Sunday, June 21, 2015

Board Game Review - Shadowrun: Crossfire

Shadowrun: Crossfire is a cooperative deck-building card game for 1-4 players. Set in the "fantasy meets cyberpunk" world of the Shadowrun tabletop role-playing game, players take the role of shadowrunners (aka, mercenaries for hire) attempting to complete dangerous "gray ops" missions for the megacorporations that control all of society in the Sixth World. Missions offer different objectives and challenges while altering the game's structure, but the core gameplay mechanisms remain the same from mission to mission: draw cards from your deck, play them against obstacles, earn money for defeating obstacles, and improve your deck by buying stronger cards from the black market.

Taking its cue from the tabletop RPG, Shadowrun: Crossfire provides a campaign-style gaming experience, allowing players to create their own character who will gain experience and earn permanent upgrades over multiple playthroughs. Players can choose from one of five races (human, elf, dwarf, ork, or troll), which have different health caps, starting money, and starting hand sizes, and can pick one of four roles that each comes with its own specialized deck of starter cards. There's the street samurai who uses guns and melee weapons to control the battlefield, the mage who casts spells to deal high spike damage to single targets, the face who uses social skills to influence the black market and support his allies, and the decker who uses technology to manipulate his discard pile.

Players earn experience points (known as karma in Shadowrun lore) for completing missions, and, in the case of the "Crossfire" mission, for successfully aborting it after a runner's health goes critical, but before anyone dies. In addition to marking your character's name on the character sheets, you can also mark his or her earned karma, which can be spent on stickers that you permanently attach to the character sheet, thus permanently upgrading that character. Upgrades can be purchased in five-karma (5K) increments, ranging from 5K to 50K in cost. Basic 5K upgrades will let you start the game with an extra card in your hand, or increase your maximum health by one; for 50K, you can take an upgrade that will let you deal bonus wild damage, or double the value of basic cards that match your role.

The box comes with three missions to choose from, though you can download more (both official and fan-made) online. The titular "Crossfire" mission tasks players with surviving three "scenes" of obstacles, which function like waves of enemies in a horde mode survival game; defeat all the obstacles in a scene, and you advance to the next scene to fight more obstacles, with a chance to heal and buy more cards between scenes. In "Extraction," players escort a client through a series of rounds, pulling obstacles off of him and attempting to keep the client (and themselves) alive. In "Dragon Fight," players fight a dragon across two different stages: first as the "covert dragon" and then as the "enraged dragon." New runners are meant to start with the "Crossfire" mission and work their way up to "Extraction" and "Dragon Fight" as they earn karma and improve their characters.

A sample obstacle with its "damage track" on top. 

At the start of a new scene, players draw obstacles that they have to defeat to advance to the next scene. These consist of things like combat drones, gang members, customs officers, and mercenaries (among many, many others) that deal damage to you every round they remain in play. Some of them come with special effects, like "out of ammo," which forces you to play no more than two cards per turn until that obstacle is defeated. Each obstacle has a damage track printed on the top, which represents a series of damage requirements the player has to meet with his hand of cards in order to advance the damage track to the next level. Damage comes in four different types, one associated with each of the four roles. If an obstacle shows a blue lightning bolt on its damage track, then it requires a spell card, which is most typically found in the mage's deck of cards.

Every time an obstacle is defeated, runners earn nuyen (Shadowrun's version of money) which can be spent buying more powerful cards from the black market -- a "trade row" of six cards. Purchased cards go straight into the player's hand; once used, they go into the player's discard pile, which gets reshuffled and reused once the player's deck runs out. Once every player has had a chance to play cards from their hand and buy cards from the market, a new round begins. At the start of every round, a "crossfire event" card comes into play, modifying the game rules for one turn and usually making things more difficult for the runners. Many of these cards have secondary effects that trigger if the game is at or beyond a certain number of rounds, meaning the game gets progressively harder the longer it goes on.

