Name: Shadowrun Crossfire
Type: Card Game
Publisher: Catalyst Games
Size: 29.2cm x 29.2cm x 9cm
Playtime: 30-60 mins
(3.0 / 5)
I’ve had a long, relationship with Shadowrun Crossfire, not because I’ve owned it for a particularly long time, but because I had it on pre-order practically from the day it was announced, which seems like an age ago. As it is, Crossfire was released some 15 months after their initial window, missing the ‘Year of Shadowrun’ by quite a margin. The delay in the release of Crossfire was annoying for me because I went from excited, to impatient, to annoyed and finally a kind of resigned relief when it finally arrived.
Now I’m a HUGE Shadowrun fan and have been since I was first handed a battered copy of ‘Never Deal with a Dragon’ back in 1996. A good friend at the time had a sizable collection of the sourcebooks for the RPG and I began to read them at a voracious rate, taking in this amazing setting that seems, at least to me, to be the perfect fusion of Cyberpunk and Magic. The easiest way to describe Shadowrun would be a combination of Tolkien and Gibson but that is an absolute oversimplification.
Crossfire is set in the world of Shadowrun 5th Edition, in the year 2075. For those that don’t know, Shadowrun is a RPG with an living world. Every single sourcebook moves the timeline forwards, huge corporate plots unfold, wars are fought, people are born, live and die all within the confines of this world. The world of Shadowrun is incredibly detailed, in much the same way as George R R Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire setting, and the politics of nations and corporations can be discussed endlessly, as can the motivations of people, dragons, even spirits and elementals. It’s for this reason that people can latch onto the world, everyone has their own opinion as to what is an iconic weapon (for me it’s the Ares Predator), spell (Manabolt) or vehicle (Yamaha Rapier) and everyone has their favourite Megacorporation (Aztechnology). It is my opinion that Shadowrun is the single most detailed setting of any RPG.
I needed to explain all that so you understand my passion for the setting, as well as my knowledge of it as it’ll help when I go into some of the finer detail of the product.
In the RPG players take the roles of Shadowrunners, hired criminals that act as deniable assets for anyone that has a shady task that needs completing and the Nuyen (money, literally New Yen) to pay for it. Shadowrun Crossfire simulates the part of the RPG when the runners actually go to perform the job or run as it’s known in the game. These runs usually take the form of breaking into secure facilities and stealing data or prototypes, extracting valuable employees from multinational mega-corporate compounds or even taking out dragons.
OK, so Crossfire comes in a fairly sizable box that is surprisingly light for its size at 1,481g. Inside you initially get assaulted by a huge amount of superfluous stuff, a leaflet with a code for a gun in the unreleased Shadowrun Online game, a booklet entitled ‘Welcome to the Sixth World’ that described the history of the setting (cool but not really required), a preview of the novel Frost and Fire and a Catalyst catalogue. Other than that you get the rules, 190 cards, a sheet of tokens, a pack of stickers, 10 character cards and 3 missions, plus a couple of extra mission related cards. The box has a plastic insert to keep all your cards and tokens in that has space for probably triple what is provided so I guess Catalyst have a good number of expansions in the works.
The Rulebook is 31 pages long, just under A4 in size and is full colour, which is nice. The cards are made of a lightweight cardstock and are not laminated. I’m not overly impresses by the production value of the cards, especially given the cost of the game, I think they’ll bend very easily and I doubt that they’ll stand up to any kind of drink spillage or the like. The tokens are nice and thick so seem pretty hardy and the runner and mission cards are all full colour and made of stiffer, laminated card. The cards are all just under playing card size with the exception of the runner and mission cards which are around A5 in size. The stickers, of which, there are 100 come sealed in a little self-seal packet.
There are 190 cards that make up the various decks, one for each role (of which there are 4), a Black Market deck, 2 Obstacle decks and a Crossfire deck. As I’ve said they appear to all be of sub-par standard compared to any other LCG or CCG on the market. Given the style of the game I would say that Catalyst are opting for something similar to FFG LCG system with Crossfire but as no add-ons have been announced, at the time of writing, I can’t say that with any certainty at this point. The cards are all full colour and all have pretty decent artwork on them. I’ll cover the decks individually as each has something work pointing out.
Starting Role Decks.
There are 4 of these, one each for the separate role you can play in the game, Street Samurai, Decker, Mage and Face. Each starting deck comprises of the same 4 cards, Quick Shot (a Street Samurai card), Mana (a Mage card), Mark (a Decker card) and Street Smarts (a Face card). The decks are made up of 8 cards, A Role card that has the turn order on the back, 4 of the card associated with the role and 1 of each of the other cards so, for example, the Street Samurai deck is made up of the Street Samurai Role card, 4 Quick Shot cards and 1 each of Mark, Mana and Street Smarts. Each runner role has a corresponding colour that has some effects in the game, Black for Street Samurai, Green for Deckers, Red for Faces and Blue for Mages. Starting Role deck cards are basically Black Market cards and their description matches that of the Black Market deck cards mentioned below.
The Crossfire deck is made up of 50 cards. These represent the unexpected events that can take place on a Shadowrun, guards with better armour, back-up or weapons, extra layers of security, old enemies turning up at inopportune times or any number of other occurrences that make the runners lives just that much harder. In the context of the game these cards are drawn each round and stay in play and can have such effects as keeping enemies alive until all are dead, or healing the enemies or damaging players. As they change each round it means the players need to keep readjusting their plans. These cards are mostly artless and tend to just have the effects written on them.
There are actually two of these decks comprising of 40 cards each. One contains more difficult challenges than the other and is used later in the game or in harder missions. The two decks are differentiated by the number of bullet holes on the back of the cards, the easier deck has one, the harder has two. These cards take the form of in game challenges that the runners face and are such things as Security Drones, Lone Star Security, Renraku Red Samurai, Paranormal Critters or a variety of other challenges that may crop up in the RPG. The cards all have full colour artwork on them, along with a coloured box that designates which type of challenge they represent and this matches the colours of the runner roles as noted above.
