Tabletop Review: Shadowrun Chronicles: Boston Lockdown: Boston Adventures

Shadowrun Chronicles: Boston Lockdown: Boston Adventures
Publisher: Cliffhanger Games
Cost: Free with purchase of Shadowrun Chronicles Deluxe Package, RPG Deluxe Package or Kickstarter Backers
Release Date: 04/28/2015
Page Count: 64
Get it Here: Steam

I’ll admit, even though I was a Kickstarter backer (and have a boxed copy of the game coming), I was far from impressed with the early alpha and beta versions of Shadowrun Online. Choices were limited, gameplay was not very good, character options were nonexistent and it simply was shaping up to be terrible. That’s the great thing about Early Access on Steam. You get to watch the game take shape. I got to experience the game evolve from something that was barely playable into Shadowrun Chronicles, and go from what was originally going to essentially be an online freemium game to a full-fledged RPG where you don’t have to “pay to win.” I really enjoyed the experience, and hopefully someone here on the video game side of things at Diehard GameFAN will give the video game a review.

Of course I’m on the tabletop side of things, and part of the fun of backing what was then Shadowrun Online was getting the exclusive Lockdown sourcebook by Catalyst Game Labs. What no one was expecting was a separate set of digital adventures coming out for backers or the two higher public tiers for the game. What a fun bonus. Since I was already planning to review the massive 300 page Lockdown, I decided to start off with Boston Adventures, since it has only around sixty pages and I could churn that out rather quickly. You will have to buy Shadowrun Chronicles to get Boston Adventures, and unlike the Lockdown sourcebook, it’s not available as a add-on or DLC to those that buy the base version of the video game. Nope, you can only get it as part of the “Deluxe Package” or the “RPG Deluxe Package.” Honestly, you’re better off just buying the base game and doing the Lockdown add-on (a fantastic book and one of the lowest price tags CGL has ever pinned to one of their books. Look for that review in a few days) because where Lockdown is a fantastic addition to any Shadowrun, Fifth Edition fan’s collection, Boston Adventures is, well, pretty terrible.

So, right away you can tell that Boston Adventures was not edited by the usual Shadowrun staff over at Catalyst Game Labs. So, as much as some of you want to crack a joke about the usual sub-par editing that can be found in Shadowrun releases, the sheer plethora of issues with Boston Adventures will make you appreciate what a good job the Shadowrun editing team at CGL actually does. Seriously, part of the Boston Adventures book is ripped straight from Lockdown, but somehow in the transfer, the BA version ended up with grammatical, typographical and formatting errors that aren’t in the Lockdown version. I’m not sure if Cliffhanger used an earlier draft or what, but it’s amazing to read the same section from two different books and witness how different they are. Like I said, I know CGL gets some crap for their editing, and some of it is indeed deserved, but oh man, it’s light years beyond what Cliffhanger did with the same content.

Before you get to the content though, you have to start with the cover. The artwork is really striking and leaves you with a fine first impression. That is, until you start reading the text on the piece. At the bottom of the cover it says, “For use with Quick Starter Rules.” Now, if you’re a long time gaming fan, or even just a Shadowrun one, you see the problem with this. The actual industry vernacular is “Quick Start Rules.” Now it’s a small typo, but unfortunately, it leaves you wondering what the communication level was between the real Shadowrun team and Cliffhanger. More importantly, how does an error that big and one the front cover not get noticed and fixed before release? IT’S ON THE COVER. Worse yet, the same error is repeated throughout the book, so it’s not a one-time thing. It’s simply a lack of care or editing. Unfortunately, while this is a small issue in the grand scheme of things, it is simply one of many that builds up quickly and leaves you wondering if the people involved have ever played the tabletop version of Shadowrun.

After that unfortunate incident, you turn the page of the PDF and find the rest of the book… is in landscape rather than portrait. What the hell? Who makes that kind of a decision, especially for a gaming PDF? A book of maps, sure, why not? A gaming book where you will be reading? Oh god, no. If you try reading this on a computer, you’ll have to change the size of default stats so that you can actually read the text, and you’ll have to do a lot of scrolling. On a Kindle Fire or iPad, you’ll just have to turn the thing sideways, but again, the text will be too small for a lot of readers, so you’ll have to constantly “stretch” the PDF out until you can read things. You’ll have to do that for every page too, since things default back to their original state each time you “flip.” So this is pretty digitally unfriendly, and it’s a digital-only release! Again, this is a minor issue, but it gets annoying quickly and also adds up with all the other problems you’ll find in this release.

Now we can actually start getting into content. Hurrah. There are four sections. The first is “A Runner’s Guide to Boston,” which is the section directly pulled from Lockdown. However, it’s missing the formatting, editing and Jackpoint commentary, so the piece looks and feels like a rough draft. There’s some interesting information, but as a regular visitor to the Boston metro area (Salem Halloweens, baby!) I found myself going, “What about XYZ” which is missing in the Boston Adventures version but is actually there in the Jackpoint comments in Lockdown. This is pretty terrible. Even stranger is that the content is kind of newcomer unfriendly. If you haven’t played the video game, the commentary about things like a Dragon crashing into the Green Monster of Fenway Park or the Quarantined Zone will be lost on you. It’s mentioned and made a big deal of, but there is no explanation. Granted, a lot of people will be filled in via the video game, but there are still people who would rather play the tabletop game, and thus the commentary in this version of “History Abounds” will leave the reader confused and wondering where the usual fluff-depth is. Add in the numerous grammatical and typographical errors in this piece, and you’ll just be left with a very bad impression of Shadowrun‘s tabletop side. I promise you though, the actual CGL releases are nowhere near this bad. Really, if you have Lockdown, just skip this section. It’s a third rate version of the same section you’ll find in that book. They really shouldn’t have just lifted a piece directly from Lockdown without some revisions and editing. A QSR supplement needs to be a LOT more user friendly than this.

