Sunday, 18 July 2021

Reality's Edge (Rules Review)

I'll be upfront - this is a pass for me and a game I probably won't play. Accordingly it isn't play-tested like usual. It has just clashed with my preferences and priorities. But others may find it worthwhile - so on to the review.  Realty's Edge is a cyberpunk skirmish game. You are a Shadowrunner Showrunner - a cybernetic gang leader with a remote backer/patron in your head.  I bought the rules hoping to use them as a tool-box for a range of hard sci fi and near-future campaigns - filling a Necromunda niche. But it missed the mark for me.

The Shiny

It's a big, glossy hardback that survived two days of rain despite being flung into a remote corner of my garden in only a cardboard shell. Curse you, Australia Post! The book weighs in at 318 pages and has a decent amount of illustrations and art. It's well spaced so the text is easy to read. 16 pages are what I'd call 'normal' rules (melee, movement, shooting etc) and 23 cover "cyberwar" and hacking. The remaining 279 pages are devoted to building crews, scenarios, campaign rules and includes 93+ pages of "special rules"(aka extra rules) for both equipment and characters. It "set the scene" well with the art and descriptions. 

It's a solid, well-produced rulebook that survived the best our posties could throw at it...

Overhead (aka player commitment required in time/effort/money)

While I was hoping for a complex campaign, I simply wasn't up for 90+ pages of special rules nor was I confident they had been balanced/playtested. (Skimming through, I reckon I could easily condense/amalgamate them to half the amount). There was too much to learn, and the gameplay is OK but unexceptional - it doesn't tempt me by being innovative and cool like Infinity. I wasn't up for recording hitpoints (both physical and 'virtual').  I have minis for it, and I am OK with terrain, though I am dubious about fielding the "crowds" of NPCs and "neutrals" they airily discuss. I mean, I signed up for a skirmish game with say 6-12 minis, not crowds of hard-to-source civilians.  You only need d10s and d6s and a 3x3 table, and some tokens to show status, which is fair. The "stats" were reasonable - move, melee, aim (shooting), strength, mettle (troop quality), defence, hitpoints, firewall (defence vs cyber attacks).  

Wait wait, back up. Hitpoints? *chk-chk - BOOM!* <- that's the sound of Reality's Edge being shot and rolled into a ditch. If I haven't done a game design post explaining why hitpoints are a stupid idea for humans (it's different if it is showing flotation/structural degradation on a huge battleship) then one will be pending soon. (EDIT: Yep, I already have - my opinion hasn't changed from 2014). This is not just an extra wound, 40K-style, but the example had 8HP. To rub salt in, there is also "digital hitpoints" to track vs cyber attacks. Two types of hitpoints and 79 pages of extra rules? My fur is well and truly rubbed the wrong way.


Models get 1 action but must roll vs their mettle to get another; if they pass they get 2 actions and can choose another model; but if they fail they only get the one and initiative passes to the other team. This is similar to what I've done in house rules, but I prefer the player to be able to choose not to roll and "play it safe" and retain the initiative - which gives a "decision point" in return for all the dice rolling. As it stands Reality's Edge is just alternative activation with the potential for random extra moves/chaining moves together, in return for a lot more dice rolls. Models can use 2 actions to go on overwatch to "save" a single action for later.


They move normally if they spend one action, but a second one adds 1d6 movement rather like 40K sprinting. Models can hide, spot, prone, jump and fall as you'd expect in an urban skirmish game. I was not impressed to see things like "for jumps wider than 1" both players must agree how far the mini can jump" -  this seems vague and lazy, given they have a specific class (tracer) who is basically a parkour/freerunner expert. 


Models see 360 (I think this also a bit of a no-no this gives up many tactical opportunities for positioning  and "decision points." I mean, a 5-man unit might see 360 as you could presume one guy might be looking back and warn his mates, but a limited vision arc makes sense on a tactical gaming and commonsense level).  Models roll d10 + modifiers to beat a target number of 10. Sensible and common - no complaints. However, models don't find out the result of their attacks until the opponent next gets the initiative. I like the intent - minis can't know the results so need to decide whether to move on to a new target or pump more shots into them to make them stay down. A cool and unique decision point, but I'm not completely convinced it adds enough to be worth the hassle.

Yay - hitpoints! So when an attack hits, there is an opposed test between weapon strength and target defence. If the attacker rolls higher, it does hitpoint damage = to the weapon strength/2. I also think this is a lost opportunity; if we have to use hitpoints, why not base the damage on the "difference" between the attack/defence totals? Just seems convoluted.

Grazed! If a model is hit but the target does not take damage (huh? if there's no damage, why are we bothering with this step?) the target must pass a Will test or go prone/seek cover. I presume this is supposed to be like suppression but there are better ways to do this. Firing models can even "choose" to suppress, getting a +3 to hit but only being able to 'graze' their opponents and not actually wound them. Again, it seems silly, unless they are magically switching to non-lethal 'extra-suppression' bullets.

Models with 0HP are out of action. With apparently no "wounded" stage/s in between i.e. a 8HP model on 1HP can function perfectly fine. All that HP recording for no actual effect. Sigh.

In melee, models make d10+stat opposed rolls (fine). If the defender wins he can push back the attacker. If the attacker wins he can damage the defender by the same convoluted method as shooting. 

Models test their mettle when wounded in melee, when warbands drop to 50%, leaders go down, etc - all the usual things.  Basically, combat is fine except when needlessly complicated by hitpoints and somewhat weird suppression rules.