Each card also has it’s title, a little bit of fluff and the cards title in the coloured box. The Nuyen reward for defeating the obstacle is in the top right corner and the damage to the runner it faces in the bottom left corner. The other notable thing about the Obstacle cards is that they all have a line of icons across the top starting in the top left corner. These icons show what the runners need to do to defeat the obstacle.
Black Market Deck
The Black Market deck is made of 60 cards. Black Market cards are new items or skills that the runners can buy during the course of a game in order to increase the size of their deck and to improve their chances of success. Every card has a coloured border that aligns with the runner roles although runners aren’t limited to only buying cards that match their own deck. However like coloured cards tend to have a better synergy with one another and so focusing on just your runners role cards can be a useful stratagy. The cards also have a title along the top, Nuyen cost in the top right corner, extra rules or effects in a box at the bottom and a list of icons down the left side starting in the top left corner. These icons match those on the Obstacle deck cards and it is by it is using Black Market cards, along with Role deck cards, that allow you to defeat challenges in order to ultimately win the game.
Runner cards are, for all intents and purposes, character sheets. The are larger than the deck cards and have spaces for you to write your runners name and to add the stickers as your character progresses between games. Each card has a picture of the runner and lists their race (Human, Dwarf, Ork, Elf or Troll), their starting hit points, starting hand size, starting Nuyen and it has a box for you to record your Karma (experience) as you collect it through playing games. The back of the card also has a bit of in game fluff about your race.
The mission cards, of which there are 5 which total 3 complete missions, are specific sets of rules and objectives that make up individual games of Shadowrun Crossfire. Each details the background fluff for the run, the goal, how the Crossfire and Obstacle decks are used during that game, what the criteria for the game ending are and how to play with less than 4 players. They also explain the Karma rewards for the run and explain how the players can make the run harder in order to increase the Karma rewards at the end. Catalyst have also released 3 new missions online for free and these can be downloaded here- Extra Missions.
How it plays
Normally, when I review a game like this, I tend to go into pretty specific detail as to how to play the game. With Crossfire I can’t really do that, the rules are 31 pages long and the game changes depending on which run you are playing so if I tried then this review would be huge. What I will do is go into a little bit of deal as to what makes it different. If you want to read the rules then they are available for free online here- Rules
Crossfire is a Deck Building game, which means that players start with limited decks of cards (the Role decks) and use Nuyen in game to buy cards from the Black Market so as to increase the size of their deck and what there character can do. Runners start with some Nuyen and earn more by defeating Obstacles. To defeat an Obstacle the players need to play cards with the correct icons to match, in order, the icons on the Obstacle cards, over a number of turns. Once they have matched all of the icons on the Obstacle it is defeated and the runners get paid.
What makes Crossfire really special is the fact that your character gains experience, called Karma, after the end of the game. The amount of Karma earned depends on whether the players succeeded, aborted or were all defeated. Players can spend this Karma on new abilities which are represented by the stickers included in the box, which they attach to their character cards. These new abilities can increase a characters starting hand size, Nuyen or Hit points or allow them to substitute certain icons on cards for another, making the character more versatile. This experience system is great idea and keeps you coming back to the game again and again and makes you genuinely care whether you succeed.
Make no mistake, this is a tough game to win, I’d say that you have a 33% chance to beat the run, a 33% that you have to abort and do successfully, a 33% chance of dying and a 1% chance of throwing a fit and wiping the cards off the table in frustration. What it does well though is force co-operation because you absolutely have to work together when you play this game. Players need to consult with other players regarding what resources they have at their disposal and form a plan to best get through the round and to defeat the enemies as quickly as possible.
Haste is a must in this game, the more rounds that you go through, the more Crossfire cards come out and, if you look at the picture of the Crossfire card above, you’ll notice a symbol in the bottom left that looks like a square targeting reticule with a 4+ in it. Well this symbol means that if 4 or more Crossfire cards have come out then the secondary text kicks in which makes things even harder. The point is, just like the RPG, you want to be in and out as quickly as possible because the longer you take the harder things are going to get.
This is a good, reasonably well balanced, co-operative game. The rules work well, make sense and bear a reasonable similarity to the original Shadowrun CCG and to beating challenges in the Firefly Boardgame. Most importantly it actually simulates a the core ideals of a Shadowrun remarkably well. Unfortunately it has a few things that go against it, it’s very expensive for what you get, the production values are rather low and it’s actually quite hard to play with less than 4 players, despite the game providing guidance on how to do so.
However these aren’t the worst things for me, the worst thing is that some of the most iconic pieces of equipment aren’t in the game. Weapons such as the Ares Predator, Browning Max Power or Ingram Valiant can’t be bought for a Street Samurai, Deckers can’t get a Black Hammer piece of IC and Mages can’t get Manabolts (lightning bolt might be iconic in D&D but not in Shadowrun). There is a chance that these things are all going to come out in expansions but they are a stunning omission and a major disappointment for me. The game does have certain pieces of named equipment but none of these are what I would call iconic. I will say that some of these items show up in the art on the cards for instance the Ares Predator is on the Quick Shot card but not being able to buy one detracts from the Shadowrun experience for me.
It’s a game that I would recommend to someone, but only if they could find it cheaper than the standard price. I was fortunate enough to have the game bought for me by my gaming group and while I would have bought it myself, I would have been sorely disappointed with what is in the box if I had. It’s a fun game and one your group will be able to keep coming back to over and over but it’s not without it’s issues.
At the time of writing Shadowrun Crossfire has one expansion available.