Friday, 3 May 2013

Deadzone Alpha Rules - First Impressions

Friday, May 03, 2013

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Yepp... another kickstarter I just couldn't resist. I went into Deadzone mainly for the terrain and some of the miniatures, for use with other games. But soon discovered that Deadzone the game proved to be very interesting indeed! Now having found a couple of friends to split it with we've gone in on the Fire Team level and are getting all kinds of excited!

I'll keep this short as it's getting late and I have work tomorrow, but I'd like to talk a little bit about the alpha rule set that Mantic have just released. These are of course bare-bones but provide us with a solid idea about what we can expect from the gameplay itself.

First of all, it's area based, meaning movement and ranges are handled by squares marked out on the gameboard, similar to Dust Tactics. However, in contrast to Dust Tactics, which I found too abstract and boardgamey, Deadzone uses true line of sight and positioning within a square is very important. Jake has basically tried to remove the fiddlyness of measuring ranges while keeping the freedom that makes it exciting. Has he succeeded? Well, I need to test it to really know but I think that this sounds like a pretty damned good compromise! One thing's for certain, no need for measuring makes for a quicker game.

The Plague. Love the 1st generation (big guy) and the 2nd generations (not shown), but the 3rd generations are a bit meh. Not bad.... but not as good as the rest. Might replace them with undead legionnaires from Warzone.

The game is based on a dice pool mechanic using D8s (normally three of them) and you often roll against your opponent in versus rolls and counts successes based on a basic stat, like Fighting 5+. In some ways it reminded me of Infinity, but thinking more about it I wonder if it's not actually closer to Heavy Gear Blitz. Anyway, depending on how well you roll (failed, beat your opponent or rolled twice as well as your opponent) you get different results, and since you can also often choose which stat to use when defending (Fighting or Surival for breaking off a melee for example) these results can be quite different.

For example, trying to break out of melee using your Survival skill and rolling twice as many successes as your opponent means you get to make a free move out of the square and then take a free suppression fire action against the enemy you left behind. Pretty cool I thought!

Enforcers. Great looking! The elite jackbooted corporate thugs who are sent in to "contain" a plague outbreak. Of course, by now the stretchgoals have added twice as many models.

The difference in rolls also correlate to damage, so if I roll three successes against my opponent's one success I have a potential damage of two. Subtract the opponent's armour and you get the final damage. Models can take one damage and remain in play, while injured, but die after a second damage. Of course stuff like armour piercing weapons and headshots come into this. However, there are really no weapon stats as such. A basic rifle simply has long range, and a pistol short. An assault blade has AP1 but that's it - it's more about the stats on the models and what you roll than the stats of the weapons. At this point in time at least, I think people like weapon stats and wouldn't be surprised to see them expanded before release.

There's a simple but effective suppression/morale mechanic with models being (in ascending order) Pinned, Alert, Enraged or Berserk. Instead of shooting to kill you can use Blaze Away (suppression fire) to lower an enemies morale level. Being Pinned gives you a penalty to most rolls and you must use your first action to raise your morale to Alert when it's your turn.

There's equipment strewn around the battlefield that you can pick up, mostly grenades and ammo (which gives a bonus to suppression fire). Grenades are pretty cool and could be really devastating! Since models actually get knocked away from the blast they can be used for clearing enemies out of cover or off rooftops. Neat!

The system is of the I-GO-U-GO model, but with a twist. Besides being able to put models in overwatch
you have a deck of Battle Cards as well, specific to your faction, that allow you to take extra actions during your turn and sometimes also interrupt your opponents turn. While not in the Alpha, there will also be a deck of mission cards that you draw secretly from your opponent. These are also faction specific so the rebels will usually centre around scavenging meds and equipment, while the Enforcer's missions will probably be more of the 'kill every infected and everything else before they get infected' variety.

Finally there will be rules for accumulating experience and getting better as a team, so it seems like the great void left by Necromunda and Mordheim might finally be filled.

I'm thinking the rules for sniper rifles will be armour piercing and perhaps bonus to overwatch.