Cyber Warfare

It's basically magic, with "apps" instead of "spells" which are resisted by firewalls (passive cyber defence stat). They also have digital hitpoints. Lots of things can be hacked - bots, drones, weapons, equipment - even cybernetic body parts! Not only are there combat hackers on table, but also virtual beings(avatars/sprites). 

Hackers roll an opposed d10+Cyber vs target's d10+Firewall (line of sight not required). They can access data, disable, debuff, control and even brick electronics. This can generate trace tokens that allow enemy hackers to get a bonus against them. Targets can take both digital and physical feedback damage. Cyber-implant mins can take "cyber shock" when their implants are jarred by 4HP+ hits. This section is quite interesting and provides some food for thought.

Necromunda/RPG-y Stuff (the other 279 pages)

There are rules for NPCs, bystanders, hostages and interactions with them. There are character creation rules that look quite solid and flavourful. There are RPG-style "backgrounds" with stat/skill tables. Hackers, cyborgs, drone jockeys, enforcers, infiltrators, docs, ronin, tracers  and humble gangers. 

There is a list of purchasable gear - both off-the-shelf and "high end" which are hard to come by. Here is where it bogs down. While there is a predictable assortment of current/near future weapons, guns have 28 special rules and melee weapons have 8 - and 19 upgrades. There are rules for internal and external armour, cybernetic body parts, and 20 other cyber enhancements - and 18 upgrades. There are 22 offensive and defensive apps (spells).  There is character skills and traits - 70 or so of them which equals many RPGs. It's thorough, but bloated. I'm confident I could halve the "extra rules" with a bit of effort, and equally confident that the sheer mass of special rules would not have been playtested thoroughly (and probably sometimes not at all).

There are 9 missions (jobops) which have variables (which make missions easier or harder) as well as a mission where opposing crews team up to fight corporate security. There are also 30 "hitches" or complications.  A solid amount of content and variety here.

Crews compete for REPutation (VP) as well as money. Crews are driven by the agenda of their shadowy backer (media, corporate, rogue AI etc) and you can hire freelancers (who later can become permanent) and there is the usual resolution of injuries, income, captures, experience and new hires. For once (among the Necromunda wannabes) this is actually done fairly well. 

However, I'd actually be fine with MORE detail in this campaign section, if we got rid of the majority of special rules. I don't mind a complex campaign, or a before/after game setup - it's what I signed up for! I do resent complexity during the game - when trying to play the game itself. 

TL:DR - It's a "nope" from me
If this was sold to me as a RPG I would have had less complaints. Hitpoints, strange design choices and a billion special rules are the norm in RPGs, after all.  The layout reminds me of a RPG - heck, at the end, there is a list of "neutral parties" from criminals, rabid dogs, couriers and junkies - in the same spot as in my roleplaying rulesets. 

It's a very dense book, but in the wrong places (for me). I feel like I sat through a 3hr movie, but an hour was ads, with another hour of geeky exposition on how the flux capacitor worked, and the remaining hour was a typical revenge plot, dotted by a few strange plot holes. The combat mechanics are pretty normal and unspectacular with a few weird choices (hitpoints, mystery hit resolution, suppression, activation) that slow things without offering much in exchange. Infinity-level commitment without the gameplay hook. While the cyber-war ideas are cool and interesting and the missions good; the equipment, skills, traits, weapons and upgrades were excessive; yet I feel the campaign could have been more detailed.

It's not an awful game by any means. If you are a fan of cyberpunk RPGs (I hesitate to say RPG-lite, as this ain't light) you may like this - though it lacks genuine RPG agency and interactions. I'm just not willing to commit the effort, for what it offers. Wish I'd spent the $50 on the PC game Ascent instead.

Remember kids - when you design games - don't use hitpoints.Unless it's for really bloody big spaceships. Then, it might be OK.


  1. Nice to see you back and witty! 😁

    1. I think the hit points are just an RPGish part of these rules. In D&D you have hit points and, note, your character is perfectly healthy until he only has one left. This is the moment a rabbit byte can kill you 😂

    2. Rabbits are deadly, hence the Holy Hand Grenade...

      Hitpoints for humans are just (a) illogical and unrealistic and (b) is extra recording and (c) adds nothing to the game. I mean, I get it if it was something like:

      1. SHOCKED/STUN = superficial wound (-1/pinning temporary status effect, removed by skipping a turn)
      2. MINOR INJURY = -1 to dice rolls, -1" move
      3. MAJOR INJURY = -2 to dice rolls, halve move
      4. DEAD

      Technically you could claim there is 2-3 "hitpoints" but each has a direct gameplay effect and can broadly correlate to actual injuries.

      I get it if you are showing how you can slowly hole a battleship and compromise its structure, but even then there should be gradual game effects as the ship slowly floods, etc.

      Reality's Edge just copied a RPG. It's like when my soccer kids just boot the ball aimlessly up the field without a plan cos they saw it work once...

      /sorry just needed to vent again

  2. One thing I liked about this game was that each model had an alternate "goal" that if completed could give them an xp boost. Even your tough had things he could be trying to do in addition to the core mission.

  3. I bought Reality's Edge a while back - never played it. It just had too many problems for me to force my gaming group to give it a try. I'm still happy I bought it though. It's forced me to think about my own ideas for a cyberpunk genre skirmish game. So, in that respect, Reality's Edge is a winner. It also helped show me what NOT to do in a game.

    One thing hat really stood out to me was that drones had a limited range from the drone operator. That cracked me up - THEY'RE DRONES! They go far away to find and kill things that the operator can't see!

    Again, glad I bought it - lots of interesting ideas that make you think, but I can't imagine the game would ever be fun to play.

    1. That's exactly how I view it - a somewhat useful reference I'd never actually want to play.