We've become numb to saving entire fantasy kingdoms and delivering whole galaxies from miserable slavery. So when a game strolls along with a new theme, it stands out by a country mile.
In the case of Spymaster, where you co-ordinate agents in Nazi-occupied France, it's not only new, but superb material for a game. Playing it for the first time is one of those startling "why has no one done this before?" moments.
Rather than the stealth game you might have expected with that background, this is a light strategy affair.London Calling
Each mission has you completing a series of tasks within a fixed time limit. Your agents must fly into Europe, recruit spy rings, transmit intelligence, and sabotage buildings. Meanwhile they'll need to be alert to avoid the clutches of the dreaded Gestapo.
Mostly it's just about co-ordinating actions to make the best use of your time. You won't have much chance of successfully blowing up that factory if you haven't collected some intel, or rustled up support from the local resistance first.
Of course, there are plenty of spanners in the works. Often, you won't know where your target is, and will have to waste precious turns locating it.
And when your activities raise enemy suspicions, the Gestapo will get on your tail. Then you need to stay away from their investigating agents.Spies vs Spies
Your spies are their own worst enemies, however. As they prowl around, they accumulate stress, and they seem to get stressed very easily. Stress leads to mistakes and mistakes lead to injuries.
Either way you'll incur a significant turn penalty while the agent rests up. The big difference is that injured spies can't go on another mission until they're healed.
Healing means either waiting for a timer to tick down, or paying gold. And, you guessed it, gold is the premium currency bought with real-world cash in this free to play game.
For the most part Spymaster doesn't rub your nose in its commercial mechanics. You start with some gold and can earn more for succeeding in missions. But the game has an awful lot of cunning ways to drain your reserves.Secret Agents
It's got a neat role-playing element for starters. Spies have different specialities like Saboteur or Assassin, each with a customisable skill tree.
As agents gain experience, you can tailor them to your play style. It's well done, and it's pleasingly addictive to watch them grow and diversify.
But training costs gold, and puts them out of action for a while. So you spend more gold on recruiting a new agent. Who then gets injured, so you spend more to keep them in the field. By which time your other spy is back in circulation but your new recruit needs training.
It's a treadmill paved with gold, but it's a surprisingly fun experience to keep it going round. The game makes the absolute most of its unusual premise with a powerful sense of tension and atmopshere.
Sabotage runs are a highlight, with the game storifying your efforts by randomly stringing together text snippets from a large store.
Licensed to Kill
The game uses that palpable narrative and the slow burn of agent training to help build a bond between you and your team. These are your spies, your responisbility.
That's an impressive achievement, right up to the point when one of your precious scions is captured by the Nazis and you have to pay eighty gold to get them back.
This is the point where the monetization scheme shows its teeth, and it's a shame. There are warning signs, of course - injured agents becoming more common and needing longer waits to heal.
But up until capture, the free to play model seems fair. Afterwards, it feels like blackmail.
You can, however, have a lot of fun with this title before it bites. And of course you can choose to take the setback and carry on, or pay the developer some money for your entertainment.
It's just a shame that Spymaster heads down the free to play route, when it could have been a truly impressive premium title.