Hmm... yeah, I think that covers most of the important stuff. While the individual mechanics are perhaps not innovative in and of themselves, I think the way they fit together make for a fairly unique gaming experience. I will report back after trying these rules out (next week hopefully) but right now I think they seem very cool! It seems like these rules will excell at telling little stories within the game, very much like Infinity, but at an average game clocking in around an hour it's a lot quicker.

Alright... those are my thoughts. Now why don't you go and jump aboard the Deadzone kickstarter?! Just look at this guy!
Maurader mercenary!

11 kommentarer :

  1. I try pretty hard to not get corrupted into kickstarters....
    Yer not helping. y'know.....

    This DID catch my eye, though. Mainly cuz the terrain looks modular, and perfect for Infinity. And I gotta say that Mantic is becoming an interesting company to watch.

  2. With Deadzone and the previous Dreadball I'm really seeing Mantic's scifi universe starting to get on its own feet. It doesn't feel as much of a Warhammer 40000 rip-off as it did in the beginning. Mantic suffer's a bit from the same sculpting problems that Games Workshop has been suffering for years now. And that is the concept art (or regular art, in GW's case) doesn't translate all that well to the actual miniatures.

    There are of course exceptions to this, like the 1st gen Plague model, the Enforcers and much of the Dreadball miniatures. Generally things got a lot better when Roberto Cirillo took the concept art helm of Warpath. But still we are getting stuff the Marauder Ripper Suit. Fantastic concept art, but very poor actual model with overtly large weapons. Luckily it's still WIP, so things might turn out good in the end.

    But when you compare these to creations of Studio McVey, Hasslefree and Corvus Belli you'll just hoping to get a bit more. Still the best value of Deadzone is a the moment the terrain with a few gem sculpts thrown in to the mix.

    I skimmed through the alpha rules and the mechanics seemed like a good blend of board game and wargame mechanics. Simple enough to get the rules with little explaining but at the same time tactical enough . Gripping Beast's historical wargame SAGA has many similarities in game design. Dead simple to pick up, but at the same time offering various different tactical approaches through the use of faction specific battleboards. I see this kind design philosophy as a rising trend in wargaming.

    And by the way, I don't consider Mordheim, Necromunda (and might as well add GorkaMorka) to be dead. While not active supported by GW, these games have effectively moved in to the hands of the players. Mordheim in particular has a lot of fan support and my group semi actively plays a short campaign around once a year.

  3. @SinSynn - That is exactly why I kept an eye on it: I wanted cheap, modular terrain for use with Infinity and Judge Dredd. But the more I read about it the more interested I became. And not only the miniatuers (and now the rules) but I'm starting to find the setting fairly interesting as well. It seems to lie somewhere in between the baroque universe of 40k and the crisp clean anime-esque future of Infinity; the races correlate visually to their 40k counterparts, but politically and sociologically it has more in common with... say... Mass Effect.

    Anyway, there will be terrain only pledges going up on Wednesday so grabbing those might be a goode idea in either case. Although I suggest you take a look at the rules as well. :)

    @NetDiver - I agree completely! It seems like thanks to these kickstarters Mantic are starting to find their legs. They still have a bit too go with the miniatures, as you say, but they are making great progress. I'm a lot more interested in seeing them develop their original races, rather than the adopted orcs, dwarves and elves, but I guess people enjoy the familiarity.

    I kind of like the Marauder green... but I agree that I could be alot better. More similar to the concept art, a bit more... realistic? Hehe!

    The terrain is definitely a big factor, but I'm starting to think that the actual game (if not the models) might be a bit of a dark horse here and it might become the main reason for me to invest in Deadzone. I'll have to look into SAGA more properly if it's similar to what Jake Thornton has come up with.

    I guess it depends on how you define dead. While I'm inclined to agree with you from my own personal perspective (I'd love to get a Necromunda campaign going again!), these games aren't garnering any new players. Some people will continue to play them for a long time, but I would say that for the general public the are for most intents and purposes dead.

