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.