The vibrant world of Cyberpunk is returning to the tabletop once again. Based on the future-noir setting of the Cyberpunk Red RPG from R. Talsorian Games, Combat Zone from publisher Monster Fight Club is a skirmish affair that has players fielding gangs of a half dozen or so figures. Set roughly 30 years prior to the video game, factions battle it out in an urban warzone looking to claim a slice of concrete as their own.
This boxed starter set comes with everything two players need to play. The miniatures are made of an in-house developed resin/plastic hybrid, capturing a strong amount of detail while requiring only a small amount of assembly.
In addition to the expected dice, rules, and tokens, this set includes the best terrain of any miniatures game starter set I’ve seen. The barricades, ruined buildings, and even the playing surface are all thick cardboard that is extremely durable. The terrain is modular, assembled with plastic clips that allow for several configurations. The sheer weight and sturdiness is far beyond any other game I’ve played. It functionally serves as a modern update to Games Workshop’s original 1995 Necromunda boxed set with its myriad of cardboard walkways and gantries. This is similarly jaw-dropping in the context of its time and a big selling point of the package.
A minor complaint is the lack of guidance around assembly. The box has a lovely plastic insert, but there’s nothing to indicate the terrain connectors are hidden underneath. The only instructions cluing you in on how to use these pieces is on the side of the box, a detail I overlooked initially. Nor is there explicit direction for constructing the miniatures, although this is easy enough to figure out based on images of the assembled figures. None of this was overly troubling, but it contrasts with the otherwise exceptional attention to detail within this product.
More importantly, the rules system is outstanding. This is a full-blown miniatures game similar to Warhammer 40K and its ilk. You use a ruler to measure movement and everything is freeform, with no grids or spaces to occupy. Combat Zone approaches this style of game with novelty, leaning into its proprietary [RE]ACtion system.
It works like this: each side takes turns performing actions with one of their figures. The strongest of characters–such as the gang’s leader–has higher quality actions. The color-coded quality maps to a die, with the stronger actions rolling green 12-sided dice while weaker options toss eight or even six-siders. Everything is opposed. Shooting is defended by agility or armor; to escape from melee you roll agility versus strength, and so on. Get shot and you’re wounded, degrading the die you used to defend. It’s a clever system, but brutal, sparking interesting decisions about risking your best actions for success in the moment.
This action system is the core of the experience, providing an undulating tension to the conflict that requires careful tactical play. Spent actions cannot be refreshed unless you elect to rest and pass up your turn. You can also interject during your foe’s activation, responding when you are wounded. All of this coalesces into a dynamic system that bucks the more traditional approach of activating all of your figures and then turning over control to your opponent. The flow of play is smooth and excellent, with the tempo remaining consistent and sharp.
There is one oddity, however. A seemingly key feature of the system is that when resting, a player is able to activate all of their Gonks. These nameless characters are the mooks of your gang, cheap to field but weak in power. They only activate when performing this rest action, which looks to create an interesting loop that alters strategic planning.
The problem is, the starter set does not include any Gonks. This is probably due to cost and wanting to keep the price of the starter in a reasonable range. But this lack of a core feature emphasizes that you’re signing on to a larger system that will require more attention and money. Despite not being quite feature complete, play still ebbs wonderfully and the central system still hums along with fluidity and grace. You wouldn’t even know you were missing out if the rulebook didn’t mention it.
On the plus side, the detail is spectacular. Everything you’d expect is here. There is a myriad of weapons and equipment such as assault rifles, sniper rifles, and explosives. Characters possess special abilities and can even grow in strength across a multi-session campaign. Netrunning is present, allowing hackers to select from a suite of programs that function similar to magic in fantasy games like Warhammer: Age of Sigmar. There is a solid amount of options here, with many of the quirkier programs offering great utility in specific scenarios.
Speaking of scenarios, the included set are superb. There are numerous options, with the intention being the scenario cards are shuffled and a random selection occurs prior to play. This dovetails wonderfully with the excellent independent campaign system. This takes inspiration from Games Workshop’s fantasy skirmisher Warcry, in that each gang gains progress on their own. Forces of unequal experience may square off, with the difference resulting in bonus reroll tokens going to the underdog.
The result here is pretty magnificent. It allows you to take your Maelstrom gang that’s fought hard through several scenarios and head up to the shop to find a new foe. Your opponent can be a fresh squad of scum or a seasoned force. Eventually, you max out your advancement and your warband finds closure with a faction specific scenario forming the climax of your campaign. Afterwards, you can start anew with a green team of combatants. This campaign system adheres to the philosophy woven throughout the design, in that it is relatively streamlined and easy to grasp yet boasts enough detail and crunch to allow for satisfying outcomes.
Combat Zone is a fantastic game. It accomplishes dynamic conflict through a pleasurable and unique activation system. The physical product is magnificent, including best-in-class terrain that is fully colored and ready to go straight from the box. This starter set will offer many hours of gameplay and a full campaign, but it will also tease you into wanting more. Fortunately, more is coming as Monster Fight Club promises a full roster of 10 gangs, with many supplementary products for each faction.
Where to Buy
- Monster Fight Club
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Author: Chris Reed