Friday, 7 February 2014

Into the Dead Zone!

 A couple of my friends and I have been looking into Deadzone recently, a skirmish game from Mantic set in their Warpath universe.  I know nothing about the universe itself and have never played Warpath, although I had a look through some of the rules waaaay back when it was coming out and it seemed interesting.  However I didn’t (and still don’t) have the time or inclination for a large(ish) scale miniatures wargame, what with the amount of time 40k takes out of the rest of my life.  However, the smaller scale skirmish games I have a lot of time for.  They’re easier to get into, still pertain to a nice degree of depth and the lower model count means they’re relatively cheap and you can get all your guys painted up fairly quickly.

We’d had a couple of games of Dreadball at the club, so we were already feeling fairly well disposed towards Mantic’s rulesets and theme, and we have the advantages of one or two members being itinerant Kickstarters, so we had all we needed to get cracking.  Now, there’s quite a lot of stuff to like about this game, so I’ll touch on a few things that struck me about it.

The play area:  this game come with a nice and sturdy (I think it’s vinyl) battlemat that’s about 2’x2’ and subdivided into an 8x8 grid.  Combined with the modular buildings you can create the battlefield really easily and quickly and play the whole game in a fairly small space.  The preponderance of buildings and the modular design does allow you quite a bit of three-dimensional play which was refreshing to experience and really helped create a good urban atmosphere.

No tape measures: The grid on the mat isn’t just for show, which is just as well (it would look quite weird).  Movement in this game is oddly freeform. A single move allows you to move into an adjacent cube (this game works with a lot of vertical movement), but you can place the model anywhere in that cube.  The precise facing of the models doesn’t seem important yet (bar one of the units for one of the factions), but the lines of sight are still ‘true (i.e. model-sight), so getting the positioning of your unit to make use of cover is still significant.  Weapon ranges are all in cubes, so it’s quite easy to work that out as well.

The dice:  This game uses D8s rather than D6s.  Nothing really above or beyond that, really.  It helps with rolling the scatter and, giving the Mantic tendencies towards exploding results, this happens a little less often with D8s than the more common D6s.  I suppose it also helps distinguish it from other skirmish games, much like one of the main distinguishing properties of Malifaux was/is its reliance on cards.  This brings us onto another big thing with the game.

Luck:  Mantic has long used the exploding dice mechanic (where you get a success and a reroll if you roll the highest result on the dice).  It allows long-shot events to happen and overwhelming odds to be overcome, although this is very much in the lap of dirty, dirty chance.  A lot of this game is very luck based.  The first game I played, my sniper took one shot at the opposing leader and bang, it was completely dead.  Never even got a chance to move.  I suppose it helps the feeling of vulnerability, but the outcome of nearly every action is governed by these rolls and there is very little you can do if the dice aren’t falling your way.  I realise this may sound spurious or hypocritical as a point made by a heavy 40k player like me, but the exploding dice mechanic really brings this into starker relief.  I’m not even sure this is a complaint either, it’s just a quirk of the game.  Anyone could die at any time, without any dirty tricks even entering into it.  Get used to that.  And speaking of dirty tricks…

Cards:  Each player has a deck of cards based on their faction.  All of these cards have bonuses on them like ‘take a short move’ or ‘+1 dice to shooting’ or similar.  You can play these on your models to give those advantages, although you are limited to one card per model per turn.  It is a very interesting tweak to the game and adds an extra layer of tactics.  They are also critical for game timing as well.  The moment your deck runs dry and you have no cards left in your hand, the game is over.  You have to discard one card a full round (if you haven’t played any), so there is a hard limit of 20 turns to a game, but it most likely will never reach it.  Speaking of game end…

Victory conditions: Much like Malifaux, both teams can have completely different victory conditions, which are randomly selected out of your faction’s deck of missions.  If you don’t like the first one, you can redraw, but you have to stick with the second one.  A lot of them rely on capturing/controlling objective points on the map, with different victory point values for each objective.  The thing is, the objectives are all on preset points on the field, but are otherwise random.  Objective X may be worth 5 VPs to you, but you don’t know which of the three markers is X until you get one of your guys there to inspect it.  This also ties in nicely with another victory mechanic, which is that you can call an end to the game if you think you’ve acquired 10VPs.  If you’re wrong, then your mission becomes known and the opponent now knows exactly how to stop you, but if you’re right then, boom! Victory!  I like this mechanic as it adds a good sense of tension to the game as it really could end at any time and you can still win the game even if you’re being slaughtered provided the objective is achieved.  Time will tells if this proves an unbalancing mechanic, but seeing as how much of the game is freeflowing and random, I don’t think this will prove a problem.

Anyway, that’s my first impressions of the game so far.  I’m definitely sufficiently intrigued to play it again and get a bit deeper.  It’s developing a fair amount of interest in my club as well.  And none of the factions are the odd ones out.  Every one of them has a fan, which is good to see.  I think I’m an Enforcer fan, myself.  I like the design of them, particularly the riot shield/shotgun combos.  It could also be that they are the most elite and points-heavy faction and I usually play hordes of guys so want a break.  Could be. Well, that’s it from me today!

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