Vacation over, and I need to get back into the posting routine. A review is a great way to start!
I had a chance over the vacation to sift through my Runner’s Toolkit and give it a thorough reading. Here’s what I found, hope it helps you…
First, a quick disclaimer: I’m a pretty big Shadowrun fanboy from way back — and I love what Catalyst has done with the game. That said, I was waiting for this product for a long time thanks to some problems with getting this thing to market. Obviously, the product had a lot of build up and expectation to overcome.
So how does it stack up?
Well, if I kept the review to one word, that word would be Excellent.
This product (to me) was worth the wait.
What You Get
For a price of $40 this feels like a steal. The first thing you notice when you heft the box is that it’s Heavy. This box is packed with good stuff. The second great thing — this set delivers exactly what it promises. Let me take a quick tour of the box:
On The Run: Now, this adventure has been previously published for Shadowrun, but it’s inclusion in this box is not a weakness. This is a great adventure, well written, interesting and reasonably complex — but still a great introduction to the game (and worth playing even if you are a seasoned player). The adventure does include some training wheels and walks a new GM through a shadowrun well. More importantly, the nice thing about this adventure is that it is practically a template for “how to write a shadowrun.” Very worthwhile.
PACKS: this 28-page book is described as “an alternate character creation system for Shadowrun.” It certainly is that, and provides a quick method for generating a character in a hurry. It will be valuable to players and GMs. Personally, I enjoy working with the minutiae of character creation in SR, but even for me, I found the equipment packages to be a helpful addition.
Contacts, Adventures, Sprawl Sites: a 32-page book filled with adventure frameworks, NPC contacts for runners, and descriptions of some common sites for scenes during runs. All three parts are well-written and interesting. The sprawl sites are especially fun because they correspond to another item in the box…
Full-Color Site Maps: Four maps (double-sided) of common adventure sites like a nightclub and a corporate research facility. One side of the map is labeled for GMs and the other is blank for use with players. These are well produced, durable glossy pages and could be indispensable for a GM in a hurry or working on planning a great scene. The Sprawl Sites book gives some depth to these maps but they will also work with any descriptions a GM wants to add to them.
Compiled Tables: this books links the tables from all core rulebooks in an easy to use format. I love this book. This is truly useful during character creation, for GMs during game, or anytime. If you are looking for a table, ignore the books, jump right in here and you’ll find what you’re looking for.
Quick Reference Sheets: Six double-sided, durable reference sheets walking players through the steps of many of the most common actions in the game such as summoning, spellcasting, defense, melee or ranged combat… When introducing new players to the game these are a great tool to be able to hand your new hacker or mage and get them comfortable with the rules of their skills and abilities. They also seem to have chosen the pairings on the cards well so that you don’t need to pass them around because, say, melee is on the back of the spellcasting card, for example. And one card is a step-by-step of making a character as well — another great tool for new players.
GM Screen: A very durable, 4-panel screen. Beautiful skyline scene on the player side. Looking at the GM side of the screen, I want to say that it has too much empty space and could have crammed more onto it — honestly though, staring at it — I couldn’t really decide what else I needed. It’s a good screen.
Extras: There’s a poster of the scene on the GM Screen and a sweet little Shadowrun transfer — both nice but not directly game related. They’re just icing on the cake.
And that’s a tour of the great stuff in the box. Just that would make it a quality buy for its price.
But there is one more item in the box. It is the item, I admit, that I was most looking forward to in the set. That last piece is the Anatomy of a Shadowrun book. A 30-page book laying out a fiction story of a shadowrun and linking it to the rules by showing off the roles behind the play and how the mechanics of the game works. This was the one piece in the box that I ended up disappointed with.
Well, first of all, it was somewhat confusingly written. By that I mean — I’ve played and run a lot of the game and I still had to reread several sections just to figure out what the rules sections were explaining. More than that, while I certainly understand the limitations of layout — several sections divorced the fiction and rules enough that it became a exercise in looking back or looking forward to keep up with the narrative and the rules explanation.
Second — I was disappointed by what they chose to explain. Now, to be fair, the game is complex and it would have been impossible to explain everything. I get it, but they chose an assortment of fairly mainstream items and more esoteric items without, it seemed to me, a real plan for how they wanted to get information to the players. They also chose to use optional rules in the text as if they were standard rules — a poor choice for a training item — teach the basics first and then let players/GMs add the optional rules they choose.
Overall, this is a freakishly awesome product. It offers great stuff for beginners, experienced players, and especially GMs. Everyone gets something by having this at the table. For me there was one speed-bump with the Anatomy of a Shadowrun but otherwise I’d declare this product nearly perfect and definitely worth the price.
Thanks for reading.