We Got Stranded--A Double-Take Review of Shadowrun: Crossfire


Co-operative games! Deck-builders! Two of the hottest mechanics in gaming. What if someone smooshed them together? Well someone did. Catalyst Games' Shadowrun: Crossfire is a co-operative deck-builder set in the classic RPG world of Shadowrun--a futuristic cyberpunk , urban fantasy setting. Our review will let you know just how well they pull it all off. 

First, let us assure you that you don't have to have any experience with or knowledge of the Shadowrun world of RPGs or video games in order to enjoy Crossfire. There might be some aspects that would be enhanced with that knowledge, but neither of us have ever played Shadowrun, and we got on fine. 

So you and your gang of heavies and magic-users are living in the fringes of this futuristic setting, trying to stay away from the police, corporations, and gangs who all want you dead. And here's the thing. You WILL be dead. A LOT. This is the Dark Souls of the board-game world. 

But we're getting ahead of ourselves.


The Setup

Everyone picks a Runner card. This is your character, and depending on its race, you'll have different stats. So an Elf is fairly well-rounded, with 4 starting HPs, 4 starting cards, and 4 starting cash. Trolls have 7 starting HPs, 3 starting cards, and 2 starting cash. And the Dwarf has 5 starting HPs, 2 starting cards, and 5 starting cash. There are also Humans and Orks. The game comes with several unique characters for each of the races, so you can choose one with the look and gender that appeals to you.

Once you have your character, you'll pick a role. There are four of them: Face, Decker, Mage, and Street Samurai. Each role's deck has a different combination of the starting cards: Mana, Mark, Quick Shot, and Street Smarts. Each player draws the starting cards and starting money allowed by the Runner card. 

Then you're going to set up the Black Market by shuffling that deck and drawing six of them faceup. You'll buy cards from the Black Market to enhance your deck. They include cards such as Fireball, which lets you deal 1 level of damage to up to three different obstacles. Or Coordinated Attack, where you choose another Runner and that Runner draws a card and immediately plays it. 

Separate the Normal and Hard Obstacles decks, and shuffle them. Then shuffle the Crossfire cards.

Then you'll set up your chosen Mission by reading the Goal and Obstacles and Crossfire sections aloud. The Missions refer to the Crossfire level, which is equal to the number of Crossfire cards currently in the discard pile. 

Finally (!) you draw the first card from the Obstacle deck and place it in front of the Runner of the corresponding color. Then you continue to draw one Obstacle for each player, placing in front of each player going clockwise.


The Gameplay

A turn consists of:

1. Draw a new Crossfire card. 

2. Each runner takes a turn, starting with the Starting Player.

At the start of the turn, you put the current Crossfire card into the discard pile, and draw another and apply its effects. Often there's a continuous effect, and then one that only triggers if the Crossfire level is at a certain level. The Crossfire level is equal to the number of cards in the Crossfire discard pile. As the game progresses, and you put more Crossfire cards into the discard, that level rises and suddenly those cards start triggering. It's awful. 

For example, The No More Toys Crossfire card has a continuous effect that runners can't buy cards. If the Crossfire level is three, then when that card goes in the discard, you cycle all cards in the Black Market. And that's an "easy" one. Some double the attack of Obstacles, or decrease the damage you do. 

So on each player's turn, he or she will play cards down to damage Obstacles, but you can damage Obstacles in front of any players. Each Obstacle card has a Damage Track, that tells you what's necessary to defeat the card--and you must damage it in order from left to right. It's generally a combination of specific (the black, blue, green, and red of the role colors) and generic damage. So the Out of Ammo card needs a black damage, and then three of any combination of colors. In addition, while it's in play you can't play more than two cards on your turn. The Spell Sniper card takes one colorless, one blue, four colorless, and one blue. In that order. You can take care of as many as you want in a single turn, but they must be done in that order, and one step on the damage track must be completed before the next one. It also has a Flipped ability that triggers when you flip that Obstacle: Each runner places two cards from the top of their deck into their discard. Some cards even have an ability that triggers when you defeat the card. Brutal!

Completed damage carries over after the turn (you track it with a token), but if you could only do two of the three colorless damage necessary to defeat the Out of Ammo card, that three "resets" and the next player will have to deal it the full three to defeat it. 

Some cards have an Assist ability, and that means you can play them on other people's turns in order to help them accomplish something. 

If you defeat an Obstacle, each one pays out money, starting with the person who beat it and going clockwise. This is another area of consideration, because player X might really need cash, but if I defeat this Obstacle, he won't get any of the payout. So you might let the next player defeat it. 

After you've played cards and applied damage, any obstacles in front of you attack you. If you drop to zero HP, you become Staggered (which comes with numerous penalties), and if you take any damage while Staggered, you're Critical and your game is over. 

Then, if you have three or fewer cards, you draw two more cards. And finally, you can buy any cards you'd like from the Black Market, which go into your hand, and not the discard pile as with most deck-builders.

This continues on, and eventually a Crossfire card will trigger, making worse things happen. So you feel constant pressure to defeat the Mission. 

