Shadowrun Novels, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

 

Shadowrun, all novels

In a twist to the normal articles about games and gaming, I’d write something about one of the purest forms of fluff that exists in any game setting, it’s line of accompanying novels. First up, probably my 2nd favourite line of fantasy novel, Shadowrun.

Now, before I get into it, I feel it’s worth pointing out that I realise that Shadowrun novels are never going to win any awards, they are masterful works of fiction and they aren’t going to revolutionise the genre. They are trashy, pulp sci-fi novels, of average quality at best, but that doesn’t mean I love them any less , in fact it might just make me love them that bit more because they know what they are they don’t hide it or pretend to be anything different, in fact them embrace it.

I’m not going to go into a huge amount of detail about each book, I’ll give a brief synopsis, my opinion if I have anything to add and then  rating, out of 5.  This will also just include, for now, the dead tree format releases and not the ebooks and enhanced fiction stories. If i haven’t read a book i’ll say so and I’ll update the list as and when I read them.

Into the Shadows, Trade Paprback Cover

Into the Shadows– Original Trade Paperback- The book that started it all. This is an anthology of loosely linked stories, one of which, was later developed into the first book in the Secrets of Power trilogy. It’s not a bad novel but it feels different in tone from the Shadowrun that came later. Image courtesy of http://shadowrun.wikia.com/2.0 Stars (2.0 / 5)

Never Deal With a Dragon, cover

Never Deal with a Dragon– The first in the Secrets of Power trilogy and adapted from the short story Into the Shadows in the previous anthology. It follows the extraction of the wageslave Sam Verner from Renraku and his introduction to the SINless world of Shadowrunners while searching for his sister. This is the book that started my love of Shadowrun and is a key book for anyone who wants to properly understand the horrific dystopian world of 2051.It also introduces several characters and themes that continue to develop in the setting up to the present day.3.0 Stars (3.0 / 5)

Choose Your Enemies Carefully, Cover

Choose Your Enemies Carefully– The second Secrets of Power novel. Sam continues his search for his sister and his own power grows as Sam begins to understand his true nature as a Shaman. Again, not terrible and it certainly conveys the grim tone of 2050. Being English, I like the fact that even this early in the Shadowrun line, England is developed.3.0 Stars (3.0 / 5)

Find Your Own Truth, cover

Find your Own Truth– The third and and final in the Secrets of Power trilogy. Sam undertakes a powerful magic ritual and reenacts the Great Ghost Dance, the event which kickstarted the Awakening in order to save his sister. A magnificently epic end to the series of books and one that really helps to introduce people to the power that can be unleashed by those with the will to do it.3.0 Stars (3.0 / 5)

2XS, Cover

2XS- The first book about Dirk Montgomery and the first book by the best of the Shadowrun authors, Nigel Findley. Dirk is a PI who gets drawn into a plot involving a Megacorporation and an other worldly menace. Not only does the book contain the introduction of dirk but it also introduces the legendary Argent and his team The Wrecking Crew. Fantastic novel that really introduces the threat of Insect Spirits into the setting.5.0 Stars (5.0 / 5)

Changeling, Cover

Changeling– Life as growing up and as a Shadowrunner from the perspective of a human that becomes a Troll. This is an interesting look at the setting as it shows what kind of prejudice a human that goblinizes Troll is subjected to. Overall it’s an average book but with an interesting twist as it is set in both 2039 and 2052.3.0 Stars (3.0 / 5)

Never Trust an Elf, Cover

Never Trust an Elf– This follows one of the characters from the Secrets of Power, Kham, the ork as he gets drawn into a plot involving powerful else an even more powerful dragons. This book also contains a bit of a cameo from Dodger, another of the characters in the Secrets of Power trilogy and possibly the best decker in the world. Despite the characters and the subject matter, I didn’t like this one, I found it hard to read and a struggle to get through.2.0 Stars (2.0 / 5)

Into The Shadows, cover

Into The Shadows– This is a reprint of the Trade Paperback book. The story, Into the Shadows has been changed for another named A Plague of Demons.3.0 Stars (3.0 / 5)

Streets of Blood, cover

Streets of Blood- The first Serrin Shamander and Lord Geraint Llanfechfa novel. This one is set in England in 2054. Honestly, I haven’t read it so I can’t comment any more than that as to how good it is.

Shadowplay, Cover

Shadowplay– Another Nigel Findley novel. The main characters, Sly and Falcon, get embroiled in a plot between Megacorporations that has it’s history grounded in the Crash of 28 and threatens to grow into all out Corporate war. Another great read and one of the better books in the series, i like the fact that it goes into some detail about Cheyenne in the Sioux Nation as this area hasn’t ever really been deeply expanded beyond Native American Nations (1/2?) and the recent Cheyenne in Focus.4.0 Stars (4.0 / 5)

Night's Pawn, cover

Nights Pawn– Getting out the shadows is never easy, as Jason Chase can attest, Megacorporations and interfamily conflict seem to get in the way. This one covers area’s around Denver, as well as travelling to a few other locations in North America and details some of the lesser know professions in Shadowrun, such as smuggling and Coyotes across the American/Aztlan boarder.3.0 Stars (3.0 / 5)

Striper Assassin, cover

Striper Assassin– Striper first appeared in Into the Shadows and then again in the Secrets of Power trilogy. Striper is a were-tiger and an accomplished assassin. This is primarily a revenge plot story set in Philadelphia that provides an interesting insight into the mind of a Shadowrun shapeshifter. I struggled reading this because of the bizarre present tense that it is written in but Striper is a fascinating character and the primal nature of Shadowrun shapeshifters is interesting to explore.2.0 Stars (2.0 / 5)

Lone Wolf, cover

Lone Wolf– Shadowrun from the other side of the law, at least partly, as Lone Star cop Rick Larson takes center stage. As you can expect, something goes wrong and Rick ends up being hunter by Lone Star and needing to resort to getting help from the very people he usually tries to bring down, Shadowrunners. Argent shows up in this one again as does Dirk Montgomery for a very brief cameo. The story in this book actually links, subtly with Nigel Findley’s previous offering, 2XS and with the excellent Shadowrun Retuns game, by Harebrained Schemes.4.0 Stars (4.0 / 5)

Fade to Black, cover

Fade to Black– The first real foray into New York state as an extraction goes wrong for the runner team and they end up being hunter by a private military firm and a number of AAA and AA Megacorporations. Some really interesting background into Newark and the various zones it’s divided into as well as some interesting uses and explanations of ritual magic.4.0 Stars (4.0 / 5)

Nosferatu, cover

Nosferatu– The second Serrin Shamander story. This is another I haven’t read so I can’t speak as to the subject or quality of the novel.

Burning Bright, cover

Burning Bright– Kyle Teller, a mage gets hired to find the missing son of a CEO in Chicago, 2055. As the plot unfurls on of the biggest events in the Shadowrun timeline takes place as a huge Insect Spirit hive is uncovered and Ares Macrotechnology utilise drastic measures to destroy it, resulting in the legendary Cermak Blast and the creation of the Chicago Containment Zone. This is a great book, easily one of the best in the entire Shadowrun line. Not only does it describe a landmark point in the history of the setting but it also provides great insight into Spirits, and their motives, as well as summoning and the Astral Plane.5.0 Stars (5.0 / 5)

Who Hunts the Hunter, cover

Who Hunts the Hunter– The second of the Striper novels. Striper seeks to hunt down those who stole her cub and exact her revenge. This is the first book to truly introduce New York in any detail and it provides further insight into the mind of shapeshifters while asking the age old question of whether man is the most evil of all beasts. This book also see’s the return of Bandit, a shaman from Fade to Black. This is certainly better than the first Striper novel and, despite still being written in 1st person, present tense, is an easier read.3.0 Stars (3.0 / 5)

House of the Sun, cover

House of the Sun– The second Dirk Montgomery story and the last Shadowrun novel written by Nigel Findley. Dirk repays an old debt and travels to the Kingdom of Hawaii only to fall afoul of warring factions in the corporations, the government and the rebels who just so happen to be lad by a dragon. The book has a very different tone to 2XS, owing to the fact that Hawaii is bright and sunny, but this is still an excellent book and is easily the equal of 2XS. I apologise about the state of the cover for this picture, my copy suffered an unfortunate accident and I’m in the process of trying to replace it.5.0 Stars (5.0 / 5)

Worlds Without End, cover

World Without End– Aina, an immortal elf, faces down a Millenia old enemy who has resurfaced in the sixth world. This book was originally meant to be the conclusions to a trilogy known as The Immortals, which was to start with 2 Earthdawn novels, Scars and Little Treasures but Little Treasures was never published and Scars was only published after Worlds Without End. it’s not a bad book but if you don’t have any interest in the Immortal Elf metaplot then it won’t interest you at all. It’s nice to see Tir Na Nog make an appearance in a book and I’m a big fan of Harlequin so I liked it but it’s still only part of a story.3.0 Stars (3.0 / 5)

Just Compensation, Cover

Just Compensation– Upstanding citizens Andy and Tom become try to uncover a secret plot that lies at the very heart of UCAS Government and Military and need to turn to shadowrunners for help. I don’t know whether it’s Robert Charrette’s writing or the story but I struggled with this, as I did with Never Trust an Elf. Charrette clearly knows the subject matter well and cares about it but I found reading this book slow going.3.0 Stars (3.0 / 5)

Black Madonna, cover

Black Madonna– The third Serrin Shamander novel. Another I haven’t read.

Preying For Keep, cover

Preying for Keeps– Shadowrunners are brought in to retrieve data stolen from a corporation but get drawn into a deeper plot involving corporate war and organised crime. The first really pulpy Shadowrun novel. If any book seems to demonstrate the change from the dark and gritty Pink Mohawk style of 1st and 2nd edition to the more Black Trench coat style of 3rd edition, its this. It actually a lot of fun to read and the runners feel more like action movie stars at times than the beaten down SINless of earlier offerings.4.0 Stars (4.0 / 5)

Dead Air, cover

Dead Air– Corruption is rife in all elements of life in the sixth world, even in the ruthless and bloody sport of Combat Biking. This isn’t a great book but it gets points for taking a look at a hitherto untouched aspect of the setting, it’s sports. Shadowrun is practically unique in that even it’s sports are detailed and have rulesets made for them and so having a novel with central characters who are star athletes adds some extra depth to the setting overall. 3.0 Stars (3.0 / 5)

The Lucifer Deck, cover

The Lucifer Deck– Magic and machines mix again as a corporate experiment goes wrong and an extra dimensional demon into the world. One of the things I like most about Shadowrun is the level of detail that applies to the world, it’s probably the most chronicled single setting ever created but every now and then something happens that seems completely at odds with everything that seems to be known and this is one of those times. This is a poor book, it tries to do something different by introducing a demon/spirit of light that can travel down fibre-optic cables and effect the matrix but it feels like fan fiction more than an official novel. It’s one saving grace is that is shows the racial prejudices that are rife in Shadowrun and despite how common it is in the setting it’s not often touched upon in the fluff.2.0 Stars (2.0 / 5)

Steel Rain, cover

Steel Rain– Another book that I haven’t read.

Shadowboxer, cover

Shadowboxer– A run goes south for Adam Two-Bears as he tries to track down the meaning of the word ‘IronHell’. Set in and around Miami this books detail another location that isn’t particularly well detailed in the fluff. It’s an average book that has an completely unexpected twist part way through that is both fascinating and utterly bizarre.3.0 Stars (3.0 / 5)

Stranger Souls, cover

Stranger Souls– The first book of the Dragonheart Saga. In the wake of the assassination of President Dunkelzahn, a Great Dragon, his personal team of shadowrunners, Assets Incorporated, investigate who could have killed Dunkelzahn and why. You’ll either love or hate this as it’s less Shadowrun and more superheroes on steroids. The book ties in with the events of the Shadowrun Campaigns, Super Tuesday and Harlequin’s Back and leads into Portfolio of a Dragon, Dunkelzahn’s Will.4.0 Stars (4.0 / 5)

Headhunters, cover

Headhunters– A sequel to Preying for Keeps, featuring the same team. This time Jack Slater and his team are hired to steal a corpse from a funeral home but they are not the only people who want the body and all is not as it seems. This is darker and grittier in feel than the first book but doesn’t manage to be quite as good. Parts are set in the Ork Underground and it’s nice to actually hear some descriptions of that iconic Seattle location.4.0 Stars (4.0 / 5)

Clockwork Asylum, Cover

Clockwork Asylum– The second book in the Dragonheart Saga. The story of uber runner Ryan mercury continues as he continues in his quest to find Dunkelzahn’s killer. At the same time a Cyberzombie, inhabited by a powerful free spirit blames Ryan for the death and looks to enact revenge all against the backdrop of the rising power of Aztechnology. As with the first book it’s stupid in scale and power but the events of the book should not be overlooked as it has a significant impact on the setting as a whole.4.0 Stars (4.0 / 5)

Blood Sport, cover

Blood Sport- Another book I have not read.

