Of the two big releases in the Cyberpunk setting late last year, the tabletop one seems to have had the better time of it. Cyberpunk Red sparked some nostalgia in old players while introducing a new generation of players to one of the definitive settings in the genre. Surprisingly, that included me, as I spent my youth (and early parts of my career) over on the other side of the fence in Shadowrun’s Seattle. I was lucky enough to run a few games as part of my duties as host of Theatre of the Mind Players both from the original Jumpstart Kit and the full book. To celebrate the release of some supplementary materials provided by R. Talsorian Games (those mini-reviews will pop up toward the end), I decided to look back at the game now that I have a few runs under my belt.
Cyberpunk Red Core RulebookCyberpunk Red is an advancement of the timeline between Cyberpunk 2020 and Cyberpunk 2077. It takes place in roughly 2045 and overwrites the materials seen in Cyberpunk 3.0 and Cybergeneration. Cyberpunk Red is not a radical revision of the original game. Think of it more like a remastered version that cleans up a few cosmetics and gameplay elements, but leaves the original system in place for better or worse. Seeing this late 80s/early 90s style of game design was jarring on my initial read, but after running it I’ve come to love much of it. The basic stat+skill+d10 roll works pretty well on its own and plays a lot more simply than other games of the time. The exploding possibility on both ends also offers a way to mix in some narrative twists as needed. The wide skills also inspired my players to think creatively. How can I use my Personal Grooming and Style here?
One of the areas that was streamlined well was the lifepath generation system The original game generated a lot of history for characters, while Cyberpunk Red’s version generated just enough. My players loved this part of character creation and didn’t need much prodding to mix each other up in their stories.
The Roles were also improved in Cyberpunk Red. Each skill works in a slightly different way, from the combat analysis of the Solo allowing shifts in attack profiles to the Nomad’s ability to borrow family vehicles for specific runs. I’m usually a fan of unified mechanics but the different Role skills really help give each archetype a distinct flavor.
Cyberpunk Netrunner DeckOne of the big challenges of the cyberpunk genre is the hacker problem. Games are set up to emulate the fiction, which features hackers dashing through a cool VR dungeon to get the important information. In play, however, that often meant the hacker player monopolizing the GM’s time while everyone else watched.
Cyberpunk Red streamlined this process by giving Netrunners multiple actions based on their Netrunning skill and simplifying data fortress construction to a single path of risk and reward. My initial read on this was that they went too far in the easy direction but in play it felt like just enough spotlight was given to the netrunner during a job. It feels like the netrunner does all the exploration while the game shifts back into the meat world and now we’re just at the challenge points of the run. It’s also easier to add complexity back into a table’s taste than remove it.
As Netrunners are the closest thing to wizards in this setting, the Cyberpunk Red Netrunner Deck is more or less a spell deck for the Netrunner player featuring all the programs featured in the core book. It also includes the ICE programs they might face as well as a small mini deck of nodes that can be used to generate a hack on the fly. Pick this up if netrunning is a focus of your Cyberpunk Red games.
Cyberpunk Red Data ScreenWe didn’t get into much combat during our game, but the moments where we did felt fast and brutal. Things really turn on the critical hit mechanics which ends fights quickly. Beware; if players can’t hit matching sixes, it can be a while to put down an opponent.
The key question for a GM screen for me is always “Does this have useful charts that I will use during play?” The Cyberpunk Red Data Screen fits all the things I wanted for combat in one area, though I think the Jumpstart Kit still has good reference charts for other things like Netrunning. If you only buy one GM aid, get this one because it’s freshly filled with errata, but if you can afford both, this combined with the Jumpstart Kit makes a deluxe suite of GM data.
Cyberpunk Red Data PackThis product recalls another relic of 90s game releases: the book of materials that barely missed the cut for the corebook paired with a less sexy accessory. In this case, the Data Pack comes with a stack of double sided character sheets for those folks who don’t want to use their precious printer juice.
There are also battle maps included. Given the dearth of modern battle grids, that alone makes Cyberpunk Red Data Pack a worthy purchase, even if the maps are printed on glossy pages rather than wet/dry erase material. They also look like they could be useful for the upcoming mini combat game.
The real value in this release comes from the booklet which includes a few one-page screamsheet adventures as well as a series of 20 entry tables of everything ranging from contacts to pocket contents. Each of these works as a lovely story hook or as a bit of color to fill out Night City.
Upon my first reading of Cyberpunk Red my thoughts were mixed but after playing it I find that the rules are a solid base refined just enough to appeal to more modern tastes. It’s a great entry point into the Cyberpunk universe, regardless of one’s opinion of its videogame big brother.
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