Shadowrun: Crossfire – Better than Bad. It’s Good.

I’m not keen on deck-building games nor am I a big fan of co-operative games.  The former is likely because I’m never familiar enough with the cards and the game’s rules to formulate any actual strategy against the other more experienced players in the card race while the latter comes from the feeling I get from most games that we’re just sitting around, going through the motions and waiting to lose.  So that said, I’m not sure why I’ve been enjoying Shadowrun: Crossfire so much.  I mean, I’m not even a Shadowrun fan!  I have some theories, though…

In some ways, I’d say Shadowrun: Crossfire is like a deck-building Sentinels of the Multiverse: players with their little decks of cards are fighting “obstacles” while adding cards to their decks as they go. While I loved Sentinels of the Multiverse, that love comes more from a combination of the art and story blurbs on the cards than from the actual game play.  Crossfire is not as pretty as Sentinels, as there are necessarily no unique character decks, but the play goes a bit smoother.  This is especially true for new players, as there aren’t all sorts of wacky combos and special abilities one needs to wrap their brain around to play effectively.  Gameplay and strategy are fairly straightforward for everyone playing, and for that alone, I’m willing to invest a bit more time in this than a lot of other games.

So the game works basically like this: there are four colors of damage; each “class” gets 4 plain cards of their primary color and one each of the other three at the start in their “deck” – additional cards with different damage and play abilities are purchased; each player is being attacked by one or more opponents that are defeated by playing cards that match the symbols on their damage tracks.  The team “wins” by completing the mission stages, with each stage growing progressively more difficult in terms of opponents and the situation gradually getting worse the longer it takes to defeat them.  A team can fail the mission but “abort” successfully for a smaller payoff, which brings me to the next part of Shadowrun: Crossfire.

Crossfire is meant to be played as GMless hack & slash RPG.  The book even recommends doing ‘downtime’ sessions.  Completing missions accumulates “Karma Points”, which can be used to buy character perks for the next time you play.  Failing the mission but successfully “aborting” (having at least one character get knocked to “critical”, but avoiding a TPK for at least one subsequent round) gives you some KP, but significantly less than if you win.  They must want you to be in it for the long haul because these character perks are stickers you’re meant to stick to your character sheets.  The game includes some truly nutso high level missions that the book recommends for parties with 70+ KP.

The guy who bought the copy and I went through two separate playthrus of ‘doing it wrong’ with different groups of people (first fighting opponents who were too easy and some other first time mistakes, and the next time fighting opponents who were way harder than the game actually called for), but maybe have the rules down now between the two of us and are still willing to give the game more playtime.

Unlike the Lovecraft games, which people go into all “HURHUR! LOST ALREADY!” as they’re setting up the board, or the beautiful but absolutely awful Mysterium that’s all the rage, in which hours are spent determining minute modifiers on the game’s final all-or-nothing round, there’s a sense that one CAN win or at least hurt things before dying, and the deck-building/card-buying aspect feeds into the reward psychology: I beat a monster, I get to buy a neat thing I’ll use to beat other monsters.  Table discussion was “I can kill this thing”, “I can’t kill this thing, but I can hurt it”, “I can hurt the thing that’s attacking you”, “If everybody hurts the thing in front of him, we can kill it, so he won’t die. Then he can kill this other thing”, “Killing this will get him enough money to buy that, and he can use it next turn to kill something else”, etc. etc.

While it was co-operative, each player was rewarded in a way that was unique to them by way of buying equipment.  There was no built in impetus to backstab or betray like in so many BS co-op games that either have individual scoring (Castle Panic) or individual win conditions (Dead of Winter).  Though the “abort” criteria makes the most sense if playing Crossfire as an ongoing group game, it at least keeps Crossfire, while very difficult, from being one of those games where everyone expects to lose from the moment the lid comes off the box.  There’s enough flexibility in the mission designs that a group could actually come up with several of their own scenarios to keep this game fresh and interesting for some time, were they dedicated Shadowrun fans actually interested in playing this as a campaign.

The game is not without its issues and is certainly not for everyone, but I really enjoyed Crossfire a lot more than I expected to and would be far more excited to play this again than another round of Resistance, Saboteur or (bleh!) Fluxx.