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.