So, that's how the game plays in a nutshell. As for the review portion of this article: there's a lot in this game that I really like. I like cooperative games; I like deck-building; I like the Shadowrun theme; I like the abilities on the cards; I like being able to create my own character; I like leveling-up and improving my character; I like being able to play different scenarios and roles; and I like a good challenge. It's like all the gears are in place to make this one of my favorite games ever, and yet they just aren't aligned quite right. The result is a bunch of gears grinding against each other in an experience that's often more frustrating than it is fun.

The number one problem that I and, seemingly most people, encounter is the game's insanely punishing difficulty. The fact that it's so hard to win isn't really the problem, however -- after all, cooperative games necessarily have to be challenging to promote strong teamwork, and they wouldn't be very tense or exciting if you could reliably win the majority of the time -- it's that the difficulty feels too random and arbitrary. It's especially so early on, because you just can't learn strategies and tactics until you've played at least four or five times to learn what kinds of cards are in the black market and how certain combinations work. And when you inevitably lose your first (or second, or third, or fourth) game, it's almost impossible to look back and pinpoint what you could have done differently to improve your odds.

A sample character sheet with its first upgrade sticker.

It's incredibly difficult to build strategies within games, for instance, because every time you think you've got something good planned, an arbitrary, random effect (from an event or an obstacle) will come along to disrupt all your plans. In one four-player game, we played our cards just right to have starting hands of 6-7 cards, each, as we went into the third and final scene; feeling pretty confident about our situation, we collectively groaned and cursed as a random event forced us to discard half of our cards. In another game, I spent three turns saving up enough money to afford the ultra-powerful (and super-expensive) fireball spell; we were all really excited to buy it because I'd never, in eight games, had a chance to buy any of the four super-rare "ultimate" cards, and then we collectively groaned and cursed when an event wiped the entire black market of all cards right before I could buy it.

In another game, we figured out how to make a high-health "tank" character who could soak damage more effectively by pulling obstacles off enemies and stunning them in the process, thereby delaying the damage until the team could (hopefully) defeat the obstacle; it was working well until an event spawned which made every obstacle deal additional damage, which knocked the tank out instantly because we'd only budgeted for him to take so much damage that round. In another game, we'd nearly cleared the second scene when an event basically forced us to repeat the entire scene by making us draw a bunch of extra obstacles. Besides whittling our health down even further, it made the next scene drastically tougher by making us draw more "hard" obstacles (because the game had gone on a few extra rounds), which were even more likely to trigger those nasty secondary effects.

Cooperative games like PandemicGhost Stories, and Robinson Crusoe are all notoriously difficult for first-time players, but you can clearly see patterns developing within your first playthrough: "We lost because we ignored this thing too long," or "Maybe we should have done this instead." Even though you lost, you feel like you understand why, which prepares you to do better in your next attempt and, more importantly, makes you want to try again. This is not true of Shadowrun: Crossfire. Until you've played 5-10 games (or look up strategy guides online), it's going to feel like success and failure is completely beyond your control, based purely on "luck of the draw." That's true even if you know all the ins and outs of the game, because luck certainly plays a major factor and can doom a run before you even start.

During setup, for instance, you draw obstacles from the deck of "normal" obstacles; then, as the game progresses, you draw obstacles from the "hard" deck, roughly equal to the number of rounds you've played, so that the game gets harder the longer you play. Seems reasonable, except there's a ton of variance within each separate deck, with some obstacles dealing twice as much damage per turn and having twice as much "health" on the damage track. Therefore, there's a random chance of every game being significantly harder right from the outset; if you happen to draw a full set of those harder "normal" obstacles at the very beginning, then you're going to be taking an unsustainable amount of damage early on, and will have to face more of the "hard" obstacles later, which will be even more likely to trigger harder crossfire effects because you've been playing longer. It's like a snowball effect that randomly goes wildly out of control.

The four role cards with their respective basic damage cards. 

