Crossing Over To The Deadzone

Deadzone is an upcoming board game from Mantic Games. There are four things you need to know about Deadzone: First – it has a terrible, terrible name, I’m guessing an overexcited 8 year old came up with it. Second – it’s being funded via Kickstarter with (at the time of posting) just over a week to go before ending. Third – it’s a sci-fi tactical skirmish minis game played with lots of urban/industrial scenery, a bit like the classic Games Workshop game Necromunda, but set in Mantic’s ‘Warpath’ universe and trying to be less “wargamey”. And lastly, they have released a beta version of the rules to allow people to try it out. Which is why we’re here…

In my opinion, this Kickstarter hasn’t exactly been a shining example of backer engagement, leaving a lot of people either confused or disillusioned with where the game is heading. I do stress “game” here as the majority of updates have focused on models and add-on scenery with almost no information on the actual game. So with some encouragement from my friend Rob, we got the stuff together to try the beta out, to see if I’m currently backing a duffer of a game, also give Rob an idea if he wants in – and to blog about it to provide people with some information to help them to decide if they want to back the game as well.

photo-mainThe Rules

Keeping in mind this is a beta and far from the finished article, on the whole the rules are clear and well written. The game uses a system based on D8 dice, which is slightly unusual. You roll a number of D8 (generally 3) and compare each to a target value and count how many are successful, you may require 1 or more successes depending on what the roll is for. There are opposed rolls (get more success than your opponent) and any rolled 8s “explode” allowing extra rolls. One part of the rules that isn’t clearly written however, is the brain destroying, mind melt on “sequence of play”. This reads like something from a Spock fever dream, a baffling maze of logic and abstract wording. I’m pretty sure I’ve grasped the intent, but each time I go back & read the wording it makes me wince in pain. With sentences such as: “If the player has less models on the table that have not yet acted in this Round then he may choose to Pass” causing the part of my brain that can read and parse an English sentence to go into a seizure. I get that they’ve tried to make it really clear and unambiguous as possible but the result is the opposite, which is a trap Fantasy Flight fall into with their often terrible rulebooks.

Anyhow it’s a beta, I’m sure the final rule book will have better wording + examples. The other important things to mention are movement, LOS and range. The game is a sort of hybrid between board game and traditional tabletop game (such as Necromunda). There’s no tape measures here, the play area is divided into 3″ cubes, on a 8×8 grid, making a 2′ x 2′ board. The reason it’s cubes and not squares is to account for the 3D nature of the game having lots of buildings & structures to go inside, on top of etc. Line of sight is literal, i.e. from the models point of view can you or can you not see the target model, however movement and range is measured in squares/cubes so is abstracted. I’m not going to cover the rules in further detail, if you want to learn more – have a read yourself.

Setting Up

The finished game is going to come with everything you need to play; models, clip together scenery, a playmat, dice, etc. However the beta rules are just a PDF, so some creativity is required.

I made the playmat from 6 sheets of A4 greyboard, taped together with a 8 by 8, 3″ grid marked on it. It’s an incredibly fragile affair but was good enough for playing the beta

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All set up and ready to play!

For scenery, buildings and terrain I got out my old Urban War sets. I bought these years ago for Necromunda but they seemed perfect for this, given they can make up 3″ sized blocks of buildings, and can clip together in a huge variety of ways. We used and combined two sets, “Platformer” and “Hexagon” these are still available if you go looking on eBay and Google about, and get sold under lots of different names; such as Urban War, IMEX, Urban Mammoth, and Pegasus Hobbies. They clip together, no glue and it’s pretty fun in a Lego kinda of way seeing what you can make out of them. Mantic are including a range of very similar terrain with the finished game, which also clips together and is modular. I think I know where they got the idea from. In addition, Rob had also painted some excellent little walls / barricades with some really nice Banksy style graffiti, and brought some crates and other things we could use as cover.

The Beta rules only features two of the six+ Deadzone factions, the Enforcers (sort of half Space Marine/half space police) and The Plague (mutant virus infected guys). For models we used some Necromunda Van Saar gangers which I had painted, these were the Enforcers. For the Plague the best I could find was some old Genestealers from 1st edition Space Hulk. Yeah, remember those pointy buggers? NOTE. These were not painted by me! It is a second hand copy of Space Hulk I bought on eBay, the Genestealers came like this!

Playing

We took some time setting up, filling the board with buildings, walls, walkways and other stuff to provide some cover and to have an interesting game. Next we deployed the item tokens across the board, and set-up our initial troop placements, on opposite sides. I played the Enforcers and Rob played the Plague. The first few turns were slow, while the rules sank in, but we slowly picked it up. I liked the D8 system and how you opposed each others rolls. There’s the usual modifiers for things like cover, charging, being higher than opponent etc, but by the end of the first game we’d memorized most of them and could take actions like melee fighting or shooting without referring to the rules and tables.

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Team Van Saar *sorry* Enforcers ready to use those D8 to lethal effect

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Adventure playground for blood thirsty cyber warriors

Speaking of shooting – there’s two ways of firing in Deadzone, point fire – aiming at a guy and trying to kill him and “blazing-away” – which is a hail of fire intended make the target get his head down and suppress them. The aforementioned turn sequence & activation stuff was the real sticking point, and hugely slowed things down. Neither of us were sure we were doing it right, even after nearly two games. We’re not new gamers, we’ve played countless board and wargames over the years, and it managed to confuse the hell out of us on numerous occasions. For example in the first game I never once started the round with the initiative, and for the life of me could not suss out how I could pass my turn back to try and make it happen. I really hope Mantic work on this area, and add several examples and MUCH clearer wording in the final version.

