Saturday, January 25, 2014

Deadzone (Mantic) Game Impressions

A vicious game of Deadzone is about to commence. 
Having assembled all of the terrain that I could from the Deadzone box and read through the rules, I figured it was time to put it to the test and play a few games. Afterall, it is easy to jump to conclusions by just reading through a rulebook, as you make comparisons to other systems. Often it can be difficult to see how everything fits together before you actually start rolling dice and pushing models around. As of writing this, I have played three games of Deadzone, and with each one I have come away with a much fuller appreciation of the ruleset. I admit that I am still learning some of the game’s finer points, but thought that I would write down a few impressions of the game, now that I have led a strike team of Enforcers to victory a few times.

I think the element of the game that sticks out most in my mind, one that continually comes up during games, is how straightforward and simple it is to learn and play.  By using a grid system, the game completely eschews the complication of measuring  movement, ranges, charge distances, etc.  Instead, everything is defined by cubes, making it very visual and easy to assess the tactical situations.  Although the game mat is a bit smaller than what other games use (Malifaux uses a slightly larger 3’x3’ space, for example), I have found it really fun to use for games of both Malifaux and Kill Teams (40k). Since both allow measuring at any time, the 3" grid just serves as a helpful reminder of distances, minimizing the need to be constantly measuring to assess targets. I suppose it could be argued that experienced players can do this without it being stenciled on the board, but I still found it surprisingly refreshing.

The grid stenciled mat makes moving and determining ranges extremely easy.
The game has a very streamlined system that allows every action to be performed in the same way.  Each requires you to roll 3 dice (d8s) and compare your result to the relevant statistic (the number you need to equal or exceed to be successful; Shoot for using firearms, Fight for close combat) to see if you were successful for each roll.  You can modify the number of dice you roll for these tests (i.e. You get to roll 2 additional dice when shooting at a model if he is completely unobstructed), but never the actual physical result/value you must roll to succeed. This consistency in the rules makes interpreting special rules and abilities very straight forward. And although the game does have a host of special rules and abilities, they do not bog the game down, and can easily be left out initially as you are getting accustomed to the rules.  This is partially due to how combat-oriented the game is, allowing the simple system to carry the day for most situations.  As a result, it does not have nearly as many narrative elements woven directly into the rules as Malifaux or even Deep Wars.  This is not really a problem with the game, as its goal was always meant to simulate vicious battles in war-torn city scapes, something which it delivers up in spades.

Continuing with the theme of making the game easy to play and set up, the game uses cards to help with bookkeeping and to minimize opening the rulebook.  Each unit has its own card that details all of its important information from combat stats, to wargear, weapons, abilities, and points cost.  This makes building lists simple; all you need to do is pull out the factions cards and add the respective points together.  You then have those cards to reference throughout the game for their stats (admittedly, the only place you can find these details are on the cards, as they are not printed in the rulebook itself; something I think was an oversight on Mantic’s part).

When speaking of helpful cards in Deadzone, perhaps my favorite element of the game are the Mission Cards.  The game has a varied array of missions you can be assigned at the beginning of the game, including simple assassinations, capturing important objectives, sneaking off the board past your enemy, and even smuggling equipment and items off the battlefield.  This great variety coupled with not knowing what mission you will actually flip encourages you to craft balanced and well rounded lists, and forces you to change your playstyle and adapt to the situation at hand.  This complexity is made easily manageable because all the pertinent mission information is printed directly on the card, and is simple to check throughout the game if needed.  Malifaux would benefit from having cards similar to those seen in Deadzone, particularly ones detailing the vast array of Schemes and Strategies that each game is played over.  The variety and dynamic scope of them makes each game of Malifaux unique and incredibly narrative, but also very difficult to keep track of for beginning players.  Deadzone strikes a fine balance here by adding complexity to the mission structure (albeit much less than Malifaux), while not interrupting the game’s fast pace.  If that were not good enough, the mission cards also assist in setting up each game, by determining the deployment zone structure and who takes the first turn.  After selecting your Mission card, one player reveals a second unused Mission card and uses it to determine what type of deployment zones the game will use and who gets which (they are printed on the lower corner of the card).  After this, the other player reveals an unused Mission card to determine who deploys first (If Friend is printed they take the first turn, if Foe is printed the opponent goes first).  This double duty that the Mission cards play is efficient and make setting up a game quick and painless (no constant rulebook reference to know what you roll for first, and what tables you have to reference, only to be forgotten before your next game… 40k…).

