I have a soft spot for Role-Playing Game Boxed Sets and today I’m going to deep dive into my most recent acquisition, the Shadowrun Sixth World Beginner Box.
This roleplaying game starter set is meant to be the new introduction to the sixth edition of one of the world’s most popular and oldest RPGs: Shadowrun. Shadowrun is a mash-up of cyberpunk dystopian future and fantasy elements, like elves, magic and, of course, dragons.
Note: This is a read review. I have not had a chance to get this RPG to the table as either a player or a GM.
Disclosure: Catalyst Games Labs provided me with a review copy of the Shadowrun Sixth World Beginner Box, no other compensation was provided. Some links in this post are affiliate links. Using these links doesn’t cost you anything extra and it helps support this blog and podcast. As an Amazon Affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
What comes in the Shadowrun Sixth World Beginner Box?
The Shadowrun Sixth World Beginner Box was designed by O.C. Presley and was published by Catalyst Games Labs in 2019 under licence from Topps.
The best way to see what you get in this RPG boxed set is to check out our Shadowrun Sixth World Beginner Box Unboxing video.
Right from the start, I have to say this comes in a solid box, which is something I appreciate. Far too many of these roleplaying starter sets come in flimsy boxes that just don’t stand the test of time. This is a nice solid thick box, as good as many of my board game boxes.
The first thing you see upon opening the box is a single double-sided sheet showing an advertisement for the full Shadowrun Sixth World core rulebook, on the back is a “Read Me First” detailing how to use the contents of this box. I can’t help but think that this should have been put in the box the other side up. This sheet walks you through everything in the box and what order to read things in and is very helpful for navigating this boxed set.
Inside the box, you will find twelve custom six-sided dice. You will also find an Instant Guide to the Sixth World, which is a four-page pamphlet introducing you to the Shadowrun world. Then there are four different eight-page character dossiers. To go along with the characters, there are a number of cards covering weapons, gear, spells and more.
The Quick Start Rules are the largest booklet in the box, clocking in at twenty-four pages. They feature a two-column layout, a ton of text that’s just a bit smaller than I would have liked, some great Shadowrun artwork and plenty of tables. One thing that hasn’t changed about Shadowrun over the years is a love of tables.
The final book in this boxed set is titled Battle Royal and is both a full introductory adventure as well as an introduction to the Seattle Sprawl setting that has been the core setting for Shadowrun since the game first came out in 1989. There is also a large two-sided poster map.
A look at each component in the Shadowrun Beginner Box in Detail
Custom Shadowrun Dice
This boxed set comes with twelve six-sided dice. They are purple on black and feature the iconic Shadowrun Skull symbol for the one, circuit board like designs around the numbers two to four and the Shadowrun snakelike S showing in (addition to the numbers) on the fives and sixes.
An Instant Guide to the Sixth World, A short introduction to the Shadowrun Setting
An Instant Guide to the Sixth World is a four-page pamphlet that tells you a bit about the Shadowrun setting. This pamphlet is broken into three sections.
Up first, after a brief introduction, is Everything Has A Price. This talks about Magic (paying with your mind), Corporations (paying with your self), Augmentations (paying with your soul), Life in the Shadows (paying with your blood) and why you should Risk It All.
This is followed by a timeline starting from the year 2000 going until 2079. The Sixth World Setting for this sixth edition of Shadowrun is set in 2080. There isn’t a lot of detail here but it does give you a good idea of what has come before.
Finally, the back page features The Big Ten, which are the ten largest corporations in the Shadowrun world. The amount of actual useful information here is lacking. Instead of talking about who these corporations are or why we should care most of the text is used to list things like the corporations rank, slogan, status, where their HQ is, and who their president is.
I have to say I was rather disappointed with this introduction to the setting when compared to the last fifth edition boxed set. While this did give me an idea of what the tone of the game is, it didn’t really make me excited to play in this world. Things like the list of corporations were really just a bunch of stats that did nothing to tell me what these corps are about or how they actually impact the world. The boxed set for the last edition had a much more detailed setting intro and even included a short novella.