    While the number of skirmish games have increased drastically over the past few years, few, if any, of them come close to the accessability of Necromunda and Mordheim at their prime. The two largest ones probably being Infinity and Malifaux have taken quite a different approach to skirmish gaming and neither contain an experience system like Necromunda does (as far as I know. Not well versed in Malifaux).

    Come to think of it, Judge Dredd from Mongoose, is probably the closest thing we've had to a new Necromunda. But it's quite a niche setting with overall average miniatures that isn't widely advertised. I convinced Mantic is sitting on a pot of gold here... if they play their cards right. And seeing the success of the Dreadball kickstarter I think they know what they're doing.

    Suffice to say, I'm following this with great interest!

  4. Hmm... might have come off a little bit... "I know everything about all skirmish games". There are loads of games out there that I don't know anything about, and one of them might very be a perfect Necromunda alternative. But not knowing about it probably means it's a small niche game only played by a lucky few. Deadzone has a change to go big...

  5. In a way Saga is pretty traditional wargame. You got your board with terrain, minis that you move around with a ruler, etc. Where it borrows from the boardgame scene, are the command dice (called Saga dice) and the battleboards. Your warlord and the number of hearthguard units on the table determine the number of the saga dice rolled at the start of the turn. You check the results of the saga dice and use combinations that you rolled to power the battleboard abilities. Each faction has its unique battleboard. Of course the units can do your basic movement and fighting with out the battleboard abilities, but they can give the unit an egde in close combat or turn enemy unit's fatigue to your benefit. Or do something else. Generally they work as minor buffs for your own units or hinderances to the enemy's units.

    Fatigue is another mechanic that measures the unit's staying power in Saga. The more fatigued your unit is, the more vulnerable it is to the enemy's attacks and batteboard abilities. Your units can activate units more than once per turn, but doing so accumulates fatigue. Also certain actions, like melee, accumulate fatigue. Units can remove fatigue points by resting for a turn or through battleboard abilities.

    The army list has been made extremely accessible. There's only one army list. Every unit from every faction uses it. Units costs only one point which'll get you either 4 models of hearthguard (elites), 8 warriors (you basic grunt) or 12 levy (cannon fodder). Warlord is free. Generally used army point value is from 4-6 points.

    All this is from the top of my head so there might be some mistakes, but you'll get the general idea how the system works.

    I kind of disagree Mordheim and Necromunda not bringing in new players. They're quite actively promoted by the community on message boards, gaming clubs, etc. And the rules are free. Sure, they're along way from their glory days but they're still quite accessible.

    I just wish Games Workshop would live up to what their name implies and actually release more games and not beat the spent horse of the current systems. They've mostly been rehashing they're old games for the past decade. I would like to actually see something new from Games Workshop. And while I dont' agree with some of their business practices, they're still the biggest mover in the industry and their new game would not be missed by the community. But here really is a chance from Mantic to prove that they can achieve the same kind of creativity that GW used to had.

    On the note of Necromunda. The coming Shadowrun Sprawl Gangers from Catalyst Game Labs is also shaping out to be something like Necromunda with all the bell and whistles like experience gain and campaign stuctures.

  6. Hmm... SAGA sounds quite interesting! I've casually been looking for a historical miniature game that might interest me and I do like the period of Saga. It's eithet that or medievel Japan! :D

    Fatigue sounds like a great mechanic, although have you felt that it gets fiddly with many models suffering different levels at once? It seems like Deadzone's Aggression might be a (much) simplified variant.

    As for Necromunda and Mordheim, I can only speak for my neck of the woods of course. But in my experience they get talked about and many of the youngsters have heard about them and the grognards reminisce about them... but I haven't seen a game played in ten years or more.

    That's not to say that it doesn't happen, or that there aren't new people being introduced by way of them. I can see them being very popular in local areas here and there, but in the grander scheme of things I think they are mere blips.

    Even though specialist games has been on assisted breathing for years, it still feels weird that GW will only have three games in their portfolio.

    Thanks for reminding me of the Shadowrun skirmish game! I remember reading about it a while back but then promptly forgot to check how it was progressing. It does sound like fun!

