At Gencon 2019 miniatures for Cyberpunk Red got announced by a company called Monster Fight Club, which was not even a year old. Who is behind this mysterious company and what are their goals? We talked with founder and board game industry veteran John Kovaleski. To answer all questions we have to go way back to the 70's.
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Growing up in analogue times
Imagine a time before the internet and cell phones, when there were not many electronics distractions. This is how John Kovaleski grew up in Pacific Northwest of Washington State, West Coast, USA.
During his time in school, he played played American football, basketball, and golfed in the springtime. When he wasn't playing sports John spent a lot of time in the woods camping, fishing, shooting, and exploring the vast amount of woods around his home.
When being inside he enjoyed playing Avalon Hill games with his father and friends, like Squad Leader and Diplomacy, chess, backgammon and a lot of Yahtzee. During this time he was also exposed to Dungeons and Dragons as Kovaleski remembers clearly:
„I really enjoyed building worlds and being a DM. I still have my first character Nojvok, the Barbarian alive and in retirement today.
I also enjoyed TV and movies. I love movies, especially Sci-Fi. From the original StarWars, Battlestar Galactica, Buckaroo Bonzai, BladeRunner, etc, if it was Sci-Fi I did not miss it.
Don't get me wrong, I love fantasy too. The original Conan the Barbarian movie definitely had a major effect on me. Other notables were Dark Crystal, Krull, Clash of the Titans, Time Bandits... Got to love the 70's and 80s.“
During that time he did not know that he would devote his future life to board games. John attended the United States Merchant Marine Academy where he got his degree in Marine Transportation and Logistics along with an officer's license in the US Merchant Marine and commission in the USN-R. It was at university when his friends introduced him to Warhammer and later Warhammer 40k. At this point, he got hooked.
During his military service, miniatures and board games began to play a major role in his life, slowly paving the way for a new career.
„I think gaming was just a great way to fill time and escape for a while. We played a lot of board games and Poker on the ships when we had downtime. It was a great way to relax. I even had some paints & minis with me most of the time so I could do something creative. The ships I was on for a big chunk of my maritime career were in the Persian Gulf so it was a pretty stressful time. Anything we could do to take our minds off of reality was a good thing.“
Back then John had a few ideas for games that he might want to write and played game designer as a hobby.
The man with the giant laser
John Kovaleski founded Gale Force Nine in Charlottesville in 1998 and did something, which would have made any Bond villain jealous:
„I bought a very expensive laser at the time - I just really wanted a laser - then realized I spent a lot of money and should probably figure out a way to earn some of it back.“
John crossed a lot of his hobbies together (design, engineering, gaming) and began to accessorize. Gale Force Nine started off as a laser-cut gaming accessory company before anyone else was doing it.
They made the first laser cut templates for tabletop games, followed by tokens, markers or even laser-cut buildings.
The team looked at all the items they made to enrich their private gaming experience and turned them into a product they could offer for sale. Since they were the first to do it, they were a bit unsure, but today it’s obvious that these items should have been products right from the start.
The history of Gale Force Nine did not end there as the company started to make their own board games instead of just producing parts of it. In the following years they secured tabletop rights for major brands like Family Guy, Sons of Anarchy, Dune, Star Trek, Doctor Who or Dungeons and Dragons.
John Kovaleski told us something about their first board game hit:
„Our first boardgame break-thru was Spartacus - A Game of Blood and Treachery. The late Sean Sweigart and myself had been watching Spartacus and thought we could do a really cool game for it.
We had never tried to publish a game before and thought ’how hard could it be?’ I reached out to Starz about getting permission and they introduced me to the right people in order to move forward.
We published the game with little publicity at Gencon to see what would happen. It turned out to be a huge sleeper hit with the gaming community.
Soon we got called by lots of distributors from around the world and suddenly we became a board game company.“
With one game under their belt, Gale Force Nine thought about what else they could do. The daughter of game designer Sean Sweigart advised them to create a Firefly game. The team loved the idea and released Firefly: The Game about a year later and it was a huge success.