The game ends in one of three ways:
Win: You meet the conditions of the Mission.

Abort: A Runner goes Critical, and you play one Abort round for smaller awards. 

Loss: All Runners become Staggered or Critical. This often happens on the Abort run. 

The game comes with three Missions, with recommended starting levels. You can also scale them depending on how strong your characters are. The Missions will have specific goals. For instance, in the first Mission, you have to clear the board of Obstacles three times. You get full Karma Awards if you complete it, and then smaller ones if you're able to do it once or twice. 

You can spend Karma points to permanently upgrade your Runner with abilities that let you increase starting cards by one (which doesn't seem like a lot, but is very helpful), or increase max HP, or buy Black Market cards cheaper. These come SLOWLY. You're only given a small amount of Karma, and only if you Win or Abort. So your character grows slowly, and it takes a while to get anywhere. You add the stickers right onto the Runner card, so it's a little like a Legacy game that way. But there are lots of Runner cards and stickers--and you can get more in the available character expansion pack. 

The Verdict

Firestone--I don't think I've ever played a game where the co-op aspect was so...critical? In most co-ops, you can make a few mistakes or focus on just what you need to do. But in Crossfire you have to pay attention to EVERYTHING and EVERYONE. It's a hard game that just never takes its boot off of your neck. "Okay, we have to get that card away from Keldon or he'll die, but I can only take care of the black damage. Can anyone take care of the blue? Okay, that's good because then for the payout James will get $2." Planning. Planning. Planning. 

Jeremiah--Yes, let's just get that out there: If you don't like planning and thinking ahead, this isn't the game for you--but then again, neither are most co-ops. Every turn is full of tension and the old adage about our best laid plans still rings true. My best advice for the first time player: "Hang on to your butts!"

Firestone--I like how every Runner has a slightly different deck and stats, and how the differences seem small, but in a game they're HUGE. The Black Market cards are fun and thematic. I like the mechanisms and how they're unique and original. Being able to hit Obstacles in front of other players just increases the co-op-iness (?!) of this. 

Jeremiah--Yeah, having a custom deck for each role is a cool design feature. It once again pushes you towards co-op play, there is simply no going rogue; you'll have to rely on others to clear out cards in front of you, and vice-versa. The Black Market at times seemed secondary because we found ourselves in so deep that buying a card wasn't going to help much, but I did really enjoy the fact that a newly purchased card went straight into your hand which did help to slightly increase their usefulness!

Firestone--The upgrade system makes it feel like an RPG. I mean, I know the system and setting is from an RPG, but this only reinforces that. I'm not a huge fan of the setting, and have no desire to dive into the RPG. But that hasn't kept me from enjoying Crossfire. 

Jeremiah--Yeah, it's not my favorite fantasy genre, and jumping into the long storied world of Shadowrun sounds more like work than fun, but Crossfire throws you in headfirst and gives you enough flavor to enjoy the game without the lengthy back story. And let's be honest: Once you get about 3-5 minutes in you're fighting for your lives and it doesn't matter what universe you're playing in!

Firestone--The downside of Crossfire is that even if you strategize and discuss and micromanage everything, you can still lose because of luck--it's a card game, after all. But I've played plenty of co-ops where there was no chance you were ever going to win, thanks to the way something came out. So it's not unusual, just occasionally frustrating. 

The game does really need an expansion (and more than just the extra character sheets that are available now). I think this will really explode when there are more Missions, Obstacles, and Crossfire cards, but I think this needs to happen soon. Otherwise, games that are doing similar things (like Pathfinder) could make Crossfire a distant memory. 

Jeremiah--Yeah, more missions, more cards, more, more, more please! A game like this that becomes a story line and lets you develop a character really needs to keep expanding, although my bank account would disagree!

Jeremiah's Final Verdict--I'm a fan of co-ops, and deckbuilding. Would I, personally, have preferred a different theme/universe to place this game in? Sure. But the mark of a great game is that it will pull you in and make you a fan despite the theme, and Crossfire does just that! Lots of tension, great decision making moments, and hope-dashing defeat. I like my co-ops difficult, and Crossfire really delivers a great challenge while incorporating some fun cross-genre mechanisms!  

Firestone's Final Verdict--I wasn't sure a co-operative deckbuilder would work, but I'm a definite fan of Crossfire. It forces you to truly cooperate, and think through every action. It's brutally hard, but that makes it so satisfying when you finally Win a Mission. And the games play out in a reasonable time (often in 30 minutes). Now we just need some real expansions. 

Theology of Game would like to thank Catalyst Game Labs for providing review copies of Shadowrun: Crossfire. This in no way affected our opinions of the game. 

Thanks for reading! AND, thanks to Catalyst Game Labs we have four copies of the Shadowrun: Crossfire Character Expansion Pack 1 to give away. This includes 20 new Runner cards with new character portraits, and 100 more upgrade stickers. You'll need to get the base game yourself, but this expansion gives you plenty of material to keep your game going for a long time. Just enter below!