…you would have thought by now that science would learn its lesson and not mess with genetics and reanimation…and what ever else takes its twisted fancy but oh, NO. Once again the populace becomes a crazed, shambling mass of moronic, brain-hungry undead shuffling around the shop. If nothing else, they clutter the place up making everywhere look so untidy… and the moaning… will they not top with the bloody moaning already?

Press play for the all important zombie ambience to enhance your reading experience

2018-08-22 17.01.17

 

INTRO:

So, just what I need, me only in my carpet slippers and Thursday autoreversing pants, stuck on a viral infested island and nowhere to go to escape the shuffling. Surrounded by a potential watery grave on one side or putrified flesh with sagging bosoms on the other…and what have those stupid boats got to laugh about/…bobbing away in the dock like they haven’t a care in the…wait a moment…boats?

 

So Whats All The Fuss About?

IMG_20180822_165757Z War One – Exodus launches on Kickstarter Wednesday September 12th @ 13;45 BST (8:45 ET)! Combining intense tactical combat, resource management and an engaging comic book narrative, Exodus is a must for fans of true survival horror!

I will confess to not having seen, played or even having read anything about Z War One, partly because on the whole I am not a huge zombie game or film fan (too many flaws in the whole undead viral contagion concept) but that said, I came across Exodus (a stand-alone expansion…sequel? To Z War One) at the UKGE 2018 and had a nosey at the stand display.

(Exodus at UKGE 2018 …UK Games Expo The Forth Last Late Bit

The game looked interesting before I realised there was a zombie theme connection. Rob Butler chatted to me about the idea and, considering it was a zombie themed game, it all looked rather intriguing. As luck would happen I received an e-mail from Rob asking if I would like to preview a copy of the game before it hits kickstarter.  A Solo campaign adventure game with resource management, limited action management, an automated zombie AI mechanic and an illustrated cartoon narrative?… I’d be foolish not to at least see what it was really like to play as a soloist.

It transpires that an outbreak of some virus or other has occurred in the south (and being a Northerner myself, I am not iverly sad at this news) and all who have managed to survive contamination, have made it beyond The Wall into the relative safety of Scotland. A mere forty million have copped an unfortunate one and been infected with a virus that, interestingly enough, actually mutates (I will touch upon this shortly when I discuss the zombies) and the lucky few may or may not have been evacuated from the UK…we will not know this as we are the survivors of a crashed RAC helicopter…plunged into the midst of a shambling Hell.

DA78F5E0-81CF-4493-ABDD-E1021FA48848

In essence, then,  this is a game of survival. We control two survivors (the kickstarter will have up to four survivors, I believe) who have to make a perilous way to the docks and make good an escape without the aid of a safety net, no absorbent underwear or anti-zombie body armour. The game has a number of modes but most interesting to me is the campaign mode which holds a narrative throughout the various stages of the escape held together by a comic book narrative.

Enough pre-amble…what is it really like to play?

 

Immersion or Subversion?

DC9B13C0-A929-4160-942B-B5A82F4757DC

A game of survival in adverse of circumstances make for a potentially great theme. Admittedly zombies feature heavily but as this is much more about the journey two survivors make in their bid for freedom, I think this game becomes immensely immersive, with or without the undead… although, I suppose there would be no pressing need for survival without zombies. The setting is poignant (and it is not just us getting into the customary 4×4 and driving away). The survivors have to get to a boat…get it working and, if they successfully make it off this rock make it away from the UK (lucky beggars). However, the story goes beyond getting to a boat so I suspect we will be plunged into murkier waters, yet, filled with a multitude of undead ‘things’ as the story unfolds once afloat.

 

Mechanical Attributes:

EA5FB080-4493-4D2B-A69F-13E47287CE41

Principally, and most appealing for me, is the AI zombie mechanic. There is a basic hierarchy of moves that most zombie types make but each type also comes with its own card displaying stats for grabbing heroes at close range, biting heroes, how far normal movement is, how far they charge (if line of sight or line of smell is made with a living person)…oh, and kill points are the number of hits needed to…kill the undead. I would assume this is representative of size, determination and amount of head remains on the grotesque shoulders.

