Monthly Archives: February 2013

Sprawl Gangers Designer Diary 2

Shadowrun 5 Sprawl Gangers Logo

While many of you know me, the excitement of the Year of Shadowrun is likely pulling in a lot of people that have no idea who I am. As such, like Ross’ Designer Diary 1, I felt it appropriate to introduce myself and provide some background.

In 1989 I strolled into my local game store, Game Depot (which is still alive and well…go Dave and Patty!), and there on the wall was a poster for an upcoming RPG that instantly grabbed my attention. In fact, it held the attention of my entire gaming group and we anxiously awaited its arrival. When Shadowrun released, we were all in the store and I believe we walked out with 4 copies that day.

Of course we couldn’t make heads or tails on how to actually ‘play’ the game…and unlike Ross, I didn’t play through all the editions. Despite such growing pains, Shadowrun has remained one of my favorite universes of all time. In fact, when I started working at FASA Corporation in 1996, I was to be an “assistant developer” for all the developers at the time, and that included Mike Mulvihill, the SR line developer. So every night I read an SR novel, or some sourcebook…did that for a month straight (such a ‘chore’…)

Under Catalyst it’s been a pleasure to grow Shadowrun in a lot of ways. And being integral to all we’re going to accomplish in the Year of Shadowrun has been amazing. (Who knew I’d find it so satisfying to create such great partnerships and cross promotion opportunities with our various partners in crime, such as Cliffhanger Productions, Harebrained Schemes and Lone Wolf.)

Nothing, however, can compare to my work on Sprawl Gangers. Being able to roll up my sleeves and create an all-new game design set within the Shadowrun universe is one of the highlights of my career. That I can do that while working hand-in-hand with Ross Watson (someone whose career I respect and whom I call friend) just makes the whole experience all the sweeter.

In some fashion or another, for the last 17 years I’ve been professionally involved in the development of BattleTech and last year my first all original miniatures game design was released, Leviathans. And I’ve worked on a variety of other games in some fashion, including Earthdawn, Eclipse Phase and Cosmic Patrol.

Despite my professional work, I’m just a gamer at heart and I’m playing them all the time. I’m an equal opportunity gamer, moving from board games to card games to miniatures games with equal ease…even RPGs, of course, though sadly those are lacking for how much time I’m really able to devote there.

As with Ross, I have incredibly fond memories of Necromunda, having played in an active league at FASA for well over a year. While I’ve played dozens of miniatures games (and I especially dove into several newer games in preparation for working on Sprawl Gangers), and many of them have different aspects I love, I felt strongly that Necromunda was in the space closest to what I wanted to achieve with this design.

And of course, while creating a game design to fill that area, its of the utmost importance that if feel Shadowrun top to bottom. The powerful impression that Larry Elmore’s First Edition cover made with me of what Shadowrun is all about is constantly resonating as Ross and I work. Often we’ve tweaked things to not simply feel more Shadowrun, but to ensure that indelible parts of the universe shine.

For example, we just got the following comment back from one of our playtesters (the first playtest cycle started last week as we mailed the rules out to over a hundred playtest groups):

    Also, we are really hoping that the Control Terrain exploit program ends up making it to the final product. Last game 2 characters at once were knocked prone and damaged from a 4 inch fall when the bridge they were one was hacked by the Halloweener’s decker that they had forgot about.

I’ve read that half a dozen times already and I’m still smiling large…a perfect example of the balance we hope we’re capturing between a great, fun miniatures game that is pure Shadowrun!

As Ross mentioned, we’ll be doing these design diaries every week or two in the months to come as we pull back the curtain and try and convey every aspect of the game as you look over our shoulders…enjoy!

Randall Bills

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Putting More People on the Streets: Shadowrun Introductory Box Set

Shadowrun 5 Logo with Text

As you hopefully have noticed, we have some ambitious goals for the Year of Shadowrun. One of these goals is to get as many people playing in the Sixth World as possible. With computer games, a deck-building game, a miniatures game, a board game, and the Fifth Edition of the tabletop role-playing game, we’re set to provide a range of gaming experiences for Shadowrun. But we’re missing one link.

As we have been planning the various games, we’ve worked to maintain continuity between all the different pieces. We want them all to feel like Shadowrun, and that means they should not only have the flavor text and terminology that conveys the texture of the universe, but when possible they should share certain mechanics and ways of doing things. The goal would be for players to be able to have a sense of familiarity each time they sit down to one of these games, though the games should also provide unique experiences suited to their various natures. This means that if you play Shadowrun: Crossfire, the deck-building game, then move to the role-playing game, you should recognize different elements, pieces of gear, and rules that feel familiar to you.

