Despite its rocky launch, once I got around to playing Cyberpunk 2077 on my PS5, I really enjoyed it. And I’m already itching to try the new Phantom Liberty expansion. I’ve always been a big Cyberpunk fan, so I’m constantly looking for a new board game in this genre. There actually seems to be a bit of a void for great Cyberpunk board games. Outside of the amazing Netrunner game, gamers don’t have a whole lot to hack into.
Hoping to change that is publisher Monster Fight Club who has a new tabletop skirmish game called Cyberpunk Red: Combat Zone. This game of guns, blades, and hacking puts the Tyger Claws against the cyborg gang Maelstrom on the streets of Night City.
To begin the game, players choose a scenario and form their team. The core set comes with 2 factions (noted above), so players will mostly just need to equip their members. Games can be played anywhere from 100 to 200 (with expansions) Eurobucks worth of characters and equipment.
On a player’s turn, they will choose one of their ready figures to activate. Each figure will have a number (usually 2-3) of tokens in either red, yellow, or green color. These correspond to the matching color dice (red d6, yellow d8, green d12) and spaces on the range ruler. When you take an action, be it moving, shooting, climbing, netrunning, melee, etc… it’s almost always done via opposed rolls. So, if you want to target your opponent’s character with a sniper rifle, you will roll a die (color based on the action token used) and add any relevant skill value. Your opponent does the same (choosing any color die they have access to). If the active player rolls a higher modified value, their action is successful.
Cyberpunk Red: Combat Zone is a grid-less game, so movement is handled via a color-coded range ruler. If you want to move your unit using their green token, they can move up to the green distance on the range ruler. It’s all pretty intuitive.
When a figure takes a wound, two things happen. First, one of their action tokens is swapped out with a red one. Then, if they still have ready action tokens, they may [RE]act. [RE]actions are a single action, taken after your Rival’s wounding action is fully resolved. This interrupts the normal sequence of your opponent taking an action.
A player’s turn is done when they have either used all their figure’s actions, or just decide to stop taking actions—to save some for a [RE]act or future turn.
Alternatively, on a player’s turn, instead of activating a character, they can choose to Inspire their team. This is essentially like collecting your Meeples in a worker placement game, allowing you to refresh all your action tokens. In addition, you can (theoretically) activate all your gonks—the game’s name for minions.
Players will take turns in this manner until either one side is totally defeated or someone has achieved enough of the scenario’s goals.
This was my first time playing with the [RE]act system and I must say, I’m a big fan. It’s kind of nice to break away from the usual mold of either I activate all my guys, then you go, or we alternate 1 by 1 constantly. It was really interesting to be able to have your figure run out of the way after taking a wound, rather than standing there as a pin cushion because it’s not your turn. Thematically it makes sense as well. If I get shot in the shoulder, I’m going to run for cover, not stand there gaping (assuming I survive). This also adds a lot of strategic thinking because you need to decide if you are going to blow all your action tokens on one activation or save them for a [RE]act or future turn.
To go along with the [RE]act system, I also like the color coding. Green actions, allowing you to roll a d12, are the strongest (and also have the longest move range). However, what’s interesting is that a natural roll of the highest value of a die is a critical hit (an automatic success). That means that when you are wounded, rolling that red die will max out at 6, but it also carries a 1 in 6 chance of rolling a critical hit, vs the 1 in 12 of the green action. This helps keep things interesting as even a character who is wounded a few times and has low dice values isn’t out of the fight.
Overall, I think Cyberpunk Red: Combat Zone is a pretty fantastic game. There are just a few blemishes keeping it from being truly outstanding. The first is more before you start playing. The rulebook is severely lacking in the area of helping you get started to play. For example, there is no component list in the rulebook. So good luck trying to figure out what each token is or if you are missing any cards. Second, the miniatures and terrain require assembly (and glue for the minis). But the game is completely lacking any instructions in that regard. I think Monster Fight Club realized that too late as I did find a PDF on their website to help assemble the minis.
The other thing I would have liked to see would be a “quick start guide”. When we first sat down to play, we weren’t quite sure what scenario was good for beginners or what to outfit our team with. Having a “play this scenario first” and “use these characters with this equipment for your first game” would have gone a long way to alleviate the learning pains with getting started.
But probably the biggest miss for me is the complete lack of Gonks in the game. There are plenty of rules for using Gonks, in fact, they are a bit part of the Inspire action. However, they are completely missing from the game. While I get that they were probably trying to keep costs down with the core box, they could have at least included tokens for the figures and a few cards. As it is now, it feels like a core gameplay element is just missing.
But beyond that, I really enjoyed my games of Cyberpunk Red: Combat Zone. Once you get the core mechanics down, it’s a really seamless flow of actions and reactions. There are tons of gear to outfit your team with, and even campaign play! The [RE]act system is definitely one of my favorite skirmish games ruleset and I’ll definitely keep an eye out for other games using this system (or even more content for this one).
Other than the aforementioned gripes, I was very impressed with Cyberpunk Red: Combat Zone. The terrain and miniatures, once assembled, are fantastic looking. And the gameplay features a tense and tight back-and-forth that I haven’t really seen in a skirmish game before. The color-coding system was also a stoke of brilliance that makes learning the game a lot easier. Whatever token color you use, the dice and range rule match up, so you quickly know what to grab. The only downside with this core set is that you will really feel like you need some expansions to get the full experience. The Zoners and Lawmen are the first expansions that are coming down the pipeline, so I’m curious to see how they change up the game (and if they at least come with some Gonks).
Overall, If you are looking for a great skirmish game set in the wonderful world of Cyberpunk, you can have a ton of fun here. The mechanics are inspired, the components wonderful, and the game is just a lot of fun once you get the rules down.
Final Score: 4 Stars – A fantastic skirmish game with smooth mechanics and great components, only held back by the missing gonks and lack of a quick start.
• Where’s the Gonks?
• No quick start guide
• Had to jump online to find assembly instructions