Cleverly, with minimal fuss, this all means that little thought is needed from us, the soloist, to achieve a wide variety of AI characteristics which can be achieved via the zombie cards. As most basic zombies have no real thought, their behaviour patterns can be predicted and used to our advantage…I read the phrase ‘hearding’ zombies into our kill zone. Sounds brutal but I suppose we could look at it like hero A distracts the mindless whilst hero B sneaks in and gets objective C. You get the general idea?!

Resource management features highly in our attempts to survive. The hero dashboards have rotary counters to help us keep track of ammunition (which is always in short supply but can be found and reloaded). A similar spinner keeps tabs on health…once a hero is bitten the dial ticks down each turn representing blood loss, fatigue and spread of infection. Action points become affected when a hero becomes progressively weaker or more infected…treatment is available in the form of medipacks but bites can travel from scenario to scenario, if I am not mistaken. I really like  this idea as it adds that ever needed subtle element of realism. Why do we suddenly become 100% healthy after ending a level of dungeon crawl?…no realism at all…this, on the other hand, rectifies the campaign element so that one scenario effects subsequent plays.

B1704B6D-73A1-45D7-B555-2C2BBF8E7524

Equipment, items and all sorts of goodies can be found and used…some have to be fabricated, fashioned from component parts like hashing together a Molotov cocktail, pipe bomb or medipack from the junk we discover rushing about the infested rooms and corridors.

We have nineteen possible actions available to use for our heroes but only four regular starting action points. More strenuous or complex actions obviously require the expenditure of more action points but it is almost like a sandbox game regarding what we do…how we effectively use those actions, however, is another matter altogether.

I wont go in to detail but actions such as moving, sprinting aiming fire, move and shoot, opening doors, reloading, execution (of a zombie that have been knocked down) crafting and so on.

There are constraints to a scenario but it does have a ‘big scale exploration’ adventure game’ feel, whilst still retaining a close, personal, more intimate component (partly due to our affinity with our heroes, but also the constraints of narrow corridors and small rooms.

 

Wood Chits and cardboard Bits:

6A966DB3-B345-4E91-980E-D6BCA495943D

The copy I was kindly sent by Rob is only prototype material but the quality of art, graphics and the like are pretty stunning even at this stage of game development. The rule book and comic/scenario book are both luscious documents and, although the cartoon style is not to my tastes (I am an ex cartoonist so am rather fussy) it is a well produce affair and does an admirable job of setting the scene for each scenario.

I would not buy a game on miniatures alone. There really has to be substance to a game to draw me in, no matter how many kilograms there are of plastic bodies… but these prototype models are actually very nicely modeled. My dodgy photography may not do them full justice here. But nice as these miniatures are, it is the game that is the strong point and I do feel the need to stress this as Kickstarter has recently become swamped with weak projects that sell an idea based on volume of plastic. This should not be considered one of them as the game would be just as entertaining with Dead of Winter style standees, as much as plastic miniatures.

AF5FF4EB-16FE-4045-AACF-2707CC6C8BAF

 

Meeples and Standees:

  • Game Design: Robert Butler & James Taylor
  • Artist: Ben Milnes (miniature sculpts by Icarus Miniatures)
  • Game Publisher: Dice Sports Ltd
  • Playtime :  45-70mins per scenario (no official timings were included with my prototype but based on my plays)
  • Gangs of one: 1-5
  • Age of Consent: 14+
  • DOB: 2017

 

Solitarianism:

Tha game comes with something called the Director’s Cut which has a dedicated card deck to allow a player to, in effect act like the director of a big zombie move, and throw peril in the way of the heroes, be it adding increased zombie encounters, hindering progress or making them wear garish costumes of high public embarrassment. This is a nice touch but fundamentally this is a cooperative game.

