Designed by Donald Shults, Freelancers is the latest game in Plaid Hat's 'Crossroads' series, which began in 2014 with Dead of Winter. Not that this game is anything like Dead of Winter. Freelancers is a light, fully cooperative game for 3-7 players set in a post-apocalyptic fantasy world. There are few zombies and no traitors :-) Art is by Chris Bryan, Allison Carl, Sam Mameli, Sean McCoy and Karl Stjernberg.
We should probably make clear upfront that Freelancers is an app-driven game. You'll need to either download the app to your computer or run it in realtime on your smartphone or tablet: this is a boardgames with no shortage of components but the app is integral to the game and you can't play Freelancers without it. That said, it's a very well-designed app. It has to be because it is essentially functioning as your Games Master. It sets the scene, helps you set the game up, reads you the unfolding story, and presents you with options and their consequences. One beauty of this is that players can come to the game with little or no rules overhead: you really can pretty much set up and play.
Players are the post-apocalyptic equivalent of a band of Dungeons & Dragons adventurers. You pair a race and trait/job sheet together to create your character; again, these build on well-trodden D&D/RPG tropes but they throw in some early surprises so that, for example, you can end up as an Troll Divorcee. An early inkling that this is a tongue-in-cheek game.
Characters will be moving between locations on a map (one of five supplied with the game) but when they arrive at a location, they find its double-page spread in a foldout book and characters need to choose, worker placement style, the places to go at that location. You'll be pulling tokens from a bag to populate the party's Threat Dial, and that also acts as a game timer. You'll also be rolling dice for skill checks, encountering Story Cards and collecting Treasure Cards as you follow each adventure through and try to level up in the process.
Gameplay may be light but what really makes Freelancers shine is the strength of the story. It's engaging, immersive and well-written, and the voice acting is great, as you'll discover if you turn on that facility in the app rather than reading the text yourselves. There's humour throughout, and you've the option to tone down the language if you are playing with older children and/or want to avoid a NSFW (Not Safe For Work) classification.
Not all of Plaid Hat's Crossroads games have matched the success of Dead of Winter; Gen 7, for example, wasn't bad but it didn't live up to its early promise, mainly due to repetitive gameplay and a story that wasn't wholly engaging. You certainly won't find that an issue with Freelancers: it's a highly entertaining cooperative experience. Everyone in the Board's Eye View team who played the game has clamoured to come back to explore the next map and story.