We hope this will help people move easily from game to game, but we also know that role-playing games do not have the gentlest learning curve in the world. So to help players of the other games get involved in role-playing, as well as bringing entirely new players to the world of Shadowrun, we are announcing a new product: the Shadowrun Introductory Box Set.

The goal of the set is simple: It should have everything you need to quickly and easily launch an adventure in Shadowrun’s Sixth World setting. It should be approachable, fun to use, eye-catching, and entertaining.
With those larger goals in mind, we set about planning the contents for the box. Here’s what’s going in:

  • The Edge of Now: A world book introducing players to the madness, magic, and mean streets of the Sixth World, providing what they need to know to hit the streets at top speed.
  • Rules of the Street: A simplified rulebook that includes the critical elements of Shadowrun—Matrix, magic, machines, and so on—in an easy-to-use fashion.
  • Plots and Paydays: An adventure book with complete information on missions for the players; they can be played alone, or as a longer, inter-connected campaign.
  • Character Booklets: Four pre-generated character sheets, with stats, background, favored tactics, and advancement possibilities—everything you need to pick a character and start earning some nuyen.
  • Character sheets: Custom sheets for each character, with complete stats for easy reference, along with full-color character art.
  • Maps: Modular maps of common areas shadowrunners may run into that can be arranged in different ways to suit a variety of missions.
  • Spell and Gear Cards: Cards that list the stats spells and gear included in the game, so that players have an easy reference in front of them.

We’re looking for ways to include more, including counters that can help you track the position of your runners and their opponents as they go about their business. We’re also hoping to include customized dice instead of just standard D6s; we love seeing the Shadowrun logo come up when we roll dice.

Also, the cover illustration is being worked on by the wonderful Echo Chernik…once we’ve got in a final, just like the Fifth Edition cover, we’ll share!

We believe this set will make it easier than ever to launch into Shadowrun role-playing, and we hope it will introduce a growing audience of gamers to the joy of shooting people in the face for money.

Jason Hardy
Shadowrun Line Developer

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Shadowrun Fifth Edition Cover: Crafting An Icon


Shadowrun has the greatest fans in the world. Ever. With as much passion as any game’s fanbase and three times the attitude, SR fans are very particular that their favorite setting should be illustrated correctly. And of course they are rabidly vocal when you get it wrong, so it’s best not to piss them off. When it came time to design the cover for Fifth Edition, the quest was on to create one of the coolest images in the history of the game. Because this fanbase deserves the best.

That’s a tall order though. After all, Shadowrun has had a lot really freakin’ cool covers. A core rulebook cover should inspire a whole new generation of dirty deals and shady adventures in gaming. Just crafting the art notes for the cover took over a month, which included wrangling the Development Team and beating them into submission (this is Shadowrun after all—that’s how things get done). So I hijacked the development summit and spent an afternoon running them through the covers of every SR product ever released – discussing the good & bad, right & wrong, and explaining what it was about each that made these images strong or weak.

There actually is a method to my madness though, a secret formula for creating an “icon”-grade image. For all of you who want to know the secret for creating images, here’s what you need to know.

There are three specific types of image:

  • 1. The character(s) as the hero [example: SR4 Runners Companion]
  • 2. The story as the hero [example: SR4 Spy Games or Dirty Tricks]
  • 3. The setting as the hero [example: SR4 Seattle 2072]

When it comes to creating the cover for a core rulebook, the cover should deliver in all three categories. And it has to do that while showing a scene that embodies what it means to be a character in that world. Admittedly that is a very hard thing to do, so we started with what it means to be a shadowrunner. Once we had that down, other elements became a lot clearer.

We wanted the primary focus to be a team of runners. They were the number one focus and should take center stage. A small well-rounded team was deemed best, with a nice mix of metatypes, genders, and backgrounds. And NAN influences, of course (gotta have that on the core cover).

We wanted to show them in action, doing something absolutely shadowrun-esque. In short order we settled on the team breaking into a megacorp building. After all, what could be more Shadowrun than that?

The setting was established by putting the break-in on the roof (where there would justifiably be lighter security measures), which gave us a chance to put a city in the background to reinforce the world of megacorps and shadows. We decided against making the city distinctly identifiable and opted to make it non-descript, so it could be anywhere in the world.

