Allow me to give the stage to my wife Dassi, she has a lot to say about Shadowrun: Crossfire after we’ve played it several times this Saturday.


Hi guys!
My name is Dassi, and I’m a Shadowrun fangirl. Shadowrun was the first RPG I ever played, 2nd Edition – I was 12, the GM was my friend’s 16-year-old brother, it was preposterously clunky and full of excessive damage tables and stuff, and I loved it. And to this day, almost twenty years and three editions later, I still love it – I love that in the 6th World the virtual Matrix and the magic Astral Plane overlay the physical environment with equal impact, I love that this world is steeped in politics and capitalism, that the corporation of which you are a citizen – yup, the days of wage employees with national loyalties have been, well,  not wholly past but surely modified – can be as important to the campaign as the race to which you were born, and I love that when you meet a guy who tells you to shoot up a camp of orcs or behead a troll who’s loitering under a bridge, he’s not a quest giver, but a racist bastard who should be locked up.

I’m the girl who read the 5th Edition Core Rulebook cover-to-cover (477 pages), who every time there’s an annual RPG conference in the UK immediately presses ctrl+F on her keyboard to find ‘Shadowrun’ among the available games, and who sighs when she sees that once again no one else wants to play or run a game where it takes over nine hours to create a warrior character with a big-ass shotgun, not to speak of a Decker with a fully loaded Novatech Navigator Cyberdeck.

All of this is a long-winded introduction to what I really wanted to write about with Eran, and that is Shadowrun Crossfire, the cooperative deck-building game made by the same folks who gave us Shadowrun 5th Edition, Catalyst Labs. Given all of the insane enthusiasm detailed above, we bought it, full price and all. Long story short, I was disappointed. To me, it wasn’t worth the price.

There are several reasons for this. I believe the game wasn’t properly play-tested – it’s nearly impossible to win, repetitive and somewhat tedious, and it’s at once very difficult and heavily dependant on chance. But it’s worst sin in my Shadowrun fan-girl eyes is that it doesn’t create the feel of Shadowrun. At no point did I actually feel that I’m playing a murky character at the edge of things in a morally grey and infinitely secretive world, where a corrupt politician is as likely to kill you through a rigged coffee machine as the ravenous ghoul stumbling out of a pub after a fleeing crowd of half-drunk elves.

Here, I think, we can say something more general about board and card games based upon already-existing franchises and worlds, by looking at what Shadowrun Crossfire did wrong and other games did right. I assume here, of course, that if you’re playing a game based in the world of Star Wars, Middle Earth, or StarCraft, you expect to enjoy something of the experience, atmosphere, and fun of those worlds. There’s so much to say about this, but since I’m running way over the word count as it is, let me just focus on one prominent feature, and that is the mechanic of event cards.

Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) are masters of this technique. Each round, a player draws an ‘Event/Encounter/Crisis’ card and reads its text. This not only adds interest to the game by constantly creating new conditions that change every round or so, but it also, when done well, provides a constant influx of story events that would characteristically take place in the fictional world of the game and its book/film/RPG franchise and thus gives us the sense that we are participating in another story unfolding in that same world.

To offer two examples among many, in FFG’s Middle Earth Quest, there’s an Event Card titled ‘Tempted by Power’, with a quote from Boromir in The Fellowship of the Ring, and it involves the Sauron player giving a Corruption Card to one of the hero players. Who would not immediately feel watched and tainted by the Eye of Sauron as this card comes into play? In FFG’s and CD Projekt Red’s The Witcher Adventure Game, which uses a slightly different mechanic of ‘Good Fortune’ and ‘Foul Fate’ cards that players draw on their turns for various reasons, there’s a Good Fortune Card titled ‘Iorveth’, where the fluff text reads: ‘A run-in with Iorveth should have left you dead, but it seems you share a common goal.’ That means something to players of The Witcher computer games, and will probably elicit a smile of recognition.

Now, Shadowrun Crossfire tries to do something similar with the ‘Crossfire Cards’ drawn once every round, but it fails. And the reason it fails is that the cards’ fluff text is boring and certainly has nothing of the Shadowrun feel about it, or there’s simply no fluff text to speak of. Let’s take one example, a Crossfire Card titled ‘Reinforcements’, which says nothing more inspired than ‘Never tell me more defenders just arrived. I don’t wanna hear it. Just tell me to keep firing.’ A line from a bad ’80s action movie. As to why the same company that wrote a 477-page imaginatively engaging rulebook full of very cool storytelling couldn’t come up with anything better than that for the cards of its deck-building game is anyone’s guess.

There are other complaints I could voice about this ludonarrative dissonance, such as the fluidity of role cards – the same character can be a decker one game and a mage in another, and that’s totally un-Shadowrun-like – or the generic art and names on most cards. Let me just summarize by saying this: if you’re looking for a flavourful experience, Shadowrun Crossfire isn’t for you. The same is true if you’re looking for a balanced deck-building experience. So, maybe just avoid it all together.

P.S. by Eran
While I agree with most of Dassi’s words, I actually enjoyed my time with the game quite a lot, and would only recommend would-be players to start the game with already 10-15 karma. Only then do things get somewhat better, balance-wise.