Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Shadowrun: Crossfire

The world of Shadowrun. I have a lot of experience with the Shadowrun universe. I got introduce to the setting with a short lived 3rd edition role playing campaign. I found the setting interesting but I was not a fan of the 3rd edition game mechanics. My next experience with Shadowrun was the 4th edition system and that was my sweet spot. I have lost count how many 4th edition games I've been apart of. I'm sure I've been in two or three short lived games that I've forgotten everything about them. I've also been in two difference 4th edition games that last well over a year each and many, many other games that last in between those two extremes. I have not played 5th edition yet but I have not like what I heard about it. I have a slight issue with some of the game mechanics of 5th edition but that is minor grievances. My initial dislike of it deals with the setting. You see each edition is not just an overhaul of how the game is played but in many ways nearly different settings. 3rd edition takes place in the 2060s, 4th edition starts in 2072 and 5th is 2075. The world of Shadowrun also had earth-shattering world changing events between each of the editions which is the main reason the editions feels so different. There is so much more I could say about the Shadowrun setting and most likely I will say more in the future but the focus of this post is about the deck building game Shadowrun: Crossfire.

I have to say Crossfire was not the Shadowrun game I thought I would be talking about on Chaos Magic. I first heard about Crossfire when I was looking into the game Shadowrun: Sprawl Gangers. I learned that Catalyst Game Labs had planned on doing a massive event called "The Year of Shadowrun". The idea was to release several different types of games set in the Shadowrun universe during a 2 year time period; board games, role playing games, computer games and more. The first year of the event, 2013, was suppose to see the release of Crossfire, the 5th edition version of the role playing game and Sprawl Gangers. Being the miniature gamer that I am, out of the three I was most excited about Sprawl Gangers. While I didn't like where they took the setting, I would still love to play a tactical game with colorful minis in the Shadowrun mythos. Shadowrun has elves, dwarves, high-powered guns, cybernetic implants, magic, hacking and dragons! Fun. Of course that was the plan. How did that turn out? Well, Crossfire is out, 5th editions is out, Sprawl Gangers is ... not. The latest information I found on it has the designers saying they are still working on it and the game will be release ... eventually. So I kind of zone out on Shadowrun events. Until two weeks ago when a friend brought Crossfire over for board game night. Before I played it the only thing I knew about Crossfire was that it was a game Catalyst Game Labs was working on that wasn't Sprawl Gangers.

After an evening of playing two games and not getting very far I had too strong impressions of the game. One, its a really, REALLY hard game and two, I love it! Shadowrun: Crossfire is a cooperative deck building game that captures the feel of the setting very well. The game can be played with 2-4 players. There are four roles to play as, each with a corresponding color and deck of cards. You need to defeat enemies called "obstacles" to complete objectives and earn resources needed to purchase more cards. Unlike most other deck building games (or at least the ones I've played) there are no resource cards. Instead tokens are used to buy new cards so there is no issue about having the right cards to purchase. Having the right cards to do damage is a different story. There are 5 types of damage in the game; spell, weapon, skill, hacking and neutral. The initial decks can do each of the first 4 damage types but they specialize in one. The neutral damage type can only be used when a specific type is not required. The obstacles have multiple levels that need to be destroyed in order and it either takes a single point of a specific damage type (one of the first four) or multiple points of any type of damage to destroy a level. In addition to picking a role players also need to pick a race. Each race (human, elf, dwarf, ork and troll) have different starting hand size, hit points and nuyen which is the Shadowrun currency. There are also some effects that are race specific. In Shadowrun even the best design plans go up in smoke due to some unforeseen event. Shadowrun: Crossfire mimics this potential chaos with the amply named Crossfire deck. The Crossfire deck is played at the beginning of every game turn and its contents changes the rules of the game to the detrimental of the players. Limiting the number of cards that can be played, increasing the damage obstacles do or even allowing obstacles to heal are some of the effects from the Crossfire deck. At the beginning of the turn the current Crossfire card is discarded and a new one enters play. The number of cards in the Crossfire discard pile can affect other abilities. For example some obstacles have effects that only happens or are worst if there is a certain number of cards in the discard pile. To win players need to work together, plan their moves ahead and be ready to adapt to changes caused by the Crossfire deck.

As I said, this is a hard game. In my experience most board games seemed to be design so that new players has a good chance at winning on their first time. Some of those games give options to make their game harder so seasoned players can challenge themselves. This is not the design choice for Shadowrun: Crossfire. New players of Crossfire have almost no chance of winning their first game or even their fifth! However for those that stick with it and tries to learn and then master the game, I can then see people winning more often that they lose. If you like your board games to be more of a casual affair then Shadowrun: Crossfire is probably not for you unless you don't mind losing a lot and can find at least one other like-minded individual.

Another aspect of the board game that I enjoy is a built in campaign system. If the entire team survives the mission they earn karma. Between missions players can spend karma on upgrades for their character. These upgrades can provide a variety of effects such as an increased starting hand, nuyen or hit points or something more unique like being able to pay 2 nuyen to draw a card once a turn. To maintain the games brutal difficulty, you get a penalty to the karma rewards based on how much karma you already have. For example the karma reward for the default mission is 3. If you have already earned between 11 and 30 karma then the reward is only 2. Missions do have options to increase the difficulty for an increase in the karma reward. One problem I have with the game is that it only comes with three missions and one of those missions recommends the runners to already have 70 karma. There are a few more missions on their website and it sounds like the second expansion for the game will also have more missions. Still I would have prefer the base game to have between four and seven playable missions for new characters.

