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Awards

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You Might Like

  • Highly thematic, great setting
  • Offers a real challenge for veteran players
  • Enough content for every game to feel unique

Might Not Like

  • Can be brutally hard
  • Replaying feels like a grind
  • Not much variation between roles

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Shadowrun: Crossfire Prime Runner Edition Review

Shadowrun: Crossfire

Shadowrun CrossfireShadowrun: Crossfire is a scrappy game in all the right ways. It’s a game about things not quite going to plan, and if you’re okay with that meaning a sometimes unfair level of difficulty, it’s the kind of chaos you can have an absolute blast in.

The game is a deck-building game set in the Shadowrun universe. If you’re not familiar with that, it’s your typical cyberpunk dystopia, with an added layer of fantasy elements on top. So if you’ve ever dreamt of playing as an ogre who hacks into a corporate mainframe while dual-wielding uzis… well, you’re quite a specific dreamer. But Shadowrun might be for you.

Shadowrun has its roots in tabletop gameplay, with a sprawling RPG system that’s been in print since 1989 and is now in its Sixth Edition. It’s had successful spin-offs in other media, including the joyful Shadowrun: Returns and Shadowrun: Hong Kong video games. But what’s common to all these incarnations is the core premise of the gameplay: rag-tag bunches of thieves attempting daring cyber-heists. Or ‘shadow runs’ for short – get it?

The Shadowrun Universe Translates Smoothly Into A Board Game Experience

Each game of Shadowrun: Crossfire represents a single mission. This might be getting from point A to point B, or simply extracting yourself from a contraband exchange gone awry. But gameplay-wise, missions all play out in the same way. You progress through several ‘scenes’ (typically three), which each spawn a couple of ‘obstacles’ (typically enemies). Beat all the obstacles and you beat the scene. Beat all the scenes, and you beat the mission. Simple, right? No.

Let’s just get this out of the way: Shadowrun: Crossfire is hard. And you will die, a lot. Sometimes that’ll be because the obstacles you turned over were just too powerful, or you didn’t have the right cards to beat them. And once you start losing a mission, it can be very hard to turn things around.

Enter The World Of Shadowrun

Each player takes on the role of a shadowrunner. The roles include the imposing Street Samurai and the cunning Face. These roles affect a few things in the game, like where obstacles get placed each scene. But ultimately they’re just a starting point for your deck. The Face, for instance, starts with 1x Mana, 1x Mark, 1x Quick Shot, & 4x Street Smart cards. And although it makes thematic sense to stick to your class when building your deck, you’re under no obligation to do so.

Once you’ve picked your role, assembled your starting deck, and picked a mission, you’ve got one more decision to make: which character are you playing as? Shadowrun: Crossfire also has a roster of races to play as, like orcs and elves. Each has its strengths and different starting hit points, hand size, and money. And you’re encouraged to stick with a character over multiple missions via a karma system we’ll cover in a bit.

Shadowrun: Crossfire

How To Play (and maybe even win) Shadowrun: Crossfire

Ok, that’s all the prep. You turn over the first obstacles for scene one and you’re off! Each obstacle has a damage track on it, showing you what kind of cards you need to play to beat it. The Gutter Punks, for instance, need 2 damage of any type, then 1 damage from a black card, then another 3 damage of any type. If you’ve got enough damage in your hand to do this all in one turn, great! If not, you’ll do as much as you can and mark how far along the track you got.

Any undefeated obstacles in front of a player after they’ve played their cards will deal damage to the player. But you’re also free to attack other player’s obstacles, perhaps if you’ve got a colour damage they don’t. And any obstacles you’re responsible for defeating earn you nuyen, the game’s currency.

You can spend nuyen to buy cards from the Black Market, a rotating offering of new cards for your deck. These can be powerful new abilities and equipment with new effects and higher damage stats than your basic starting cards. And so you begin to build your deck, aiming to purchase powerful cards for later rounds while being aware of what obstacles are still in play. Any cards you buy from the market go directly in your hand and you’ll be able to play them next turn.

Sounds simple enough? Wrong. On top of all this, Shadowrun: Crossfire has another curveball: crossfire cards. You turn over one of these each turn and it has an effect that impacts everyone. Maybe this turn you can’t attack other player’s obstacles, or obstacles deal more damage. You never know what’s going to come and mess up your plans.

Expect to lose… a lot.

From enemies with unfairly complex damage tracks to downright evil crossfire cards, the game might not be impossibly difficult, but it’s not on your side. A key mechanic is aborting a run mid-way if a player reaches critical HP. This is a last-ditch attempt to avoid utter failure by giving up on your mission objective and just surviving a single round. Successfully aborting a mission will grant you some ‘karma’, but not as much as winning.

Karma represents mission-to-mission experience points. Get enough and you’ll be able to attach special upgrades to your character card. That might be a bigger starting hand, or more health. And this is where the game’s replayability strategy becomes apparent. You’re meant to lose a lot, early on, but in losing you become a tiny bit better. Lose a lot, and you might just get good enough to win.

But losing can be fun, right?

Not always. Knowing that you’ve got to grind away to become strong enough to tackle the higher levels is a bit frustrating. The content is there waiting to be played, but you’re essentially blocked from accessing it because the game wants you to play the same initial missions on repeat. And there’s only so many times you can wail on the low-level street thugs before you feel like shouting “Hey Shadowrun: Crossfire, just let me fight the big, bad dragon already!” The temptation to cheat and just add the rewards to your character is almost too strong to resist.

And the game’s unfairness doesn’t help much. Repeatedly playing a game can be fun, but repeatedly losing it isn’t, especially when the losses come out of nowhere. As you play a mission, the obstacle cards you place ramp up – not just in numbers, but difficulty too, with advanced obstacles representing a greater challenge. So, you’re penalised for playing cautiously and taking your time. The ideal strategy is to go in blasting, and either win or abort quickly. It suits the theme, sure, but it doesn’t quite suit a good time.

Final Thoughts on Shadowrun: Crossfire

Shadowrun: Crossfire is a decent deck-builder that rewards experimentation and strategy. It doesn’t have the same feel as classic deck builders like Dominion, or Clank!, and is more of an action-puzzler. But if you like the setting of games like Android: Netrunner, you’ll feel right at home.

Shadowrun: Crossfire is a scrappy game, then. But it revels in its scrappiness. And while that can be a lot of fun, it can feel unfair at times and a chore to replay.

Zatu Score

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You might like

  • Highly thematic, great setting
  • Offers a real challenge for veteran players
  • Enough content for every game to feel unique

Might not like

  • Can be brutally hard
  • Replaying feels like a grind
  • Not much variation between roles

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