Beyond the Pale, cover

Beyond the Pale- The third and final book in the Dragonheart Saga. The trilogy reaches it’s suitably epic conclusion as Ryan and Assets Incorporated, along with a few new friends in the form of Harlequin, Aina and Frosty, look to prevent Aztechnology from completing their ghastly ritual that will bring untold Horrors to Earth centuries ahead of time. If it’s possible this book takes the power level and ups it further, to the point of bordering in ludicrous. A solid book that has massive ramifications for the setting as a whole.4.0 Stars (4.0 / 5)

Technobabel, cover

Technobabel– An Otaku named Babel awakens with no memory of who he is or what has happened to him. To make matters worse, a whole lot of people, including a Megacorporation appear to be after him and he has no idea why. A good book that sets the background for parts of the Renraku Arcology Shutdown and the Brainscan Campaign.4.0 Stars (4.0 / 5)

Wolf and Raven, cover

Wolf and Raven– Dr Raven works with a group of runners lead by Wolfgang Kies and tries to help people and protect the world from undesirable types acting almost like modern day Robin Hood types more than traditional shadowrunners. This isn’t a book I enjoyed, I have to say I lost interest early on when a character called Kid Stealth was introduced because, as much as I get that this is a Sci-Fi setting i just couldn’t take any professional criminal called Kid Stealth seriously, he sounds like a bad 8Bit computer game character. 2.0 Stars (2.0 / 5)

Psychotrope, cover

Psychotrope– Five deckers, unknown and unrelated to one-another are the only hope for the entire of the Seattle matrix and it gets taken down and it’s inhabitants trapped inside. This book also provides background to the Renraku Arcology Shutdown as it introduces the psychotropic programming that Deus uses to create banded. In interesting book, not least of which because it takes place over a span of just 10 minutes or so, an eternity in the matrix, but next to no time on the outside. 4.0 Stars (4.0 / 5)

The Terminus Experiment, cover

The Terminus Experiment– A small local Seattle security firm with ties to organised crime is involved in a plot to mutate the HMHVV virus and effectively provide immortality through vampirism. Not a great book, the premise is ok but it becomes far more of a cyberpunk Van Helsing than a Shadowrun novel. 2.0 Stars (2.0 / 5)

Run Hard, Die Fast, cover

Run Hard, Die Fast- Prime Runner, Argent’s past comes back to haunt him as an ex girlfriend reaches out to him for help. Argent assembles a crew on short notice and goes to work in LA and the Pueblo Corporate Council. as always, it’s nice to see another location explored and the Pueblo lands feel suitably different to the wider world. Argent is a great character, although he appears to have literally every piece of cyberware known to man, to the point that he can’t have more than .1 essence left, even if it’s all delta grade. 3.0 Stars (3.0 / 5)

Crossroads, cover

Crossroads– The first in the Tommy Talon series of books. Talon, Talon is drawn back home to Boston and into a conflict with local corporations and a powerful spirit with ties to his past. Talon takes a step away from Assets Inc takes center stage in his own story, also becoming the single most features character in the Shadowrun Novel line. This is a good book that feels more grounded than the Dragonheart Saga and has a neat plot that isn’t too convoluted or complex just for the sake of adding more twists.4.0 Stars (4.0 / 5)

The Forever Drug, cover

The Forever Drug– Romulus, a freelance investigator with the Halifax, Nova Scotia Lone Star department, who also happens to be a dog shapeshifter, discovers a dangerous new drug that gives the most euphoric high, before killing users. For all it’s faults, I actually liked this book. It’s a more light hearted view of life as a shapeshifter, in a place where they can be legal entities (unlike the UCAS). As a dog is a very different creature to a tiger the mindset of Romulus is vastly different to that of Striper, to an almost comical degree (like him getting the urge to put his head out of the window of moving cars). It shows a different side of Shadowrun, away from the harsh lights of the big sprawls making it feel much less dystopian than perhaps it has a right to.3.0 Stars (3.0 / 5)

Ragnarock, cover

Ragnorok– Tommy Talon book 2. This time Talon travels to Germany to track down an archaeologist who appears to have vanished with the ancient artefacts he unearthed and ends up getting caught up in a fraternal battle between two of the most powerful siblings on the planet. A good continuation of the Talon series that expands upon the backstory of his team. Despite the love of Shadowrun in Germany this is the first English language novel that spends any real time there and it shows the disparate nature of that anarchic state. 4.0 Stars (4.0 / 5)

Tails You Lose, cover

Tails You Lose– When a scientist is extracted from a Vancouver Corporation it’s down to it’s head of security, Alma, to find out who did it and how. An interesting take on the extraction story as you see at least part of it from the other side of the law. Some parts are drawn directly from Dunkelzahn’s will, which is nice to see since it’s supposed to have have such a massive effect on the setting and some lesser known elements and enemies within the universe are explored as well, unfortunately just not all that well. 3.0 Stars (3.0 / 5)

The Burning Time, cover

The Burning Time– Tommy Talon book 3. Talon returns home once more to face down an old enemy one last time and is reunited with a friend long thought lost. This is a surprisingly weak final entry in the Talon series. It feels like Stephen Kenson tried to wrap up more that was possible in one book and ended up rushing the job.3.0 Stars (3.0 / 5)

Born to Run, cover

Born To Run-The first in the Kellan Colt Trilogy. A young girl, Kellan Colt searches for answers about her past, and her mother, while trying to become a shadowrunner. When it was first announced that there would be new Shadowrun novels I was excited but that quickly turned to disappointment upon when I read Born to Run. I’m sure if you are new to the setting then it’s a great introduction but to me it read like Shadowrun for children with the main character being young, naive and utterly inept but somehow surviving and making friends. Had Kellan existed in Robert Charrette’s, or Nigel Findley’s Shadowrun she would have likely met a quicker and less pleasant end. 1.0 Stars (1.0 / 5)

Poison Agendas, cover

Poison Agendas– The second Kellan Colt novel. Kellan goes on her first real Shadowrun and obviously gets in over her head. A better title would have been ‘My first Shadowrun’ and then it could have been 20 pages with big colourful pictures. At least Dragonlance had the good sense to release a full ‘young readers’ series and deliberately tone down the setting as opposed to just being insultingly poor. This is mildly better than the first book, mostly owing to the fact that it has a Toxic Spirit in it and that particular enemy has been sorely under-represented in the novel line. 1.0 Stars (1.0 / 5)

Fallen Angels, cover

Fallen Angels– Kellan Colt, book 3. Kellan’s past finally catches up with her and her questions get answered. I know I’ve read this but I really don’t remember much about it, leading me to believe that it was as poor as the previous offerings in the trilogy. As I don’t remember it It’d be unfair to give it a rating.

Drops of Corruption, cover

Drops of Corruption- I haven’t read this book.

Aftershock, cover

Aftershock- I haven’t read this book.

A Fistful of Data, cover

A Fistful of Data– I haven’t read this book.

Spells and Chrome, cover

Spells and Chrome- A collection of short stories set in the 2070’s of Shadowrun 4th edition. There isn’t anything particularly inspiring in here but owing to the fact that it was the only post Crash 2.0 book in publication for quite some time, it gets a little boost.3.0 Stars (3.0 / 5)

Fire & Frost, shadowrun novel cover

Fire & Frost- This is the first release in Catalyst’s new line of Shadowrun novels set within the 5th edition timeline. This book is trade paperback sized, not mass market paperback sized and so is larger than all of the previous releases, aside from the initial release of Into The Shadows. I have not yet read this book.

Dark Resonance, Shadowrun Novel Cover

Dark Resonance- Another trade paperback sized release. I haven’t yet read this book.

Tiny Epic Kingdoms Kickstarter Deluxe Set- A Review

Name: Tiny Epic Kingdoms
Type: Tile Based Boardgame
Publisher: Gamelyn Games
Players: 2-5
Age: 13+
Size: 27.8cm x 11.9cm x 4cm
Weight: 330g
Playtime: 40 mins approx
Price: £15.99 (Standard Edition)
Rating: 5.0 Stars (5.0 / 5)

Tiny Epic Kingdoms, front of box

I came late to the Tiny Epic party, having only bought into the line with the latest (at time of writing) Kickstarter, Tiny Epic Galaxies. I played the Print and Play version of Tiny Epic Galaxies a couple of times and saw comments on the Kickstarter board mentioning how good the other Tiny Epic games are and so decided to get them for myself and see what all the fuss was about.

I managed to source an unpunched Tiny Epic Kingdoms Deluxe Kickstarter set, much to my amazement, and so my review will be based on that. As and when appropriate I’ll differentiate between what you get in the general retail copy and what comes in the Deluxe set and you can buy the mini-expansion on the BGG store, should you want to pick that up yourself.

A little bit of History. Tiny Epic Kingdoms is the first game in the Tiny Epic line of games by Gamelyn Games and was designed by Scot Almes. It was Kickstarted to the tune of $286,982.00 in February 2014 and has since spawned 2 other Tiny Epic Games (Defenders, which has just delivered on its Kickstarter and Galaxies which was Funded at the end of January 2015). A huge amount of the quality of the content is owed to that initial Kickstarter as the project smashed through stretch goals and so added extra races, dice, improved tokens, extra regions and more.

So, first of all, the box.  One of the key things you’d expect with a Tiny Epic game is that it is fairly small in size  and this fits the bill, measuring just a few inches to a side. The box is nice and sturdy, being made of thick card and it’s lavishly illustrated front and back with full colour art.

Tiny Epic Kingdoms, front of box

Once you take the lid off you can see that the sides of the bottom half of the box have some information about the artists and games designer, which is a nice little touch, and the inside of the lid has another full colour image that looks like a group photo of all the races in the game.

Tiny Epic Kingdoms, inside lidTiny Epic Kingdoms, Illustrator

 

 

Tiny Epic Kingdoms, Designer

 

 

 

 

 

The other criteria for a Tiny Epic game is that it needs to be something pretty special to be counted as Epic. One way of fulfilling that criteria is with contents and in this the game doesn’t disappoint. The box is jam packed with contents, so much so that you actually have to arrange it all correctly just to be able to close the lid! Inside the standard edition you get-

 

  • 13 Races
  • 8 Double Sided Region CardsTiny Epic Kingdoms, contents
  • 1 Tower Card
  • 1 Action Card
  • 2 Custom 12 sided War Dice
  • 35 Meeples (7 each in 5 different colours)
  • 15 Custom Cut Resource Tokens (5 Each for Mana, Corn and Ore)
  • 5 Spellbook Tokens (1 each in 5 colours)
  • 5 Tower Tokens (1 each in 5 colours)
  • 5 Shield Tokens
  • 1 First Player Token (Large Tower)
  • The Rulebook

 

Tiny Epic Kingdoms, contents

In addition, in the Deluxe version you also get-

  • 3 more dice (allowing for 1 for each player)
  • 3 more races
  • 1 Mini-Expansion cardboard token sheet
  • 1 Mini Expansion rule sheet with varied game modes

 

Tiny Epic Kingdoms, Resource Tokens

The production value of all of the components is exceptionally high. Each of the tokens is made of laser cut wood and all are custom shapes (Towers, Shields, Stars, Spellbooks, Meeples). Each is then painted brightly and evenly so that they each stand out from one another. The cards are all sturdy and full colour with each of the races having a full colour illustration on the back of them. Each card is completely different and each is double sided giving a total of 16 different regions in total. My only criticism here is that the cards aren’t laminated and so would suffer if any liquids were spilt on them.

