I like game systems at least as much as I like dice, and readers of this blog know that I have more than a passing fondness for dice…and understatement. I like systems. I like reading them, learning them, sharing them, and comparing how editions change over time. I even like comparing different expressions of the same game in different systems. With Shadowrun, I now have the chance to do all of these.
Anarchy is the new release by Catalyst which offers a passport to the Sixth World via the Cue System rather than the 5th Edition of the core rules. Cue has previously appeared in Cosmic Patrol and Valiant, so the basics of the system are well-tested, but Anarchy itself is a new take on it.
At the time of writing, the PDF is in crowd-proofing, but has already seen one major update which has cleaned up the worst of the pre-production oversights.
What is Cue?
Cue is a system which sticks to the basics so the players can focus on description and where things are going. Unlike how Shadowrun has been played up to this point, the game is set up to have the full group collaborating on how scenes take shape so that a story is brought out. The GM has a definite job to do, and I feel that the game is better for it, but more of the people are going to be involved more of the time in more things than experienced Shadowrun players might expect.
To facilitate the intended style of story-focused play, Cue offers players the opportunity to maximize the nature and structure of a run, while distilling the time and word count of characters down to an evocative minimum. Cue takes its name from how characters created with the system are set up with catch-phrases, clearly-defined reactions to specific ideas or situations, and a distinct outlook on life. When in doubt in a scene, or when looking for a way to involve a character in a scene, their Cues will be there to help point the way.
Anarchy serves as a complement to Shadowrun, Fifth Edition; while SR5 offers
opportunities for detailed simulations of your character’s choices using rules with significant depth, in Anarchy the story comes first. There are still plenty [of] opportunities to throw dice, because we love doing that, but those opportunities exist to help the story move forward.
Introduction, Anarchy, p 10
The core rules for Shadowrun, in their depth and breadth, could be said to offer groups the opportunity to explore character at the level of each aspect of a decision, and each fragment of a moment. Story can be allowed to take a backseat to character without a loss in a player’s sense of time, place, or motivation. In Anarchy, this is inverted. While character is an important aspect of the game, the system places its focus on using characters to complete stories, with the emphasis being on using characters to demonstrate who they are as people as a way of allowing the players to tell those stories. Strongly envisioned and defined characters will allow for strongly envisioned and implemented stories. The game helps further this by providing a structure for runs called Contract Briefs which serve up a framework for action either as a script for a GM to riff off of, or for a group to navigate.
Anarchy retains the iconic D6 of Shadowrun but in most ways the Cue System, even the parts given familiar Shadowrun names, is different from what a previous player will have encountered from Shadowrun before. Action and Combat resolution is straightforward and players old and new should have no trouble learning what is required. For those with established views on how games in general and Shadowrun in particular should run, learning how to apply those rules may take much more effort than learning what they are and how they work. Old dogs and all that. For newcomers looking to explore the Sixth World either as a brief foray in this beloved survivor of a setting, or as a means to learn the lore and attitude before delving deeper into the core rules themselves, the ride will probably be a lot smoother. Like each edition of Shadowrun before it, Anarchy puts the setting up front and challenges players to make a daring and dramatic mark on it… and probably die trying.
Not yet in print, it remains to be seen in what condition Anarchy will be when it gets physical, but the quality of the PDF has taken a large step forward from a lean and mean beginning at a clearly cut fighting weight.
Assembled from an earlier preview copy to beta-test and demonstrate the adaptation of Cue for use with Shadowrun, errors in updating the in-text references were present when the product was initially released. While understandable from a design and production standpoint, the fear that such errors will survive into the print product remains one the whole industry is struggling with – not just Catalyst. So far, crowd-proofing is working well with this release.
The PDF is fully bookmarked, easily readable, and well laid out for reference. It is also presented in a good order for linear, cover-to-cover learning, for the most part. There are some sections where the proverbial cart comes before the horse, such as with examples provided for character creation which might befuddle those who have no grounding in Shadowrun, but such confusion would be momentary if they keep reading or check out a novel or one of the video games. It would be nice if the book could slowly introduce all of its concepts in their best order for learning by a newcomer, but given the size of the product and what I suspect is its largest target audience, that is possibly asking too much.
Who is it for?
I suspect that the tonally-discordant Preface – the only part of the text I really find fault with – is the strongest hint about the largest demographic at whom this game is aimed. It strikes me in reading Anarchy that although it does make a good effort to introduce Shadowrun, what it does even better is introduce the current vision of Shadowrun’s Sixth World to players of earlier editions who no longer play, but would like to. By reducing the learning curve required for learning the system, and putting the emphasis on the setting, groups can get back up to speed running the shadows, and transition to the core rules if or when they get the drive to make the compelling options of the core rules more of a priority in their game. As an added perk, for groups of mixed gaming generations and experience, these rules can serve as a decent middle-ground. While not as balanced an effort in that regard as something like the Star Wars Roleplaying Game from Fantasy Flight, Catalyst’s Cue system gives Anarchy more than enough bite to create a strong sense of Shadowrun, difficulty and dramatic choices, and the sort of characters that have enabled the game to survive so long and so well for all these years.
So…do you like it?
I fell in love with Shadowrun from its 1st Edition, but mostly played 2nd. That edition still remains the edition I have played the most and the longest, although all of the editions are within easy reach on my shelf. I have learned each subsequent edition as it was released, but have not set up a campaign for any of these. In my heart of hearts, Shadowrun is a game that I want to play more than run. If I run it, getting to play it will be much less likely to happen. My campaigns have a tendency to run for a long time.
When I read Cue the first time in Cosmic Patrol, it did nothing for me. Later, when I revisited it in Valiant, I had warmed to some of its ideas more, but it still did not grab me. In and of itself, the system offers me nothing that I am looking for and have not found elsewhere. Packaged with the intention to facilitate Shadowrun in a very new way, however, it very much catches my attention. Preferences are powerful like that.
I am not sure if I like it or not at this stage. I certainly like the idea of it, particularly for applying it to online gaming via Hangouts or Play-by-Post where I prefer there to be fewer moving parts in a system. Whether or not Cue as Anarchy can hold my attention now that it has it is something for the future to reveal. Part of that will be on Cue itself, part on me, and part will rest on those with whom I play it. That is a big part of its charm and power – the group is far more in control of how it plays and how well than ever before.
The magic of Shadowrun as a setting is never in doubt in my eyes~
Darken others' doors: