And the open road,
NoGo Ghetto to
the Policed Zone
Dark Future was a tabletop miniature wargame produced by Games Workshop and originally published in 1988. Initially developed by writer Marc Gascoigne as a Cyberpunk Role-Playing Game, he combined his concept of the titular dark future with fellow GW employee Richard Halliwell's idea for a car-racing game, using mechanics which Gascoigne had originally developed for the Judge Dredd RPG in the supplement Slaughter Margin. The game came in a box set containing several cardboard sections of road, plastic vehicles and a rulebook. The car miniatures were roughly 25mm scale. Players took on the role of a Sanctioned Operative, a licensed bounty hunter whose job was to clear out highway sections of the vehicle gangs causing trouble or that of a Renegade; one of the gang members.
Dark Future was set in the near-future year of 1995, with a world controlled by global megacorporations where the populace was divided into those who lived in the increasingly barren deserts and wastelands and those who lived in the cities. Even city-dwellers were further demarcated into the fortunates who could afford to live in corporately-controlled Policed Zones or PeeZees and the have-nots who lived in the un-policed, dangerous slums referred to as "NoGos." The game primarily focused on the United States; environmental damage having caused a significant increase in desertification, caused by over-farming; over-industrialization and increasing water shortages and drought. The original rulebook describes the waters of the Pacific Coast as being "too polluted to evaporate," and Wyoming, Nebraska and Colorado forming what's officially designated "The Great Central Desert." Utah, Nevada and Arizona have developed into a sort of North American Atacama Desert, and Manhattan has had to build huge concrete flood defences that see Long island connected to the mainland.
Law Enforcement in the setting has been extensively privatized. The Deregulation of Law Enforcement Act in 1985 and the subsequent Enderby Amendment allowed individuals with an appropriate government license to conduct law enforcement (including the use of deadly force) and towns, cities and neighbourhoods to tender contracts for individuals and companies to carry out law enforcement duties on their behalf. The aforementioned Sanctioned Operatives are a product of this deregulation, and range from independent freelancers to fully-fledged companies, referred to as Agencies, with their own private armies, legal and PR departments. There's even sub-contracting to be done, as Policed Zone companies hire independent Ops to conduct off-the-books assignments, detective work, espionage and more dangerous tasks they don't want to deal with.
Gameplay took place on the cardboard track sections; simulating the high-speed chase along the roadway. Road layout was generated randomly from a starting point of three straight sections, until a total of ten sections had been placed. Various non-mobile hazards such as mines, sand drifts, rubble and so on could also be placed on the road, and the game had detailed rules about speed, manoeuvring around obstacles and corners; with a higher speed adding significantly to the risk factor of a given manoeuvre. Vehicles in the initial release were limited to cars and motorbikes; divided up into the generic classes of Renegade and Interceptor, reflecting the vehicles of the road-gangs and the Ops respectively. Each vehicle had a number of weapon hardpoints, top speeds and maximum payload.
In May, 2019, a digital version of the game was released on Steam, under the name Dark Future: Blood Red States.
Contains examples of:
- Action Girl: Redd Harvest, second partner of the Turner-Harvest-Ramirez Agency, female Sanctioned Op and a big hit with the Media. Apparently she's getting quite good at shooting out the cameras on newschoppers that follow her when she's working.
- Alternate History: Various points of divergence with established history; most significantly the Deregulation of Law Enforcement Act in 1985.
- Bad Future: Check. Pretty much lampshaded in the title, after all.
- Bounty Hunter: Sanctioned Ops are essentially bounty hunters; although they receive direct payment from those contracting them to enforce the law, most of the Renegades they pursue will have state, federal or corporate bounties on top of that.
- Car Fu: Ramming speed! Sideswiping, too. Extra effective against bikes.
- Cool Car: The entire game revolves around cool cars. An in-universe example would be the G-Mek V12 Custom Interceptor Enola Gay belonging to Redd Harvest.
- Cybernetics Eat Your Soul: Hand-in-hand with the additional rules allowing cyborg implants came rules for insanity caused by traumatic experiences on the road. And, of course, being a cyborg made you madder.
- Cyborg: The original rulebook makes only passing mention of cybernetics in its flavour text, but expansion ruleset Dead Man's Curve, added in a substantial set of cybernetic upgrades and augmentations.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: It's 20 Minutes into the Future, there's no real Police anymore, desert highways are plagued by gangs of leather-clad, spike-sporting thugs on motorbikes and battered automobiles and there's a growing shortage of gasoline. Oh, and the police that there are drive V8 Interceptors.
- Energy Weapons: Yep, you can mount lasers on your car. Done relatively well; lasers have a higher accuracy score than machine guns (reflective of their lack of recoil), are easier to knock out of action (by damaging the power cables needed to connect the laser to the vehicle power plant) and have a slow rate of fire (each shot with a laser uses up its power pack and it needs a full-turn to recharge). They also do more damage but weigh less than other weapon systems (arguably due to not having magazines full of heavy ammunition).
- Expansion Pack: There were two: White Line Fever which introduced new vehicles (including trikes), rules for vehicle design and some new gear and Dead Man's Curve, which was a compilation of additional rules published in various issues of White Dwarf and added in several RPG Elements.
- Featureless Protagonist: In Dark Future, you were represented mostly by a plastic, 25mm scale kit car.
- Future Slang: Ju-Ju Juice (drugs), Ju-Ju man (drug dealer), Pig Town (PeeZees), panzer girl/boy (NoGo Street trash) and more.
- Government Conspiracy: It's stated in some of the flavour text that the CIA may have deliberately caused some of the environmental damage and/or added to it with low-yield nuclear devices and 'accidental' toxic spills.
- Hack Your Enemy: Along with the rules for cybernetics in Dead Mans Curve came a set of rules for hacking other players car electronics.
- Industrial Ghetto: The NoGos are these, in some instances. Corp-owned industrial complexes and factories are also regarded as places to stay away from, due to corporate security.
- Law Enforcement, Inc.: A Licensed Bounty Hunter For Hire is You!
- Loads and Loads of Rules: Dark Future's rulebook described its own rules as "comprehensive, not complex." Nevertheless, there were still quite a lot of them, governing turning, accelerating, damage, fire arcs, things that affected accuracy when shooting and how what lane of the road you're in affects whether or not you can sideswipe.
- Player Character: Available stats were minimal in the original boxed game, ut expanded to become much more familiar with White Line Fever and Dead Mans Curve.
- Polluted Wasteland: The Pacific Coast, as noted above, is pretty polluted. It's suggested that various accidental toxic waste spills, radiation leaks and other industrial mishaps have created other highly polluted areas in the deserts. Dead Mans Curve put in extra rules to account for radiation, toxic waste and other environmental hazards.
- Post-Apunkalyptic Armor: There's not been an actual Apocalypse to bring about the destruction of society, but looking at most Renegades fashion sense, you could be forgiven for thinking there had been.
- Private Military Contractors: Sanctioned Ops are private Law Enforcers, not private soldiers, but the Mega-Corp archetype are suggested to have their own private security firms that are private armies.
- RPG Elements: Supplement Dead Man's Curve, collated from various articles published in White Dwarf magazine, introduced mechanics for long-running campaigns with rules for character advancement, having a Games Master and even how a Sanctioned Op can manipulate the media and make use of his growing fame and success.
- Sliding Scale of Turn Realism: At the Turn By Turn level.
- Spiked Wheels: Spiked wheels and spiked sections of car are possible upgrades, in addition to being able to drop caltrops to burst the tires of pursuers.
- The Apunkalypse: Backdrop to the game.
- 20 Minutes into the Future: 1995 is a Mad Max-style dystopia.
- Urban Segregation: Cities divided up into Policed Zones and the NoGo ghettos? Urban Segregation at work.