Review: Catalyst Game Labs – Shadowrun: Anarchy (Cue System) [Part 2]

Shadowrun: Anarchy
Shadowrun: Anarchy is a Cue System-based version of the fantasy cyberpunk Shadowrun RPG, written by Randall N. Bills, Patrick Goodman, Jason M. Hardy, Philip A. Lee, Aaron Pavao, O.C. Presley, and Russell Zimmerman and published by Catalyst Game Labs.
By Cape Rust

Learn more about Shadowrun: Anarchy here
Purchase Shadowrun: Anarchy here
Find other Cue System posts here and here

We’re doing something a bit different for the Shadowrun: Anarchy review. Editor-in-Chief Aaron Huss is reviewing from the standpoint of the Cue System in Part 1. Feature columnist Cape Rust is reviewing it from the standpoint of Shadowrun in Part 2. This way you get two different viewpoints of the same book.

This is the second part of a tag team effort between myself and the amazing Aaron Huss to review the rules-medium version of Shadowrun entitled Shadowrun: Anarchy. The Mighty Mr. Huss has addressed the game system from the standpoint of a CUE System fan, I will focus on the game as a Shadowrun fan.

Shadowrun: Anarchy is listed as an alternate ruleset and that is exactly what it is. You can use the regular 5th edition rules or you can use Anarchy. I could even see someone cherry picking a few of the concepts from Anarchy and integrating them into their regular Shadowrun game. I like to focus on the rule of cool and if I’m running a game, any game, I like to have to spend as little time reviewing rules while prepping. Shadowrun in it’s non-Anarchy form is rules and d6 heavy. Anarchy trims pounds of fat off of the regular 5th edition rules set and brings Shadowrun into the current trend of rules-lighter and a much more cooperative in nature.

This is the Shadowrun I’ve been hoping for for years and didn’t even know it. Sure I’ve dreamed about what Shadowrun would be like using the FATE System or even a d20-like system, but to see it in the “flesh” and not have to make those time consuming conversions was a beautiful thing to behold. It might sound strange, but for a long time the heavy amount of rules that Shadowrun has always had seemed to fit the setting. Combine magic and technology and a dystopian corporate led future and how could you not be rules heavy? Magic rules, Cyber combat rules, Cyberware rules, combat rules, vehicle combat rules, astral combat rules and variations on most of these depending on how you are accessing said vehicles or astral plane or virtual space. The original rules set has actually evolved nicely over the past few editions, but even in it’s current state can be overwhelming, not as overwhelming as building a “deck” in Shadowrun first edition, but still…

This alternate ruleset takes so many aspects of traditional roleplaying games and turns them upside down, or just gets rid of them. One major example of this is it gets rid of money; yes it is still a factor, but most of it is in the background. Every character gets starting gear and weapons and their lifestyle and most items within reason are considered taken care of, but there are a few significant items called out as well. Bad news for gearheads and minute detail players; great news for folks who want to focus on other aspects of the game. I love the gear section of most RPGs, I love finding the right gear for the right job, and I love it when small preparations gear-wise on my part pay off during a game. With the lack of money and the minimal focus on gear, both players and referees must work together to determine what gear a character might reasonably have with them. Instead of spending money on gear, Cyberware, spells , vehicles and decks characters get Shadow Amps, the Shadow Amps are used during character creation to “buy all of the above mentioned things” and during game play your character is “paid” in Karma which can then be used to improve or get new Amps, improve stats, and for other overall improvements.

Speaking of cooperation, Shadowrun: Anarchy requires a much higher level of trust and cooperation from player to player and player to Referee. Because this system is rules low/medium and the inherent way the CUE System works, players have more say in what happens and how it happens. Games like this will not work well for people who “hide” behind screens or “hide” on the other side of the screens. If you are more of a hands-off player or don’t say much at the table, this version of Shadowrun might stress you out. If you are one of those players who sit down with the person running the game and discuss how you will handle situations that might make you, as a player, uncomfortable, and if you are running the game know your players and figure out a way to make it work and ways to make it fun for everyone, then read on!

As much as Shadowrun: Anarchy strips away rules from normal 5th addition, it is still Shadowrun. Mr./Mrs. Johnson is still exactly what you’d expect. The mission sets haven’t changed and the ability to do really cool things with really cool magic or technology is still there. Corporate intrigue, still there. This was a smart move all the way around Catalyst Games. Some gamers fear change and will not touch Shadowrun: Anarchy with a ten meter cattle prod. That’s fine, that is why this is a rules supplement and not a completely new rules set that must be used and all other rules are null and void. I mean, it would be dumb to just erase all of the Shadowrun canon right; I mean who just erases decades of canon…

If you have avoided Shadowrun because of the heavier rules set, Shadowrun: Anarchy might be just the thing you need to start running in the Shadows. If you have been with Shadowrun from the beginning, this product might just be what you need to change things up or renew your love for one of the more unique RPG settings around. This rules supplement embraces a trending style of gaming that is more collaborative and much more open. I personally enjoy games like this, but they do tend to require a more flexible person running the game and players need to be ready to step up to the mic and take some control and personal responsibility for moving the story along. This happens in plenty of other rules “heavy” games and often without anyone knowing it, but with systems like this, it is overt and out in the open. I’ve got plenty of d6s ready and I can’t wait for it to be Anarchy!

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