There’s Gonna’ Be a Rumble Tonight…
When you’re a Halloweener,
You’re a ‘weener all the way
From your first cigarette
To your last dyin’ day.
When you’re a ‘weener,
If the drek hits the fan,
You got brothers around,
You’re a family man!
My apologies, chummers, I just can’t help myself. I assure all of you that this isn’t an April Fool’s joke. It’s hard NOT to break into song and dance when you have this much Shadowrun stuffed into a single year! The Year of Shadowrun is something of a revival of the franchise, and goodness knows it needed it! Shadowrun is a perfect storm of sci-fi, cyberpunk, and fantasy all rolled into one. There’s a bit of something for everyone, and it has retained a cult following since it’s inception in 1989. This year’s release list is a veritable buffet of dystopian delights that the franchise has slated for everyone! On the video game front, we have Shadowrun Returns, and Shadowrun Online, both slathered in awesomesauce. On the tabletop, we have the Fifth Edition of the RPG, and a healthy helping of Shadowrun: Crossfire, Shadowrun: Hostile Takeover, and Shadowrun: Sprawl Gangers. Top that off with a brand-spanking-new line of Shadowrun novels for dessert, and you have a feast for fans old and new alike!
Great ghostly tapdancing Dunklezahn with dinner, a movie, and a kiss goodnight! All of this shadow-goodness is going to be a real strain on the credstick this year!
I have the singular pleasure of being one of the “lab mice” for Sprawl Gangers, but I’m not allowed to talk about the details. I know, you’re probably thinking, “Quit being a tease, Belmont!” I hear you, chummers, and that’s why I have a little treat for you…
…I’ve snagged an interview with Randall N. Bills for Shadowrun: Sprawl Gangers!
Here’s what the screamsheet on the streets reads:
Sprawl Gangers is a competitive, skirmish-level miniatures game for 2 players, with everything needed to game right in the box. Players will take on the task of building gangs (Ancients, Halloweeners, First Nation, and so on) following specific point values of a scenario, and modifying the various miniatures based upon what new resources (weapons/gear/magic/tech) a player gained through previous games. Gangs won’t simply fight for the sake of fighting, but will actively building their turfs and resources. Among other things, this will allow for the hiring of the exact right shadowrunner when they need that ace in the hole. All this adds up to the experience of watching your gang grow and expand through exciting play across a swath of games.
Our knives are sharpened, we’re wearing our colors, and we’re ready to start mixing it up in the Barrens, but before we put on our dancing shoes, let’s look at a little bit o’ data on our good chummer Randall Bills:
Randall N. Bills has worked in the Adventure Gaming industry for over a decade and a half. With numerous Origins and EN World Awards to his credit, he’s lead the development and publication of almost two hundred sourcebooks, rulebooks, box sets, game aides and more. In an addition to writing eight novels and a host of on-line fiction, he’s been the continuity editor for over fifty novels—as well as a half million words of online fiction—set in the sprawling, dynamic BattleTech universe.
He’s currently the Managing Line Developer for Catalyst Game Labs, overseeing the strategic development of the perennial BattleTech and Shadowrun properties. Randall is also managing the rollout of Catalyst Game Labs’ new line of table top games such as Hex-A-Gon, Balance of Power, The Duke, and Linear. He’s also the game designer and developer behind Leviathans; an alternate history, steampunk-esk miniatures game which just released and immediately sold out of its first printing. He’s currently co-designing Sprawl Gangers, a skirmish style miniatures game set in the phenomenal Shadowrun universe.
Randall is also the Continuity Editor and Fiction Content Manager for both Piranha Games Inc.’s MechWarrior Online and Roadhouse Interactive’s MechWarrior Tactics.
Needless to say this isn’t Randall’s first rodeo in the miniatures arena! Let’s roll those Negotiation dice and see how information we can get out of him, eh?
Doc Belmont: You guys really dropped a lot of cool stuff on us for 2013. What was the impetus for a miniatures game? Was it something you wanted to do for awhile?
Randall Bills: There’s been talk of doing a miniatures game for Shadowrun all the way back into FASA days; I started working at FASA in 1996 and even then discussions were had now and then. Basically there was a lot of disappointment surrounding the last miniatures game attempt, DMZ, both internally and externally and a “return to do it right” has been talked about for ages. Some of the Shadowrun authors in particular, like Bull our intrepid Missions developer, have had a dream of it for almost as long.
However, for those that have followed Leviathans at all (as well as the latest printing of the BattleTech Introductory Box Set) know that Catalyst has been plagued with problems surrounding miniatures. That pretty much killed any desire we had to go down that road over the last several years.
What finally brought it out now was two fold: with everything else going on for Shadowrun there’d never be a better time to maximize exposure right out of the gate, and our burgeoning relationship with Cool Mini or Not and bringing their miniatures sculpting/production expertise to make this project soar.