Check out that pony tail and flattop combo

The Gen… The Plague ready to spread their disease. Whatever that is

The first round or two were tentative, with us inching forward and Rob grabbing a couple of the item crates. He advanced down my right flank and ripped a couple of my guys apart with his big “Stage 2″ Plague, erm, mutant thing. Those things were brutal in close combat. Meanwhile he opened one of the item crates & found a smoke grenade and proceeded to lob it right in the center of the board. This gave me a chance to improvise some smoke effect with some fluffy stuffing the cats had just pulled out of one of their toys, it was perfect! It also messed up my shooting in the game in a big way as I rolled one less dice for any shot passing through the smoke. Things were looking bad for me, I’d lost my leader too, I was thinking I was certainly going to lose. We played on and my missile guy took a couple of the Plague out and Rob had some terrible rolls firing on one of my guys caught in the open (getting a “clear shot” in this game is a very bad thing for the target) which should have killed him. Spurred on by his death defying good luck, he engaged with the Plague in close combat rather valiantly and managed to take out two (I think) more mutants. Things swung in my favour and I had a guy up in a good sniping position with a clear view of the board. The LOS rules states you can fire on a model if you can see *any* part of it, no matter how small, so I fired at the finger tips of the remaining Stage 2 mutant which were *just* poking out of the building he was hiding behind. It seemed unfair but the rules are very clear on this. Rob was now down to one model and conceded. A very close game.

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I’ve got an ammo crate, am I not clever

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A great sniping spot

Second game we swapped forces, rearranged the board and went again. I discovered how poor the Plague guys were at shooting, they can’t hit a barn door. In hindsight I think you are better off using these guys to “blaze-away” and suppress the enemy, as even if they do with hit shooting, they won’t get through the Enforcer’s AP2 armour. Rob did a good job of staying in cover and getting hits on my guys. He had managed to injure nearly all of them, as models can take 2 hits before being killed & removed from the board. We had to cut the second game short as we’d ran out of time, but I think Rob had me on the run. Although we had grokked the rules at this point, turns were still taking a good time as we considered our actions much more depth than in the first game.

Great shot of Rob’s arm

Look it’s real smoke! Well almost.

See that guy down there, yeah he didn’t last long

Come at me bro

Second game. Set up & ready to go

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Grrr! we’re The Plague and we’re hiding behind things

Impressions

Let’s do this the easy way, with some bullet points. The good:

  • Enjoyed the D8 system and core mechanic. It seems flexible and allows a wider scope of results and modifiers than a D6 system
  • Liked the 2’x2′ play area and grid. It had the feel of a proper tabletop minis game but without the need for a huge ammount of space.
  • Both sides felt different enough to play, remains to be seen how the other factions play out.
  • Nice unambiguous movement rules
  • I liked the deck of cards each faction got, they added extra several extra options and choices to your turns without bogging the game down. Hopefully the full game will have different sets of cards for the different factions, as in the beta they are identical.

Not so good:

  • Last time I mention it, I promise – but that turn activation system needs work and/or much better explanation
  • It’s not a quick nimble game, it takes time to play even once you’re past understanding the rules it doesn’t feel quick or flowing
  • There’s nothing here we haven’t seen or played before, there were no clever mechanics or design elements that had me thinking “oh that’s neat”
  • LOS seemed a bit gamey, but I understand why it has been done this way.

So overall – not great, but not terrible. Sorry I don’t have anything more definitive! For me it’s enough to continue to back the Kickstarter, but I don’t feel inspired enough to buy into any of the extras or spend money on the add-ons. If you like the theme, and like tactical skirmish minis games you’ll probably like it. If you like more traditional board games (even ameritrash) you might find it a little stilted or even dull. Mantic is still a minis company at heart, and games like this does tend to shows that – however the system has promise and I’m interested to see what the full game will bring

Author: Ben Coleman

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2 Comments

  1. Hi Rob here :)

    From the other side of the table my experience generally echoes Ben’s (great) write up:

    We both struggled to get our heads around the activation mechanic -which I think I have the gist of now, after asking for clarification on Jake’s blog- and I think it’s an ok idea but woefully underwritten in the Beta ruleset.

    The game appears (from KS promos etc) to exist halfway between board game and tabletop wargame but in practise is much much closer to the latter, albeit skilfully streamlined. I’d hesitate to recommend it to boardgamers at all except as a gateway to games with mini’s – I suspect even my friends who have happily played Zombicide etc would be turned off by DZ, coloured playing pieces or not.

    But as a light skirmish wargame it works pretty well. The abstractions – gridded movement/distance measuring and cubic volumes, binary cover/no cover, direct fire v blazing away – are all generally elegant and (once understood) argument free. What I didn’t like so much were the LOS definitions (which I’d summarise as: able to see any part of the model inc base = allows direct fire, able to see whole of model inc base = clear shot bonus). In practise this is no quicker than necromunda’s ‘can I see more or less than half of the figure?’ just with the goalposts shifted, losing some immersion at the same time with its gameyness. Other thoughts – cards worked well, whilst being a bit vanilla – I can totally see those getting more tactical/faction specific. Factions were pleasingly different to play, and seemed balanced. The rules have clearly been written with the boxy Mantic scenery in mind, our impromptu setup was sometimes a bit fuzzy.

    Overall I enjoyed it without being blown away. The beta lacks a bit of character and pizazz that maybe mission variants, specialists and the bigger monsters will add, but there is a sound ruleset to build on.

  2. Cheers Rob. That’s a good appraisal of how it sits between boardgame and wargame; which is both a good and bad thing.

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