One last thing about Shadowrun: Crossfire. The game has inspired me to develop a show. I will create several characters and record their progress during a campaign using all of Catalyst Game Labs rules as is. The show should showcase how to play the game ... or showing me putting a lot of effort into losing spectacularly. Either way it should be fun. The first step will be posting character bio on Chaos Magic. Each bio will be their name, race, preferred role and background history to give the character some life. The first episode or two will be a two player game. So far I have only one friend who have played the game enough that I feel they are ready to try this without it being a train wreck. Phil and myself spent this past Friday afternoon playing Crossfire many times and if we were keeping those characters, those characters would have earn 13 karma. The next time we get together we are going to make characters with 70 points of upgrades and test out the Dragon Fight mission. After that we will probably recording the show the following week. As a side project, I will take some of the episodes from the show and write out a narrative short story version of what happen. A few of those and I should have an interest flush out Shadowrun mythos here. Now if Sprawl Gangers ever gets release afterwards, I could immediately do a miniature campaign that has a rich history...

Until next time. You can buy your own copy of Shadowrun: Crossfire here. Or you can visit Catalyst Game Labs.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Dealing with a Mistake - War Journal: Flames of War - Tigers in the Mud

First the newest episode of War Journal: Flames of War podcast is up. You can get it here or at iTunes.

Next I want to talk about an issue that came up with episode 6, Tigers in the Mud. Episode 6 was suppose to have 6 segments and we did record 6. While editing the "That's New" segment, we realize we made a mistake with a rule. You would think the difference between making a check at half and making a check at more than half is a minor thing. However this type of error is what ruined the entire segment. The core of our discussion dealt with platoon morale checks for armored vehicles. The dreaded example we were using was a platoon of four vehicles, 1 operational, 1 bailed out, 1 bogged down and 1 destroyed. For this type of check you ignore the bailed out and bogged down vehicles. That left the 1 operational and 1 destroyed vehicles. We assumed this was a platoon morale check and that assumption was used as the basis of the rest of the discussion. This is NOT a check. You need MORE than half of the unit to be destroyed to require a platoon morale check. We needed either the bailed out or bogged down vehicle to be destroyed instead or added a fifth vehicle that was destroyed for the example to be correct. That means all the various scenarios we talked about while correct on their own their own, in the overall context was wrong because of our previous mistake. We had an disagreement on what to do. I wanted to either record short correction to go with the segment or record a new segment where we talked about our mistake. I felt that outside the error, the segment still had value and though we had some good dialogue in it which included a call back to our mid war battle. Tracy wanted to either drop the segment or rerecord it. Given that it was late at the time and the final episode was over an hour long, dropping it was the correct decision. Still I felt the need to explain what happen which is why I'm writing this post.

We really dodge a bullet this time. We were over half way done editing before we realize the mistake. That means we were really close to releasing a podcast that got game rules really wrong. That is unacceptable to us. While the podcast is our thoughts and opinions on Flames of War, segments like "That's New", "Keep Your Enemies Close", and others like them that are about game rules need to be accurate. For nearly releasing false information I am truly sorry. We will be watchful for errors in the future. That said, mistakes happen. I have learned from mine and I am moving on. If you ever hear us get a game rule wrong please contact us and let us know. Please enjoy the episode and have a good game.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Himmlisch Drachen Stamm

I have not gotten much work done on my models as I would have like this year and I've gotten even less done on my Flames of War stuff. That said I have spent a lot of time thinking about my fantasy Flames of War force. Ideas are still in flux but I'm beginning to have a framework for how my fictional army is organized and the in-game, on the table composition of my force. For now I am calling my nation Himmlisch Drachen Stamm which should be German for Heavenly Dragon Clan. I thought this would be fitting as I used to name my German list on Easy Army after dragons: Blue Dragon, Fire Dragon, Eastern Dragon and so on. Continuing with this theme I will be naming my companies after dragons as well. When I started playing Flames of War I knew nothing of how real armies are organized. Since starting the War Journal podcast I have learn more about how German was organized during World War 2. I'm still no expert but I now have the desire to learn more. I will be adapting what I learn to my dragon companies so my fictional Himmlisch Drachen Stamm can somewhat mirror historic WWII Germany.

As for what my Himmlisch Drachen Stamm will look like on the table, I have a little more concrete ideas for that. Since I've started playing Mid War I have gain a liking for Italy. That means my army will be a mix of German and Italy forces on the gaming table. The storyline behind Himmlisch Drachen Stamm will be that of a single nation, not two ally nations. From here on I will be purchasing items from two separate intelligence briefings. An Italian mid war briefing that will most likely be the Parachute Company in the North Africa book. The other briefing will be something from the Bridge of Remagen book which will give me a late war German force to use. Once I have enough assembled models to make lists from either briefing, the next step will be to pick up the Fortress Italy book. Hopefully I can find an intelligence briefing in it that would allow me to use elements from both of my previous lists. I am undecided on how I will paint my force. Right now I am leading towards painting infantry in mostly historic colors while vehicles would be half historic, half my own creation. It doesn't help that none of the paint I currently own lends itself to being historically accurate. I will be designing my own logo to have on my vehicles instead of the Iron Cross.

As I write this I realize after playing Flames of War for almost two years I am still at the beginning of my hobby. I suppose it make sense given that I have invested most of what little resources I have into other games. Also until recently I had no idea of what I wanted my army to look like and even now I just have a rough draft. But I now have a direction where to head towards. While I can't paint anything until I decide on my schemes (and get those colors), I can have my vehicle assembled and primed. Infantry I want fully painted before I glue them to their base so it will be a while before I can finish my Volkssturm Platoon. My two Wirbelwinds on the other hand will be on the gaming table much sooner. Once they are assemble my next purchase will include my personal favorite tank, the Jagdtiger...