Friday, December 20, 2013

Deadzone (Mantic) Unboxing

And Deadzone arrives!
On Monday, I was excited to get home to find that my Deadzone Kickstarter pledge was delivered. Ever since Mantic started to ship out copies of the game two weeks ago, the internet has been alive with activity surrounding it.  Although the overall impressions were largely high, an increasing number of comments on their Kickstarter comments page suggested that things were poorly packaged and confusing.  Reading all this only increased my anticipation to receive the game myself and to see how everything would turn out.

I backed the project at the Recon level, entitling me to the boxed game along with a collection of mercenaries and a few other promotional things from the kickstarter.  Everything came in a large nondescript box, one that was a little beat up, but nothing too bad considering that it made its way here from Great Britain.  Opening the box, I was greeted with a sea of packing peanuts, a good sign I thought.  After removing most of them, I was surprised to discover lose D8s scattered about the box along with little plastic bags full of models.  A precursory glance at them revealed that one of the bags contained all of the free mercenaries that I got as a bonus for supporting the Kickstarter. This led me to suspect that the other lose bags of models were also extra models I was given.  Surely all of the models from the boxed game would be housed within the game’s box? When I found that the rulebook was also free amidst the the packing peanuts, I reconsidered this notion.  Maybe they generously decided to give backers an extra copy of the printed rulebook? That did not seem very likely. Opening the game box (which is made out of an impressively thick cardboard, and very well printed) quickly showed me that they did not give me anything extra. Instead, they simply did not put most of the models, or the rulebook, within the game box, opting instead to just throw most of that in the shipping box. Only one bag of models was in the game box (5 enforcers). The lack of shrink wrap should have given it away, I suppose. After seeing that, I understood why there has been so much confusion surrounding whether everyone received everything they were promised.  Instead of carefully putting all of the contents of the Deadzone game into its box, items were seemingly thrown at random into it, and the remaining items sprinkled on top, before it was taped up and shipped out.  After a lot of reading online and sorting, I am fairly confident that I received everything (I have not checked every single piece, but I know that I was sent all the different bags of models I was supposed to get).  This would probably not have been much of an issue if everything was just put in its proper box.  Having said all of this, I imagine a lot of these shipping woes resulted because Mantic was in a panic to get the stuff shipped out in time for Christmas.  It was a nice gesture that they tried to stick to their deadline and get things out so quickly (particularly since many Kickstarter projects are now customarily months behind schedule).

When the packing peanuts were removed I was greeted with loose dice, bases, and little bags of miniatures.
Even with half the contents of the Deadzone box not packaged within it (rulebook, dice, models), the inside was a chaotic mess of broken terrain sprues and loose tokens.  With no cardboard dividers, all of the components were free to crash around inside the box.  Thankfully this did not result in much damage in my case.  I had read a lot of comments online decrying the poor quality of the acrylic tokens, and how the symbols are not etched deeply enough into them to be able to clearly read them. I did not opt to get them, so I cannot comment on their quality, but I was pleasantly surprised how nice the standard cardboard tokens are.  Although half of them had already fallen out of the cardboard sheet that contained them, they are made of very sturdy cardstock and survived the transit unscathed.  Beyond the tokens, faction decks for both the Enforcers and the Plague were included, which contain mission cards, event/battle cards, and unit cards that detail each potential model in the force (including stats and wargear).  The cards themselves are not of particularly high quality.  They are very thin and covered in a glossy varnish that had already started to flake off in the corners, having only been removed from the shrinkwrap.  I will likely put them in card protectors, so it is not too big of an issue.  They do all contain pictures of their respective models, nicely assembled and painted.  I feel it is a really nice touch, one that showcases their models and makes it easier to learn all of the different units in the game.  The rulebook is one of the game’s stronger assets.  It is large and easy to open, and is filled with full color pictures of painted models.  Unfortunately, due to how everything was shipped, my copy has one corner crushed in, partially splitting the binding.

