Review: Catalyst Game Labs – Market Panic (Shadowrun)

Market Panic
Market Panic is a sourcebook for the fantasy cyberpunk RPG Shadowrun, written by Mark Dynna, Jason M. Hardy, Philip A. Lee, Chris Lites, Sascha Morlok, Scott Schletz, Michael Wich, and Thomas Willoughby and published by Catalyst Game Labs.
By Cape Rust

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In the Sixth World, the Big Ten isn’t a College Basketball conference, it refers to the top ten AAA-Rated corporations. These corporations are too big to fail as they have more power and influence than most countries. In some cases they could be considered countries. With all of the upheaval that has occurred in the Sixth World, some of these AAAs are poised to fall into lowly AA or even A status. Some are ready to consolidate their power and usher one or two of said “poised to fall companies” right off the AAA cliff. All of this means lots of work for those that run in the shadows, but at what cost?

The MegaCorps have always been a huge part of the Shadowrun world and in fifth edition that is still the case. However, with all of the added complications that Catalyst Game Labs have added to the Sixth World, the corporations seem to have a diminished direct influence on the jobs runners might get. They are still there and they are still pulling strings, but it all feels different.

Corporate politics and intrigue are complex enough here in the 20teens; just imagine what they are like when you add to it matrix crashes, independent Artificial Intelligences, and magic. Market Panic comes in at 210 pages total, so you are looking at just over 200 pages of solid crunch. The content is well laid out and the dryness of reading your typical RPG rule book is broken up by the “chatroom-like commentary” that has become standard in all of the Shadowrun sourcebooks.

I have mixed feelings about this particular book. The subject matter is very hefty as far as information on the corporations and I fully realize that to go any deeper would have required a separate book for each of the Big Ten, but this one still feels short in a few areas. First, lack of plug-and-play information. Second, large scale focus for small scale operators. Finally Catalyst tried to shove ten pounds into a five pound bag.

As mentioned earlier there is a dreck-ton of information about the corporations. This is the 5th edition of Shadowrun and having played all five editions I can tell you that the corporations have been a huge part of what makes Shadowrun, Shadowrun. Back in the day, most of the jobs your runners got were much more directly related to the corporations. In fifth edition, because of the larger scope (international) of the game, the corporations feel bigger as well. With their larger feeling, normal Shadowrunners feel much further removed from influencing corporate events. I guess you could call it economy of scale. It is completely possible for a group of experienced runners to get a job that might make or break a corporation. However, the chances of that are unlikely. Rather than trying a corporate big wig snatch and grab from a corporation’s Archology, runners might find themselves kidnapping a mid-level corporate drone off the streets. Because of the economy of scale, some of the information in this sourcebook just hits at levels that few groups will attain. Catalyst used artillery when they should have used a sniper.

Trying to figure out how much information that should go into any sourcebook is never easy. This book felt like it had too much interesting but not very useful information in, thus the ten pounds into a five pound bag. This book covers each of the Big Ten, there is good information on some of the major players, but the chances of a runner actually running into them are very slim. I understand why the information was included, but I think it could have been handled differently. How differently I can’t honestly say, but I just know the corporate leadership descriptions felt like I was reading a weekly entertainment magazine entry rather than a sourcebook. All of it is well written, I just felt like it was a bit off target. The corporate histories were okay, but they took up space that I feel could have been better used for other purposes. The authors made some assumptions about how much the average reader knows about the histories of some of the corporations. This was a bit of a turn off at times and added a few extra pounds shoved into an already full bag.

The biggest disappointment in this book was the lack of good information for the normal Shadowrunner. I would have loved more information on typical jobs a corporation might issue. Some of this is eluded to, but for someone actually running a game, sometimes the list is better than the hints. The relationships between the different corporations is mentioned throughout the sourcebook, but once again spoon feed the overworked referee. I’d love a description of how each corp views the other corps, similar to the ones you might see in other system sourcebooks. I could have used a few tables that showed points of contention between the corporations so that it would be easier to develop missions for teams. I’d love a typical pre-made Johnson from each corporation, included with each of their descriptions. Yes a Mr. Johnson is a Mr. Johnson, but this would have really added to the flavor that Catalyst Game Labs is known for.

I have complaints about this product, but what I didn’t mention was the great art, the sharp layout, and quality writing that are contained in Market Panic. Some of the art felt a little disconnected from the text near it, but none of it felt cheap or cheesy. The comments between the crunch really are a welcome break and have almost as much useful information as some of the much more lengthy descriptions. I am sad to say I would not recommend the sourcebook for everyone. This is higher level information than most people running a game will need. If you have more experienced runners in your game or are just a 6th World info junkie like me, then this is worth the money. Buyer beware on this one.

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