So much of the game comes down to random luck. If you're low on health and no healing cards ever come into the black market, then you stand little to no chance of winning. If you draw a bunch of blue obstacles that require spells to defeat, but don't have a mage in your group and aren't getting a lot of spells in the market, then you're not going to get very far. The random effects on events and obstacles are particularly egregious, because they can produce such wild swings in difficulty; the game is consistently difficult anyway, and the random effects do nothing but make the game randomly too hard. I've played eight games in total (five two-player games, three four-player games) and I only beat a mission once, and that was because four or five of the crossfire events miraculously had no effect whatsoever. I also may or may not have "accidentally" overlooked a few effects on obstacles.

Whereas most cooperative games give you a few opening rounds of relative safety to get your feet wet and start working out a general strategy before they ramp the difficulty up on you, Crossfire comes out swinging from the opening bell. Then, instead of steadily building the tension towards an exciting climax, it presses its foot against your throat and steadily chokes the life out of you. Perhaps the most frustrating, unsatisfying thing about this game is how much of the difficulty seems to stem from simply undoing your progress ("Think you're almost done with this scene? Here are three more obstacles,") and putting negative handicaps on you ("Have enough cards to defeat this obstacle this turn? Now you can only play one card this turn"). It's like playing a game of basketball where the refs have been bribed to ignore dirty hits and shoves, while arbitrarily disallowing some of your earned baskets -- in other words, it often feels cheap and unfair.

And there's nothing you can do about it. The whole game is basically "bad things happen to you" and all you can do (usually) is sit there and take it, which most people I've played with don't find very fun. Robinson Crusoe, at least, gives you choices: do you take the wood to build your hut knowing it might be rotten, and might come back to hurt you later? You know a storm is going to come in two nights and will utterly wreck your camp: how do you prepare for it? Even though there are a ton of bad, random effects in that game, it feels like you're in control of your own fate and can plan against disaster. When something bad happens, it's usually because you didn't plan well enough, or you knowingly gambled instead of taking the safer route. Crossfire, in contrast, is totally unpredictable and mostly comes down to random bad luck without a lot of meaningful decisions.

Decision-making usually comes down to "what cards can I afford, and which one will help our situation most right now" and "which cards do I play against which obstacle?" These seem like interesting dilemmas, but the answer in each case is usually pretty obvious, sometimes mathematically so. Truth is, Crossfire has a pretty strong Euro-like feel to it, in terms of how you have to play cards to defeat obstacles. Every turn feels like you're solving an abstract puzzle, trying to fit your cards together in the right combination to find the most efficient route through each obstacle. In that sense, there's almost always one universally "best" thing to do each turn, and so the decision-making process is mostly just deliberation -- working through the different options until you find the best one. Granted, it can be pretty satisfying when everything clicks and you figure out how to make the cards work just right to accomplish something that seemed impossible at first.

Four sample crossfire events. AKA, the "bad things happen to you" cards.

Finding that one "best" option bogs the game down a lot, however, especially in multiplayer games, because you have to plan out every single player's turn at the start of every single round; the game is just too hard to jump into turns haphazardly making your strategy up as you go. It's kind of a nuisance to constantly look at everyone's cards, but you need to analyze the full picture before you can make any kind of informed decision. You therefore have to make sure everyone's laying their cards out clearly, for everyone to see, and then everyone sits there silently calculating the best course of action in their heads until someone figures it out. You can talk your way through it as a group, but unless your suggestion is the "right" one, you're not going to have much actual input over what happens, because someone else will inevitably be telling someone else what to do on their turn.

Shadowrun: Crossfire is probably the least accessible cooperative game I've ever played. You just don't know enough about how the game works to make good decisions in your first couple of plays, and since the game is so incredibly, punishingly hard, it strongly encourages the dreaded "alpha gamer" syndrome. You can introduce this game to people who've never played it before and let them make their own decisions, but they'll surely lose in a miserable fashion and feel dejected. Or, if you want to give a group of new players a reasonable chance of winning, you have to be the alpha gamer who "advises" everyone on what to do, and then people lose interest because they're not personally engaged in the game. It feels like new players are going to have a less than stellar time no matter what. Consequently, you basically have to play with the same group of people -- on a regular basis, no less -- to get any kind of enjoyment out of the experience.

