Originally Posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2012/06/22/tabletop-review-shadowr
Maps and miniatures are two things that never spring to mind when I play or run Shadowrun. Sure I have a few Ral Partha Shadowrun minis lying around and I tried the terrible oversized figure game, but I’ve never felt that ANY incarnation of Shadowrun lent itself particularly well to miniatures or map based combat and considering I don’t know anyone that actually uses either very often, I think it’s safe to say I’m in the majority here.
So I found it a bit surprising when Catalyst Game Labs released Sprawl Sites: North AmericaL which is designed specifically for his sort of tabletop gaming. I was intrigued by the very concept by the attempt to revive the Sprawl Sites concept, which was last used in what, First Edition? Oy. What I found was a product with some nice ideas catering to a very niche market of Shadowrun players (those that actively used maps with players and/or minis) but that really needed to be retooled in several ways.
Sprawl Sites: North America is thirty-two pages long. You start with your nice cover art, while pages 2-16 go into detail about each of the eight locations presented with in. Pages 17-32 then give you the full colour maps to use with players. There are two versions of each map, one with legends and extra detailing for DMs and one without any of that for the players. The maps aren’t especially well done, although I might be spoiled from the various maps we’ve reviewed here at Diehard GameFAN. You’re going to really have to blow them up if you want to use them with miniatures, and as the maps aren’t all that detailed, players will be less than impressed. These maps look like they were done with Microsoft Visio or a generic RPG map maker from a decade or so ago. You’re also not given a scale for any of the maps, so when you’re printing them out at a larger size if you want to use any of them with miniatures, it’s going to be somewhat guess and check. I do need to emphatically point out that I don’t believe CGL made any of these maps with miniatures based play in mind but rather as schematics or floor plans, but then if that’s the case one would think they’d all look like the “Mall of the World” map. Who knows?
The best map of the lot is the City Hall one, while the “Mall of the World” is by far the worst. It’s like something you would see in an actually mall saying, “You are here.” It’s also very small for a mall – possibly one you’d see for a town of about 20,000 people. I was really disappointed by the quality of the maps and I honestly don’t think I’d use them with my players. I’d rather have the DM one for a reference guide if I was to use the location, or I’d give some bigger, better (and cheaper) maps already laid out for miniatures use. Of course, then I’d get strange looks and asked if I was needed a D&D Minis or Heroclix fix by my friends.
The flavor text in the first half of the supplement is the real reason to pick this up. Each of the eight locations had three sections of descriptive text to flesh out the area. The first is “Structure and Security,” which talks about the armor and structure rating of everything on the map along with any nodes, keylocks and commlinks. This is handy for when things start getting blown up or hacked by your players. A good DM will use this information when he describes the locale to his players in descriptive terms to help paint a mental picture. The second section is “Typical Occupants” and gives you an idea of what NPCs to expect and present to players. City Hall will have bureaucrats, the mall will have rent-a-cops and shoppers. The “No Tel Motel” will have things like hookers and drug dealers. So on and so forth. Both sections are very informative and will really help you to make the maps come to life if you choose to use them.
The final section is “Adventure Seeds” and it’s the best part of the supplement. Each location has between four and seven adventure seeds, each with a very different plot. You can re-use the maps as recurring locations in your campaign or just take one from each. The last adventure seed for each map is labeled with the phrase Frame Job in italics. The Frame Job adventures seeds are part of an interconnecting set that forms a full adventure for players, allowing the DM to get the full use out of the maps and the $10-20 spent on this supplement. Frame Job is a weird little story where a Mr. Johnson hires the players to fake a terrorist attack and have it blamed on a set of unsuspecting patsies. There isn’t a lot of substance here so the DM will have to make up the bulk of the adventure on their own, but that’s what adventure seeds are all about. The seeds and maps together can make a nice quick evening of play for those times when you don’t have a long adventure to throw at your players, or if you just don’t have much time to put something together. Each adventure seed can work as a nice hour or two of play, but a creative DM can stretch things out much longer. The key is to make sure it doesn’t come off as padding…
The one big problem with the adventure seeds for Frame Job is that the locations are listed alphabetically in the supplement, but that’s NOT the order the Frame Job scenes take place in. This means you’ll have to flip back and forth through the supplement to find what is next. Because Frame Job is the core thing being sold here (complete with black sidebar about it as soon as you get past the cover), it would have been smarter and easier to lay out the locations in the order they occur in it rather than alphabetical. After all, when was the last time you bought an adventure where the scenes were out of order? At least this thing is only fifteen pages of writing, so it’s not as if you’re flipping through a core sourcebook trying to find what comes next. The text even gives you a head’s up that things are laid out alphabetically rather than with Frame Job in mind, so that’s something in its favor.
The eight locations in Sprawl Sites are Barren Blocks (ghetto –like area), City Hall, Gambling Den, Lonestar Station, Luxury Hotel, No Tell Hotel (sleazy hourly hotel sort of place), Mall of the World and Trideo Studio. These are fun generic locations that can show up in any major city. Hell, you’ve probably used or encountered several of these location types in your foray into the Sixth World already, but now you have maps and detailed information about the locations. I really enjoyed the location ideas and adventure seeds. The maps were sub-par but for me, it’s the text and substance that matters most. Besides I can always use other maps if need be.
All in all, Sprawl Sites: North America had a lot of potential, but it just doesn’t live up to what could have been. The adventure seeds are neat and the maps are a fun idea, but what’s here isn’t something I’d pay $9.99 (for the PDF) for and especially not $19.99 (for the print version). If you’re fine with the quality of the maps, you might be able to get your money’s worth out of this. It’s just with supplements of the same length like Safehouses and Magical Societies being roughly the same length and only $4.95, Sprawl Sites: North America feels a bit overpriced. You can definitely have fun with this supplement; don’t get me wrong. It’s just you could have fun with other Shadowrun products that are either cheaper for the same page length or contain a lot more substance more the same dollar amount.