Four Character Dossiers, Pregenerated characters to let you dive right in and get playing Shadowrun
There are four pre-generated characters presented in the Sixth World Beginner Box. You have Zipfile the Dwarf Decker, Yu the Elf Covert Ops Specialist/Face, Frostburn the Ork Combat Mage, and Rude the Troll Street Samurai.
These dossiers are the highlight of this boxed set. Each is seven pages long and starts off with a character sheet and how to read it, every detail is explained clearly and concisely. Besides just telling you things like what that numbers are for, each dossier actually goes into how to use them. The rules for simple and opposed tests are clearly explained and combat is detailed step by step.
In addition to the character sheet and mechanics explanation, each dossier includes a profile section. This gives each character’s background, as well as preferred tactics and roleplaying tips. There are also some callouts, pointing out vital contacts, favourite hangouts and favourite downtime activities.
Each character booklet includes an example run. This is presented as a short story that is supported by sidebars, showing how the mechanics in the game tie to that story. I found that this actually did more for highlighting the Shadowrun setting than the Guide to the Sixth World book did.
Finally, every character has a set of tables. What’s impressive here is that each character’s set of tables is specific to that character. For example, you won’t find the rules for magic on the Street Samurai’s list of tables. One of these tables includes calculated dice pools for the most common actions they expect a player playing each character to take, I thought this was another nice touch.
I have to say these dossiers are a HUGE improvement over the character dossiers in the fifth edition boxed set. Here every part of the characters are explained, even if that explanation is no more than saying that this part of the character isn’t really used in this starter set, so just use it as a roleplaying prompt (an example of which are Qualities).
55 Cards, Save on having to look up rules while playing this Shadowrun Beginner Box
I’m a big fan of using cards in RPGs. I would much rather look through some cards than have to constantly reference a rulebook. So I was very happy to see the deck of cards included with the Shadowrun Sixth World Boxed Set.
These cards include things like armour, gear, comlinks, weapons, and spells for each of the four pre-generated characters. Each card features a short description and any mechanics required to use that specific item. My only complaint about these is that I really feel like they could have used some artwork on them. Shadowrun is known for its striking artwork, surely they must have had some images in the vault that they could have used.
In addition to cards for the players, there are also a number of cards meant for the GM. These include the stats and other pertinent information for the four gangs, and their gear, that are featured in the Battle Royal adventure (more about that in a bit).
The Shadowrun Quick Start Rules are concise and can get you playing quickly
Twenty pages of rules and four pages of reference tables make up the Shadowrun Quick Start Rules booklet, the largest booklet in this RPG boxed set.
While the majority of the rules are already explained quickly in each of the character dossiers, these Quick Start rules expand on those and go into much more detail. They start off with what you expect from any RPG starter set, a quick introduction and a talk about the rhythm of a game including the relationship between the players and the Games Master. Shadowrun is still very much a traditional RPG.
More information on characters is provided detailing what the various metatypes are (Dwarfs, Elves, Humans, Orks and Trolls), the attributes each character has and how they are split into physical, mental and special, how damage is tracked through condition monitors, skills, qualities, initiative, edge, defence rating, attack rating, tools, contacts, etc.
From here the book dives into the mechanics of the game. The basic system is that each character has attributes and skills, and when attempting to do something the player builds a dice pool based on one skill and one attribute. They then roll this pool, counting fives and sixes, looking to beat a threshold set by the GM for a standard test or to get more hits than an opponent in an opposed test. The difference between the target and the number of hits rolled can be used for additional effects such as the amount of damage caused in combat.
One new addition to the game that I liked was the ability to buy hits. At any time instead of rolling the dice, a player can instead just buy hits. They get one hit for every four dice in their pool rounded down. No dice are rolled and edge (more about that in a bit) cannot be spent. It’s an all or nothing option that sounds like a solid way to speed up play for low difficulty tasks.
Added to this is the glitch system. If you roll more ones than you roll successes a “glitch” happens. What’s interesting here is that it’s not a botch mechanic. A glitch just means something interesting happens, and glitches can occur both on successful and failed task checks.
