show going after the holidays. We took the time between Christmas and New Years’ off as a planned break. So far, so good… time with family and friends, wholesome stuff like that. But coming back from the break has been a scheduling minefield: Chris’ mic broke one week, I got tickets to the Steeler game another, John and Seth both came down sick… as such, until last night, we had conducted ONE session since mid-December.
The glass-half-full (particularly for our Patreon live listeners): we’re still here. We’ve had a run of bad luck in terms of scheduling, but this isn’t us disappearing into the witness protection program. But this IS the long-winded way of saying we’ve burned up some of our runway, and we might reach a point where we have to shorten up our shows to conserve material like the Three-Ring show did. Steve would know more as the person who edits things, but in terms of the break itself, we ended up being off longer than the circus crew was out last summer.
Getting into this week’s episode, it’s all about finishing up the prep work and getting ready for the big gala. I have to admit that I’m struggling with this whole premise. I’m not saying it’s BAD, but I’m having trouble wrapping my brain around it.
The first is kind of a petty point: I’m not crazy about the plot artifice that we have to do the heist on the day of the gala. There’s (theoretically) no time constraint on getting the bomb out of the box since the bad guys can’t get to it. In theory, there’s no reason we couldn’t develop a plan to steal the key and go into the box over days or even weeks. So why are we choosing to go in on the day when security is at its highest and people who don’t belong there will stand out like a sore thumb?
But I get it… that’s how a heist plot works: the stakes and challenges have to be high. Invisibility sphering into his room, stealing the key, making a copy, and then coming back days or weeks later as legit customers isn’t nearly as exciting. Objection withdrawn.
What makes me nervous is the overall lack of direction. Now, in gaming, we sometimes talk about bad games “running on rails” where the players don’t really have any agency and they’re just there to perform the actions they are presented with. If anything, this infiltration feels like it could actually use some rails.
One thing I noticed about the heist genre in general that’s absent here: the heroes in those stories always have pretty meticulous knowledge about what they need to do. Whether it’s Mission Impossible, Ocean’s Eleven, The Italian Job… the heroes always have enough knowledge to lay the puzzle out in advance, so the viewer knows exactly how insurmountable the task is.
There are pressure sensors in the floor tiles. The door to the vault is on a voiceprint scan so we have to get a recording of someone saying the code phrase. The laser grid can only be deactivated for three seconds and has to be performed at two separate terminals at the same time.
One thing I noticed, both as Dougie was taking his tour and as Gomez was going in as part of the cleaning crew, was that not only do we not have that knowledge; it was almost impossible to tell what we should be focusing on in terms of implementing our plan and what was just filler. As I was listening (then and now), I’d have these reactions of “oh, I wonder if that’s important”. Even now, two months after we played through this, I find myself wondering “oh should we have used that instead?”.
The guards don’t go into the bathrooms with the cleaning crew: can we use that? There’s a secret space in Carlyle’s office, but it doesn’t appear to be the vault itself: could that be where he keeps the key when he sleeps? Is the loud-mouth casino patron Gage seems to avoid plot-important or just obnoxious? Are the flying chairs truly something we can use, or just flavor to show how advanced and sophisticated the casino’s technology is? (And to make it easier for the head of security to come to kick our asses if we mess up.)
I can respect that the adventure is trying to give players choice and room to make their own plan, and there are probably some groups that are going to Ethan Hunt the crap out of this. But for my tastes, there’s almost too much choice. It almost cuts against the heist genre they’re trying to replicate, which is all about knowing EXACTLY what you have to do and just having to execute it – possibly by demonstrating skill, but also by handling curveballs when things don’t go as planned. And it makes me nervous because we get one shot at this, and if the plan we come up with is a blind alley, what do we do then? Let’s say we build our plan entirely around infiltrating Carlyle’s private quarters, but then he spends the entire gala down on the floor and we never see him or the key. What then?
The gossip about the disgruntled wizard made for an interesting addition that could play out in a couple of different ways. My first impulse was that this guy might BE the bread crumbs I was hoping to find, that he represents Help From Unlikely Places. That is, this wizard is pissed at Gage and has been thinking about how to get into the vault for a while now, so if we find the wizard we can piggyback onto whatever plans he might have. But then Seth suggested – and this is a bit more meta-gamey – that maybe he’s the “distraction” that will give us a window to get the key and/or visit the vault. That possibility got a lot more likely when our attempts to contact him hit a brick wall: if we can’t even get a sniff of him before the event, it’s more likely he’s an event that’s going to unfold on game day. A third possibility is that the wizard is in league with the Twilight Four and he’s going to give the whole thing urgency or we’re going to have to fight him for the bomb. But that feels like a remote possibility, insofar as it sounds like the wizard took out his loan a while ago and is unrelated to this. Also, based on what we know of the Twilight Four, they would probably have practiced better opsec and wouldn’t have a bunch of casino employees blab about their plans.
Within all of this, I got to go on a little in-person recon, checking out the vault itself. Between Dougie and Gomez, we had gotten access to pretty much every inch of the place EXCEPT the vault, so I figured it was worth getting a look, and it also gave us a chance to replicate the key. I suppose that means we’re committing to replacing the real key with a fake. That seems like a pretty tricky thing to accomplish, but hey, that’s what Edge Points are for, I guess.
So as we draw to a close, we’ve got… pieces of a plan. We’re going to go to the gala – Lo Mang working in the kitchen, the rest of us as guests. Dougie will look for an opportunity to swap keys, and then we’ll try to make our way down to the vault. (Not sure how we’re doing this yet.) Go into the box, get the device, get back out, and then swap the keys back so our subterfuge won’t be detected. There’s still a few pieces of that that are theoretical concepts more than an actual “plan” but it’s certainly enough to ride into battle with.
So join us next week when we put on our dancing shoes, rub elbows with polite society, and rob a fairly upstanding businessman to save the world. You know… as cops do. As always, feel free to drop by our Discord channel or other social media and let us know what you think of the show. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week.