Monday, November 9, 2020

Review: Reality's Edge- Osprey Games

 I played lots of 2nd and 3rd Edition Shadowrun in my youth.  Cyber-punk was a thing for me and my cohorts back in the day.  However, I have to admit the allure and edge of Cyber-punk has worn off on me since my youth.  Similar to how my former carbonite hard love of Star Wars has pretty much died.  Despite no longer being on the razor's edge of love, I was pretty excited to see Osprey Games release Reality's Edge as I had long thought about cyberpunk on the tabletop. 

I have to say, this is a hefty tome.  It is one of Osprey's hardback books, and it is a thick one!  320 pages of the bleeding edge of cyber-punk game design.  The opening 8-10 pages do a great job of setting the cyberpunk scene for those who are not familiar with the genre.  The Lexicon is also a plus, even if I think it is missing a few choice words or two.  The art of the Sprawl does a good job of setting the right feel too.  I think some of that card Infinity terrain from their boxsets will go along nicely for this game too.   

To set the scene for you, chum; the world is run by the Mega-corps.  At the gleaming tops of their spires and arcologies is a different world.  A world of luxury and power.... but at the cost of your freedom.  The company?  They own you.  Down the food chain is employees and salarimen who work to drive the Corporate profits in return for a piece of stability, security, and a some infotainment.  Then there is the street, that is where the real meets the far-too real.  In the street, the bulk of humanity struggle to make the pain go away through sims, pharma, and base entertainments.  The Street is where you are alive..... until you aren't.  The Street is a dangerous place. 

You play as a Showrunner, a person who has a powerful patron; and in return for their patronage you offer blood, sweat, tears, but mostly blood.  You do the jobs in the Street that those in the Spires won't do.  You get your hands dirty for them, so they can play their little corporate power games.  In exchange you get some script and maybe a chance at being made a permahire.  That is when you ascend from the Street to the stability of the employee cadre.  Salary, health benefits, and more awaits.  No more gig work for you.  All you have to do is get a good rep, keep your patron's hands clean, swipe it from the Man, and crack copious amounts of skulls along the way.  

The Showrunner assembles a team of operatives to help him carry out his corporate backed crime spree.  They each offer unique skills and abilities that must be used appropriately.  You are their best shot at a warm bed, a full belly, and all the sims they could want.  The Showrunner just has to hold them together long enough to get the job done.  The Showrunner and their operatives are your "team" on the game table.  

Now that we have some idea of where Reality's Edge is, let's chrome up and hit the Street....    

Things I Liked

Each member of your crew can be a unique operator with their own role to play.  Even at creation, no two operatives need to be the same as they all can choose from different edges and options.  Even if you have more than 1 of a single type, they can still start off very different from each other.  From the Drone Jockey, to the Console Cowboy, to the Cyborg, to the Masque.  They all bring a unique set of skills and edges to the party. 

Your Showrunner is a pretty well developed character with a background, motivation, and a archetype of their own.  In addition, they are accompanied by a virtual avatar of their employer.  All of these options allow you to customize your "leader" character and provide a bit of backstory and narrative to the your crew. This RPG-lite element helps build an emotional investment with the game. 

Each model has a simple stat called "Firewall" which is used to defend against cyber attacks and the like.  A simple stat to help deal with the potential complexity of cyber-hacking is a good idea.  There is also a somewhat "catch-all" stat called Mettle that allows for agility checks, activation, intelligence checks, survival checks, etc.  I prefer a Stat to a variety of special rules to cover these situations so this is in my wheelhouse.     

The game does have a variety of actions a model can perform.  Some actions of note include, dropping prone, overwatch, and Misc Action.  Misc Action is a good catch all that allows for RPG lite elements which are always a bonus in a skirmish game.  The Overwatch action allows a limited interrupt capability to the games activation system.  Actions range from 0 to 2 AP, with the majority of them only taking 1 AP in a game where you tend to have 1-3 AP per activation. 

Probably the "big idea" this game brings with it to the table it to try and add Hacking/Decking into the mix as a tabletop activity that is necessary to be successful.  In a way, it is like having magic in a Fantasy game.  Hacking in this game takes two forms; Combat Hacking and Virtual.  Combat is on the table real-time, while virtual is avatars and the like moving around the battlefield and launching electronic hacks.  These can effect equipment, gear, and the environment.  They can buff, de-buff, attack, and other actions based on the Apps that are used.  There is a lot going on with the rules here, but the inclusion of "virtual" beings moving concurrently with the "meat" space is a pretty interesting idea.  

Things I Did Not Like

For activation, the game has you make a Mettle test for each model.  If passed, you have 2 actions you can take.  If a critical is rolled, you gain an additional action.  However, it failed you have 1 Action and then play moves to your opponent to start activating their models.  This continues back and forth until all models have activated.  I am not a fan of this mechanic because I have used a similar one, and found that in skirmish games it can lead to a lot of dice rolling for not a lot of reward!  I would prefer if everyone gets 1 AP, and then if they wish to use a second.... THEN make the activation test.  This allows you to skip rolling and losing activation to your opponent.  The decision to roll or not to roll then matters.  As presented here, there is no decision, simply mechanics.  