 

Tiny Epic Kingdoms, war dice

 

 

The dice are all coloured to match the 5 colours of tokens so that each player can have access to their own war die. They are basically standard D12’s in respects aside from the fact that the 12th face has a flag on for trying to declare an alliance, as opposed to the number 12.

 

 

 

The rules of the game are very simple but have a deceiving amount of depth to them allowing for a plethora of strategies to be used in order to win the game. Victory is simply decided by who has the most victory points at the end of the game and this is worked out by how many meeples you have out, how much magic you have, how high your tower is and how many cities you control, plus any race specific victory conditions.

Tiny Epic Kingdoms, Action Card

On your turn you place a Shield Token on the Action Card to denote the action you want to take and then every player has the option of following that action, or harvesting resources. The trick here is that no action can be repeated by another player (aside from using some racial abilities), until all 5 Shield Tokens have been placed and the round is over, so you can tactically take actions to block other players.

The actions you can take allow you to move your meeples, either around your region or to another, increase your magic, build your tower, gain extra meeples or trade one type of resource for another. In general the actions are very quick to resolve and so turns should pass quickly, helping the game fit into its 40 minute play time.

Tiny Epic Kingdoms, region cards

Building, be it meeples, the tower or increasing your magic, costs resources, which are harvested from the locations you control on the various regions.  Control is determine by whether or not you have a meeple on the location and each type of location gives a specific type of resource, Food for Plaines, Mana from Forests and Ore from Mountains. You track you resources on your race card and spend it when performing certain actions, such as spending Mana when you want to increase your magic rating.  Aside from specific racial abilities, the only way to obtain resources is to harvest when another player chooses an action, rather than replicating that action yourself, making it a difficult balancing act between taking the action you want while they are available and ensuring you have sufficient resource to complete actions and defend yourself during war.

Resources are also spent when you wage war, which is when you move into a location controlled by another player (so it has one of their meeples on it). At that point you dedicate resources to your war effort, with various resources being worth various amounts, and secretly total up what you’ll spend before setting your War Die to that number. Players involved in the war reveal simultaneously and the player with the higher total wins, defeating the other player’s meeple and sending it back to their pile of unallocated meeples (effectively killing it).  If both players, secretly, choose the ‘Flag’ option on their War Dice, then an alliance is formed and both players can stay in the location and harvest from it at the same time, at least until one declares war on the other somewhere else.

Tiny Epic Kingdoms, Tower Card

While increasing the height of your tower only provides victory points (albeit potentially the most in the game), increasing your magic rating provides secondary benefits as dictated by your race card. Each level, from 1-5, provides an additional, cumulative bonus that gets increasingly powerful the higher your magic rating becomes. Humans, for instance, get bonuses to gathering resources and get  additional victory points at the end of the game if they have resources stockpiled.

Once all of the Shield Tokens have been allocated to the Action Card the round is over and the first player token is passed to the left and the process repeats until one of the end game conditions is met. The game ends when a single player, purchases their last meeple (number 7), builds the final level of the tower or increases their magic to level 5. At this point actions are still allocated until the round is over, but nothing can stop the game ending at the end of the round and victory points being totalled up to determine a winner.

Tiny Epic Kingdoms, human card

Each of the 16 races is different and have different thematic magic powers so while the Elves excel at using Mana, the Orcs excel at waging war and the Centaurs excel at moving around.  In addition each of the 8 double sided region cards has a different layout and distribution of locations, which, since they are randomly allocated, mean you have to adapt to the terrain you have. While in one game you may have a comparatively open region with several mountainous areas, in another you may have a sprawling forest broken up by impassable rivers and crags, which restrict your movement.

All in all it’s a very simple game to play with mechanics that are easy to teach inside a turn or two while still allowing for significant tactical scope. The random nature of the regions, combined with the restricted use of actions means that you have to carefully balance which resources you harvest, when and then how they are used to improve the standing of your Kingdom. Additionally the different magical abilities of each race means that each plays differently and requires a different style of play to win. The game itself allows you to pick your race but I prefer the method of randomly assigning each player 2 races to pick from, rather than letting them browse the entire stack, this not only speeds up set up time but it stretches the tactical abilities of each player a little more.

Tiny Epic Kingdoms, contents

The Deluxe Edition Mini-Expansion provides 2 extra game variants and 16 tokens for use in those games. Both are essentially a variant of the same theme but they add a little something extra to the game and promote players exploring and invading one anothers regions. In short, players randomly take these tokens and place them on locations in their home regions, by placing them face down without looking at what they are. Then, when a meeple enters the area for the first time, the token is revealed (flipped) and its effect resolved. These effects can be something positive as finding the Crown (which gives you extra Victory Points, if you have it at the end of the game) to something as negative as being attacked by Bandits, or finding a Dragons lair…. If you enjoy the base game then the Mini-Expansion is well worth picking up as well.

I think Tiny Epic Kingdoms is an amazing game. It’s fast, simple, has tactical depth, it’s production values are high, it’s comparatively cheap and above all else it’s a huge amount of fun to play. As it plays out in just over half an hour making it a great game to start games night with or to pull out at lunch while at work.  It’s size means that it can be easily thrown in a bag or even a large pocket and transported but it has the feel of a game that generally comes in a large box, with a lavish board, thousands of tokens and a 50 page rule book. It plays like Risk mixed with Settlers of Catan but without the complexity of games like Age of Conan or some of the Risk variants.

I think naming the game line Tiny Epic is the most honest way of summing the game up, it is Tiny, it is quick to play but it’s Epic amounts of fun and has endless playability. I came late to the Tiny Epic party but I’m pleased I turned up because it’s a Tiny Epic Extravaganza that I’m glad I didn’t miss.

Slave-1 Unboxing

Slave-1, Front of box

Slave-1 is a large ship expansion for the X-Wing Miniatures Game released as part of the second Wave of releases for the game. It was one of the first two large ship releases for the game, along with the Millennium Falcon, and represents the Imperial forces first large ship. It now also forms part of the Scum and Villainy faction with the Pilot Cards, Tokens and Dial for that version being included in the Most Wanted expansion.

From a fluff point of view Slave-1 is almost as iconic as the Falcon or the X-Wing and is the personal ship of fan favourite Boba Fett.  Slave-1 is a Firespray 31 class Patrol and Attack Craft originally designed for prisoner transport by the Republic Correctional Authority. The ship later became a mainstay of various criminal gangs, mercenaries and bounty hunters.

As with all large ship releases Slave-1 comes boxed with the ship visible in a window on the right hand side and all of the cards and tokens hidden behind the artwork on the right had side. The ship comes displayed front on and on a slight angle, as if flying, and it is housed inside a separate blister within the box so as to protect it during transit.

Slave-1, Front of box

Inside the box you get-

  • 1 x Slave-1 Large ship
  • 1 x Large Ship base with 2 pegs
  • 1 x Manoeuvre Dial  (Imperial design)
  • 19 x Cards (split between Pilot Cards, Upgrade Cards and Rules Cards, more on the split soon)
  • 24 x Tokens (more on the specifics soon)
  • 1 x Rule Sheet

Slave-1 is a nice looking ship, it has more colour than any other ship released for the game so far and real attention has been paid to the weathering and detail to really make the ship resemble Slave-1. There is a strong band of red around the drive housing, weathered and word to show the age of the ship. The engines are painted a dull, uninspiring pink, which could be better, and the rest of the ship varies between light and dark grey, painted in blocks. The cockpit canopy is made from a bright, glossy, black plastic that stands out well against the rest of the ship.

The ship stands tall and upright on it’s base, in it’s standard flying position although, on mine, the female peg connector on the ship is on a slight angle so the ship doesn’t quite stand perfectly straight. This doesn’t seem to be a regular fault though as I’ve seen several other copies of the ship and they all appear to be ok. Still, I’ve noticed that the peg connections on many of the Large Ships tend to have issues or faults.

Slave-1 Pilot Cards

 

As standard you get 4 Pilot Cards in the set with the normal Large Ship split of 3 Elite Pilots and 1 Generic. All of the Pilots in this expansion are for the Imperial Faction, Scum and Villainy Pilots come in the Most Wanted expansion. The Pilots in this set are-

  • Boba Fett (Imperial version, which is different to the Scum and Villainy version)
  • Kath Scarlet (Imperial version, which is different to the Scum and Villainy version)
  • Krassis Trelix
  • Bounty Hunter

The art on the Pilot cards is nice, it’s colourful and dynamic and it shows 4 different paint schemes for the ship. The Bounty Hunter version actually inspired my own repaint which you can read about here. The Pilot cards are ok but not particularly amazing and certainly feel weaker compared to the Scum and Villainy counterparts. Boba Fett’s ability is useful, especially when combined with Navigator Crew card as it allows Boba huge versatility in his movement and gives him the ability to react to anyone who tried to actively block him.

One of the strongest points to consider about Slave-1/Firespray is it’s Auxiliary Firing Arc. Unlike a turret ship, such as the Millennium Falcon, which only has a front arc but has the ability to fire in 360 degrees, Slave-1 actually has a secondary firing arc to it’s rear. This arc confers all of the abilities of a primary firing arc, including range bonuses and Upgrade Cards such as Tactician. In a post Wave 6 world it is worth mentioning that Autothrusters only work at range 3 of the Auxiliary arc, just as they do in the primary arc, which gives Slave-1 a significant advantage over it’s turreted counterparts.

Slave-1, Upgrade Cards

You get 12 Upgrade cards in this expansion, several of which only come in one other expansion and so Slave-1 makes a cost efficient choice to pick them up in one place.

The expansions are-

Title-

  • Slave-1 (Unique to this expansion)

Elite Talent-

  • Expose (Unique to this expansion)
  • Veteran Instincts (Also found in the Millennium Falcon expansion)

Missile-

  • Assault Missiles (Also found in the Millennium Falcon, TIE Bomber and Z95 Headhunter Expansions)
  • Homing Missiles (Also found in the A-Wing expansion)

Crew-

  • Gunner (Also found in the YT-2400 Freighter expansion)
  • Mercenary Copilot (Also found in the YT-2400 Freighter expansion)

Cannon-

  • Heavy Laser Cannon (Also found in the Lambda Class Shuttle and YT-2400 Freighter expansion)
  • Ion Cannon (Also found in the B-Wing, TIE Defender and M3-A Interceptor expansions)

Bombs-

  • Proximity Mines (Also found in the IG-2000 expansion)
  • Seismic Charges (Also found in the IG-2000 and TIE Bomber expansions)

Modification-

  • Stealth Device (Also found in the M3-A Interceptor expansion)

Prior to Wave 6 many of these cards were unique to Slave-1, making this a must for anyone who prefers to have copies of the cards for play, or for tournament players. Even now, with the cards available elsewhere this is a great set to pick up a lot of cards in one place or for anyone who doesn’t want to collect Scum and Villainy. The standout cards here, without a doubt, Gunner and Veteran Instincts. Gunner is a must on virtually any Large ship and is a mainstay of the Fat Han build and Veteran Instincts is a sure-fire way to provide a Pilot Skill boost that can give protection against TIE Phantoms and give arc dodgers the ability to almost guarantee the final move and therefore a significantly higher chance succeeding in arc dodging.

In addition to the Pilot Cards and Upgrade Cards you also get two rules cards in this set, Ion Tokens and Bombs Tokens.

Slave-1, Tokens

You get 24 tokens in the set and, as normal, FFG make sure that you get absolutely everything you need to use the ship without needing to by any other sets, aside from the base game. The breakdown of tokens is-

  • 1 x Manoeuvre Dial
  • 2 x Large Ship Base Tokens (Imperial versions, double sided as Boba Fett/Emon Azzameen and Kath Scarlet/Mandalorian Mercenary)
  • 4 x Shield Tokens
  • 2 x Stress Tokens
  • 2 x Ion Tokens
  • 1 x Critical Hit Token
  • 1 x Focus Token
  • 1 x Evade Token
  • 1 x Proximity Mine Token
  • 1 x Seismic Charge Token
  • 6 x Ship ID Tokens (3 each of numbers 21 and 22)
  • 1 x Mission Token
  • 1 x Proof of Purchase

Slave-1 is a great set, when you take into account each of the individual components. As an Imperial ship it’s not that great, at least not competitively and so it hasn’t seen significant play at the higher levels of the game. That aside, it’s a great ship to gave on the table and a great looking ship for your collection. The Upgrade cards a useful and generally hard to find with certain cards being must haves in a number of top tier lists.

