It’s Hacker vs. Hacker in ‘Shadowrun: Zero Day’

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Location: NeoNet Data Archives
Date: 09.27.2079

system scan /b /t
> working… … … … … … … scan complete
> countermeasures detected: 15
> access nodes: 4
> authorized access tokens: 2892
> unauthorized access token: 2 (local token: 1)

Two unauthorized tokens? Looks like another decker is wandering around in this megacorp’s data with me. Can’t have that.

execute countermeasure daemon3.2
> guard detected: mark shift
> guard detected: mark shift

This decker isn’t playing around. Okay… you’ve seen me, too. Let’s play.

What Is Shadowrun: Zero Day?

Shadowrun Zero Day

Set in the Shadowrun universe where magic and technology exist side-by-side with humans, elves, trolls, and even dragons, Shadowrun: Zero Day pits two Deckers (AKA hackers) against one another as they try to steal Paydata from four Megacorporations using zero day attacks—vulnerabilities unknown to the target but ones that will certainly be patched once discovered.

The two-player card game is recommended for ages 13+ and average game time is less than 20 minutes. While Shadowrun novels and the RPG do have some mature themes (violence and horror, for example), this card game is family friendly in terms of both text and imagery on the cards, box, and instruction book. The overall theme does put the players in the roles of computer hackers (“Deckers”), but the terminology and tools used by the Deckers are fictional and do not mirror real-life technologies and/or techniques. Short version: players aren’t going to pick up any real-life hacking skills by playing Shadowrun: Zero Day.

Shadowrun: Zero Day is published by Catalyst Game Labs and will be available in late December 2017 with an MSRP of $19.99.


Shadowrun: Zero Day Components

The game’s components are stored in a glossy box of size 7.5″ x 5.5″ x 1.75″. A single cardboard insert with one channel is large enough to hold all of the following components:

  • 24 Tool cards
  • 15 Countermeasure cards
  • 6 Megacorporation cards
  • 8 Data cards
  • 21 Data tokens
  • 20 green Mark cubes
  • 20 blue Mark cubes
  • 1 Rules booklet

Note: all cards are single-sided with the Shadowrun: Zero Day logo on the back.

The six single-sided Megacorporation cards are the largest cards in the box–dimensions are 3.5″ x 5″, and each contains an image and flavor text for one of six different megacorporations: NeoNet, Evo, Renraku, Microdeck, Mitsuhama Computer Technologies, and Aztechnology. Each Megacorporation card has a Target number (lower left corner) and a Paydata value (lower right corner).

Megacorp cards

The 15 Countermeasure cards (green back) are divided into three colors (red, purple, blue, 5x each) and represent the firewalls and software used to obstruct a hacker from gaining access to Paydata. Examples include SubBytes, Stateless Wall, and Proximity Tokens. Some cards contain instructions for the Winner or Loser to take when the Countermeasure is defeated. If Winner/Loser isn’t specified, both players perform the action specified on the card.


The 24 Tool cards (gold back) represent the software that deckers use to defeat countermeasure and are divided into four colors (purple, red, blue, yellow). All Tool cards allow either a Mark to be Placed or Moved on a Countermeasure card as well as flavor text. (What did they use as an encode, something from a cereal box? Blow right by that drek.)

Tool Cards

The eight Data cards (blue back) contain special instructions related to scoring at the end of the game plus flavor text.

Data cards

The 21 Data tokens are mixed up and placed face-down in a general pile. One side contains the Shadowrun icon and the other side contains one of six different icons (not in equal number). Countermeasure cards and Megacorporation cards offer up Data tokens (face-up) as additional rewards to a player who defeats a countermeasure and/or wins a Megacorporation card.

Data Tokens

The 40 Mark Cubes (20 green/20 blue) are used to track attacks on Countermeasure cards and successful breaches of  Megacorporation cards.

Mark cubes

How to Play Shadowrun: Zero Day


Both players begin with an identical 12-card deck and 10 Marker cubes (also called Marks). Each deck is shuffled and players draw up to four cards. Four Megacorporation cards are placed in the center of the playing area–one is always the Microdeck card and the other three can be selected randomly.

Data cards are shuffled and the top three cards are displayed and available for players to win. Six specially-marked Countermeasure cards are shuffled in with three stacks of blue, red, and purple colored countermeasure cards (2 each color) to form a 12-card Countermeasure deck. Finally, the Data tokens are shuffled and placed face-down on the table, with one Data token placed face up on the Microdeck corp card and two Data tokens on each of the four remaining Megacorp cards.