Then there is the biggest new addition to this version of Shadowrun and that is the concept of Edge. Edge is a resource that all characters have (it’s one of their special attributes) that resets at the start of each situation or scene. Players start each encounter with a number of Edge equal to their attribute and each round they can earn up to two more. The Edge resource is earned by having an edge natively. For example, by having better gear, being prepared, or finding cover. Edge can be spent for a number of things including modifying die rolls, re-rolling dice, adding automatic hits, creating special effects and more.
Edge is a very new mechanic for Shadowrun fans and based on what I have seen online this is the thing about the sixth edition that is causing the most division in the fan community. People either love or hate Edge. For me, I will say the concept sounds interesting but I don’t think I can really judge it until I actually try it at the table.
After diving into Edge the Quick Start Rules spend a number of pages on combat. Combat has been and always will be a big part of Shadowrun.
Without getting into too much detail, here are some highlights of the combat system. The initiative is D6 based and gets added to an attribute. Some characters can end up rolling multiple D6s which also give those characters extra actions. I assume this is to represent modifications and things that would give a character exceptional speed or reflexes. None of the characters in this boxed set has more than 1d6 initiative.
I was pleased to find a set of Grunt rules, rules for running large mobs of baddies at once. This is something I always look for in any combat-focused RPG nowadays, after first seeing the mook rules in Feng Shui. These Grunt rules are very simple with the number of grunts in a mob adding additional attack rating, a stat that is only used to determine who, if anyone, gets Edge in a fight. Having cover is similarly abstracted, again just being something that affects Edge.
After covering combat the Quick Start Rules dive into the Matrix. At least as far as this set of rules are concerned, the Matrix and “cyber running” is extremely abstracted and uses the same basic system as combat but with different skills and attributes. I was pleased to see that things happening in the matrix happen in real-time, so you have none of that silly “pause the rest of the group while the Decker tries to do some hacking” thing that we’ve seen far too many times in Cyberpunk themed games.
Similar to the rules for the Matrix, there is a section on Rigging. This must be something unique to Shadowrun as I don’t recognize the term from other cyberpunk-themed RPGs. Rigging is when a character connects to and takes over a piece of equipment. While there is no Rigger character included in this boxed set there is one free to download on the Catalyst website (or on DriveThru).
Next up is a simplified set of vehicle rules. Then the rules for magic, which use follow suit pretty much the same system as everything else. Again the skills and attributes that need to be rolled are different, as are the ones used to oppose magic, but the basic system is the same. The only truly new thing here is a drain system, whereby spellcasters can cause stun damage to themselves while casting, and rules for counterspells.
That’s pretty much it for rules and mechanics. The last four pages of this book are various reference tables. These tables do a great job of summarising the contents of the rest of the book and are the kinds of things you would expect to find on a GM screen.
Battle Royal, A Sample Shadowrun Adventure
My biggest complaint about the fifth edition Shadowrun boxed set was the included adventure. Here is a game that is all about doing a Shadowrun, yet the boxed set didn’t include a Shadowrun for you to go on. All it had was a fight in a Stuffer Shack.
I have learned, since reviewing the fifth edition boxed set, that the Stuffer Shack shootout is a staple of Shadowrun going back to the first edition and the first printing of the game. I get that it’s a cool homage to fans, but I feel like it wasn’t a great way to introduce new players to the setting. Well, I don’t know if someone read my review or if perhaps it wasn’t just me that complained, but this new Sixth World boxed set has completely fixed this problem with the Battle Royal Adventure.
While the included adventure for 6th edition still isn’t quite a traditional Shadowrun that starts with a meeting with a Mr Johnson, Battle Royale is a full adventure and not just a simple shootout. In keeping with tradition, it does start off in the Stuffer Shack but then it quickly moves on to become an extraction mission in the middle of a four-sided gang turf war.
Before diving into the adventure, this booklet does include a number of GM tips and tricks about what it means to be a GM, finding your own style, prepping for game night and running the game. It’s a solid introduction to GMing and I was glad to see it in this starter set.