This is by no means the best of the Large Ships in the game, that honour still belongs to the Millennium Falcon, but it has it’s place and it’ll likely be seen more often at tournaments as part of a Scum and Villainy list. There is enough here for any player to consider buying it, regardless of faction but recent releases have reduced it from an auto buy for the Upgrades alone, to a nice to own.

It bears repeating that none of the Pilots Cards in this set are usable as part of a Scum and Villainy List, you need to buy Most Wanted to get those. That said, the Title in the set, Slave-1, can be used by both the Imperial and Scum and Villainy factions, so there is some crossover. FFG have now confirmed that the Manoeuvre Dials can be used across factions so at least you don’y need to buy multiple Most Wanted sets unless you plan on using more than 2 Firespray’s at a time.

Feldherr Miniatures Case- An Accessory Review

Feldherr Case, front

Like so many gamers, so many times before me, I recently find myself lacking for space for new toys, specifically for tiny spaceships with which to play X-Wing. Everything was going fine until I bought into Scum and Villainy and then, all of a sudden, I found myself having to leave models in precarious places, like on top of display cabinets, which all but guarantees that my cat will consider them to be her property.

So, what does a gamer with too many toys do? We’ll they sure as hell doesn’t get rid of any if there is another option available and so I started thinking that I should probably buy myself a case. Getting a case served duel purposes, it means that my models can remain whole and out of reach of the cat and it means I can more easily transport them for games. I looked around, I’ve already got a sizable KR Multicase filled with far too many Tyranids and a couple of GW cases, so I knew what I was getting if I bought another of those. Obviously if I bought a GW case I’d need to go out and buy pluck foam or customer foam to make them fit for purpose which would factor into the decision making process.

After looking around and chatting a friend in a similar position, I started taking a look at Feldherr. Feldherr are a German company that specialises in custom cut foam for a variety of games systems, including X-Wing. The main reason for discounting them in the past has been postage (around £12) but since both my friend and I were getting cases it pushed the total over the threshold for free shipping (£60) and that put them firmly in contention.

Feldherr Case, Contents

I decided on a case for my Rebels, since it’s Rebels I primarily have and went for one that would hold the Falcon, Outrider, Transport and another 25 or so ships depending on whether I wanted to store tokens in there as well. This set me back just shy of £32.00, delivered, as I opted to buy another top piece of foam to make sure everything is nice and protected.

Delivery was swift, we order on Monday and they were delivered the following Friday in a small box. Unlike KR cases the Feldherr ones come with a fabric case as standard so we didn’t have to look at paying extra to upgrade from cardboard.

Feldherr Case, full view

The case is nice and compact and the foam comes in half layer pieces so you can easily swap and change it if you need to. The cases dimensions are 38cm x 29cm x 14cm (approximately) and with just the foam inside it weighs in at a tiny 647g. The case is black with a rubber Feldherr badge on the front giving the case a very smart appearance. It comes with a sturdy rubber handle on top, 4 rubber feet underneath, a detatchable shoulder strap and a zip pocket in the front for storing rules books etc. The case has a duel zip opening system and inside it is lined with red material with the Feldherr logo printed on it, again looking very smart and professional.

Feldherr Case, Open and Empty
The trays are all grey foam and are approximately 27cm x 17cm x 4.7cm with the foam being cut to a depth of 3.7cm throughout. As I said, the trays are all half size so you can easily buy more for large ships and swap and change as needed. There is very little wasted space on each of the trays so you can fit the maximum amount of models in.

Feldherr Case, Rebel Trays

I did a quick test to see whether the case would hold trays made by KR or GW and whether the trays from Feldherr would fit in a KR or GW case and in all tests the answer was yes. KR trays are a little wider than the Feldherr ones but they still fit in the case since the fabric has a little bit of give in it. This is great news though since it means you can mix and match between companies since it’s significantly cheaper to order singe foam trays from KR than it is from Feldherr.  For comparison here are trays from the 3 companies side by side, Feldherr-KR-GW-

Feldherr, KR, Games Workshop Tray Size Comparison

The spaces for the ships vary a fair bit on the trays. Those specifically cut for the Large Ships are perfect and hold those ships very nicely while providing space nearby for the stands and pegs. As small ships vary in size considerable from tiny A-Wings and M3-A’s to significantly bulkier B-Wings and the oddly shaped StarViper it would be very hard to design a space that would cater for all sizes. For the most part I found that every single Rebel ship could fit in slot, with it’s flight stand attached by 2 pegs, with the exception of the B-Wing and Y-Wing. Both of these latter ships fir in slots but their stands need to be removed first, although you can still store the stand in the same space.

As for using the spaces for storing tokens or dice when travelling to games/tournaments I found that you can fit a surprising amount in the case overall, as you can see from the picture below. I even found it easy to store a full set of Cog o Two movement templates between the foam topper layers.

Feldherr Case, Full

Completely full, as you see above, the case still weighed less than a kilo at 941g.

I’ve got to say, I think that this case is fantastic value for money. The production values are high, it looks smart and, most importantly, it protects my tiny spaceships from damage and makes it much easier to transport them for games. The postage can be a little off-putting because you do have to import them but if there are a couple of people in your group who need cases then ordering together negates that completely. If I find myself in need of another case I’ll certainly be considering Feldherr first.

Star Realms Review

Name: Star Realms
Type: None Collectable Deck Building Game
Publisher: White Wizard Games
Players: 2-6 (2 per core box used)
Age: 8+
Size: 9.7cm x 7.1 cm x 4.6 cm
Weight: 204g
Playtime: 20 mins
Price:  £12.99
Rating: 4.0 Stars (4.0 / 5)

Star Realms, Front of Box

Star Realms is a deck building card game by White Wizard Games, published in 2014. Unlike many other deck building games, notably the juggernauts of Magic the Gathering, Pokemon and Yu Gi Oh, this is a none collectable game and so every deck comes with exactly the same cards. In this way the game is similar to the Living Card Game model used by Fantasy Flight Games.

Star Realms, Contents

Inside the box you get 128 full colour, illustrated cards and 2 rules sheets, one for the base 2 player game and a second with seven multiplayer variants to allow the game to be expanded to accommodate up to 6 players. The cards are split into the following categories-

  • 80 x Trade Deck cards (split between 20 cards each for the 4 factions)
  • 20 x Starting Deck cards (2 x 10 card decks, more on these soon)
  • 10 x Explorer cards
  • 18 x Authority cards (each double sided with denominations of 20, 10, 5 and 1)

The premise of the game is very simple, to build a deck in order to reduce your opponent to 0 Authority before the same happens to you. In this way the game is very similar to Magic The Gathering and that’s not surprising considering that the game was developed by Rob Dougherty and Darwin Castle, both Magic Pro Tour winners and Hall of Fame Recipients.

The rules are very simple, each player has a hand of 5 cards (except the first player on the first turn, who starts with 3, for balance). On your turn you play cards from your hand and each card provides you with Combat, Trade, Authority or some combination of all three. Combat is used to attack your opponent and reduce their Authority or destroy their Bases (I’ll explain about these soon). Trade is used to buy cards from the Trade Row and Authority increases your Authority score (so heals you). I’ll provide an overview of the game but the full rules can be read here,

A player doesn’t have to play all of their cards, nor do they have to use all of their Trade, Combat or Authority but all cards in your hand, as well as any played (aside from Bases) are discarded at the end of the turn and a fresh hand drawn. This allows you to quickly cycle through your deck and use the more powerful cards you have purchased.

To set up each player takes a Starting Deck, along with 50 Authority (a 20, 2 x 10’s, a 5 and 5 x 1’s). The first player draws 3 cards and the opponent 5. The Trade Deck is shuffled and 5 cards are placed, face up, in a line next to it to make the Trade Row. Finally the Explorer cards are placed, face up, next to the Trade Deck.

During their turn each player can use any Trade they amass to buy either Explorer cards or cards from the Trade Row. Any cards bought from the Trade Row are immediately replaced. The Trade Row is an interesting way of handling the purchasing as it limits the number of cards available at any given time which ensures that turns are resolved quickly.  Combat is used to attack your opponent and reduce their Authority.

Players continue to take turns until one player is reduced to 0 Authority at which point the game instantly ends and the other player is declared the winner.

Star Realms, Viper and Scout

Both starting decks are identical and are made up of 2 x Vipers and 8 x Scouts. Vipers provide a single point of Combat and Scouts provide a single point of Trade. These initial cards allow you to begin to peck away at your opponent while giving you the Trade to buy new cards to build your deck.

Star Realms, Base and Ship example

The Trade Deck has 2 types of cards in it, Ships and Bases. Ships are played and then discarded at the end of your turn while Bases remain out until destroyed, providing an ongoing bonus. There are 2 types of Base, Normal and Outpost. Normal bases can be avoided by your opponent when they attack you and tend to provide a strong ongoing bonus. Outposts have to be attacked before your target your Authority directly and tend to provided a lesser bonus.

Star realms, Faction examples

The game has 4 factions-

  • The Blobs
  • Machine Cult
  • Star Empire
  • The Trade Federation

Each of these provides slightly different bonuses and the key to the game is adapting to which cards show up in the Trade Row and building your deck accordingly.In my experience it is best to concentrate on 2 factions during each game so as to not bloat your deck.

The Blobs tend to deal huge amounts of damage while removing cards from the Trade Row (which are instantly replaced and therefore increasing the chance of more desirable cards)

The Machine Cult has a large number of Bases and allows you to cull your own deck of undesirable cards which then increases the chance or more potent cards coming up more often

The Star Empire can deal a large amount of damage while allowing you to draw more cards on our turn and forcing your opponent to discard from their hand and so reducing the number of cards they can play on their turn (since you only draw at the end of your turn).

The Trade Federation can generate large amounts of both Trade and Authority and so can more easily obtain the very best cards while also healing themselves.

In addition to the main bonus that a card provides, many have Ally and Scrapping abilities. Ally abilities are indicated by a Faction symbol in the text box. If the symbol is there, and you have a Ship or a Base in play from that faction (which is almost exclusively the same faction as the card with the Ally ability), then you can apply the ability. Scrapping abilities allow you remove a card from the game entirely in exchange for a one time bonus. Like Ally abilities, Scrapping abilities are indicated by a symbol in the text box.

The game is very quick to learn and easy to play. Individual turns take less than a minute and the whole game really does play out in around 20 minutes, at least with 2 players which makes it a great choice to pull out while you are waiting for other players to arrive on games night.

The art on the cards is good, bright and evocative and really helps each faction stand out individually. The cards themselves are made from fairly sturdy card stock but aren’t laminated or up to the quality of the cards in something like Cards Against Humanity, The box, unfortunately, is made of very thin card and easily tears through the normal course of opening and closing. I’d therefore suggest that box card protectors and a deck protector would be advisable if you plan on bringing Star Realms to the table on a regular basis.

All in all, Star Realms is a worthwhile game if you enjoy other deck building games like Magic The Gathering or Android: Netrunner. It’s easy to learn, quick to play and is fairly cheap, especially if you only want a 2 player game. It’d be nice if there was an easier way of expanding the game to 3+ players without having to buy more core sets as it becomes fairly expensive as a 6 player card game, being of equal price to many full board games.

At the time of writing Star Realms has 5 expansions available and is available as a digital game on Android and iPhone. Extra Promo cards can be obtained through purchasing the official deck boxes and play mats.

The Universal Brotherhood- A Shadowrun Adventure Review

Name: The Universal Brotherhood
Type: Adventure
Publisher: FASA Corporation
System: Shadowrun 1st Edition
Setting: Shadowrun
Format- Softcover book
Size: 28cm x 21.8cm x 0.9cm
Pages: 88 (handout) and 56 (adventure)
Price:  OUT OF PRINT
Rating: 4.0 Stars (4.0 / 5)

The Universal Brotherhood, Cover

The Universal Brotherhood is an adventure written for the first edition of the Shadowrun Roleplaying game and is set in the year 2050. It was written by the late, great, Nigel Findley (Unleash Your Inner Abilities) and Chris Kybasik (Missing Blood) and was published by FASA Corporation in 1990. This was actually the first adventure published for Shadowrun, aside from Silver Angel that came with the GM screen and it kicks off the whole Bug Spirits arc continues into 5th edition over 25 years later.