As a cooperative game, there's not even that much cooperation in the gameplay. Sure, you can (and often have to) play cards on obstacles that are facing someone else, and a few cards let you play assist abilities on another player's turn (a limited few let you play from another player's hand or discard pile on your turn), but mostly what you're doing is playing cards on your turn, and discussing how everyone else should play cards on their turns. You can't give people money, or buy cards for someone else, or trade cards with someone, or pick your turn order each round; it's like anything you'd reasonably want to do in a cooperative game can't be done in this one. As such, the majority of the cooperative feel derives from the simple fact that everyone loses when one person dies, and it's therefore in your best interest to do what helps the team more than what helps you. Which, quite frankly, isn't enough to make it actually feel cooperative.

Likewise, the deck-building element is certainly there, but it doesn't feel like a deck-builder because you don't get to buy cards often enough, and you don't cycle through your deck often enough. A game like Star Realms, for instance, has you buying cards (often multiple cards) every single turn, and you always have a fresh hand of five cards every turn -- in Crossfire, you usually don't have any money to buy anything (and when you do, you usually don't have enough to buy what you might want), and you typically only draw two cards at the end of your turn. Sometimes, you draw none at all. You might buy a mere three or four cards and cycle through your deck two or three times in a typical game of Crossfire, which, needless to say, isn't very exciting. And with only 24 types of cards in the black market (four of which you'll basically never be able to afford), you're going to run out of variety in just a few games and have nothing new to look forward to.

A sample 1/4th of the black market cards in the game.

The early rounds of every game are usually pretty boring, too, because you've got nothing but basic starter cards at your disposal. That's to be expected of a deck-builder, but it creates a bit of an early-game Catch-22 where it feels like you can't defeat the starting obstacles because you have nothing but crappy starter cards, and you can't buy more cards because you can't defeat the starting obstacles. It's also disappointing that the four roles play identically in the beginning, because their decks all contain the exact same cards (which all function exactly alike), just in different concentrations. Even once you start buying cards, you're not going to cycle through your deck often enough to develop recurring patterns or combos, and the strategy necessary to survive in this game dictates that you buy whatever cards are more useful at the given moment, regardless of whether it matches your role or not, so I rarely got to feel like an actual street samurai or a mage.

This lack of theme in the deck-building extends to virtually every other aspect of the game as well. None of the missions give you any kind of narrative setup for what's going on before, during, or afterwards -- they just dump you straight into arbitrary objectives. When an obstacle spawns in front of you, it doesn't actually feel like you're battling an ork bounty hunter because you're really just matching abstract symbols to move a token across a card. In essence, the Shadowrun theme doesn't come across at all (despite the brilliant artwork) unless you commit a lot of effort filling in the blanks yourself and deliberately role-playing your characters. It's nice that the game comes with a 26-page booklet (and a few chapters from a novel) that you can read to familiarize yourself with the specific details of the Shadowrun universe, but I shouldn't need a 26-page booklet to immerse myself in the setting. Specter Ops, for instance, gives you exactly one page of propaganda to set the tone for its world, and that's all you need to jump in and start enjoying its theme.

It would be a different story, almost literally, if there were just something more going on in this game, thematically or mechanically, to make even the most painful losses feel memorable and exciting. Some of my fondest memories of Ghost Stories and Eldritch Horror come from games we ultimately lost: "You remember that game when we had the Lightning Gun and were rolling 10 dice every turn and still couldn't score a hit?" or "Remember that game when George spent four turns trying to roll a single black or white, and just couldn't do it? You had one job George!" Even though we lost, those games were spectacularly brilliant and spawned some of the most prolific gaming-related in-jokes and references of our group. Conversely, we have no exciting memories of any one game or moment in our eight attempts at Shadowrun: Crossfire. "So, uh, you remember that one time when that one card randomly ended the game for us?" Just doesn't have the same effect.

The game's most distinguishing feature is its RPG-style leveling system, with players creating their own characters who gain experience and level up over multiple playthroughs, allowing you to choose from a wide array of permanent upgrades as you gain karma. This is what really drew me to the game initially, but the limited number of missions out of the box makes the whole game feel incredibly grindy. Of the three missions, only one of them is actually designed to be playable for new players, since the others require a certain number of upgrades to be even remotely feasible, which means you have to run the basic "Crossfire" mission roughly 10-20 times before you'll be able to reliably tackle "Extraction," and then you have to run that mission God knows how many times before you can even think about taking on "Dragon Fight." And with the game's absurd difficulty, it's going to take you 5-10 mission attempts before you can even get your first upgrade, making the game's most novel concept inaccessible to brand new players, since only the determined, hardcore players will stick around long enough to get that far.

A sample 40 of the 100 upgrade stickers. 

I'm sure the upgrades have a big impact in making the game easier as your characters get stronger, but I didn't feel much satisfaction from finally leveling up and earning my first sticker. Looking through the 100 upgrade stickers (a lot of these are duplicates), all I can really think is "that would be nice to have," but none of them make me deliberately think "I want that upgrade." After grinding my way through eight mission attempts, I took an upgrade that let me increase my starting hand size by one, which isn't all that interesting or game-changing. I shudder to think about how much I'd have to play the game to earn the more expensive upgrades. Part of me wants to just start slapping stickers on characters so I can skip right to the "fun" part of the game, but that seems like it would defeat the entire point of the game: leveling-up to progressively earn end-game rewards.

Part of the game's subtle brilliance is that you can choose to skip ahead to the "end-game" content if you so choose, because it's an extremely modifiable game. There's already a ton of user-created content, like extra missions, black market cards, ability cards, location cards, global obstacles, and so on, which can certainly spice things up if you're not satisfied with the base product, or else if you want to add more variety when and if the game starts to get stale. If the game's too hard or you don't like the way certain things work, you can easily modify the rules to make them suit your desires. I like how easy it is to modify the rules, but at the same time, I feel like if I spend $40 on a product, I shouldn't have to home-brew and house-rule and re-work the game to streamline it myself.

I'm honestly not sure the game is even worth $40 in the first place. You really don't get a lot of stuff with this game -- about 200+ cards, 10 character sheets, 100 stickers, 3 missions, a bunch of tokens, a rulebook, and a bunch of superfluous extras (like the "Welcome to the Sixth World" lore guide and the "Fire & Frost" novel excerpt). I suppose the nice quality of the components justifies the cost, but it still feels like there's not a lot of actual game for the cost, considering I've spent equal or less money on games that had more components and more depth / replay value than this game. I also don't appreciate the absurdly over-sized box which not only takes up way too much space on my shelf, but makes Crossfire a difficult game to take anywhere, unless I transfer everything into a smaller card box. I realize the extra space was probably intended to be filled with expansions, but I'm not keen on spending more money to potentially "fix" a game I already don't like much.

Shadowrun: Crossfire is a game I would enjoy playing regularly for the potential character progression, and also for the sake of the challenge, but none of my friends (or I) are masochistic enough to stick with the game. I like everything about this game, at least in theory, but it just doesn't do it for me in practice. It's tense, but it's not exciting; it's difficult, but it's not satisfying; it's cooperative, but only under heavy restriction; there's progression, but it's not rewarding; it's got a cool theme, but it doesn't shine through the mechanics; there's some fun depth in the strategy, but it's almost nullified by random luck. Given the choice between this and any other game on my shelf, we'd rather play virtually anything else.

I'm updating this review to include a couple of thoughts/observations that I neglected to mention originally:

(1) The game does not scale well based on player count. Although the box claims it to be a 1-4 player game, Shadowrun: Crossfire was clearly intended to be a four-player game, since that's how the rules are written by default. The rules change slightly when playing with 2-3, giving players a bit of an advantage because the game gets harder with fewer runners. In the third scene of the standard "Crossfire" mission, you face obstacles equal to "the number of runners +2," meaning in a two-runner game, each runner will face two obstacles (a 100% increase from the start of the game), whereas in a four-runner game, only two players face double obstacles (a 50% increase). So you're facing more obstacles (per player) than you would in a four player game, and yet you only have half as many cards to play each round, with less diversity in each deck since you're missing two entire roles. Sure, you get a bigger percentage of each obstacle's bounty, but this averages out for no net gain in scene 1, and only a negligible increase in scene 2. It's not until scene 3 that there's any significant boost in bounty rewards, but by then it's usually too late. In fairness, you get an extra nuyen at the start of the game and skip the first two crossfire events, but that doesn't seem like it's enough to offset the extra difficulty.