The adventure itself is broken into three scenes. Each scene features an overview (scan this), some text to read to the players (tell it to them straight), ways to make sure the characters get involved in the scene (hooks), actual mechanics including things like test thresholds (behind the scenes) and what to do when things go wrong (debugging).
The scenes are written well and feature the possibility of multiple vectors including combat, talking, and stealth, or a combination of all of the above. While fairly linear there are a wide variety of options open to the players and the debugging section of each scene is great for when players go off track.
Long time Shadowrun fans will be pleased to know the Food Fight Table and the Color & Consistency Table are still here, though you may not need them in the Stuffer Shack.
The only issue I can see with this adventure is the number of moving parts. The story features four different well known Shadowrun Gangs, with four very different lieutenants that each has their own strong personalities, all potentially going at it at once, with the players stuck in the middle. This seems like it might be a lot to keep track of for a new Games Master. Though, as noted earlier, the box does come with a number of cards specifically for the GM to use when running this adventure.
In an unexpected twist, after the end of the adventure, this booklet contains a short introduction to the Seattle Metroplex, the default setting for all Shadowrun games. This intro includes a list of the major districts of Seattle as well as a huge list of downtown locations. Similar to the information presented in the Instant Guide to the Sixth World, I’m not sure exactly how useful any of this is. I’m not sure why I should care to know that the population density of Council Island is 34% Human, 3% Dwarf, 2.5% Elf, 31% Ork, 3% Troll and 4% Other or that 20% of the people in Tacoma have a College education.
Two-Sided Map, A look at the Seattle Metroplex and some key locations for the Battle Royal Adventure
The final component in this Shadowrun Sixth World Beginner Box is a two-sided map. One side features a map of the Seattle Sprawl with a number of important locations keyed on it and a zoomed-in section featuring downtown. The other side features maps of the locations used in the Battle Royal adventure. An added bonus is that this map is coated so that dry erase markers work on it.
This is a really nice addition. I could see this being reason enough for Shadowrun fans to pick up this boxed set, just for the map alone (and maybe the custom dice).
Overall thoughts on this new Shadowrun RPG boxed set
Right from the start, I have to say that this is a way better RPG beginner box than the fifth edition Shadowrun Starter set which I reviewed in the past. The Shadowrun Sixth World Boxed Set does a much better job with onboarding players to the mechanics of the game, it doesn’t include a ton of information that isn’t even explained let alone used, and it includes a full adventure to get your group going.
While I still think the previous starter set may have been good for getting folks that were already playing Shadowrun to move into a new edition, it was a terrible starting point for people new to the world. This Sixth World Boxed Set is definitely better geared towards people experiencing Shadowrun for the first time.
That said, I did find that the fifth edition box set was better at getting me excited about the Shadowrun world. What this new sixth edition starter set lacked was something to get me amped to be a Shadowrunner. While this box does feature some setting material, it just didn’t draw me in like the contents of the fifth edition box did. I would have liked the Introduction to the Sixth World pamphlet to have been at least twice as long, if not longer. It would also have been nice if they had again included a sample from one of the many Shadowrun novels.
If you’ve ever been curious about checking out Shadowrun, the Shadowrun Sixth World Beginner Box is a solid way to dive into the latest version of the game. This boxed set is great for getting you into the mechanics and getting you playing quickly. Added to that it’s a beautiful well-produced box and set of books, and you get some cool bonus items like the cards, map and custom dice.
If you are already a Shadowrun fan, I’m not sure if you need this box. This really is geared at new players, and the basic concepts are going to be mostly what you remember. There are plenty of people out there talking about Edge, I don’t think you need this box to explain that new concept to you. If you are thinking of checking out the new sixth edition of Shadowrun you are probably better off just diving right into the core rulebook. Unless of course you really want some cool looking dice and a great map of the Seattle Sprawl.
As I said at the start, I love RPG boxed sets and I was very pleased to see that the Shadowrun Sixth World Beginner box did not disappoint me. If you love RPG boxes as much as I do, I want to know what your favourite is. Please, let me know in the comments.