Things to look forward to: Deadzone

Deadzone is a strange beast. This is a game that is neither a wargame, nor is it a boardgame. Deadzone is a weird chimerian hybrid: half wargame, half boardgame. And for this reason alone, Deadzone has my attention. One of the biggest problems I face is that, when I gather my friends around the house for a gaming day, some of my friends just are not into wargaming. They consider wargames too much of a hassle to pick up, they think wargames have too many rules to learn and, if they do not consider these two points an issue, they say it is too much effort to get started.

The new plastic Enforcers look quite the part
The new plastic Enforcers, Veermyn and Industrial scenery look quite the part. Image by Mantic Games

I can see the reasoning behind these opinions. In fact, if I wasn’t such a fan of painting and modelling, I might have kept myself to ordinary cardboard boardgames also. Getting into a wargame with your own army takes a lot of effort and patience. You have to practice your painting skills, need to learn the intricacies of your army and invest time in learning the rules and designing an armylist. In addition, you need to have scenery, a large area where you can play these games AND then have to invest quite a lot of time in setting up the battlefield and armies. All in all, wargames take a lot of time, effort, energy and (unfortunately) often money.

Strike teams instead of armies
This is where Deadzone enters the pitch. While Deadzone also uses miniatures to represent your presence on the table, you use strike teams instead of armies. And a strike team in Deadzone consists normally between 7 and 12 models. To put that into perspective, that is less than a normal unit of Orcs or even Eldar Guardians in Warhammer 40.000.

For some of my friends, these small factions take a lot of issues away. Some friends might want to pick up model painting, but see the large amounts of units in ‘mass battle systems’ as quite a steep challenge. Other friends, who like to paint models, simply have too much other things on their hands to paint up an entire army. Picking up Deadzone is therefore far less daunting then picking up Warmachine, Warhammer or other larger scale gaming systems.

In addition, as I really like to collect and paint models, Deadzone gives me the opportunity to assemble different factions and have them gaming ready in a relatively short amount of time. In other words, Deadzone offers me the chance to collect, assemble and paint quite a few (or even all different) ‘factions’ and offer them to my friends to try out the game.

The Rebs are a bunch of different mix match races with anarchistic tendensies. In other words: they are one of the most appealing factions because of their variaty. Image by Mantic Games
The Rebs are a bunch of different mix match races with anarchistic tendensies. In other words: they are one of the most appealing factions because of their variaty. Image by Mantic Games

Everything in one box
Unlike most miniature games, Deadzone can be considered a ‘game in a box’. Take the current (soon to be obsolete) starterbox Warhammer: The Island of Blood for example . In terms of Warhammer miniatures, this box offers great value. You get two sizable armies, loads of miniatures and even some great looking centrepiece models. However, even with this box, you can’t really start playing a proper game of Warhammer. This is because there are still a lot of essential things missing in the Warhammer Starterbox: all the rules, complete armies and scenery.

It is understandable that companies like GW or Privateer Press (with their army startersets) offer no scenery into their ‘entry’ products. These are entry products after all, and offering all the rules, all the models and all scenery into these starter sets would raise the initial startup cost significantly. The fact remains that many people however consider this to be serious obstacles and costs. Deadzone however proves that it is possible to offer a ‘wargame style’ starterbox that includes everything you need to get started.

More models than you need to play a game
When looking into the Deadzone starterbox, we see that the game comes with two factions: the Enforcers (12 models) and the Plague (11 models). And while the model count could be considered small compared to GW’s offerings, they represent great gameplay value. This is because a normal game of Deadzone is 70 points but the point value of the included factions runs around 110 or 120 points. This means that with the basic box, you can assemble a strike team that fits your own play. At the same time, you can make all kinds of variations and try out different tactics with the models included in your first purchase.

The Plague are a dangerous and close combat oriented faction. Don't let them get too close to you!
The Plague are a dangerous and close combat oriented faction. Don’t let them get too close to you! Image by Mantic Games.

All the rules included
The second big plus for Deadzone is the inclusion of ALL the rules you need to play. The starter box included the full fat rulebook for Deadzone. And in this rule book ALL initial four factions are described and detailed. So using the basic starter set, you can already plan further into possible additions to your strike teams. In addition, new models and factions are all detailed in expansion books that not only include all new models, but also include new scenarios. And after the last Kickstarter for the Deadzone expansion Infestation, you can now buy a ‘2nd edition’ hardcover rulebook that includes ALL factions and models from ALL currently available expansions.

Scenery in the box
Finally Deadzone comes with both a stunning looking playing mat AND the basic scenery to start up a proper game. The gaming mat is essential as it offers the ‘grid’ on which movement is based, but it features some great artwork that immediately emerges you into the world of Deadzone. Add the great looking scenery to this and you suddenly have a gaming table that has everything you could want: it looks cool, adds tactical opportunities and enhances the gameplay. Yes, you might want to buy some extra scenery to further ‘improve’ the game, but the basic set offers just enough to get a good game running.

All the scenery on this picture is included in the core starter set. Not a bad deal right?
All the scenery on this picture is included in the core starter set. Not a bad deal right? Image by Mantic Games.