That gave us a good start. Now it was time to amp up the story’s intensity. Part of crafting a good image is to make both the heroes and the villains look strong, powerful, and competent. No one is impressed when Superman (pretty boy with huge powers who wears tights) defeats Lex Luthor (bald, middle-age white guy with no powers.) If anything we root for Luthor just because we like the underdog. Same thing with characters. And besides, megacorps didn’t take over the world by being weak or stupid. So it was time to add that “oh sh**” moment and call in a security team capable of kicking ass in the Sixth World.

For the storytelling, it was really a matter of putting all these opposing elements into a scene that plays out for anyone with SR knowledge to identify what’s going on. No plan ever survives contact with the enemy, and sometimes all it takes is one stupid security drone on a roof to blow your infiltration plan to hell. So we added a freshly dispatched security drone (plus some damage it did, because if you get noticed, you risk pain. Nothing comes without a price). Our runners are obviously tough enough that they aren’t running from the security team and instead hold them off while breaking through the door on the roof. You just know they are going to get in there, which of course makes you wonder exactly how they intend to pull off their mission with a nasty SecTeam on their heals. The mind spins with possibilities.

Finally it was time to add the last secret ingredient—finding an artist with the chops to handle an image this complicated. Thankfully I have a phenomenal corps of artists, and among the five who I knew could handle it, Michael Komarck’s name quickly rose to the top of the list. One dark backroom deal and a few months later, and we have one perfectly crafted dose of awesome ready to launch a new generation of Sixth World gameplay.

Because you all deserve the best!

In the near future we’ll provide wallpapers of the cover, as well as show off the final graphic-designed cover!

Brent Evans
Art Director
Catalyst Game Labs

Posted in Uncategorized | 19 Responses

Crossfire: Cooperating on a Co-op

Shadowrun 5 Crossfire Logo

When Pandemic came out in 2008, a lot of game companies were looking for cooperative games. I have never been a huge fan of co-op games, since I often feel that they are best played by having one player tell everyone else what to do. So imagine my surprise when Greg Marques showed me a mockup for a deck-building game with a co-op play model. I was even more surprised that it actually worked. The added fact that the team was a pretty strong offering of Seattle’s design talent was enough to convince me to join them.

The design team had some obvious roles. Rob Heinsoo is the type of designer that I often call a “spigot,” where if you ask him for a couple of cards, he will give you ten. Many of the team members, including Jim Lin, Jay Schneider, and Rob Watkins, worked in the past at Wizards, where it was very common for the development group to add in some elements during the testing process, so there were constantly new ideas flowing in. My particular role on this team was as more of a filter. I feel it is important to keep games as simple as possible, so when new material was added to the game, I would weigh it and determine whether or not the complexity and fun it added was worth the extra rules baggage. While I want as much flavor in the game as possible, I also want players to be able to jump into the game quickly and not feel like they are digesting a huge rule set to play. With the structure we had, the development went fairly smoothly with very few major arguments.

Shadowrun is such a deep and well-developed property that you could essentially spend weeks mapping all the different elements to a game. Anytime you can have a full role-playing game built around a property, you have so much material for flavor that you are essentially trimming down from the start. This is a challenge for a game like Shadowrun: Crossfire. You want to get as much of the feel of Shadowrun in the game as you can without making the game so complicated that following the rules is a challenge. The final game is what I often call a “toolbox” game. This type of game has a lot of modular rules and can be modified in a number of ways to make the play experience different. While the base game has a high replay value, between playing different roles, getting different events, and seeing different threat cards and market cards, when you add in the various modifications that can be made to the game with scenarios and variants, the replay value of the game is really amazing.

While the game is co-op, each player must evaluate how to build out their deck and what their focus will be during a particular game. This is often a combination of the players’ play style and what cards are available in a particular game. The game solves the commander issue by having a large amount of data to digest and by constantly changing gameplay with events that alter the play strategy. While it might be possible for one player to attempt to coordinate everything, in actual gameplay you need all of the players thinking about what they can do to successfully win the game. Often there are several possible strategies and the group must decide which one is more likely to succeed, and the flip of a card can bring the best laid plans crashing down and force the group down a new path.

We trimmed out a few elements to keep the base game fairly simple, but don’t be surprised if you see some of these ideas pop up later, because who makes just a base game these days.

Mike Elliott

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