Shipping did not treat my rulebook very kindly...
Perhaps the aspect of Deadzone that I was most interested in seeing was the quality of the plastic they used to cast the miniatures. Having assembled a number of Mantic’s Dreadball models, and struggled with their sprueless plastic-resin, I was a little apprehensive. I had heard word that Mantic had developed a new recipe for the material used for the Deadzone models; something that was a little easier to work with. Unfortunately, although the material may have changed a little, it is still very difficult to work with.  All of the models still have prominent moldlines that necessitate careful cleaning if you want them to look presentable.  Similar to the Dreadball miniatures, removing the moldlines is difficult to do without tearing and discoloring the plastic.  The material does not seem to hold an edge well, resulting in the detail being very shallow and making removing the moldlines even harder.  If the model is very organic, with a lot of smooth curves, the trimming is not too difficult, but the moment a lot of folds of clothing or chitinous and spiky mutations appear it becomes a nightmare.  While the models can be cleaned up and look nice, it takes far longer to get to that point with the Deadzone miniatures.  In the time spent to finish a single one, I could finish twice as many Games Workshop or Wyrd miniatures.  And as I grow older, I am finding it harder and harder to make time for this hobby, and it makes me question whether my time would be better spent with other miniatures that I can easily make table-ready.  After all, it will not take too much effort to proxy Space Marines and other GW miniatures for Deadzone models.  I still plan to work at assembling the Deadzone models, but it will be a very selective process, only trimming the models I feel I truly need.  Thankfully Mantic is working on changing over to hard plastic for all their future models; it is only a shame that all of these models did not get such treatment.

The Marauder Captain, very reminiscent to a 2nd edition 40k Blood Axe Space Ork (trading with the 'umies is not such a bad idea, ha ha)!
One of the other big draws for the game was their  inclusion of modular terrain, referred to as battlezones.  Each battlezone contains 4 building sprues allowing you assemble all manner of different buildings.  The game comes with 11 sprues of hard plastic terrain, 8 contain the basic square tiles that build the brunt of the structures.  There are then 2 accessory sprues, containing ladders and barrels and other such things.  The final sprue is filled with little connecter pieces that snap into place to fasten adjacent tiles together without necessitating the use of glue.  Although I have not started to assemble any yet, the modular nature of it allows for a huge variety of potential arrangements, so I am excited to sit down and start assembling a deadzone!.  And while the moldlines are prominent, I do not anticipate too much trouble with them considering they are plastic and that most of the surfaces are flat.  It would have been nice to have an instruction leaflet to inform you of all the potential options, although there is a video with Ronnie Renton, CEO of Mantic Games, showing how they fit together on one of the Kickstarter updates.

What the inside of the box looked like when it was opened.
A better look at what I got in the box (loose tokens everywhere!).
The major element that sets Deadzone apart from many similar miniature games is that it is actually played on a checkered mat.  The battlefield is gridded with 3” squares that makes the game much more like a board game/miniature game hybrid.  The use of these squares makes elements of the game more abstract, but it dramatically simplifies movement and cover availability.  It is a very interesting design choice, one that I am very excited to try out.  Because of this, I was eagerly anticipating getting the game mat that was packaged with the boxed game.  The mat included is quite nice, very similar to a flexible mouse pad or collectable card game play mat.  It is quick to set up and easily folded or rolled for storage purposes.

The play mat is one of the best features of the boxed game, and although I was given a paper version as well, there is very little reason to use it when the flexible mat is available.
All told, Deadzone looks to be an exciting and fast paced game, one that is greatly enhanced by making both excellent terrain and a nice playmat easily accessible (they are included in the boxed game).  Unfortunately, a lot of corners were cut to keep cost down.  This is particularly evident in the low quality resin-plastic miniatures (largely an issue with the material the models are cast in, rather than the models themselves, although many of the sculpts could use a little work in my opinion).  The faction cards are thin and flimsy, and they only gave you 6 of the promised 10 dice (Mantic has promised to rectify this issue, however).  Perhaps the most distressing element about what I received, however, was how haphazardly everything was shipped.  Receiving a package containing an opened copy of the Deadzone game, with many of the components removed and tossed within the shipping box alongside the packing peanuts does not inspire confidence.  With any game that I spend $100 on, I expect to receive everything in good condition, not with missing or broken pieces and a crushed or torn rulebook.  I hope Mantic can improve on some of these shortcomings, otherwise I could see it alienating a large portion of potential customers; I am certainly on the fence about supporting another one of their large projects if things do not improve.  Despite this, I am still eager to start playing the actual game and trying out its rather intuitive system.  I will be sure to report back after I play a few games and finish assembling some of the terrain and models!

- Eric Wier