In addition to stating your victory conditions, the Mission cards also help determine your deployment zone type and who deploys and goes first (bottom right corner).
The game uses an activation system that allows you to use a number of models (determined by your strikeforce’s leader), before the opponent activates a selection of theirs.  This goes back and forth until both sides have activated all of their models.  It is a nice system that allows you to be constantly playing (not as much as a game like Malifaux, where it is back and forth between each model, though), and gives extra tactical consideration to which models you use first and who you target first.  It also encourages you to think carefully about what model you bring to lead your force, because they have so much influence on how you play the game.  Like Dreadball, a set of battlecards is included that you draw throughout the game and can use to get free actions or increase the amount of dice you roll during tests.  These are a nice touch because they also serve to  give you an extra level of control over the game, preventing you from solely relying the the luck of the dice.  While they are not as powerful as the Control hand you have in Malifaux, which essentially allows you to “chose what you roll,” they still can be quite game defining when you kill that important model because you raised the AP (armor piercing) of your shot and killed a critical model.
A hapless witchling stalker gets lured into pouncing range by one of Seamus' undead prostitutes in a game of Maifaux on the Deadzone mat. 
Despite things like the battlecards, the game still does primarily depend on rolling dice.  And since most attacks will be made by rolling off against your opponent and comparing successes, if you want your attacks to cause damage consistently, you need to focus on getting bonus dice to roll.  How you get bonus dice depends on the type of action you are attempting, but positioning of your models is often essential.  For example, if your soldier is on higher ground than his target, you get an additional die to roll during a shooting attack.  Additionally, if your opponent is not in cover, you rack up an additional +2 bonus for it being a Clear shot.  So if we are keeping with the above example, the firer would roll 6 dice when shooting compared to an anemic 3 by the defender (Attacker: 3 base, +1 elevation, +2 clear shot dice; Defender: 3 base). Situations like this are often devastating, because if you beat an opponent by 2 successes, their soldier dies (provided they do not have armor).  Because of this, it is absolutely critical to move carefully, not exposing yourself and remaining in cover whenever possible.  That being said, if everyone hangs back in cover you can quickly run into a stalemate where neither side can get the advantage and turns will go back and forth with nothing happening.

I moved my Enforcers (...Space Marines...) into good firing positions, even getting a rocket launcher (...lascannon..) to higher ground.
This brings me to one of Deadzone’s more interesting mechanics, exploding dice. Deadzone rewards a player for rolling an 8 by allowing them to not only keep that success, but to reroll the die and continue rerolling it until you fail to get an 8, allowing you to continue accruing successes.  I suspect this was put into the game to prevent the game from stagnating if both sides turtle up in cover and just fire back at one another ineffectively.  I am not entirely sure how I feel about the mechanic, as it is often frustrating to see an opponent string together a series of 8’s destroying your chance of accomplishing a carefully constructed plan.  It does make the game stand out from many other similar games, and I can’t say it is not fun to luck upon a few 8’s in an important roll.  When playing it, my friends and I have taken to cheering out “Exploding dice!” every time we roll an 8, something that has caused quite a bit of laughter in our games.

There may have been some shouting involved...
With only three games under my belt, there is still a lot that I am excited to explore in Deadzone.  There are still many enforcer models that I have not used yet, let alone all the other factions and mercenaries (who would not want to use Wraith!?).  I am also really looking forward to giving the campaign rules a try, as the last game that I played which supported such play was Gorkamorka and that was years ago!  I would also like to assemble some of the Deadzone models, particularly some of the mercenaries so I can start using them in games, but at this point I have only started to trim a few and it is such slow work that I have not finished any.  I did discover that Infinity models work really well as Enforcers (now I have a new use for all of the Haqqisiam models that I have collected!), and will probably use them instead.  If you have any questions, let me know, and if you have played Deadzone I would love to hear your thoughts on the game!

-Eric Wier


  1. A good read, I am looking forward to getting more games in. Most of my games were during the beta rules before the kickstarter actually shipped. Will be using marines as enforcers same as you - same with genestealers for plague faction. I as well really love the simplicity of the game avoiding a lot of the arguments like "how much of the figure can be seen" and "what type of cover is that".

    looking forward to some proper batreps :)

    1. Yeah, the line of sight stuff and how it interacts with cover is great. There is so much less room for arguments and it is just quicker.

      I hope to be able to do some true battle reports, possibly even a series following a campaign (provided I get around to starting one!). We will see. I need to get back to looking at the Deadzone models...

  2. Thanks for the review. Been wondering about the game...looks like a great beer & pretzels game for a Friday night!