Fox, the owner of the brand Firefly was very pleased by the game’s success and allowed Gale Force Nine to produce even more games under its licence. With each new game it opened up a lot of doors for the game creators.
Welcome to the Monster Fight Club
Several years ago John Kovaleski received an offer to sell Gale Force Nine to Battlefront Miniatures with the understanding that the company would be an independent studio within the business and they would continue to do design and development for the non-Flames of War brands. Gale Force Nine had a lot of accessories for Flames of War, so it was a good fit, John told us. He had a very good relationship with Wizards of The Coast at the time and his company was making tokens, markers and accessories for Dungeons & Dragons.
Getting to be creative with a brand he grew up with and loved was a dream coming true for John Kovaleski. Between D&D, Fox Studios, BBC, WWE, and GF9 brands, they kept pretty busy and it was a lot of fun at first.
„As time went on, I became frustrated with the overall direction of the business and wanted to make a change. After 20 years running Gale Force Nine I told my team that I was going to step down and start something new.
In a moment of great pride for me, the members of my studio asked if they could come along and I graciously accepted their offer. I stepped down from GF9 in fall of 2018.
On October 31, me and my entire team founded our new business, Monster Fight Club. We figured Halloween was a great day to start a Monster Fight Club.“
Monster Fight Club consists of all of the original GF9 creative team from the Virginia office and most of them have been working together for more than 15 years, but some fresh blood has been added, too.
The company currently offers many services, ranging from project management, graphic design & layout, digital and physical sculpting, 3d printing service, master casts, resin reproduction, plastic tooling and production to painting services, photography services or packaging.
Being less than two years on the market Monster Fight Club already produced its Kickstarter funded board game Tentacle Town, which will ship to backers this May. Their pre-painted, highly detailed miniature terrains and backgrounds called Monster Scenery reached the funding goal on Kickstarter in less than 3 hours and are expected to ship in spring, too.
Monster meets Talsorian
John Kovaleski has been a huge Mike Pondsmith and Cyberpunk fan since a very long time.
Mike and John have some mutual friends that thought they would be a great fit so a few introductions were made. They sat down at last year's GAMA Trade Show and pitched around some ideas.
The ideas by Monster Fight Club for the miniatures and other projects that they pitched meshed up very well with what Mike and his team were hoping to accomplish. It was a natural fit and John got to nerd out a little:
"Getting to work on Cyberpunk Red has been a dream but also a huge responsibility for us. Not only do we have to get it right for R.Talsorian, but also to the entire gaming community.
We not only have to be true to the original vision of the IP, but also deliver something to the community that has high production quality and at a fair price.
With the launch of Cyberpunk RED and the Cyberpunk 2077 game in September, the standard has been set very high and I think we are up to the task.“
Making it happen
I wondered what the main audience for the miniatures will look like - tabletop roleplayers, fans of Cyberpunk 2077, miniature gamers, collectors, painters? The short answer is: all of them. The CEO of Monster Fight Club told us that their goal is to design the best miniatures that they can that will allow any Cyberpunk fan to live out and tell their own Cyberpunk story.
R. Talsorian Games provided all the source material in order to make sure what Monster Fight Club creates fits perfectly with Cyberpunk Red. According to Kovaleski, RTG has been very open to their suggestions and input. One nice easteregg is John's face, which was used for a Cyberpunk Red miniature pictured in the header of this article.
Apart from the input by RTG, the team draws inspirations from various sources:
„For me, it's hard to look around and not ask myself ’Is that Cyberpunk?’ As Cyberpunk is more of a mindset than a thing, almost anything can be Cyberpunk in the time of the Red. Ever since CD Projekt Red announced Cyberpunk 2077, there has been a huge swelling of creativity and storytelling happening about the genre. It's hard not to read a comic, watch a movie, watch a stream or look at social media and not see Cyberpunk. It's an exciting time.“
The basic production process for the Cyberpunk Red miniatures includes idea, quick concept, concept brief, digital 3d, physical 3d prototype, tooling and physical product. Each of these sections could be broken down a lot more though.