DB: Designing a tactical miniatures game is quite a daunting task. How has the experience been? Tough, but rewarding? What have been some major obstacles to overcome?
RB: While I like to think I can design any type of game, my career has been all about miniatures, which makes this type of design work easier for me than just about anything else. However, this was my first time creating rules for a “true tabletop miniatures game”, meaning true line of sight, measuring in inches, and so on. It was a great boon for me to be codeveloping Sprawl Gangers with Ross Watson who also has a swath of experience in these style of games.
As for obstacles to overcome…I think the biggest has been my desire to create a game that encourages and rewards spectacular movement and actions on the board. From jumping across the gap between buildings down through a lower level window and come up with guns blazing to hacking into a moveable bridge and yanking it out from under some rival gang members: allowing the rules to cover those actions without them bloating in size and complexity….yeah, that’s been a trick. Hopefully we’ll ultimately strike the right balance.
DB: You guys mentioned that this is the biggest playtest pool you’ve ever used. What has it been like working with groups of playtesters like this so far?
RB: Lucky for me, Ross is taking the lead on wrangling all of the playtest reports and working directly with the playtest groups. However, from working through him for the reports, it’s actually been a very good experience so far. Obviously it’s simply a lot of work piling through 70 or 80 playlets groups and condensing it all down to the essence of what really needs to change. However, Ross has been doing a fantastic job of it.
And to be honest (not to throw more work on Ross’ shoulders), but even if it was more difficult than it is now, we’d still be doing it. The playlets feedback has been fantastic. The difference between the first playtest rules and the second playtest rules is stunning…and a lion’s share of that quality leap rests on our great playtesters.
What’s more, there’s been some great suggestions on how to better do various things in the game that we’ve incorporated right into the rules. For example, one of my goals in the game has been to try and find ways for their always to be something for your models to be doing. We’ve all played miniatures games where some times it feels like half the models on the table are just milling about waiting for the right combat moment. In Sprawl Gangers I introduced a “Scavenge” rule, where “Scavenge Points” tokens are placed on the board during set up, and then you can move models next to the tokens during the game and attempt to scavenge various items; a great way to enhance the themes of the game (the detritus of urban decay of the megasprawls where Sprawl Gangers unfolds), while also giving the player more things for their models to do. I had a big, complex table and very detailed rules and one of the playtester suggestions was to turn it into a random grab, making the entire process both easier, while also creating some great moments of “oh crap, more Trash or “yeah, a Remington 990 shotgun!” Ross and I both saw that was instantly going to be a better take on the concept, and I generated new rules around that style and their in the second playtest cycle going on right now.
DB: There are a few big tactical miniatures games out there, such as Warhammer Fantasy and 40K, as well as Warmachine. Where does Sprawl Gangers fall in all of this? Are you creating an immersive alternative to these games, or is it far more “self-contained?” Is it more of a “buy a box and you’re done,” or can I buy an individual unique ganger or shadowrunner to add to my awesome gang?
RB: By the very nature of the theme of Sprawl Gangers (i.e. gangers clashing on the streets of the Seattle Metroplex), it won’t be a mammoth line of miniatures releasing every month. Additionally, it will tap more into the “board game/miniatures” fusion of say Leviathans, Zombicide or Sedition Wars. You’ll buy a boxed game and inside that box will be two gangs of miniatures, rules, terrain and so on; everything you need to launch into a slew of great games.
However, we’re designing the game to have expansions, both additional terrain, as well as new gangs beyond the Ancients and Halloweeners found in the core box. How much of that we ultimately publish and how quickly will all depend upon the reception of the base game.
DB: Is Sprawl Gangers going to be a game “line?” In other words, will it be continually expanding with new gangs, shadowrunners, features, terrain, etc.? I’d love to see a section for Sprawl Gangers sitting next to the Warhammer and WarMachine shelves of my Friendly-Local-Gaming-Store!
RB: I think we covered that mostly above. The goal is to make it a line, but we’re being cautious out of the gate. We’ll get out the base game and then based upon sales determine how much and how often we can expand the base box set.
DB: Cool Mini or Not is a great partner choice, if you don’t mind my saying it. They have some awesome folks working for them, and their products are very high-quality. Did you approach them, or did you throw out a net hoping for a bite?
RB: Couldn’t agree more…great, great guys over there. It’s a small industry and so we generally all know each other to some extent or another. In this case, I’ve known Kevin Clark for years (back when he was working for Privateer Press).
For this specific endeavor, though, we approached them. As I mentioned, we’ve had some pretty horrific manufacturing experiences with Leviathans (and to a lesser extent BattleTech) and meanwhile Cool Mini or Not has been powering out some great games, with great looking miniatures. We initially contacted them trying to get some guidance in general, but then the concept of a Shadowrun miniatures game loomed. They might be as big a fans of Shadowrun as we are and they leapt at the chance to help make this a reality.
DB: Are the gangers going to be pre-painted plastic, or will gamers be able to give them their own flourish with unique paint-jobs?