  7. Saga is a real good pick for a historical ruleset. The game can be kept as historical as you want and the game mechanics are not tied to the viking era too tightly. There's already been unofficial hacks for samurai era, early medieval era and the Arthurian age. There's even a Lord of the Rings hack (at least in WIP) and low fantasy "Mythic Saga" could easily be played without any changes to the rules. Just pick a faction that suits the feel the best. I personally have toyed with the idea of Elder Scrolls: Skyrim civil war as a Saga hobby project for the summer. Two small forces depicting the Imperials and the Stormcloaks. With possible extra factions like the Forsworn and the Companions if my fellow players really take on with the idea.

    The rules and armylists favor an era where there was little variation in equipment, but much variations in tactics. The Saga nails this very well. Identical forces might look the same (same army composition), but because of the faction abilities (battleboards) they play totally different.

    It's really easily to track fatigue on unit by unit level. We use regular d6 dice or boardgame tokens. And in Saga it is usually in your best interest not to get too much fatigue for your units, so there's no token hoard trailing your units. I don't see Saga's fatigue being any more fiddly or more complicated as Deadzone's Agression. Fatique affects the unit as whole and can be removed only be resting (spending an action to do so). Not much different than changing agression levels in Deadzone.

    One thing that you should learn well are the battleboard abilities. It good to give these a few read throughs before your first game. It speeds up the play quite a lot when you not constantly looking you battleboard when you have the most used combinations in memory. It's good to start your first games with 2 or 3 points to get hang of the mechanics. That way the figure count stays in Mordheim level. It's worth noting that levy isn't much use in smaller games and are best reserved for bigger games.

    Necromunda and GorkaMorka might have been sidelined by Infinity, but Mordheim tends to keep some sort of popularity. At least here, but the active players are usually already familiar or playing Warhammer Fantasy Battle... and are mostly grognards ;)

    The Sprawl Ganger had me worried the for a second, because of the CoolMiniOrNot connection. At first I thought it would be boardgame with miniatures similar to FASA's old Downtown Militarized Zone board game, but it looks to be shaping to an actual miniatures game according to the developer diaries. I'm sure if it will come out this year or early next year, but I'm certainly waiting for it!

  8. Reading more about Saga it really sounds fun! And it would be a welcome break from painting all the sci-fi stuff I'm usually occupied with. Will have to look into the samurai hack... although painting samurai seems daunting. Haha!

    Ah, Fatigue is by the unit. Gotcha! I thought it was on a per model basis which felt like it could get out of hand with the number of models in just a Saga starter set. My gaming budget for May, and probably June as well are tied into kickstarters at the moment, but I'll be sure to get hold of the Saga rulebook later on.

    Been reading a few of the dev diaries for Sprawl Ganger and it seems interesting for sure. Worth keeping an eye on!

  9. Yes, it's a very fun and fast historical wargame. Probably the only reason why it isn't making more waves around the community is the reason it is a historical wargame. Despite this, the game seems to be faring very well which is a good thing considering the longevity of the game. So if you decide to give Saga a go later on, it will most likely still be around.

    Yes, fatigue is by unit level. Units consist of 4-12 models of same type. So you can buy three points of hearthguard and have them act as a single unit in play or buy one point levy and divide it to three unit. Warlord is the only single model unit (as I'm aware of) and can join other units.

    The Nippon Saga (with many variations) can be found from the developer Studio Tomahawk's official forums ( In my mind the viking era warrior can be as hard as samurai to paint. Or as easy depending point of view ;)

    Wealthy warriors usually had better clothing than more common warriors. So you can use the extra time to paint details on clothing and to make the elites standout more. Good examples are embroidered tunic edges, expensive and exotic cloth dyes, gold trimmed helmets etc. And of course the painted shieds are one of the most prominent features of the era. Many people seem to use LBM's decals to great effect, but I've seen some really stunning freehand work as well.

  10. And btw, Mantic has made early bird terrain only pledge, called battlefield. Really nice for those only after the terrain.

  11. The Marauder Ripper Suits actually turned out quite good. Ok, the guns are still a little too big. But otherwise I'm starting to like them :)

    Well, still time to get on board :)


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