Published by FASA
Designed by Mike Nielsen
Reviewed by Ken Tidwell

$8.00 per starter; $3.00 per booster
2 or more players
45-90 mins

On the surface, Shadowrun looks like a multi-player knock-off of Netrunner. It isn't really, but shares the same theme of runners scamming various targets off of corps, other runners, and the world at large. Where Netrunner pitted one runner player against a corp player, in Shadowrun the players run against a common, cooperatively created set of targets. This is a moderately innovative approach (though its not far off the dozens of miniature 'run in and nuke em' style games or even Princess Ryan's Star Marines, for that matter) but it fails pretty miserably here.

On their turn, each player must either play an objective card, if they have none, or reveal their current objective. The goal of the game is to capture objectives. Objective may be capable of defending themselves. Just in case they are not each player may add one (or, in two or three player games, more) challenge cards to aid in the defense of any objective. On their turns players also have to choose whether to take a bit of cash, used to play most cards, or refill their hand. Various sorts of cards can then be played onto the table - runners, gear for runners, special cards that can do just about anything, locations that serve as repeating specials that cost cash, contacts which are locations with a different flavor, or, as mentioned before, challenge cards. Once you are happy with your cards, you can take a shot at one of the objectives by assembling a team of runners from your cards on the table and sending them out to do the dirty deed.

Ideally, your assembled runners will possess the skills necessary to slip past the challenges without actually setting them off. Once one challenge is activated all subsequent challenges must be faced - the alarm has been sounded. Most challenges just require firepower to blow past. Other challenges, we'll call them the annoying challenges that have no place in the game and really prevent it from being anything more than a random-fest, just so we know where we stand here, involve rolling a die and hoping for the best.

Another aspect of the game that did not work for me is the shear scope and range of cards available that must be coordinated in order to build an even vaguely workable deck. With Magic we had the various sorts of mana that needed to be assembled in order to summon critters or cast spells. Building a minimally workable deck was pretty straightforward - just match the colors. Richard Garfield obviously bought a lot of clothes from Sears as a child and good for him. His system worked very, very well.

In order to build a workable deck for Shadowrun you have to coordinate the range of runners you choose to give you good coverage on most skills. Most gear can only be used with one type of runner - riggers use drones and stronger vehicles, mages use spells, shamans use spirits, deckers use the matrix, runners with jacks use chipsofts. In order to prevent your deck from flailing horribly you must focus on a certain type of runner and gear for that type. The usual range of strategies apply - you can concentrate on one type or reinforce your main type with a second, etc. And you can relinquish all hope that such a deck can be constructed using a starter pack. Or two. Or three. Or, I suspect, even four. Do yourself a favor - if you want to try Shadowrun pool your bucks with some friends study one or two starters each then pool all the cards and run a draft. You might just end up with decks that are playable.

Finally, once you've got your deck assembled, you get to take your turn then wait, doing absolutely nothing (there is, in fact, some small chance that you might occassionally be called upon to act but it is by far the exceptional case), until it is once again your turn. Have we learned nothing from the German games or even the better American CCGs?

All that said, Shadowrun does do a good job of capturing the flavor of its cyberpunk/fantasy world. Playing around with the cards and imagining different possibilities for deck building is very intriguing and would, I suspect, even be fruitful if you could lay your hands on enough cards. One solution to this problem might be to offer themed boosters - troll packs, rigger packs, mage packs, etc. Organizing the starter decks into themes would be an even better plan and not that different from the approach that Five Rings Publishing has used to good effect with Legend of the Five Rings.

The Game Cabinet - - Ken Tidwell