Category Archives: Crossfire

Crossfire: Taking Out The Trash

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Deck-building games have a tradition of allowing you to remove cards from your deck (“trashing” them) during the course of the game. That allows you to remove the least significant cards from your deck and therefore gain greater access to your best cards. Shadowrun: Crossfire doesn’t have trashing, and I’m here to explain why.

1) No drawback. In games like Dominion or Thunderstone, the ultimate goal of the game is to fill your deck with cards that are worth victory points. These cards dilute your deck as the game nears its end . . . and they dilute your deck the most if you’ve made it small by trashing! But Shadowrun: Crossfire is about adventuring, and there is no end-game dilution effect. Trashing under these conditions would be incredibly powerful.

2) Loss of identity. In Shadowrun: Crossfire, each runner gets a different starting deck, depending on your role. These cards aren’t strong, and you’d sure like to trash them after you’ve bought a few replacements, but they define your identity! So instead of trashing, we added various black market cards that key off your starting cards—either by enhancing them, or by depending on their presence for best effect. Your starting cards end up staying relevant throughout the game.

3) Variety. It’s cool in Dominion if you can draw and play your whole deck every turn, but it wouldn’t be quite as cool in Shadowrun: Crossfire, where you’re supposed to be facing new and unpredictable challenges and situations every turn. Instead of letting you draw your whole deck every turn, we went for making each individual card powerful and significant.

—Sean McCarthy

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Crossfire: Taking It To The Next Level

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In previous articles we’ve told you about the mechanics within the Shadowrun: Crossfire deck-building game. Things like how to defeat an enemy and how to help your teammates. This time, we’re taking it to the next level and talking about one feature that makes Crossfire really stand out. On the first day of working on this game I decided I wanted to make a cooperative deck-building game. It fit the 1-hour play experience we were aiming for, it would have the flexibility and variability of an RPG, and with players working together, it would feel like being on a small team fighting through the tough life of a runner. There was still one piece missing—a connection to your character between games. I wanted something to carry over with the player from one day to the next or to the next week. My solution was to add stickers (upgrades). Using an experience system, I thought I could add abilities to the players’ characters as a reward for playing several games, which makes the next game more enjoyable because you get a fun new toy to try out.

Upgrades give you a reward for repeated play—something players already do with deck-building games—and since Crossfire games play quickly, players can get in 3 or 4 opportunities for acquiring upgrades in one sitting. Upgrades also let you customize your experience; by choosing the upgrades you like, you create a character that fits your style of play, just like you would do in the RPG.

Each time you finish a game of Shadowrun: Crossfire you and your team earn Karma, and you’ll earn more if you complete the run successfully. Once you have enough Karma, you can spend it to acquire upgrades—there’s over 40 different upgrades included in the core game! Love to play elves but tired of having so few hit points? Buy Fragging Tough to increase your HP. Want more control over the enemies you face? Buy Tactician and start really pushing them around. Ready to trade your life for an extra boost of power? Buy Zealot—it lets you damage yourself to draw extra cards. Are there lots of combos to be discovered? Of course!

Naturally, you can keep your runner between games. It takes a lot of Karma to get the more powerful upgrade abilities for your runner. We also encourage you to take your runner cards with you wherever you game. Bring them to our Shadowrun: Crossfire organized play events to earn special upgrades. Bring them to the homes of your friends and play the same runner with different groups of friends. We’re putting extra runner cards into every core game so you’ll have all the flexibility you want.

Don’t worry about playing with a mix of runners that have different kinds of upgrades on them. The game difficulty adjusts to the total upgrade-power of the runners. You can easily bring a new runner into a game of veterans. Having upgrades in the game also gave us the opportunity to create some difficult missions that basically require runners to be loaded up with upgrades. Keep an eye out for one in the core game and several in the upcoming expansions. You didn’t think life was going to get easier just because you’d survived a few runs did you? Come on, this is the Shadowrun universe! It’s never easy.

—Greg Marques

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Crossfire: Developing the Metatypes

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There are five different metatypes in Shadowrun: Crossfire: dwarf, elf, human, ork, and troll. Each metatype determines your starting cards in hand, starting nuyen, and starting and maximum hit points. Relatively minor variations in these three statistics end up providing a surprisingly large amount of variance in how each metatype plays.


Let’s take a look at each of the starting statistics and how it works in the game.

Hit Points

At first glance, it would seem that hit points are the most important statistic. You lose if someone on your team runs out of hit points and goes critical, after all. In early versions of the game, hit points were definitely the most valuable of the three starting stats. As we developed the game, though, two major changes reduced the importance of hit points. First, we introduced the Crossfire deck, which encourages runners to achieve things quickly, rather than stalling. This addition made tanking the obstacles less desirable of a strategy. Second, we reduced the number of cards that let runners move obstacles. As a result, it became more common for a runner to go critical while others on the team had lots of hit points. The result of these two changes is that there are strong diminishing returns in terms of starting hit points. Having 5 hit points is very noticeably better than 4 hit points, but having 6 hit points is only a little better than 5 hit points, and having 7 hit points is barely better than 6 hit points. If you do choose a metatype with more than 5 hit points, you should consider focusing on the Street Samurai role because of the Monofilament Whip card. This card allows you to move obstacles from another runner to face you instead. If you’re going to be doing that often, you probably want a few extra hit points. It’s also generally desirable for the starting runner to have extra hit points. In all of the missions, that runner tends to take a bit more damage than the rest of the team (since the team has fewer turns to deal with obstacles in front of that runner before they attack). This is especially noticeable in the Deal with a Dragon mission.

Starting Cards

If I had to pick one of the three statistics that was best, I would choose starting cards. Having high starting cards lets you get a fast start. By defeating obstacles quickly, you can often prevent damage to a runner, in effect increasing their hit points. In addition, defeating obstacles faster will result in you getting your nuyen payouts earlier, allowing your team to improve their decks earlier. There are some diminishing returns in starting cards, though. For example, in the Caught in the Crossfire mission, there is a big difference if you finish the scene on the last runner’s turn or end up waiting an extra turn and finishing on the starting runner’s turn. In the first case, you have drawn one less Crossfire card, so you will face one less hard obstacle in the next scene. This is a major reward, because the hard obstacles are bigger, have nastier effects, and pay less nuyen than the normal obstacles. On the other hand, the reward for finishing two turns before the Crossfire flip vs. one turn is relatively low. It only gives you an extra turn during the next scene in terms of avoiding extra Crossfire flips, but it doesn’t make the next scene any easier. When this happens, you’ll often wish that you had taken less starting cards as a team, and instead taken more nuyen, which would make your decks stronger for the next scene.


Taking a metatype with high starting nuyen is really fun. You get to buy better cards, so your deck will be stronger than the other runner’s, long term. Of course, someone has to be responsible for tanking and defeating the first set of obstacles, so your team will suffer if everyone goes down the path of playing for the long game.


Now that we’ve gone through a quick overview of the starting statistics, let’s look at each metatype and talk about its strengths and weaknesses.


Humans are the most balanced and easiest-to-play metatype. They have 5 hit points, which is usually enough for most runs, and they have a nice balance of starting cards and nuyen. A team of all humans works fine.


Elves lose 1 hit point and gain 1 nuyen compared to humans. The extra 1 nuyen is quite valuable long term, but having only 4 hit points means that you will rarely feel comfortable with your health total. Obstacles with Attack Strength greater than 1 are dangerous for you, and you’ll often be living in fear of what event the Crossfire deck might bring. Playing as an elf is fun, though. You have a good amount of nuyen and starting cards, so you can be a star both early and late. It’s the rest of the team’s responsibility to make sure your low hit points don’t take them down, right? A fun challenge is to have everyone on the team play an Elf. You’ll come out of the gate fast and have good decks in the long run, but you will also be desperately short of hit points.


Orks are a good metatype to have the starting runner play. In that seat, it’s more likely that you’ll be able to take advantage of your 6 hit points. In addition, it’s great to have someone with 5 starting cards lead off and set up runners with fewer cards in hand. Because of your low nuyen, though, the team’s long-term potential will suffer if you have too many ork runners. Play a few games with everyone being orks and you’ll see what I mean about it being possible to have too much firepower at the start of the game.


Dwarves are the opposite of orks. They are a good metatype for the runner who is going last. You only start with 2 cards, so if you go early in the round, you often can literally do nothing on your first turn. If you go later in the round, though, your teammates can often leave you valuable things to do with your 2 cards. Long term, you’ll have the best deck since you have the most nuyen. If too many runners on your team are dwarves, though, you’ll suffer a lot in the early turns since you simply have too little firepower out of the gate. Dwarves also suffer a bit in games with less than 4 runners. There are fewer runners to help make up for the fact that they are so weak at the beginning of the game.


Without upgrades, trolls are probably the weakest of the metatypes. Even as starting runner, 7 hit points often turns out to be more than you can use. To help trolls out a bit, there are a few events and obstacles that work out much better for the team if one of the runners is a troll. In addition, some of the upgrades allow you to leverage your hit points for other things. A hilarious challenge is to have everyone play a troll runner. You won’t lose quickly since it takes a while to eat through all those hit points, but you’ll notice how long it takes to defeat obstacles when you start with so few cards and nuyen as a team.