RB: At the current time the plastic miniatures will not be pre-painted.
DB: Will all of the gangs be pre-generated stock gangs, such as “Ancients,” “Halloweeners,” “Eye-Fivers,” “Rusted Stillettos,” etc, or will players have the option to create brand new gangs and bring them to the tabletop turf?
RB: The base box set will feature the Ancients vs. Halloweeners. However, we’re playtesting rules right now for creating gangs of any stripe.
DB: Granted, many of Sprawl Gangers’ players are going to be Shadowrun fans. Are the rules and feel of the game similar? Will SR fans seemlessly transition into the game, or will there be a big “new game” learning curve?
RB: I just posted a blog post to www.shadowruntabletop.com (Sprawl Gangers Designer Diary 4) discussing a lot of time and effort that’s been put into creating a thematic cohesion of rules and terms, as appropriate, to make the learning curve from the RPG to the miniatures game as low as we can get it. And of course, the benefits of that spread out in numerous directions, including making it easier for a miniatures player that’s never touched the Shadowrun RPG to give it a try once they’ve fallen in love with the Sixth World via Sprawl Gangers.
DB: I know one thing that this game has that the other miniatures games do not; a built-in “Campaign.” Care to elaborate on what this campaign mode serves in the game?
RB: Necromunda. That’s pretty much the word that summed it up for Ross and I as we began discussions of what type of game we ultimately wanted to design. We’ve both very fond memories of literally years of league play back in the day for that game, all inspired and supported by a robust campaign system.
As you mentioned, no one is really doing anything like that right now. As such, not only does this give Sprawl Streets something no other game is currently embracing, but it creates a built-in mechanism for players to enjoy returning to the game often, while also showcasing all the coolness of the Sixth World. Win-win across the board.
DB: What other kinds of Shadowrun Goodness will we see in Sprawl Gangers? Is this going to be a shoot ‘em up or smackdown, or will we see other elements of the Sixth world? Will we have mages? Will we have Deckers or Riggers? Paranormal Critters? Vehicle Rules? Lone Star coming in to crash your party?
RB: Magic and deckers must be a part of any Shadowrun experience. They’re indelibly linked to the Sixth World. In fact, Ross and I have been working very hard to ensure that the decker shines in Sprawl Gangers. We’re also looking to include a few nasty critters that’ll crawl out of alleys when your gang member isn’t paying proper attention.
Also, we had a great playtest comment wondering if a Corps/Lone Star security team could be added. Whether will ultimately be able to do that is still up in the air, but we’re absolutely looking at it.
Finally, vehicles rules…we’ve a few concepts jotted down, but that’s simply more complex than we currently want to get in the rules. Doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t make a great expansion down the line…go gangers here we come!
DB: If you could mention one awesome feature that sets Sprawl Gangers apart from those “other” games, what would it be? If a customer is looking at a wall of tactical miniatures games, what makes Sprawl Gangers the best choice?
RB: A complete skirmish miniatures game experience, including comprehensive campaign rules, in a single box.
DB: If Sprawl Gangers is successful (and it WILL be), do you think this will open the door to a Shadowrun miniatures and terrain line for our regular tabletop games?
RB: Anything is possible…if it’s a success, we can feed that demand.
DB: Any guess when we’ll be able to get our mitts on Sprawl Gangers? Summer? Fall?
RB: Winter is the earliest you’ll possibly see Sprawl Gangers. Just the nature of designing it, playtesting it, and then sculpting/production time.
DB: Got anything to say to the legion of Shadowrun fans out there?
RB: Thank you. The fact that Catalyst has the honor of helming a Year of Shadowrun like this is exactly because of the fans of Shadowrun who have consistently and enthusiastically said–through robust and lean years alike–that Shadowrun is one of the coolest universes out there. Again…thank you.
Well, ‘runners, you heard it here! There’s a TON of things to be excited for, and if the game is a success, there may be more surprises on the horizon! My heartfelt thanks goes out to Randall Bills for his time and work on this great game, and to the rest of the crew, as well as the good folks at Cool Mini or Not!
Shadowrun: Sprawl Gangers is still in it’s infancy, being only the second playtest in. Rules are constantly evolving, and it’s a bit too early to see things like concept art. Keep watching this corner of the Matrix, however, to see future developments when I check in with Randall in a few months to see what new surprises are in store for all of you future Sprawl Gangers out there!
Alas, the time has come. The spell has been cast, and those who are under it have been enlightened, and hopefully leave enchanted…
May the shadows hide you on your run, and Happy Gaming!
Posted on April 1, 2013, in Interviews, Miniatures Games and tagged Catalyst Game Labs, Cool Mini Or Not, Kevin Clark, Miniatures, Randall Bills, Shadowrun, Shadowrun 5th edition, Shadowrun Crossfire, Shadowrun Hostile Takeover, Shadowrun Sprawl Gangers, tabletop. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.