Cyberpunk 2077 has proved controversial for a number of reasons, not the least of which was its buggy launch on consoles. But the tabletop franchise that it was based on is experiencing an incredible renaissance. Cyberpunk Red, the latest version of the game from publisher R. Talsorian Games, is one of the most elegant and accessible TTRPGs of the generation. Now, a new studio is taking that dark future world in a different direction with a new miniatures skirmish game titled Cyberpunk Red: Combat Zone.
The game is currently being funded through Kickstarter, and the company behind it was founded by John Kovaleski, a 20-year veteran of the tabletop games industry.
Kovaleski created publisher Gale Force Nine in 1998, building on a foundation of laser-cut gaming accessories. In the 2000s he and game designer Aaron Dill, along with the late Sean Sweigart, shifted to board games. Their first big hit was Spartacus: A Game of Blood and Treachery. It was an unusual hybrid, blending turn-based strategy with a high-stakes tactical miniatures game, all built on the lore of the Starz network’s prestige television series, Spartacus. The game was so good that even those who had no interest in Lucy Lawless’ on-screen hijinks were drawn to it. Its success led to a string of high quality licensed board games such as Firefly: The Game, Sons of Anarchy, Star Trek Ascendancy, and Homeland.
Kovaleski told Polygon that his passion has always been in miniatures, and that’s where the idea for his new company came from. After selling Gale Force Nine to Battlefront Miniatures, he and Dill created a new company, Monster Fight Club, and producing Cyberpunk Red: Combat Zone has always been at its goal.
Combat Zone is set in 2045. That’s the same era as Cyberpunk Red, making it a prequel to CD Projekt Red’s video game. The action takes place in the aforementioned Combat Zones in and around Night City, a fictional West Coast metropolis located between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Imagine the most run-down urban areas of the rust belt overrun with heavily-armed gangs and you’ve got the right idea.
Miniatures skirmish games, like Games Workshop’s Necromunda or Corvus Belli’s Infinity, rely on some notoriously dense rulesets. While you don’t need more than a handful of miniatures to play, you will often spend hours at the table trying to sort out how to move and fire on your opponents. Combat Zone reduces the complexity considerably.
Central to its mechanics are a set of color-coded dice and a matching ruler, called the Limiter. It has green, yellow, and red sections to denote short, medium, and long range. It’s the only measurement tool that you need to run the game, and it also informs all the actions you might take during your turn.
Each character in play is represented by a card, and those cards denote how many and what types of actions each character can take on a player’s turn. There might be a green and a yellow action, or two greens and a red. Players can use those actions either to move — a short move is green, a medium move is yellow, and so on — and they can use those actions to fire their weapons and make melee attacks. The card also notes what modifiers to add once you roll the dice. The result, said designer Dill, is a game with a much more fluid and obvious turn structure. Matches average around 45 minutes.
Of course, just as in the real world, gunfights in Combat Zone are incredibly dangerous. Wounded characters are less effective, and the quality and number of their actions is depleted the more damage that they take. Red actions turn into yellow, yellow into green, and so on, until they ultimately go out of action. But taking some wounds doesn’t mean your characters are any less deadly. In this game it doesn’t matter if you’re rolling a d6 or a d20. If your dice land on the highest possible number, your target is in trouble.
“You can pull these really cool heroic things out of combat,” Kovaleski said, “where I am bloodied, I’m on the street, I am crawling. You come up to headshot me and — Holy crap! — I pulled it out. I’m not dead. That’s pretty neat.”
The base game runs $120 on Kickstarter, with a delivery set for April 2022. Included are 12 plastic miniatures, nearly 200 cards, a double-sided game board, and a full suite of scenery. The terrain is an especially nice touch, and comes with a plastic shipping container with a door that opens, several barricades, and a ruined two-story building made out of heavy game board material. Add in all the tokens and dice you need to get started, and eight pre-made scenarios, and there’s a lot on offer here.
As is typical of modern crowdfunding campaigns, there’s also a number of add-ons being offered. The biggest draw are the additional gangs. The base game comes with six Tyger Claws and six Maelstrom figures, which fans of Cyberpunk 2077 will likely recognize from the video game. Additional sets include Combat Zoners (a rag-tag criminal faction), the Lawmen (including a figure modeled after Cyberpunk creator Mike Pondsmith), the Bozos (a group of futuristic clowns), and Generation Red (child soldiers). Pledges of $200 or more also get access to 21 additional unique characters, and the cards needed to run them at the table.
Unlike many other modern crowdfunding campaigns, Monster Fight Club’s Cyberpunk Red: Combat Zone feels like the start of something big. This isn’t a one-time offer for a high-concept product that’s going to disappear, never to be produced again. It’s something that Kovaleski and Dill plan to have in friendly local game stores around the world for years to come.
“The bedrock for which our company was built is Cyberpunk,” Kovaleski said. “That is a big cornerstone for us. This is not a Kickstarter where we’re trying to make a game and get it out and then we’re gonna move on to the next thing. This is our Warhammer 40,000, and we’re going to run with it. I have no intention of stopping anytime soon.”