Review: Grenade Punch Games – Neon Sanctum

Neon Sanctum
Neon Sanctum is a card-based, cyberpunk roleplaying game being funded through Kickstarter by Grenade Punch Games.
By Tyler Omichinski

Learn more about Neon Sanctum here
Back the Neon Sanctum Kickstarter here

Recently, I was given an opportunity to play with an early access version of Neon Sanctum. The game is about to go up on Kickstarter, and I was given a free set of cards and access to the rules online. I was unable to review the final product of the game, as it hasn’t been released yet and I am unable to determine what may be changed between now and the final release. Much of Neon Sanctum can be found online for free.

The world of Neon Sanctum is a futuristic world where humanity has rebuilt extremely quickly after an apocalypse. Within a few hundred years they have reached a level where they have nanotechnology, a matrix-like internet, and more. Its a world that has adopted extreme libertarian corporatist ideals: if you need a fire put out in your apartment in a megatower, you better hope that your corporation has coverage or their own in-house team. If they don’t, hopefully you’re comfortable with your new cinder. Either way, there’s a lot less humanity to go around, and a lack of any meaningful government bodies means there are plenty of hooks there for adventures.

Neon Sanctum’s core mechanic is a cross between a CCG and a classic dice rolling RPG. Characters are built through the use of a deck of skill cards and item cards, which the GM can impose limits or other rules upon. Cards are colour coded based upon each skill; red for combat, blue for science, orange for survival and more. This makes it easy to see what you have at your disposal quickly and easily. Each card has a decent bit of information on it; a skill card has a level, details, special rules, and a lot more. The result is that for each skill check, attack, or whatever else a card is played and, if it is the right kind of skill card (hacking, for example), a bonus is added to the die roll. The result is that the mechanics are a bit difficult to grasp and understand at first. Explaining the relationship between the cooldown deck, action points, and a few other of the fiddly details was a little difficult for my players, but once everyone understood they appreciated the resource management system represented between all the pieces that they had to manage. It also resulted in a few more things being surprises in early play-throughs of the game as the cards had not yet been memorized, a factor that I imagine would change in subsequent play-throughs. The size of the skill deck is, in return, determined by the level of the character.

Skill cards also represent the health of a character; skills cards are discarded when damage is taken. The result is that higher value skills, being able to be a better shot for example, also result in less health, while having more cards that are shooting guns type cards means that you may be a worse shot, but you are tougher as well. The combination of cards, flaws, traits, and the other aspects of character creation makes it a very impressive and subtle system that can be mined extensively to determine how to best create a character.

The game has a cyberpunk aesthetic, specifically leaning heavily on the 90’s tropes mixed with modern issues like social media and the very real greying of terrorist cells and criminal organizations. The result is a game that can be played as a tongue in cheek 90’s style cyberpunk world, a factor that is reinforced by some of the graphics on the cards, or it can be a very real and gritty attempt to survive in a world that no longer cares about you.

The book that is available in PDF format is okay. It is laid out in a PDF that is very obviously going to be turned into a book, and I am interested to see if it presents better in that format. Most of the art is great, with the occasional gun that looks inexplicably pixellated or the section that attempts to explain applying a grid to the game being problematic. My other main complaint with the game would be the presentation and explanation of the rules in the original book: it is, at times, quite confusing how the cards work and relate to everything else, and some of the explanations for how certain things work, for example whether items are discarded after use or not, seem to be in slightly odd places. The folks at Grenade Punch Games, however, have created a number of polished and impressive videos they put up on YouTube which help a lot when you encounter problems.

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