Shadowrunners at the House on the Hill

Five of the old group joined us for Christmas, which was great, but the inertia generated by rich holiday food meant no-one was much in the mood for roleplaying. Instead, we turned to board games: Shadowrun Crossfire and Betrayal at the House on the Hill, both highly recommended, and neither of them mine, so I have not yet broken my resolution not to buy any more games in 2015! Hah!

Not sure how long that will last. Anyway…

Shadowrun: Crossfire

This is a co-operative deck building game. Waves of foes assault the players, who can play cards from their hands to defeat them; removing an enemy from play gives you money tokens with which to buy more cards. The co-operative element comes in because the players share the money tokens, whoever kills an opponent, and players can attack other players’ foes. There’s a roleplaying element too, as each deck is built around a character card, and successfully completing a game gives the player karma points, which are used to buy power-ups – these take the form of repeelable stickers which you apply to the character card. More experienced runners can take on more difficult missions, there being three scenarios in the basic game: Crossfire (survive three waves of foes), Extraction (survive six waves while protecting an NPC client), and messing with a dragon. We are not ready for that one yet.

(My recurring character is an ork whose portrait looks like Bruce Willis, so I’m buffing him with multiple instances of the Got Your Backs power-up, which allows him to pull a group of enemies onto him, get staggered by their combined damage, and then recover to active status again.)

Crossfire does an excellent job of evoking the Shadowrun universe without being enslaved by its rules, and of genuinely encouraging co-operative play whilst retaining an element of tension. It even has a solitaire mode, and the average game takes roughly an hour. It works best with four players, but we used it with one, three, four and five.

Betrayal at the House on the Hill

In this, players assume the roles of stereotypical characters from survival horror B-movies, exploring a haunted house. Each character is rated for its Speed (movement), Might (combat), Knowledge and Sanity. The haunted house is built by drawing tiles from a deck; symbols on the tiles reveal whether they contain an omen, an item or an event, which are drawn from card decks as needed and are a mixture of good stuff and bad stuff. At some point during the game, bad stuff will trigger a betrayal by one of the players; that player then looks up the nature of his or her treachery in one rulebook, while the others plot their countermeasures from another. There are quite a few variations, including the traitor collapsing the house into the Abyss, a madman supported by zombies, and the house rolling up on top of the players from the outside in.

(In the first game we played, I found myself playing the aged and knowledgable character, with a girl companion, a holy symbol, and constructive possession of the Mystic Elevator, which moves randomly around the house. Clearly, therefore, I was Doctor Who.)

Betrayal is every cheesy horror movie you’ve ever seen, with an interesting mixture of co-operative and competitive play, and enormous replay value. We used it with four players, but it should work with three to six. Again, a game takes roughly an hour.

We played more Crossfire, but I think Betrayal would be more accessible to the casual gamer.

Coda

And in other news, the players politely informed me that the Shadows of Keron campaign is not dead, just resting until they can get back together again, and that I may not consider it closed. Good news, I think, even though it may be a while before we play again. We should finish the Artefacts scenarios for Shadowrun first, though, since that has a story arc, and Shadows of Keron doesn’t, it’s just picaresque sword-and-sorcery adventures.

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