So really, you have to play the game with four runners, regardless of how many people are actually playing, in order for the rules and mechanisms to work as they were intended, which means someone (or someones) will be playing multiple characters. I know that's not a big deal for some people, but it defies the intended rules of the game, and adds an extra wrinkle to the experience (thereby making gameplay a little less smooth and fluid) by having people juggle multiple hands of cards. My first five games of Shadowrun: Crossfire were all two-player, two-runner games, and I think this is where a lot of my bad first impressions came from, because the experience improved noticeably when I played with a complement of four runners, either in a four-player game or completely solo.

(2) The game is arguably better as a solo experience. If you must resolve yourself to playing multiple runners with multiple hands in a 2-3 player game, then it's not much more effort to run a full four-player game by yourself. The game's pacing bogs down significantly in a full four-player game when everyone has to sit there debating what to do each round -- playing by yourself cuts down on deliberation, which speeds the game up tremendously because you can make decisions without having to discuss every single option. It also makes the game generally more satisfying, since you're the one making all of the decisions and figuring everything out for yourself, which makes each "eureka moment" when everything clicks feel more personally rewarding. It's pretty damning to realize that this is a cooperative game I'd much rather play without other people.

(3) The game encourages you to plan ahead, while basically preventing you from doing so. During your turn, you often have to make decisions that lead towards your next turn: "I'm buying this card because we absolutely need it next round," or "If you can play a blue card here, I can finish it off when my turn comes around again," or "I'm going to hold on to this card so I can use its effects better next round," or "Good news, I just drew these two cards from my deck, which will help us clear that obstacle." You make these plans before the next round starts, and then the crossfire event card comes into play, which often makes the plans you'd made the previous round worthless. It's easy to say you shouldn't be making plans before you know what you're up against next round, but it's hard not to when the timing of actions necessarily requires you to make decisions before you have all the information necessary to make a good decision. This is, in large part, why the game feels to me like its gears are grinding, because this kind of design is almost self-conflicting.

Still considering Shadowrun: Crossfire because the idea of a thematic, cooperative deck-builder appeals to you? Consider Legendary Encounters: An Alien Deck Building Game instead. 

Since posting this review, I now own and have played about a half-dozen games of Legendary Encounters: Alien, and have enjoyed the experience so much more than Shadowrun: Crossfire. Legendary Encounters is basically the game I was hoping Shadowrun: Crossfire would be, minus the RPG-style campaign leveling system. With a different theme and setting, obviously. Here's (as briefly as possible) why I think, if you're interested in Shadowrun: Crossfire, you should consider looking into Legendary Encounters instead, or perhaps in addition to, Shadowrun: Crossfire.

(1) Role selection matters. Each of the 10 roles comes with its own unique card that gets shuffled into your starting deck, which gives you your own unique special power. The medic can heal people; the scout can scan rooms for free; the mercenary can use recruits to deal extra damage; the scientist can draw more cards. It's just one card, but it does let you feel special every now then, as compared to SR:C where every role has essentially the same starting deck.

(2) Feels more like a deck-builder. You buy cards from the "trade row" nearly every single turn, and constantly refresh your hand with six new cards every turn. Your deck grows significantly over the course of the game, and the class and crew symbols emphasize combos much more. As compared to SR:C where you may only buy 3-5 cards and shuffle through your deck 2-4 times in an entire game.

(3) More scenarios and variants out of the box. Crossfire comes with three scenarios, only two of which are actually playable out of the box, and those two feel pretty similar since they use the same decks for everything. Legendary Encounters comes with four scenarios, each of which uses its own "obstacle" and "black market" deck, making each scenario thematically and mechanically distinct. You're also free to mix and match to create your own combination for a custom scenario. You can also play with optional variants that allow dead players to come back as enemies, or where each player has a secret agenda they're trying to fulfill.