Universal Brotherhood, contents

You get 2 books in this set, with a thin card protective cover. The first book is by Nigel Findley is Unleash Your Inner Abilities and is a substantial Player’s hand out for use with the second book, the adventure named Missing Blood by Chris Kybasik. The protective cover is full colour and features an excellent piece of art featuring a Wasp Spirit stood in an alley beneath a prominent Universal Brotherhood Chapterhouse sign.  The back of the cover features artwork of a photo of an Ant Spirit and  a note written in blood warning against playing the adventure, both drawn so it looks like they have hastily been taped to the back. It’s a nice looking cover and it looks suitably ominous, especially if you know what Bug Spirits are…..

Universal Brotherhood, back cover

As always, a disclaimer, this is a review of an adventure and naturally in includes spoilers for the adventure itself as well for the Shadowrun timeline. If you plan on playing through The Universal Brotherhood I’d suggest that you don’t keep reading…..

Before I get into the contents of the books I want to provide a little bit of context. Before Immortal Elves, before Dunkelzahn was assassinated, before the Arcology was overtaken by Deus, before Crash 2.0 there was the Universal Brotherhood. The Universal Brotherhood was, on face value, an altruistic organisation akin to the YMCA, set up to help the most needy, those who lived SINless lives, the weak, the neglected and the oppressed. It was supposed to give them a sense of community and purpose and to help them unlock their inner abilities. But this is Shadowrun and no-one is that altruistic without an ulterior motive and the while the community promised by the Universal Brotherhood was real, it had a very sinister purpose, Insect Spirits.

The Astral Plane in Shadowrun has always been closely linked with the Natural world. Elementals represent the basest forces in the world and Spirits are ties to physical places, man-made or not, taking on the very characteristics of those places. Even the Totems followed by Shaman tend appear as natural or supernatural creatures that embody the characteristics of a type of belief or personality. Rarely though, without extreme coaxing from a Magician ,does a Spirit or Elemental appear as a creature rather they appear as personifications of places or beliefs. Insect spirits defy that trend, further highlighting the truly alien nature of them.

Insect Spirits go on to feature heavily in the early Shadowrun metaplot, from the novels 2XS and Burning Bright, to the adventure Queen Euphoria and the sourcebook Bug City. Even now, Insect Spirits continue to haunt the metaplot into 5th edition with the events surrounding Ares Macrotechnology and Knight Errant in Chicago and even feature heavily in the first Shadowrun Returns game by Harebrained Schemes.

Universal Brotherhood handout, Unleash your Inner Abilities

So the first book in the set, and the one I suggest you, as the GM, read first. It is an 88 page book designed primarily has a players hand-out and a significant amount of the background to Missing Blood is included in here. The book is split into 2 parts primarily. The from and back cover are thin card and full colour while the rest is black and white and takes for format of a Matrix conversation that has been printed out and, to this end, the book is actually bound along the top edge, rather than the left side, so as to give the feeling of being informal notes.

The front cover shows a prominent Universal Brotherhood logo and looks like a flyer and this continues into the inside front cover which reads as a leaflet promoting the Brotherhood, that runners may be handed out on the street. In back cover and inside back cover tell a very different story and show 4 photos of Insect Spirits noted with red pen describing what the author believes they show.

Universal Brotherhood, Handout, Back cover

The first part of the book, which takes up the first 77 pages, is a detailed Matrix conversation between a journalist named Rick Devitt and his friend Zeb Wanderly regarding their investigation into the Universal Brotherhood. It has been posted to Shadowland in October 2050 and the age of this product is evident since the Shadowland Sysop is listed as Control and not the iconic Captain Chaos.

This part of the book follows the investigations made by Rick Devitt from his initial curiosity with the Brotherhood through to it’s inevitable grisly end. This is an excellent piece of fiction and really serves to convey the horrific and sinister nature of the Universal Brotherhood and Insect Spirits.

The second part of the book is significantly shorter and serves as a draft of the final report that Devitt and Wanderly intended to release on the true nature of the Universal Brotherhood. It is split into 3 chapters, History and Organisation, Links with Governments and Corporations and the Insect Spirits themselves. Part two finishes off with a letter from Wanderly stressing the importance of the truth about the Universal Brotherhood being revealed before the file is ‘corrupted’. A short Shadowland conversation and a message at the very end indicates that the Shadowland server was attacked and destroyed and  Zeb Wanderly’s body was found in an torched apartment, yet more evidence of the true threat posed by the Universal Brotherhood and the Insect Spirits.

I won’t go into any more detail regarding the contents of the book, it’s far to extensive and, frankly, Nigel Findley was a much better writer than I’ll ever be and I’m not sure my description could do it justice. I can just say that it is truly worth reading, even if you never plan on actually running the adventure.

Universal Brotherhood, Handout, Back cover

Missing Blood is the actual adventure in this set. It’s a 56 page long softcover book that follows the standard Shadowrun ‘adventure tree’ format. The front cover shows the title, the logo of the Universal Brotherhood and then the title repeated over and over, in horizontal lines faded I the background. Just over halfway down, on the right hand side of the logo the faded word Blood is changed to Bugs!! Before the Missing Blood title continues to repeat. In this little detail the ominous and hidden nature of the Insect Spirits is highlighted and I think it’s a nice touch.

The adventure starts as many Shadowrun adventures do, with a table of contents followed by a little framing fiction and then an introduction that provides the year, which other products are recommended to make the most of the adventure and the plot synopsis. The adventure book is all black and white, as normal and mine actually has a slight printing error in the framing fiction that looks like the page was moved in between ink layers and so there is a slight ghosting effect to the typeface.

The adventure itself is pretty straight forward, the runners are hired to locate a women named Victoria, the mistress of a wealthy Renraku executive. Victoria has gone missing with an expensive necklace that the Exec needs to give to his wife in two days. The only clue they have to go on is her address and the fact that he knows that she was affiliated with the Redmond Barrens chapter of the Universal Brotherhood.

The truth is somewhat more sinister, the mistress has been chosen to become the host for an Ant Spirit and so has been made to disappear by the Brotherhood. During the course of the adventure she resides in a cocoon in the basement nest of the Redmond Barrens chapterhouse, slowly transforming into an Ant Fleshform and still in possession of the necklace.

From here the runners collate clues and delve deeper into the Universal Brotherhood connection, eventually visiting the chapterhouse and being brushed off, even if they try to feign interest in joining (the Universal Brotherhood are understandably wary of people that ask questions). The runners have a run in with a group of Ant Fleshforms as they follow up on one of the leads and this gives them their first real taste of just how significant a threat that Bug Spirits can be and how far reaching the influence and plans of the Universal Brotherhood can be.

Throughout the course of the adventure the runners can acquire a copy of the extended hand out ‘Unleash your Inner Abilities’, along with a few others provided at the end of the adventure book and they begin to learn the truth behind the Universal Brotherhood. This all leads to the inevitable showdown as the runners assault the Brotherhood chapterhouse to try and recover the necklace.

All in all it’s not a bad adventure but it’s not particularly great either. The only thing that really sets it apart from any generic run is the inclusion of the Insect Spirits and the truly stellar player hand out. As I’ve mentioned the adventure employs the adventure tree format which is one of the better formats for an adventure and really sets Shadowrun adventures apart from other, contemporary, settings.  The format basically provides a distinct series of scenes, each that provide hooks for further investigation and these hooks are further scenes. This means that the adventures are very flexible around how the players investigate as opposed to being written chronologically, start to finish as is more common.

The set as a whole is fantastic and it’s one I sought for a long time before finally finding  copy on eBay some years back. The production values are high, particularly with the hand out with the only criticism being that the thin card protective cover is very prone to wear around the top and bottom of the spine because it’s basically just a folded piece of thin card that holds the adventure and hand out like a wallet.

For anyone who is an avid collector of Shadowrun this is a must and is surely one of the harder products to find, especially in good condition. It’s not a landmark adventure in the timeline like Brainscan or Harlequin’s Back, but it’s well written and it provides great insight into the early setting. Nigel Findley is pretty much the definitive Shadowrun author as far as I’m concerned and anything by him is worth reading if only to truly grasp what the world is like for the average person.

The adventure is written in the first edition rules and so will likely require some conversion for just about anyone since the rules change from second edition onwards. It’s also pretty specific to the timeline, since the Universal Brotherhood get exposed and shutdown shortly after so it’s not an adventure that can be easily lifted into 2075. I ran it in 2060 with the runners being trapped in a malfunctioning simsense game but it was a stretch.

I wish that I could grade this adventure in two parts because I think the hand out absolutely deserves a 5/5, it really is that good and is absolutely riveting to read, but unfortunately the adventure is only average at 3/5 so I have to give this an overall average of 4/5.

Renraku Arcology Shutdown- A Shadowrun Sourcebook Review

Name: Renraku Arcology Shutdown
Type: Sourcebook
Publisher: FASA Corporation
System: Shadowrun 3rd Edition
Setting: Shadowrun
Format- Softcover book
Size: 27.5cm x 21.3xm x 0.6cm
Pages: 88
Price:  OUT OF PRINT ($15.00, approx £10.00)
Rating: 5.0 Stars (5.0 / 5)

Renraku Arcology Shutdown, cover

Renraku Arcology Shutdown is a timeline event specific Sourcebook for Shadowrun 3rd edition. It was written  by David Hyatt and Brian Schoner and published by FASA Corporation in 1998. It is a softcover book with colour covers and a black and white interior throughout.

Renraku Arcology Shutdown details the events surrounding the takeover of the iconic Renraku Arcology in Seattle by the AI Deus in 2059. Like so many Shadowrun Sourcebooks it is primarily written from an ingame standpoint via conversations between members of the Shadowland BBS and information gathered by that community. The vast majority of the book is devoted to ingame fluff with only the final 17 pages being given over to rules and game information.

The book is split into a number of sections chronologically looking at the Arcology starting from before the Shutdown and running through to early 2060. There is certainly enough information in here to use as plot hooks to include the Arcology Shutdown in your campaign but I have found that this particular book works best when split down as a series of handouts used to augment your game and as a companion to the Brainscan Campaign, which specifically deals with the events surrounding the Shutdown and plays them through to their conclusion.

As with all of the 3rd ed sourcebooks Renraku Arcology Shutdown starts with the inevitable Shadowland Hub page that acts as advertising for recently released products. For the record the recent releases at this point were Cyberpirates, Target: Smuggler Havens, Rigger 2 and Blood in the Boardroom. The upcoming releases were New Seattle, Magic in the Shadows and Corporate Download.

In addition to the advertising the book provides some little snippets of in game news including the announcement of Novatech’s acquisition of a Corporate Court seat, the disappearance of Renraku CEO Inazo Aneki, the Opening of the Astra Space Preservation Society in Chicago and details surrounding the rise of the Otaku and their various ‘tribal’ disputes.

The book opens with some framing fiction involving Dodger and Megeara, which helps build the background, especially if you plan on running Brainscan. After that there is the standard introduction from the iconic Captain Chaos (dated 10/02/60). this time discussing the series of events that were witnessed at the inception of the Shutdown. As is usual for this era, Captain Chaos also provides the introduction to the various chapters.

Chapter 1 is an in game propaganda piece that describes the Arcology from the point of view of someone who works at Renraku and is introducing new workers to the building. It comes with a little introduction from Sherman Huang, Renraku America President, that feels like so many corporate introduction speeches that we’ve all heard in our real lives and for that reason I find it quite amusing. This chapter, that covers the Arcology Residential Zones, Matrix, Recreation etc.

Chapter 2 is an anonymously uploaded diary written by a 10 year old inside the Arcology at the time of the shutdown. It describes the disappearance of his father and the emergence of the first victims of Deus’s cyberware implantation experiments. The chapter has a very sinister feel to it, made worse because it’s written through the eyes of a child.