The designer of these rules also created the game This Is Not a Test.  One of the key elements of that post-apoc game was that even if you shot a person you did not know if the target was killed, injured, or even wounded until after all activations had been completed.  This rule set keeps these rules in place.  In theory I like the concept of these rules.  However, in practice I find them a bit cumbersome as you need to mark the model and interrupt the game flow later to determine wounds.  Ultimately it is a friction mechanic to add some uncertainty to the game which I like, but the actual execution gets a bit cumbersome.  You will have to decide if the trade-off is worth it to your games.  

The book also has rules for suppression fire, which I like in theory.  However the way the wound system works means that it becomes a bit of an If This/Then That type of rule that takes you a bit out of the game to resolve.  The results of Suppression Fire are mods to hit, mods to wound, and a key word special rule!  I may prefer the suppression rules in Black Ops where the opponent decides if they want to take saves, or simply keep their head down and avoid getting hit.  The execution is cleaner.  Again, I like the idea behind the rules but I am not enamored by the execution of them.  The game also has rules for shooting through walls, walking your fire, shooting into melee, and using template weapons so there are a lot of shooting options for a player.  

Meh and Other Uncertainties

The game is played on a 3 foot by 3 foot board, the  measurements are inches, and the it is intended for 28-32mm models.  The game allows pre-measuring but asks that you "do not abuse it", but defines this as simply whatever your opponent will tolerate.  That is the oddest way I have seen the issue addressed.  

Basic gameplay is opposed rolls +stat, highest result wins.  There are also Stat checks where you roll a d10 and trying to beat a Target Number.  Pretty standard stuff, BUT I would prefer if they were closer aligned.  I.E. Opposed rolls were to beat a TN like Stat rolls were.  Nothing too ground breaking or outside of the norm here.  

The game has the rules you need for running, jumping, climbing, falling, hiding, and spotting, difficult terrain, going prone, etc that you need to play in a tight and messy urban environment.  These should allow players all sorts of options that interact with their existing terrain collections.  

There are a few pages on bystanders in the rules.  These act as complications and "living" elements of the sprawl around you.  There are always people everywhere, even when you are trying to keep a low profile.  I like the inclusion of these rules as they fit the setting really well.  

This game is filled with chrome.  There is tons of weapons with keywords and stats, armor, cyberware, drones, drugs, Apps, skills, and equipment.  About 40% of the book is this kind of stuff.  It really fluffs out the world and adds to that customization and RPG-lite element of the rules.  I am sure some of it is not 100% balanced because there is just too much of it! 

There are 10 scenarios in the rule book, and each scenario has a couple of mission complications.  Then there is a list of 30 potential hitches for any game.  Bystanders also add more potential variables to any of the scenarios.  To keep in even more interesting, individual operatives have motivations that can give them XP boosts during a game too.  Add in the campaign elements and all the RPG-lite and you have a lot of replayability in this game.       

The campaign system seems to follow the tried and true campaign system established by Games Workshop with Necromunda/Modheim/Gorkamorka.  It has injuries, income, experience, buying and selling, plus a few other items like corporate trace and reputation.  The two main factors are Reputation and credits.  They are distinct, but Reputation is the way to determine "balance" between two opposing groups.  Each JobOp and the post-game is supposed to represent about 30 days, so a full "Year in the Life" is about 12 scenarios.  There are also a list of potential ways to determine a campaigns "winner" based on the set end time of the campaign.  

The book ends with a "bestiary" for common NPC types and models that come up in the various hitches and scenarios of the game.  There are not currently any solo or Co-op play rules (that I am aware of), but I could see them easily being developed by a group that was so inclined.  

Final Thoughts

What makes this different from any other game out there?  Of course, there is the strong cyber-punk feel to it and the RPG-lite elements to go with it.  That is a core draw right there.  If that interests you, then this is a solid game for it.  

From a Game Design standpoint it brings the following: 
1. Delayed Injury Resolution
2. Hacking and Virtual Elements
3. Individualized Units that can become Unique Characters
4. Campaign elements

Mechanically, I am not a huge fan of the activation system or the injury system.  Beyond that, there is a lot going on in the rules.  I can't shake the feeling that there is a relatively high noise to signal ratio.  For example, you can choose to do suppression fire, concentrate and shoot, move and shoot, or walk fire to multiple targets.  However, ultimately these are just variations of "shoot" and doesn't really add to the tactical play.  The options may add more sizzle than actual steak.  This is probably a matter of taste, but it feels like there is more "crunch" then is strictly necessary.    

This would be a great game for a dedicated group to gather around and agree to play X number of games for a limited campaign.  I could see a game group setting up to play a "Year in the Life" campaign, work together to set-up terrain, NPCs, and bystanders.  This would allow the game to excel with a great deal of RPG-lite and an evolving storyline.  It is well suited for a narrative style of play in an existing gaming group.      


  1. "The real meets the far too real." 😎👍

  2. I like how you call out other games and mechanics that you prefer.