Review: Catalyst Game Labs – Seattle Sprawl (Shadowrun)

Seattle Sprawl
Seattle Sprawl is a fantasy cyberpunk sourcebook for Shadowrun, published by Catalyst Game Labs.
By Cape Rust

Learn more about Seattle Sprawl here
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This box set contains 7 products, a novel excerpt and an old school Catalyst catalog to give you lots of great information on the Shadows of the Emerald City, Seattle. The products include:

  • The Emerald Shadows: This booklet breaks Seattle down into its districts, including the new kid on the block.
  • The Ork Underground: This booklet is broken down into sections like places to squat, places to shop, the major criminal elements in each district and much more useful information for both sides of the screen.
  • Ruling the Queen City: This product looks at the powers that be, the powers that actually are and the players who want to be powers. This product highlights useful information on getting around Seattle and some interesting organizations that might be encountered.
  • Tangled Threads: This product focuses on spots of interest primarily to Shadowrunners. It discusses corporate housing as well as retreats that cater to executives. This product contains a campaign that could take runners so deep in the shadows of Seattle politics that the results could change the city forever.
  • Map Cards: Are a deck of modular cards that allow easy construction of building and areas. Cards have openings on the middle on each side to create asymmetrical options for gamemasters. The card designs allow maximum flexibility in the simple creation of a wide verity situations for a multiple encounters.
  • Reference Cards: These are designed to make critical information about the sprawl easy to find. One card has a district map of Seattle on one side and a list of notable locations on the other side. The other card lists notable street gangs, their colors and the areas that they tend to operate in.
  • Character Cards: 24 cards that have notable Seattle characters that can fulfill a huge number of roles. Several of these characters can be used as NPCs and even as PCs if the situation dictated it.
  • Map of Seattle: This map shows the sprawl that is Seattle, suitable for wall hanging.

This box is the yellow brick road to the Emerald City. Having been in a long term relationship with Shadowrun, it is good to see a product that takes the game back to its roots. The international flavor of the recent editions of the game have been great, but Seattle is where it all began and is still to many people the essence of what Shadowrun is all about. The whole idea of a boxed set is a further reflection of the aforementioned old school feel that all of these products have. Boxed sets have made a comeback and from this crusty old reviewer’s standpoint, that is a good thing. Some of the more recent boxed set releases have been more successful than others, but they really do bring back the magic of opening up a bunch of gaming goodness. One other benefit of a boxed set like this is that these sets tend to encourage game designers and manufactures to strive to produce a higher quality of inter-related products. All of the products have to (or should) be in sync in a box set, and I feel like game companies are much more conscious of this when all of the products are going into the same box. This set shows why Catalyst Games was the right choice to inherit the storied Shadowrun franchise.

When viewed as a whole, this box set is a huge success; it has all of the crunchy goodness you need to really breathe life into Seattle. However, some of the products contained inside fell just a little short. There was nothing bad in this set, but as with most things with a few tweaks here and there this outstanding product could have been even better. One of the first products in this set that I read was Ruling the Queen City; I don’t think a product like this was included in this set and written the way it was during an election year. I personally have already exceeded my quota for underhanded politics over the last few decades, so I was dreading reading the information in this particular product. It turns out it was not as bad as I thought it would be, but it caused some major concerns. Reading this product, I thought the rest of the box was going to be all theory and no crunch, I was happily disappointed. The fault was with the huge amount of focus placed on Governor Brickhaven. There were times when I was worried that Catalyst would have to rename the entire box the “Brickhaven Box”. Governor Brickhaven is important, very important; because of Seattle’s unique situation, he is closer in power to the president of a small country rather than “just” a governor. Something is going to happen to him and there will be a shift of power in the future; this box set actually gives players a chance to be part of that change, whatever it may be. I think I would have enjoyed this particular product much more if I wasn’t already sodden with politics.

There were several instances of recycled art and there were a few times when the art didn’t jive with the information on the pages around it, or was just subpar. Shadowrun has had both good and bad art in its storied history, sadly it seems on a few occasions that Catalyst has the rights to all of that old art and are hell bent on using it to get their money’s worth. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does it’s pretty bad. The Map cards are wonderfully designed, however their templates showed very little variation. That uniformity works well for the Corp offices, a little variety would have served the restaurant and bar map cards a little better.

These small gripes aside, this really is a great product. This box set shows that Catalyst Games listens to feedback from their fans and works very hard to make usable, interesting products that players and Game Masters alike can use. A great example of this is the NPC cards included in this box; not only do they have great plug-and-play aspects, the illustrations are great and they even have a wound tracking section on them so that a GM can easily integrate those NPCs or slight variations of them into a game with little or no prep time. This box set’s quality and beauty show up in its electronic form; I can only imagine what the actual product looks and feels like. This box takes me back to the roots of one of my all-time favorite settings in the best possible ways. If you are interested in Shadowrun, this is a must have!

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