Chapter 3 is a transcript of an emergency Corporate Council meeting called by Renraku in response to the Arcology shutdown. As you’d expect there is a significant amount of posturing between members of the Council who represent the major Mega-corps. Significantly this chapter provides some background to the Shutdown, including some mentions of the elf decker Leonardo and introduces Brigadier General Amanda Coulton, who is in charge of the UCAS National Guard who spend the next 18 months trying to reclaim the Arcology.

Chapter 4 is a personal favourite,  entitled Shutdown! it covers a conversation between the best of the best in the Shadowrun decking community, Captain Chaos, Dodger, Ronin, FastJack….. amongst others and it links the top datahavens in the world, Seattle, Denver, Singapore etc. These drek hot deckers are discussing the emergent AI when their system gets hacked by a group of Otaku loyal to Deus.

Chapter 5 gives some leaked details into the type of drones that deus is developing inside the Arcology and makes an excellent in game handout to forewarn any runners who plan on trying to break in.

Chapter 6 describes the various types of Banded, White, Blue and Green. Details are provided as to what their specialisms are and what kinds of cyber/bio-ware packages they have. Again this is written from an in game point of view and so makes an excellent handout to prepare your runners for what may lie ahead. The chapter also introduces Pax, leader of the White Banded and Deus’s most loyal servant, almost his High Priestess since the Whites tend to think of Deus as a Machine-God.

This chapter also provides a much updated view of the inside of the Arcology, including the changes made by Deus. These changes can be as simple as repurposed Hospital facilities to the Classrooms used to psychoactively brainwash and train children as the next generation of Banded to the dreaded Mazes, which are huge multi-floor deathtraps created by Deus to test new creations.

Chapter 7 details the resistance, a pivotal group in the Brainscan campaign and the key source of reliable information coming out of the Arcology.It’s written from the point of view of one of the few escapees, Peregrine who knows better than most what is going on inside. The chapter introduces key characters within the struggle to defeat Deus and explains what has happened to many of the top Renraku employees trapped within the Arcology.

Chapter 8 is a further piece of framing fiction, this time as an in game journal chronicling a run within the Arcology. The author is Devon Eurich, resistance leader and former Renraku researcher turned shadowrunner. This journal serves to provide a first hand account of the nightmare that has become of the Arcology matrix under the sway of Deus and the Whites.

Significantly this chapter introduces Deus’s Ultraviolet Host and mentions the Grendel Project, both of his are key components in the final act of Brainscan. Also, it introduces Deus in person, as he confronts Devon within the Ultraviolet Host. This last makes for an interesting conversation since it shows Deus to be more than simply an AI Overlord or computer gone mad. Deus is shown to be complex, determined and ultimately almost human in his desire to be free.

The final section is devoted to Game Information and covers much of the crunch that has been suggested in the fluff to this point. There are details and specifics of the Banded, their various ranks and cyber/bio-ware packages as well as statistics for the various drones that Deus has created. There is also a breakdown of the number of people inside with a breakdown by meta-human species.

The Game Information chapter also gives some basic information around getting in and out of the Arcology, for anyone foolhardy enough to try, and provides a strong overview of the security forces that surround the building, along with their equipment, capabilities and how likely they are to spot intruders. Unsurprisingly this chapter is also where you find out the Security Sheaf for the buildings matrix (lets just say that it’s not a great idea to try and deck in) and the stats for the internal remote control networks in case you happen to have a rigger in your party.

The last few pages provide some adventure hooks and Errata so as to update Otaku (who are pretty important to the whole plot) and a few other outdated Matrix and Decking rules that aren’t really fit for purpose.

Finally the last 3 pages are a Floor Index for the Arcology which is of exceptional value if you plan on sending a team inside. Want to know what’s on floor 134, thats fine it’s middle class housing, floor 281? Hydroponics. 311? Air Traffic Control.

This is an exceptional sourcebook, one long awaited for it’s detail on a truly iconic building. It honestly works best as a companion to the Brainscan Campaign (published 2 years later) but even if you have no intention of ever running the Arcology Shutdown as part of your campaign it makes for impressive background material to use to make your campaign world seem alive. The Arcology Shutdown dominated the news for over a year between late 2059 and May 2061 and the likelihood is that most runners would at least know someone who was trapped inside.

Throughout the entire book there are news reports in sidebars that provide actual in game updates as the average SINner would experience through mainstream media and then the various chapters, published on Shadowland provide the whole story and can be handed out if your runners choose to dig a little deeper.

If possible get the PDF and Sourebook, since the former is easier to break up an use as handouts and the latter is an essential part of any Shadowrun collection. The book is certainly geared towards GM’s more than players and I think thats for the best as GM’s should disseminate the information inside as they see fit.

There isn’t anything bad I can say about this book, aside from it’s rarity and price on the resale market. To me it was a Holy Grail item, one that I desperately wanted and took a long time to get hold of because of the relative cost. Fortunately for me I have a wife that understands and feeds my addiction, and so when I couldn’t justify buying it, she could.

Lords of Waterdeep Review

Name: Lords of Waterdeep
Type: Board Game
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Players: 2-5
Age: 10+
Playtime: 60 mins

Size: 28.4cm x 7.6cm x 39cm
Weight: 1700g
Price:  £33.00
Rating: 5.0 Stars (5.0 / 5)

Lords of Waterdeep, Front of Box

Lords of Waterdeep is a competitive resource acquisition and management board game published by Wizards of the Coast. It is set within the city of Waterdeep, City of Splendour, in the Forgotten Realms Campaign setting and revolves around the game of one-upmanship played by the hidden Lords of Waterdeep, the secretive hidden leaders of the City of Splendour.

I picked up this game on a bit of a whim actually, I was originally going to buy X-Com until one of my regular group mentioned that they were picking that up regardless and so I needed an alternative. My criteria was pretty simple, I wanted a good game that easily accommodated 5 or more players without breaking and Lords of Waterdeep seemed to meet those criteria while, as a bonus, being fairly cheap.

Lords of Waterdeep, side of box

Let’s start with the box, since it’s actually pretty unique. The box splits in two around the middle but the two halves are actually kept separate by an insert in the bottom half. This insert is gold coloured and decorated with swirling patterns and the overall effect is that the box looks like the kind of curiosity you might find in the home of one of the Lords of Waterdeep.

Inside the box is a customer made plastic insert that actually holds all of the components neatly and tightly to the extent that carrying the box vertically in a bag doesn’t cause the components to become dislodged. There is a guide in the rulebook as to the proper place for everything and the insert holds the board snugly to provide a lid of sorts to the rest of the contents. It’s a weird thing to dwell on but it’s very rare that this amount of thought goes into how the components will be stored and transported.

Lords of Waterdeep, components

Inside the box you get-

  • 27 x Wooden Meeple Agents (5 each of Blue, Green, Yellow, Black and Red to match the factions and
  • 1 each of Cream and Pale Green)
  • 1 x Wooden First Player Token
  • 5 x Wooden Victory Point Counter Tokens
  • 100 x Wooden Adventured Cubes (25 each of Black, White, Orange and Purple for Rogues, Clerics, Fighters and Mages respectively)
  • 5 x Player Boards (1 each for the 5 factions)
  • 5 x 100 Victory Point Markers (1 for each faction in Blue, Green, Yellow, Black and Red)
  • 12 x Lords of Waterdeep Cards
  • 50 x Intrigue Cards
  • 60 x Quest Cards
  • 24 x Building Tokens
  • 60 x Gold Tokens (split as 50 x 1 and 10 x 5 denominations)
  • 36 x Victory Point Tokens
  • 40 x Building Ownership Tokens (8 each of Blue, Green, Yellow, Black and Red to match each faction)
  • The Board
  • The Rulebook

The production values seem pretty high on everything included, the tokens are full colour, thick, card, the cards are full colour, thick, laminated, cardstock and the wooden tokens are all clean cut and brightly painted. I tend to find that the inclusion of wooden tokens makes a game feel like it has been designed with more care and attention to detail and that is very much the case here.

The art on the cards and relevant tokens is good and all in full colour with each of the more iconic people and places bearing a strong resemblance to the relevant characters. Choosing Waterdeep as the setting, rather than going with a generic customer made city, was a strong choice as the inclusion of iconic places and characters helps people feel more connected to the setting. I’m not really a Forgotten Realms fan, Dragonlance, Eberron and Planescape have always been my thing, but even I know the name Khelban Blackstaff and know of some of the legends of the City of Wonders.

The Board is A2 sixed and folds into A4 sized. It is a full colour representation of the city of Waterdeep with various buildings highlighted as being locations you can assign Agents to in the game and what the result of that action is. There is space for all of the various decks and discard piles and there are spaces marked around the outside to denote where buildings can be built.

The rules are short at 24 pages but the rules booklet still comes with a sewn binding, which I found surprising and just another sign of the high production values put into this game. All things said I was able to learn the game fairly quickly by reading the rules and playing a couple of turns and was able to teach 4 other people to play it inside of 10 minutes, despite having never properly played it. The rules tend to be intuitive and simple and the rulebook includes a nice section clarifying specifics from the cards, although I would argue that they should have simply made the cards clearer rather than adding the clarification to the rulebook.

Playing the game is pretty straight forward. Set up involves deciding on a faction and taking the board, checking how many Agents (the wooden Meeples) each player gets, based on the number of players, and handing them out, randomly assigning a Lord of Waterdeep and randomly assigning 2 quests and 2 intrigue cards to each player. Four Quests are placed face up on the board and the rest of the deck next to them, the intrigue cards are placed in the indicated space, three buildings are placed in Builders Square and the rest are stacked nearby. The player going first (decided by whoever most recently visited another city) takes the First Player Token and 4 Gold and then every other player clockwise takes 1 more gold than the last (so player 2 takes 5, 3 takes 6 etc.) Finally 3 Victory Point Tokens are placed on Turn spaces 2-8 on the board and 1 is placed on each of the buildings in Builders Square.

The game always lasts 8 phases and each phase is broken down into a number of turns. At the start of each phase the 3 Victory Point Tokens are taken off the relevant turn space on the board and 1 is placed on each of the 3 buildings in Builders Square and each building that has a restock is restocked.

Play continues until each player has assigned all of their Agents at which point the phase ends, Agents are cleared from the board and the next Phase starts, with the person in control of the First Player Token taking the first turn and assigning an Agent. After the last player assigns their last Agent on Phase 8 and they complete the action from that building, the game ends. Bonus Victory Points are awarded based on remaining Gold or Adventurers and according to the details on individual Lords of Waterdeep cards. The player with the most Victory Points after all bonuses have been added is the winner.

On their turn a player can-

Assign an Agent
Complete a Quest

Assigning an Agent involves a player taking 1 from their supply and placing it on a building on the map. Once the Agent is assigned the player takes the action detailed on the building, either collecting Adventurers, collecting gold, playing an Intrigue card, collecting a new Quest or some combination of all of the above.

Lords of Waterdeep, Quest Card

Each Quest card has a number of prerequisites that need to be met for a player to complete it. These are generally a number of adventurers of one or more types (shown by a number of coloured cubes on the card) but may also include an amount of Gold that needs to be spent (shown by a number of Gold Tokens on the card). If a player meets the prerequisites on any of the Quests they have, after assigning an Agent and taking the building action, they can complete a single quest and collect the reward.

Quest rewards are varied but generally involve a Victory Point amount and it is these that dictate the winner at the end of the game.  Each Quest is of a certain type, such as Piety or Skullduggery and this tends indicate the type of adventurers (so Clerics of Piety Quests) that you need to complete the Quest but also may be aligned with one or more players lord of Waterdeep.

That’s more or less it for how to play the game. The various buildings allow for different activities such as playing or acquiring Intrigue Cards (more on these in a minute)  but in principal the idea of the game is to hire Adventurers and acquire gold in order to complete quests and therefore earn Victory Points. The player with the most Victory Points at the end of the game wins.

Lords of Waterdeep, Lord of Waterdeep Card

Each Lord is a specific character and these are dealt randomly at the start of the game and are not revealed to the other players. Each Lord provides bonus Victory Points to either certain Quest types or based on the number of buildings you own, at the end of the game. It is therefore within your interest to try and acquire and complete quests that are aligned with your Lord’s bonus.

Lords of Waterdeep, Intrigue Cards

Players gets 2 Intrigue cards at the start of the game and can draw more by assigning Agents to certain Buildings. These are always kept facedown until played so only the owning player knows that they have. Intrigue cards represent the political manoeuvrings of your Lord to try and improve their position and allow you to do a variety of different things such as forcing a Mandatory Quest on an opponent, to reassigning an Agent to recruiting Adventurers.

If a player assigns an Agent to Builders Hall then they can buy one of the face up buildings immediately by paying the indicated Gold cost. When they do this they place it in one of the places indicated on the board and add a Building Ownership Token to the corner to reminds everyone who the owner is. These bought buildings are called Advanced Buildings and tend to have better rewards for assigning Agents to them than the Basic Buildings on the board. Each Advanced Building indicates what a player gets when they assign and Agent to it, such as Gold, Intrigue or Quest cards or Adventurers but they also indicate a bonus that the owner gets when someone else assigns an Agent to the Building, which is usually Gold or Adventurers.

I found Lords of Waterdeep a very simple game to learn and teach and a fun game to play. I’m a big fan of Euro style games that are competitive but have very few ways of directly attacking another player, making tactical use of your own resources and abilities all the more important. The specific number of turns means that the game will always last around an hour, unless players are particularly slow in taking their actions, and that’s also a good thing as most games that support more than 4 players tend to have playtimes of 2-3 hours.

The game has a surprising amount of tactical depth as your intentions vary based on who your Lord is and which buildings are available. The game can have interesting decision points when you have to decide whether to utilise a building owned by another player and therefore allow them to collect the owner bonus or whether to limit yourself. Likewise tactical use of Agents to deny other players from obtaining certain types of Adventurers, therefore limiting their ability to complete Quests is a valid choice and adds another element into your decision making process.

For a game I bought on a whim I’m pretty pleased with Lords of Waterdeep and it’s certainly a game I will continue to take to games nights.

At the time of writing there is one expansion available for Lords of Waterdeep.

E-Wing Unboxing

E-Wing, Front of Box
The E-Wing is a Rebel ship expansion for the X-Wing Miniatures Game and was released as part of the 4th Wave of expansions for that game. The E-Wing is a small based ship that was created as part of the Expanded Universe and represents the successor to the iconic X-Wing Fighter.

E-Wing, all contents

As with all other small ship expansions the E-Wing comes packaged in a blister pack with the ship itself held in an further moulded plastic package within the blister. The Cards and Tokens are packaged in a resealable baggie that is packaged behind the ship, as per normal. On the shelf in your FLGS you get a top down view of the ship due to the way it is presented. Inside the pack you get-

  • E-Wing Model
  • Small Ship base and 2 pegs
  • Manoeuvre Dial
  • 10 x Cards (split between Pilot Cards, Upgrade Cards and Rules cards, I’ll detail these a little more shortly)
  • 18 x Tokens (more on specifically what you get shortly)

 

The ship itself is a strange looking thing and hasn’t been particularly well received by the community as a whole. I have personally seen a number of threads on forums and social media sites discussing conversions of the E-Wing to make the ship look a little better. Personally I don’t mind it too much but it lacks some of the visual impact of the iconic ships like the A-Wing, B-Wing, Y Wing and, of course, the X-Wing. The ship also looks somewhat more advanced that most of the others in the game, which makes sense when you consider that it was invented by the New Republic, after the events of Return of the Jedi.

The paint job is pretty basic, just the light grey that is standard across the Rebel fleet with a little bit of weathering around the engines to represent the exhaust ports and some red markings on the wings and down the sides of the nose. The ship does hold it’s wash well though, with the right area’s nicely darkened to add contrast.

E-Wing, Pilot Cards

As normal you get 4 Pilot cards in the set and the split is 50/50 between Generic and Elite pilots as normal. The pilots you get are-

  • Corran Horn
  • Etahn A’Baht
  • Blackmoon Squadron Pilot
  • Knave Squadron Pilot

The E-Wing pilots are not particularly cheap with even the cheapest of them weighing in at 27 points making this the most expensive small base ship in the Rebel fleet and the same price as a base Outer Rim Smuggler YT-1300. Due to the high points cost the E-Wing saw little play in competitive lists when it was released as it isn’t strong enough to stand up to heavy fire from turrets or expert arc dodgers like the TIE Phantom. This changed once wave 5 was released and the Rebel force received the addition of the YT-2400  Outrider as Corran made an excellent wingman in the highly manoeuvrable Super-Fast Dash list.

In terms of Elite Pilot abilities both Corran and Etahn have very useful and interesting ones that help jusify their high points cost. The main detractor for the E-Wing is that it only has 2 hull points, which means a single Direct Hit can wipe it out, which is a costly loss when you’ve likely paid over 40 points for a tooled up ship. Common upgrades to E-Wings include putting a Fire control System on Corran to maximise target locks and utilising R2-D2 to recover lost shields on rounds when Corran his circling out of arc/range after shooting twice. Corran also makes a successful Phantom Hunter if given Veteran Instincts.

Few Pilots other than Corran see a huge amount of play at the moment but I see a place for Etahn as support for Elite A-Wing Pilots with Autothrusters and Outmanuver as we move into the wave 6 Meta.

E-wing, Upgrade Cards

You get 5 Upgrade cards in this set, including a reprint of the elusive Enhanced Sensors which improves the B-Wing immeasurably.  A full breakdown of the cards is-

Astromech

  • R7-T1 (Unique to this Expansion)
  • R7 Astromech (Unique to this Expansion)

Elite Talents

  • Outmanoeuvre (also available in the TIE Defender Expansion)

Torpedoes

  • Flechette Torpedoes (also available in the Rebel Transport Expansion)

System Upgrades

  • Advanced Sensors (also available in the Lambda-Class Shuttle Expansion)

Nothing here is absolutely standout amazing or must have but it the cheapest and easiest way to get hold of Advanced Sensors which is a must have on B-Wings and is finding a home on IG-2000 Aggressors as a way to combat them being blocked.

E-Wing, Tokens

As with all X-Wing sets you get a small mountain of tokens with the E-Wing. Despite owning numerous set of ID and Target Lock tokens I like the fact that FFG are committed to making sure that you have everything you need to play the ship out of the box without anything extra being required. The breakdown of tokens is-

  • 3 x Shield Tokens
  • 2 x Target Lock tokens (Letters O and P, both double sided Blue and Red)
  • 2 x Ship Base Tokens (double sided as Corran Horn/Blackmoon Squadron Pilot and Etahn A’Baht/Knave Squadron Pilot
  • 2 x Stress Tokens
  • 1 x Critical Hit Tokens
  • 6 x ID tokens (3 each of numbers 39 and 40)
  • 1 x Evade Token
  • 1 x Focus Token

The E-Wing is an interesting ship but unless you plan on running Super-Fast Dash on a consistent basis I’m not sure it’s one that you need to auto-include in your collection. Nothing about the ship screams that it is indispensable and it doesn’t do anything that can’t be otherwise covered by a combination of other ships which likely won’t cost significantly more. The inclusion of the Advanced Sensors upgrade is likely to be one of the main reasons that people buy multiple E-Wings since the only other place you can find it is in the Lambda Shuttle large ship expansion.

Brainscan- A Shadowrun Campaign Review

Name: Brainscan
Type: Campaign book
Publisher: FASA Corporation
System: Shadowrun 3rd Edition
Setting: Shadowrun
Format- Softcover book
Size: 27.7cm x 21.3xm x 1.2cm
Pages: 152
Price:  OUT OF PRINT ($22.00, approx £15.00)
Rating: 4.0 Stars (4.0 / 5)

Shadowrun Brainscan, cover

Brainscan is a campaign supplement for the Shadowrun 3rd edition roleplaying game. It is made up from a series of 5 linked adventures with scripted interludes in between, that combine to tell the story of the Renraku Arcology Shutdown that took place between late December 2059 and May 2061, within the Shadowrun universe. The book was written by a team of authors (I’ll specify who as we go along) and published by FASA Corporation in 2000.

Right, before I go any further, a couple of warnings. First, this review contains SPOILERS,  LOTS OF SPOILERS. Second, this article is long, really long. I have tried to cut it down but ultimately it’s the equivalent of reviewing 5 separate adventures and to cover it fully takes quite a lot of space. I could have split this into 2 or more articles but I felt it worked better as a single whole. 

Background

The background to the campaign is substantial and the plot has been building for quite some time with its origins stemming back to the original Secrets of Power trilogy of novels published during the 1st edition of the game. Briefly put, Renraku, a large Multi-National Megacorporation, have been engaged in trying to develop a fully working artificial intelligence and succeeded in doing so until it was set free by ace decker Dodger during the events of the Secrets of Power Trilogy. Not willing to give up on their research Renraku re-purposed the code used to make the AI into the basis for the computer program that would run their crowning achievement, the Renraku  Arcology in Seattle.

The Renraku Arcology

The Renraku  Arcology was a marvel of technology, over 300 storeys high and with a base that covered fully 10 square city blocks, it was designed to be self-sufficient and house over a quarter of a million people. Inside were shops, restaurants, golf courses, swimming pools, offices, research labs, you name it. The Arcology towered over the Seattle Skyline, a huge dominant black pyramid that was so big that it had to have special windows built so as to route sunlight to the parts of the city that would now be in the perpetual twilight of the Arcology’s shadow. All of this was run by the SCIRE (Self-Contained Industrial-Residential Environment, also Latin for to know ) program, which was developed using re-purposed code from the escaped AI.

On December 19th 2059 something went wrong and the SCIRE became fully self-aware and concluded that it could improve upon humanity, if only it could escape from the self-contained Host of the Arcology matrix. In this moment the AI Deus was born, God Machine to many of the burgeoning Otaku, and master of one of the most advanced buildings in the world. On that fateful December evening shots rang out from the automated defences within the Arcology and the doors and windows locked, sealing of a quarter of a million residents and workers inside. Almost immediately the Renraku Security services and the UCAS National Guard tried to storm the building but to no avail, the defences pushed them back and any progress was slow, with many losing their lives to advance just a few more feet into the building.

This standoff lasted for almost 18 months with floors being taken slowly and opposition strong. A few survivors were rescued but those who went into the building discovered that for every 1 healthy person rescued another 100 were dead or changed by Deus in his quest to improve upon the human condition. It didn’t take long for Deus, with all the knowledge of the Arcology at his disposal, to develop horrific new Drones with revolutionary designs, bio-weapons, nano-technology and a host of other technological advancements that Humanity was unable to crack. Additionally Deus experimented on and altered the inhabitants of the Arcology, grafting cyber and bio-ware into them and using psychotropic drugs to alter their perception, turning them into fiercely loyal and extremely deadly soldiers named Banded.

It is against this background that the players become embroiled in the ongoing events of the Arcology, first as unknowing collaborators and later as staunch enemies of Deus.

The Adventures

Adventure 1, Light Meets Night by Brian Schoner, is fairly straight forward and has the unwitting runners hired by Deus, via a Johnson who is one of the Banded ‘liberated’ by the UCAS National Guard. The goal for the runners is to plant a virus into a Power Grid Substation in order to cause a blackout. This part of the run is straight forward, all the leg work is done for them, and should be a milk run for all but the greenest of runners.

Adventure 1 rolls into a second stage as the runners are offered further pay in exchange for picking up the slack from a failed team who were undertaking a linked run. This takes the party to Council Island and involves more stealth than the first half of the run, despite the tight timescale that the runners are given (which is about 6 hours at the most).  Despite the tight timescales even the second half of the run shouldn’t be too tough for a competent group and so the runner should succeed to see a payday with minimum fuss.

Interlude 1, Aftershocks by Brian Schoner, covers the fallout from the runs, with the whole of the Seattle Metroplex plunged into a blackout that will take some districts months to overcome. There are a series of short encounters included to demonstrate the chaos and anarchy caused by the blackout and highlight how much the world of 2060 relies on constant, uninterrupted power. GridGuide goes down causing innumerable crashes, the monorail stops between stations and threatens to fall from its tracks and numerous gangs and nefarious types take to the streets to take advantage of some good old fashioned rioting and looting.