(4) Cooperation feels more natural. Both games feature a handful of cards that let you play them on another player's turn, but a key difference in LE:A is that play continues when one person dies, as opposed to ending immediately when one person dies in SR:C, which feels abrupt and anticlimactic, usually. It creates a different mindset knowing that the game isn't over when one person dies in LE:A, which makes helping someone feel like more of an intrinsic desire (because you know the game will get harder if they die) than an extrinsic requirement like in SR:C (because the rules arbitrarily make you lose). Knowing that people can die also adds to the tension, and allows for dynamic strategies where, sometimes, it might be better to sacrifice yourself for the greater good, or to go after the objective instead of helping a teammate.

(5) It's more thematic. I feel completely detached from the theme in SR:C, because it feels like I'm just solving an abstract puzzle -- matching icons to move a token across a card while obstacles and events come out of nowhere, for no reason at all. In LE:A, I feel more like a specific character trying to survive against a horde of deadly aliens. The way cards move through the complex, and having to scan them to know what's out there, makes more thematic sense than anything in SR:C, and each scenario is built a certain way to tell a specific story arc, whereas SR:C is just a mashup of random, incoherent cards.

(6) Easier to mitigate random bad luck. In LE:A, you usually get the chance to see what's coming before it hits you, which lets you plan ahead more so than in SR:C, where everything comes blindly out of nowhere with effects that trigger immediately, before you can do anything about it.

(7) Better difficulty curve. Legendary Encounters is by no means an easy game, but it eases players into the game much more generously than SR:C, which doesn't feature a difficulty curve so much as a difficulty wall. The first scenario in LE:A is relatively simple, and each scenario is structured in three acts which get progressively tougher as you go through them -- each scenario is designed and balanced to offer a specific kind of challenge, whereas SR:C is just randomly tough. When you lose in LE:A, it's easier to understand why and use that knowledge to your benefit when you try again.

(8) It plays one extra person, if that matters to you.

(9) Seemingly more publisher support. Catalyst has been extremely quiet about SR:C, to the point where there's a "massive" expansion allegedly right around the corner, and we still know practically nothing about it. Instead of advertising it and hyping how it could possibly improve on the base game, they've been content to put out worthless character packs instead. Upper Deck, meanwhile, has a good track record with the original Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game, supporting it year after year with additional expansions. With a major "big box" expansion due by the end of the year and the imminent Legendary Encounters: A Predator Deck Building Game (which will fully integrate with LE:A as a type of stand-alone expansion), you're assured of extra content that will expand and improve upon the base game, making LE:A a better long-term investment.

Legendary Encounters will cost you $10 more than Shadowrun: Crossfire, but you get a lot more game for your dollar in my blunt and honest opinion. After ten attempts at Shadowrun, it's gotten to feel kind of repetitive. After seven attempts at LE:A, I'm still chomping at the bit to play more, and haven't seen even half (maybe more like 60%) of what's in the box. So consider that a huge recommendation for Legendary Encounters -- the game experience I wish I'd gotten out of Shadowrun: Crossfire.


  1. PS: Pillars of Eternity review is coming. I promise.

  2. I agree with your final assessment. I mainly play table-top games with my girlfriend, and she doesn't like it when things become too tough too fast. I can appreciate the game's difficulty, however in my experience it is kind of unbalanced since chances are your best possible outcome is to abort successfully, giving you too few experience points to enjoy the game's prominent feature – the permanence.

    Have you tried other card-games that are supposed to have some permanence in them like the Pathfinder card-games? I am hesitant to buy them considering my girlfriend really disliked Shadowrun.

    1. I haven't played the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, but from what I've heard it's much more accessible than Shadowrun: Crossfire, and also has better character progression. I'm not aware of similar card games with carry-over permanence from game to game, so PACG might be worth trying if that really interests you. I'm pretty sure she would like it more than Shadowrun.