9E3A8CF7-FFAF-4DB4-AA4A-414FA8F53B57

The basic game is designed to accommodate two survivors pitting their wits against the game. Although ammunition, equipment and health all need monitoring, the player boards have handy rotary dials to keep tabs on such menial work, which all means that we, the soloist, can, with great ease, control both heroes.

3F776C6B-2742-432C-993B-69C410DA2E31

The puzzle solving nature of many of the scenarios demand, due to their mission objective, a high level of teamwork so even if this whole affaire were purely solo, we would still need to operate the two heroes, calling in to play their unique skill sets to assist one another. This game is not about a zombie kill fest. It is about survival. Planning routes through the corridors and locations, being conservative with ammunition, being cautious, finding materials that can be crafted into things such as nail bombs!!! This does play well with one player and offers opportunity for some seriously challenging decision-making. Each scenario can be played as a one-off, with specific set up to help with the scaling difficulty of each scenario but as a campaign is where its real strengths lie. We can bond with our characters from session to session as they increase their resources, weapons and shiny shoe collection…equally we can panic, fret and worry as our heroes grow weaker and weaker if bitten.

 

The Real Nitty gritty:

  • Winners and Losers: Exodus is definitely a challenging puzzle of a game but not so frustratingly impossible to achieve success as to make us lose all hope. There is a plan to add a difficulty scaling so individuals can choose how quickly they wish to die….
  • Rules is Rules is Rules: The rule book I have is well polished re: illustrations etc and, for the most part is very clear, explaining the game principles clearly and succinctly.  Tha game its self is not particularly difficult to run but there are numerous small details that do need to be referenced and re-referenced during learning games. I did get a little frustrated having to look up certain charts for certain rolls but it was folly on my part as the player boards and zombie cards have most roll charts built in…the only problem I encountered was not having space on my table for the scenario booklet, so was forced to keep reaching over to an adjacent surface to reference the turn spawn/room spawn charts. I know cost is always a serious consideration but it would have been nice for a scenario card having spawn charts and mission objectives on…just to save me space as there is sufficient room on the gameboards for an extra card. Just a musing It is still a work in progress, this rule book, but it does a decent job and I was able to get straight into a game after a single read (with some learning re-referencing after the fact)
  • Lucky Buggers: Luck is a high feature in this game but not as a negative point. Spawning of zombies is a die roll and a chart consult. All manner or, even, no zombies appear at one of up to four points. Searching through an abandoned dock or ship infested with critters would leave us all none the wiser as to its true inhabitants. So this works well for me. Rolling dice for ranged attack is a little hit and miss but can be negated firstly on weapon choice but secondly on how much time we spend taking aim and shooting. We may only knock a zombie down or miss altogether, but this replicates real life nicely, in my opinion, as even trained marksmen under this sort of frantic pressure might lose focus for a split second and shoot themselves in the big toe. Exploring rooms has its dangers, and although there are ways to reduce the surprise, we are still likely to make a random zombie encounter. Very dangerous stuff this surviving a zombie apocalypse, I can tell you. Being grappled hand to hand and even bitten rely on die rolls but most situations have some system built-in to allow actions to mitigate some of that pesky luck…what can’t be mitigated needs the heroes to use their most cunning, ‘cunning’ to get out of scrapes (and use medipack quickly whipped up from old bandages, broken scissors and last nights Indian takeaway)
  • Highs and lows: Exodus has a dark undertheme…namely comic horror (comic book, not comedy) The game has a serious feel and can become very tense at times, but there is not an overly graphic horror nature to it and so shouldn’t worry most adult players…although I did find the Siren zombies rather disturbing.
  • Footprints All Over Both Sides of My Table: Quite a sizable beast is this Exodus. Certainly with all the scenarios I played through, each had two 32cm x 32cm boards, two player dashboards and obviously all but the Director’s deck of cards. I managed to just about cram everything in to a 100cm x 90cm space but for comfort, I would recommend something a little larger.
  • Build It Up Just To Tear It All Down Again: As can be seen in the photographs I took, this is no titchy game with quite a number of gameboards, miniatures and a wide array of counters and cards. Don’t be put off by its size though as set up is not a monstrous and laborious task. Obviously each scenario is different but the diagram simply illustrates where we populate the board with zombies (not many at the start), doors, spawn points and any special scenario relative tokens. Player boards ave little change from scenario to scenario except some opportunities to gain a skill upgrade card so only minimal input is required to prepare the heroes for the trauma ahead. Part of set up is reading the lead comic book narrative then the scenario setup so one could construe that even set up is part of the game. What ever spin is put on it I suspect perhaps up to fifteen minutes to lay tiles, decks, doors and so on, but time well spent. And, if we are playing several scenarios back to back, only the board need be rearranged and repopulated so setup is reduced significantly. Taking everything down is, obviously less methodical, and so long as decks, miniatures and so on are separately stored/ziplock bagged up (to make next set up quicker)  only a matter of minutes are required. Unlike a heavy euro, there are not a gazillion small cubes to pick up from the floor or the grasp of an interfering cat.