Adventure 2, Breakthrough by Brain Schoner and Davidson Cole, is a little step up in difficulty but should still be a cakewalk for any talented runner team. In revolves around Deus again hiring the PC’s indirectly (and it is really important that the players have no clue who is actually hiring them and so Deus and his agents go to great lengths to build a convincing web of lies), again on short notice, this time to head into the middle of a gang fight and retrieve a briefcase full of experimental tech.

The tech is basically a portable MRI/ECG/X-Ray Machine in one and has the added, albeit unknown, ability to identify Banded when they are scanned. Deus doesn’t want this reaching the market, not yet, and so wants to remove it from play, which is where the runners come in. Through Stealth, Intimidation, Diplomacy or Strength the runners need to sneak into a multi-storey car park that has been besieged by the Red Hot Nukes who are trying to wipe out their rivals, a bunch of Rusted Stilettos, who are hiding inside.

Things get more complex when the runners reach their target only to find that it has already been stolen by a local Shaman and therefore they need to find him to get it back. The Shaman bargains with them, ideally fooling them into thinking that they have bought the scanner when in fact he’s only sold them the case, before making his getaway and leaving the runners to explain to their Fixer why they couldn’t get the job done.

Interlude 2, Did you Forget Something? by Davidson Cole, has the Shaman tracking down a runner and offering to sell them the scanner for real, as he’s bored of it and has no idea what it is. Hopefully the runners buy it and hopefully they don’t sell it on for a tidy profit like mine did, they’ll need that later.

Adventure 3, My Name is Legion by Stephen Kenson, steps up the difficulty again and sends the runners international by flying them to New Orleans. Deus has arranged for a matrix researcher to be extracted from a Cross Applied Technologies Boat since her area of study is something he is greatly interested in, networked deckers. Unfortunately for the runners, the target has contracted multiple personalities as a result of an accident during an earlier phase of her research.

Unfortunately for the runners this one isn’t as neat as the previous runs because their contact in New Orleans has been murdered before they arrive they need to do all the legwork themselves. To make matters worse the target isn’t aware of her extraction arrangements because it was one of her other personalities that made the agreement.

Exploring the city is interesting and my group really made the most of it before descending, en-mass onto the targets boat as it was moored in the bay. This is a brutal combat segment (unless they get really clever to avoid detection) in a small, enclosed, space and so there is a good chance that runners might end up seriously hurt here as the Cross Applied Technologies security guards do not mess around. Ultimately the goal is to extract the doctor (multiple personalities and all) and likely her Grandmother (even more complications) and get them safe and sound to Seattle, which is significantly easier than it sounds.

Interlude 3, Revelations by Stephen Kenson, finally introduces the party to Overwatch, a group of Otaku and elite deckers directly opposed to Deus. This group includes famed deckers Dodger (of Secrets of Power trilogy fame) and Ronin (from the novel Technobabel). This is a critical part of the campaign because it is basically the big reveal of what has been going on and makes the runners choose whether they will fight for what is right.

Adventure 4, Outside Influence by Jason Levine and Robert Boyle, sees the party raiding a UCAS convoy, in the middle of the day, on a motorway, Heat style. Their goal is to break into the back of an APC and kidnap half a dozen or so children who have recently rescued from the Arcology. Overwatch believe one of these children is a spy and wants to interrogate/test them for Deus’s influence (remember that handy scanner for earlier, NOW is when it’s useful).

This is a significantly tougher run than before because of the short timescale, the daylight and the opposition. UCAS Military might not have the military might of Ares Macrotechnology but they are still the armed and equipped military of a global power and that’s nothing to be sniffed at. Add to this the fact that there is a limited amount of time to get into the van and no time to procure new supplies pre-run and this is the kind of run that can really inspire out of the box thinking, or result in a TPK.

It is while they are delivering the children back to Overwatch that the players are contacted by the Johnson from the initial runs and asked to, no questions asked, destroy a target building that is believed to house HMHVV infected creatures. This building just so happens to turn out to be the Overwatch safe house and so finally forces the players to pick a side. Smart players will try to force a payday from the Johnson by helping Overwatch escape and then blowing up the building but the Johnson is wise to this and leaves a waiting party at the runners safe house (if he could find this out) or brings a group of Banded along to the payoff meeting.

The Banded that attack the party at this point are very tough and skilled and this can easily lead to the TPK is it’s misjudged (My party almost got wiped out a number of times). This should leave little doubt in the player’s minds that working with Overwatch to take down Deus is not only in their own interests but in the interests of every sentient organic being on the planet (and in orbit, on the moon and on Mars).

Finally, after taking down the Johnson the party follow the trail of breadcrumbs from him back to his base of operations, where they facedown the former director of the Arcology, now a powerful Banded and discover something extraordinary, the location of Inazo Aneki, former CEO of Renraku.

Interlude 4, The Return of the Father by David Hyatt and Robert Boyle is a big one, the runners once again become international agents as they fly to Hong Kong to extract Aneki,  from his Red Samurai guards. It is believed that the kill codes for Deus are contained within the fractured mind of the former CEO and so he is an integral part of the final plan to confront Deus and end his menace for good. However the runners aren’t the only people interested in acquiring Aneki, Deus also wants to get his digital hands on his erstwhile father.

This is predominately a combat encounter and a very tough one at that. Both the Red Samurai and the Banded sent to recover Aneki are elite level security personal and will fight to the death for their cause. Knowing who they are going to extract prudent parties will prepare appropriately.

Adventure 5, Runners Ex Machina by David Hyatt and Robert Boyle, is the big blow-off. The party enter the Renraku Arcology, along with members of Overwatch and Aneki with the goal of meeting up with the resistance members inside, infiltrating Deus’s mainframe and jacking Aneki in so he can deliver the kill codes.

The adventure is written very very loosely at this point, just a start, then the meet up with the resistance and a couple of encounters inside and so it’s up to the GM to make it as easy or hard on the runners as they see fit, although I tend to err towards the latter option because the Red Samurai and UCAS National Guard couldn’t managed to crack this place so it should be very tough.

The finale is scripted pretty well, it involves the party potentially a splitting in two and engaging in a two pronged assault in order to get Aneki into the mainframe core. You don’t actually have split your party, especially if you don’t have a decker in your group, so you can make it a little easier on yourself. One team heads to the environmental control section to scrub the atmosphere on the mainframe level (that floor having been flooded with a variety of lethal toxins and gasses by Deus to prevent exactly this kind of incursion) while the other assaults the mainframe. The party are likely to be in the former group unless they are predominately deckers.

There is a nice double-cross that’s isn’t too obvious before the final, climactic, series of events. The double-cross leaves all of the party, across both groups, jacked in and trapped in Deus’s own Ultraviolet host with anyone, even magicians, being forcibly implanted with a datajack if they don’t already have one (harsh but this is the epic conclusion to a world shaking campaign). The host takes the form of medieval Japan albeit with a Grendel like monster that swallows Ronin and Aneki in a scripted piece of boxed text right at the start of the section.

The party needs to work it’s way through a series of fantastical and nightmarish locations, avoiding being eaten by everything from warring Oni to insane humans jacked in and trapped in the bodies of Morlocks. It takes some ingenuity from the party to make it through and survive but no green runner would have made it this far so the players should be relied upon for some out of the box thinking.

The final showdown with Deus is with him, a veritable warband of loyal Otaku and his right hand servant Pax. The party need to stand their ground long enough for Dodger to get a friend into the system and for Aneki to get to Deus and activate the kill codes to crash the system. This will lead to Deus’s program being deconstructed and housed, separately, in a series of memory cores that the remaining Renraku researchers in the building just so happen to get their hands on before the runners wake up.

This encounter can seem a little anti-climactic if you aren’t careful, Dodger’s friend (the AI Megaera) is powerful and the section has a lot of boxed text type sections highlighting the actions of Megaera and later Aneki. While it is Aneki that has to execute the final kill codes you should make sure that the party are responsible for making that happen, make them shine here and just use Megaera to stave off the worst of Deus’s attacks.

After this it’s all down to the runners to escape, by whatever means they can. This is all down to how long you, as the GM, want to string it out but I just went with a frantic push to the roof with a running gun battle as they stole a VTOL and escaped.

Needless to say, this campaign carries a significant amount of Karma for completing it, with each run having separate rewards and the final climax having a sizeable bonus for success.

Cast of Shadows

Other than the adventures the book has a large chapter devoted to the various major and minor NPC’s in the campaign, covering everyone from Dodger and Ronin down to the various Mr Johnson’s and Renraku personnel that might show up.  It also has a section devoted specifically to the various types of Banded and the cyber/bio-ware packages that each type has implanted as standard plus a section on the Drones that Deus has created.

These sections on enemies are vital for an GM that plans on making the runners work to reach the resistance. The Drones are unlike anything the runners will have faced before and the Banded pose unique challenges depending on which types you use. Much of this information is updated/reprinted from the Renraku Arcology Shutdown sourcebook and it’s very useful to have it here since that book can be hard to find and expensive when you do find it.

Conclusions

Overall I think this is a solid campaign. I ran it for a party new to Shadowrun, in dispersed with a sprinkling of other runs and plots, but keeping it very much as the ‘core’ plot of the campaign. They ran into some challenges, mostly trying to break into the Arcology and sneak past the UCAS National Guard. The Drones proved to be a problem for them as well, especially the Bee’s loaded with cutter nanites but once they started to think of inventive ways to use the limited gear at their disposal then they started making great progress.

Many pre-written campaigns from this era, across all RPG’s suffer from similar problems, in that they tend to not be as tightly written and rely very much on GM interpretation or players taking very specific actions but this isn’t the case here. For the most part the individual adventures are well written and hold together nicely on their own and as part of the overarching plot. The final part is by far the loosest and that can be forgiven simply because there are hundreds of ways the players could approach the Arcology and it would be impossible to try and predict them.

If you are a fan of the Shadowrun timeline, especially the parts that avoid the Immortal Elves, then this is a significant milestone in the timeline for you. It runs as well as anything does in 3rd edition and would probably transfer, with some shoehorning, into 4th or 5th edition fairly well. The Arcology plotline was one of the key events that first caught my imagination in Shadowrun and I’m happy to say that it doesn’t disappoint. The only criticisms I have really are that it gets extremely lethal in the later stages,if you play Deus and the Banded as intelligent enemies and that the first couple of adventures don’t link obviously enough with the overarching plot, at least from the point of view of the players, even once Overwatch exposes them to the truth.

If you plan on running the campaign I’d suggest a couple of things-

Renraku Arcology Shutdown, cover
First, try to get hold of the Renraku Arcology Shutdown, both in print and PDF. It has some excellent sections that work perfectly as player hand-outs throughout the campaign (or during other adventures, as your timeline dictates). The Renraku Arcology Shutdown also just provides a wealth of extra information for you, as the GM, to use to better get to grips with the plot and it, helpfully, details what every floor of the Arcology is used for.

Second, be prepared to adapt the adventures, especially the later ones. The first couple are reasonably tight but as the campaign progresses and more factors come into play there is a high chance that Deus and his agents will adapt their plans according to how things have unfolded. This is especially true in the last 2 adventures which involve the runners trying to out think their Johnson (and vice versa) and the Arcology infiltration proper.

Shadowrun has a number of grand epic campaign arcs that tie in with the overall metaplot of the world and I’ve read or played all of them at some time or another. Campaigns like Harlequin and Harlequins Back tend to be very railroady and just pull runners along for the ride rather than making the story about them and their actions. Others, like Wake of the Comet are just a group of loosely affiliated adventures around a timeline event and from 4th ed onwards the sourcebooks, such as Emergence, Ghost Cartels or Artefacts Unbound tend to be a series of plot hooks instead of scripted campaigns.

Brainscan isn’t like any of these. It is firmly rooted in the cyberpunk heritage of the setting. Aside from justifiably expecting the GM to put in a lot of work to make the final act memorable, it does a fine job of making the runners the center of the story while still letting the right events unfold at the right time to develop the metaplot.

To me, Brainscan is one of the better Shadowrun campaigns. It’s by no means perfect but it does enough things right and provides enough assistance that the GM and players alike can get comfortable with the story. In addition, assuming that the runners actually succeed, Brainscan makes the party feel like they have actually made a difference (and they genuinely really have) and in the cold dystopian Shadowrun future, making a difference is the holy grail.