Three phases define a player’s turn–Play cards, Draw cards, and Score Cards (aka, End of turn).

A single Tool card is played and any matching Tool cards can also be played. Cards go to a player’s Discard pile. After playing cards, a player with three or fewer cards in hand draws two. The Discard pile is reshuffled whenever a player does not have enough cards to draw up to the required hand size. If a Countermeasure card’s Target number is reached, a scoring opportunity can occur as well as certain actions depending on the text on a card.

Your Turn

On your turn, you have multiple objectives that can raise your final score.

First, you should be trying to place Marks on Countermeasure cards. When the Countermeasure card’s Target number is matched by any combination of Blue or Green Marks, the player with the most marks can score the Countermeasure PLUS its Data token. Some special conditions apply, however, when placing Marks, and these are important to watch for — if you’re playing a Tool color that does not match a countermeasure in play, you may immediately send your Marks to a Megacorp card. (Megacorp cards have their own Target number for Marks and the player who has the most Marks when that number is reached will score the Megacorp card.) Another situation occurs when you place more Marks on a Countermeasure and exceed its Target number and there are no other Countermeasures matching that Tool type for the extra Mark(s). In that situation, you may move your extra Mark(s) directly to one or more Megacorps (you decide the split).

Special Guard Tool cards allow you to move Marks (your own OR your opponent’s) from Countermeasure to Countermeasure or from Megacorp to Megacorp. These become useful when attempting to obtain key Countermeasures or Megacorps that have special conditions that may bring in a higher score at the end of them game. But they’re also useful for ensuring that you have at least one Mark on a card your opponent is likely to win–this situation allows you (the loser of the Countermeasure) to take a Data card that can be useful for scoring at the end of the game. When losing a Megacorp card, however, you do not draw a Data card BUT you do move your Marks to your scoring area.

Victory Conditions

Winning the game is based on a final score that consists of Paydata values on Countermeasure cards and Megacorp cards won, number of Marks moved to your scoring pile, and Data cards and Data Tokens collected. The game ends when only two Megacorp cards remain in play OR when the Countermeasure deck is empty.

Players total up the Paydata values of their Countermeasure and Megacorp cards, add 1 Paydata for each Mark, and then matching Data Cards and Data Tokens provide Paydata depending on the Data card.

Why You Should Play Shadowrun: Zero Day

If you’re on the lookout for games with a decent amount of strategy that can be played quickly, Zero Day delivers, and is a perfect example of a two-player card game that has fast play that doesn’t depend much on luck. Both players are evenly matched, with no obvious advantages to either player at the start of the game. It’s all about careful examination of the cards in your hand and the best forms of attack on the Countermeasures and Megacorp cards based on what you hold. After a few games, you’ll easily figure out the process for determining how you want to play; some players will focus on acquiring Megacorp cards while others will focus on collection Data tokens and Data cards and ensuring they have a Mark or two on any lost cards.

I don’t play Zero Day constantly. My oldest son and I enjoy a quick game after school (and before homework) every few weeks, so we’re in no way tired of the game. That said, I can see a limitation in its replay for players who play a lot. While there are many paths available to win the game, it won’t take long for a smart player to identify the best strategies to get ahead and stay ahead. This is mainly due to the limited number of Megacorp cards in the box. Even if players choose to put out all six Megacorp cards (and increase the requirement to four or five Megacorp cards taken to end the game), the game will really only stretch to about 30 minutes, and that’s if you don’t exhaust the Countermeasure deck.

What’s needed is an expansion to the game, and this may very well be in the works. More Countermeasures (and a larger variety), more tools, and possibly some Megacorp cards that have their own built-in Countermeasures or tasks to perform by the Winner or Loser… all these could enhance the game and give it more replay value.

All in all, Shadowrun: Zero Day is definitely fun. The imagery and flavor text on the cards is fun to read and examine, and the entire game definitely has this cyberpunk feel to it as you attempt to outmaneuver your opponent. The game is extremely portable, and once the mechanics are memorized and you don’t need the instruction booklet, you can easily move all the components into a much smaller box for transport.

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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.

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1 thought on “It’s Hacker vs. Hacker in ‘Shadowrun: Zero Day’

  1. For me, Shadowrun is all about the tech/magic fusion. That said, deckers and riggers are my favorite character types, so this sounds like something that would interest me.

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