Alright, now that we’re finally done with that mess, this brings us to the next two sections, which are the adventures for the Shadowrun tabletop game. When you first read the table of contents, you’re a bit excited because you see that “D-Wag Knickers” has three scenarios and “Supply and Demand” has four. That’s like SEVEN adventures in this PDF. Pretty awesome, right? WRONG, because there are actually only two adventures. You see, to everyone else in tabletop gaming, a scenario is an adventure. A full adventure, even if it’s a short piece. What the PDF should have said is SCENE. It’s the correct Shadowrun vernacular that is used for each segment of an adventure. Getting specific Shadowrun terminology wrong is not a good sign in any way. Not for the video game, not for the quality of the PDF and not for the relationship/communication between CGL and Cliffhanger. Again, you have to wonder how on Earth this got by anyone involved.

Format-wise, the adventures aren’t great either. It’s like someone looked at the Shadowrun Missions line, which is the most newcomer friendly (GM or player) adventure format out there, and then proceeded to try and use it… just not very well. Using the Shadowrun Missions format was a great idea, but the layout and formatting of these pieces, combined with the many errors editorial missed, makes these far from newcomer friendly. They should have thrown money at Bull to give these a look-over beforehand. Anyway, you’ll see lots of strange errors in this piece that show that whoever put this together knows next to nothing about Shadowrun, and veteran gamers will just walk away from this piece on a scale ranging from annoyed to Dumpshock level pissing and moaning. Specific terms and Vernacular to the Sixth World are misused. The dollar symbol is used instead of the Nuyen symbol. There are references to the core Shadowrun rulebook in terms of specific page numbers and explanations, even though this is supposedly meant to be used with the Quick “Starter” Rules. Building off this last point, the adventures are written for someone that already knows Shadowrun 5e inside and out, rather than for newcomers or people who only have the QSR. That’s a big huge issue in my book. There really should be explanations, descriptions and help for new players (and especially GM)’s. If this was an actual Shadowrun Missions piece, there would be. Instead, you get no real help from the piece, leaving the tabletop newcomers this is supposedly aimed at to sink or swim. Guess what? It’s pretty much going to be the former, and it will more than likely put them off Shadowrun in general. Please believe me when I say this is not a Shadowrun thing, but bad writing/editing. Really, as you’ll see with the Lockdown review, things are usually a lot better than this. You know this is the first time I’ve ever written a review where I find myself apologizing for a game? EVER. That should tell you how bad this PDF is.

At least the adventures themselves are decent filler pieces that an experienced Shadowrun GM can make work. The first is stealing a Doc Wagon ambulance during all the chaos going on in Boston as Fenway gets ripped apart. The second is a few quick runs strung together as one adventure to showcase some tropes of the Sixth World, like hitting a poor Stuffer Shack, gleefully doing damage to Aztechnology and some chances to try out a mix of stealth, negotiation and violence. Had these adventures been handled by an experience line editor for Shadowrun, these could have been a lot better than how they ended up. There’s certainly some potential here, but the end result is pretty gruesome.

So there we go. We only have one section left, and it’s the pre-generated characters. How badly could this get messed up, right? I mean they could have just taken the characters from the QSR and inserted them into Boston Adventures or had guys from CGL make characters according to the various means of character creation in the Core Rulebook or Run Faster, right? RIGHT? No. Oh god, no. Once again, a complete lack of knowledge about the actual game of Shadowrun and the terminology it uses is apparent. I mean, they get Rigger right, but they use Bio-Samurai instead of Street Samurai, Sha-Mercenary for a Shaman with a bit of augmentation (who lacks a totem and whose bio is written in a manner that comes off a wee bit racist) and so on. Essence for characters with Cyberware doesn’t seem to be calculated correctly, and stats are pretty high for characters that are supposed to be new to the shadows. I’m actually fine with the latter because, if these characters are meant to be for teaching the game, higher stats means a better chance of survival. Hint, if you really are new to Shadowrun with Boston Adventures, go with the Troll Merc. 10 Body and 9 Strength are quite nice, and it’s a straightforward character to learn the rules with. Anyway, yes, even the pre-gens feel off. I don’t know what to tell you man. I think this is the worst digital exclusive ever put out for Shadowrun, and if I was part of the CGL team, I’d be a wee bit ticked off at Cliffhanger for putting Boston Adventures out in this condition.

So, TL;DR – don’t get this. It’s really REALLY bad. Save your money and get the base version of Shadowrun Chronicles, then purchase the Lockdown add-on. It’s cheaper than buying the Deluxe or RPG Deluxe version of the video game, and you get a far superior book that is five times as long, but with quality content, layout and editing. Much like how I feel Shadowrun Chronicles is nowhere as good as the Shadowrun Returns games put out by Harebrained Schemes, please do not think in anyway that Boston Adventures is even close to what is typically put out by CGL for Shadowrun. Join me in a few days as we look at the content the Sixth World version of Boston truly deserves.

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