 

Me, Myself and I:

I was excited to be asked to look at the game but also anxious, as zombie games are not, for the most part, my cup of tea. I needn’t have worried. Right from the off this proved not to be a kill fest. It was a detailed puzzle solving game and, even though it contained zombies, the nice twist here was that mutation occurred and there were some rather dreadful mutated creatures to encounter. Each requiring more than ‘just shooting’ to dispatch them.

233333DA-7858-42C5-A3D1-BEC621B1C631

An element I particularly enjoyed was that, dependant on how much time (how many action points were used), our chances of successfully hitting a zombie with a ranged weapon improved. As would be expected, I suppose, as in real life situations… not that any of us encounter zombies, much less get chance to shoot at them. I digress slightly. If we pop a shot off willie-nilly it’s pretty unlikely we will hit our target but standing and aiming…well. Need I say more? Well, yes, just a little more because even with  careful aim we might only knock a zombie down…or even miss altogether. This touch of realism sets it apart from many of the genre and makes logical sence of the small element of luck when rolling to hit. I found at times life was a doddle…minimal zombie presence but then open a door and..kabloom an absolute shed full behind the filing cabinet.

3ED5DA32-24BE-46DB-B70E-8E720CBE88FC

The exploratory nature of each scenario proved to be both enjoyable and tense, as in real life, we have little clue what is around the next corner. My copy only has the first four of the planned seven (plus several additional scenarios with an included expansion ‘Dark Tide’) but the campaign certainly left me wanting to find out the next chapter of the story. Replayability wont be too much of a problem as, although the objective remains the same, the challenge of getting from A to B and back is going to be a completely different ball game each time as spawning zombies never act the same way twice it would appear…I think that there will also be a difficulty scaling mechanic included which should make life very interesting, even if repeating a successful scene.

 

Yay or Nay?

This was a surprise and most definitely a game players who like a puzzle, a real challenge, and adventure, even those who like zombies should keep a close eye on. Less of a shamble and more of a charging bloodlust bite of the BSoMT 1d8 die roll reveals a thoroughly mutated undead (7.5) for solo play.

 

OUTRO:

Urrrrg….arrrg….urrrg…

That was my stomach, by the way, not a charging zombie…I missed breakfast. I really need to find the ship’s canteen…but I bet it is swarming with the undead buggers, shoving their rancid dead fingers into all the vac-sealed sandwich packs and spitting on the lasagna…

…they never show any of this in the zombie survival films, I can tell you

…eeeeeuuuuwww! Ankle deep in some discarded body part! So untidy…right…late breakfast…brunch, even

——————————————————

Something For The Weekend, Sir?

Z War One – Exodus launches on Kickstarter Wednesday September 12th @ 13;45 BST (8:45 ET)! Combining intense tactical combat, resource management and an engaging comic book narrative, Exodus is a must for fans of true survival horror!

(Kickstarter link coming soon…when project goes live)

Z War One on Twitter

download

Dice Sports Ltd https://t.co/KkK7SG2zFu

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s