„We typically spend about two weeks per model. They can be done a faster but we always have 7-10 models being worked on at any given time. For the Cyberpunk Miniatures, we did a couple of test models to show RTG what we could do based on the artwork from the jumpstart book. They loved the models and we moved forward from there,“ John added.
Monster Fight Club uses whatever media that works best for the task at hand. For the miniatures, you can expect highly detailed injection-molded polymers.
Currently, there are about 80 sculpts, but that is just scratching the surface. Assuming the community likes what MFC does, there will be a whole lot more.
The company has been producing miniatures, terrain, collectible statues, and all things hobby for the past 20 years. The biggest challenge for Monster Fight Club is to make really cool miniatures and terrain that is playable and at the right price, John Kovaleski explains:
„There are some amazing models and terrain in the market that look incredible, but after you spending a small fortune to bring it home, spend a weekend assembling and painting your new purchase, you may find out that it is so fragile or not scaled correctly that it's not practical to actually play with.
We actually want people to get home and be able to play with our models and terrain as quickly as possible. We want people to tell stories and recount their epic heroism to their friends days later at the local pub.“
This is what you get
In order for MFC to keep everything coherent with the modern miniature standard, a standard Cyberpunk Red miniature figure measures around 32mm from the bottom of feet to the eyes. This allows their products to fit in line with most of the other modern miniatures in the market and allows painters to be able to see what they are doing.
For Cyberpunk Red, the initial miniature releases will be highly detailed unpainted miniatures. John Kovaleski promises that they will look great without color and even better if you enjoy painting figures. If there is enough demand in the future, he and his team are considering painted versions, as well. For now, it about getting the highest quality miniatures and terrain out in the market as quickly as possible so people can start telling their Cyberpunk stories.
For retail, the current plan is to have two starter box sets that match up with the Cyberpunk Red Jumpstart Kit (see pictures above). Each will contain 5 unpainted miniatures.
There will also be lots single blister packs, double-figure blister packs, and a few gang box sets. For people that may only want a few models out of a particular box set, Monster Fight Club will have singles available in the future on their website to accommodate.
Looking into the Dark Future
The miniatures are not meant to be a small scale merchandise project for the tabletop or video game, which will disappear quickly. According to MFC the yet revealed miniatures are only the beginning and the company will not just stick to characters: vehicles, scenery, scatter terrain, environments, robots, cyborgs, AI NPCs and more are things to come.
„We are looking to set a standard for the cyberpunk tabletop genre,“ John Kovaleski told us.
So you got your Cyberpunk Red miniatures at home and would love to add some color? Not everyone is an expert at figure painting and may need some help. Monster Fight Club plans to provide additional support and guidance for all aspects of the tabletop hobby.
In the photos on social media you may have spotted some fitting backgrounds for the Cyberpunk Red miniatures. They are not for pure decoration or advertisement, but something you could own in the future, too:
„We are having a lot of fun with this. Terrain and world building has always been my thing. We have developed a series of fitting and connectors that will allow people to take full-color walls, floors, roofs, stairs, piping, wiring, etc and build entire tabletop's worth of terrain and can quickly we disassembled and stored in a very small area.
Imagine a 4' x 6' table area with multiple 2 - 4' tall buildings, full color, texture, various materials, fully playable inside and out, that can be broken back down quickly to fit in a small 1' cube box?"
So all of the 3D-buildings and terrain will be sold pre-painted and do not consist of simple cardboard. Monster Fight Club is planning a new Kickstart very shortly to get the terrain out in the world as soon as possible then make it available through distribution worldwide.
We like to thank John and Monster Fight Club for their time. If you want to learn more about the Cyberpunk Red miniatures, check out their social media channels & official website: http://www.monsterfightclub.com