Jim Lin

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Crossfire: Riding Your Luck until it Explodes: Pacing and Tension

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Most deck-building games rely on competition for cards and victory to keep the action moving. Stalling on your turn in a competitive deck-building game is death. Heck, there’s even a mini-cottage industry commemorating Dominion’s fail-by-1 outcome of 7 coins.

As a cooperative deck-building game, Shadowrun: Crossfire has a much more direct problem with stalling. Players build their decks one turn at a time, but they’re not competing for resources and victory points. The goal is to survive, together, to fight through all the corp-bought shamans and security drones the game throws at you. If hanging out for a turn was any kind of good idea in Crossfire, everyone would applaud when another runner stalled. Well, they’d applaud for a turn or two, and then interest in such a snooze-fest would fade. Most likely, those folks would never get around to playing a second game.

So we added a couple of pacing mechanisms into the design. The key mechanic for ratcheting up the tension is what I named the Crossfire deck—a deck of fifty cards (so far) that represent new problems, frakked-up situations, ugly developments Mr. Johnson failed to warn you about, and other dramatic beats tied into the Shadowrun universe.

Generally the runners face a single new Crossfire card event each cycle around the table, which is flipped up before the first player’s turn. Everyone gets used to holding their breath as the next Crossfire card is put into play. It’s not just the immediate effect of the card that hits you, it’s the fact that when previous Crossfire cards slide into the discard pile the effect of the next Crossfire card is likely to be far worse. A good shadowrun is a fast shadowrun. The nasty effects that trigger when too many Crossfire cards have built up in the discard pile can turn a successful run into a fiasco.

I was happily surprised that the fun of designing the Crossfire deck was the same style of fun you get from GMing a good roleplaying session of Shadowrun or most any other RPG. You want to provide problems and adversaries that challenge the PCs and ratchet up the tension without outright killing them. In the roleplaying games I generally enjoy most, the players know that being serious screw-ups is going to have nasty consequences. That’s part of the GM-player contract, in which the GM has to maintain at least the illusion (and probably the actuality) of serious consequences for messing up. Crossfire adjusts the contract so that it’s no longer suicidal stupidity or awful roleplaying that flat-lines the team, it’s taking too damn long to get in and get out.

The Crossfire cards that push the runners closer to the edge are a mix of situations straight out of the Shadowrun roleplaying game and themes that play off elements of the SR universe but couldn’t quite show up in the RPG. To help you get a feel for this mix, let’s start by looking at three sample Crossfire cards.

Time Bomb

    When this card is placed in the discard, each runner takes 1 damage.
    Crossfire 8+: Instead of taking 1 damage, each runner takes 3 damage.

We’ll start with this card because it makes the pacing system brutally obvious. There is one way to make sure that the Time Bomb never gets put into the discard: whenever the runners finish off all the obstacles facing them and move on to the next scene of the run, the current Crossfire card gets buried at the bottom of the deck instead of being put into the discard. So Time Bomb makes the situation completely obvious: finish off all the obstacles this time around the table or everyone is getting blown up a little. If there are 8 or more Crossfire cards already in the discard pile, it’s no longer a little bomb—you’ve been on this run too long and you’ve got this one final chance to get out with your skins and your rep intact before you’re blown-up-a-lot.

Yomi This

    Yomi This
    The Attack Strength of each Dwarf, Elf, Ork, and Troll obstacle is increased by +1.
    Crossfire 5+: In addition, damage applied to non-Human obstacles by non-Human runners is prevented unless there are no Human obstacles in play.

This is an example of a dramatic situation that plays off elements of the Shadowrun universe without being something you’d encounter directly in an RPG session. If you’re a Shadowrun fan, you know that Yomi Island is where the Japanese Imperial State relocated most of the metahumans in its sphere of influence. Like most internment processes, it wasn’t pretty. So this is revenge for the metahumans. If the number of Crossfire cards in the discard pile is already up to 5+, then your own metahuman runners get swept up in the frenzy and can’t target metahuman enemies until all the human enemies have been removed.


    The Mage chooses a runner. That runner places the top card of the Black Market deck into their hand. Then flip up a card from the Normal Obstacle deck and place it facing that runner.
    Crossfire 4+: Instead, flip up a card from the Hard Obstacle deck to face that runner.

Harlequin shows up where he’s not expected and dispenses “gifts.” Special gifts, with consequences. Inserting the legendary Harlequin into our deck-building game’s first offering would have been a mistake, so we opted for a touch of his influence. When this Crossfire card shows up, one runner will get a free card from the Black Market deck. That’s wonderful, right? Not so fast! Then that same runner gets damaged by the top obstacle at the end of their turn if it’s still around. And if it’s the endgame, it’s going to be a hard obstacle that won’t do the runners much good when it’s defeated.

Happy Harlequinade!

—Rob Heinsoo
Lead Designer, Fire Opal Media

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