It just looks ridiculously awesome
Another big plus is that with the starter box, your game looks already awesome. Not only do the models look really nice, it is the whole set that emerges you into the Warpath universe. Using only the basic components included, you have a real three dimensional table with buildings, walkways through the air and vantage points. Add to this the earlier mentioned gaming mat and you get the complete Deadzone deal. In other words, all the components work together to enhance your emergence into the gaming world and add to the feeling of a ‘dying’ world that needs to be salvaged.

A supersized Deadzone table with loads of terrain. Doesn't it look totally super awesome? Image from Mantic Blog
A supersized Deadzone table with loads of terrain. Doesn’t it look totally super awesome? Image from Mantic Blog

Deadzone is affordable
Because Deadzone has everything you need to get started, Deadzone is a really affordable game. Deadzone is by no means a cheap game, with the starterbox running around 65 Euros, but compared to most other miniature games this is a really good deal. For the price of a Warmachine ‘army box’ – around 150 US Dollars – you could get the Deadzone starterbox, the first expansion (that adds a new campaign, rules for new factions and units, an AI system for solo play and 30 extra models), and two extra faction starter sets. And for the price of a ‘normal’ Warhammer army, you could get almost every model and expansion available! This means that Deadzone might not be cheap when compared to a boardgame, but it does mean that Deadzone is very, very affordable for a miniatures game.

You say what? Only 25 pounds for a complete faction starter? With all these cool miniatures included? Also that big gun? Yes, sounds good right?
You say what? Only 25 pounds for a complete faction starter? With all these cool miniatures included? Also that big gun? Yes, sounds good right? Image by Mantic Games.

The cost of all this goodness
When looking at all the positive points of Deadzone, I could only conclude that the initial impressions of Deadzone seem to be very good. However, reading through various reviews, impressions and session reports, there are a few issues that might be able to disappoint me. First of is the quality assurance by Mantic Games. While all the painted up models for Deadzone look really cool, I’ve read quite a few posts by people who were disappointed by the quality of the initial production miniatures. Other people have mentioned that the modular terrain is not as modular as Mantic Games wants you to believe. And finally some people have remarked that the rulebook, while good looking en generally well written, is not that logical laid out.

Miniature quality assurance
The most important thing for a miniatures game, is the quality of the miniatures. And with this, Mantic Games has made quite a few mistakes in the past. As a relatively young company, their first miniatures have not been as good as people where hoping. And the challenges in making plastic miniatures and moulds have put Mantic Games in a tough position. The first run of Deadzone illustrates this.

Mantic Games were surprised by the high demand in the first Kickstarter campaign, they faced stiff challenges in delivering a quality product. The plastic miniatures they hoped to produce for the Enforcer faction were not ‘up to standard’ and therefore they decided to cast these miniatures in a material called ‘restic’ (plastic resin). However, many people have noticed casting errors, large mouldlines and ‘fuzzy’ detail on these miniatures. This problem seems to have been solved in later factions, as the reviews for the Marauders (Orcs), the Forgefathers (Space Dwarfs) and Astarians (Space Elves and Robots) are far more positive. I therefore have high hopes for both these ‘newer’ factions AND the new releases in the second Kickstarter campaign.

Mouldlines and wrongly set moulds causing casting errors have been a noted problem with the Deadzone miniatures included in the starter box. Image from http://ferbsfightingforces.blogspot.nl/2013/12/quick-review-deadzone-plague-troopers.html
Mouldlines and wrongly set moulds causing casting errors have been a noted problem with the Deadzone miniatures included in the starter box. Image from http://ferbsfightingforces.blogspot.nl/2013/12/quick-review-deadzone-plague-troopers.html

Not so modular terrain
One of the big selling points for Deadzone is the inclusion of the so called ‘Battle Zones’ modular terrain. This tile based system offers gamers to build scenery easily and affordably. Using a system of connectors that fit into holes in the tiles, you are able to build terrain without the use of any glue. However, the connectors and fittings on the tiles in this first (urban) set of this terrain system were often too tight or not tight enough. This first issue made it difficult to separate the different tiles without the use of pointy tools. The second issue caused problems when assembling the terrain.

Again, it appears that Mantic have stepped up on this. Later sets of Battle Zone terrain (such as the 20th century brick set included in Mars Attacks) have far less issues with these problems. They also have developed a wide range of cheap expansions that add different styles into this system. All of which can be mixed and merged due to the modular setup of the Battle Zones terrain. Finally, I have little issue with this, as I expect to get quite a bit of terrain and intent to glue them together so they can be used in games of Warhammer 40k or other sci-fi gaming systems.

Newer sets like this cool fortified outpost have far less issues with the connector system. And they look pretty awesome I think
Newer sets like this cool fortified outpost have far less issues with the connector system. And they look pretty awesome I think. Image by Mantic Games

Not so well laid out
The Deadzone game system is generally well received, easy to learn,  and both fast and well thought out. However, some people have noted that the rules in the rulebook are not always in the place where you expect them. Especially when learning the rules this can be an issue. Add to this that Mantic Games has not included a reference sheet and you might be looking up rules a bit too often.

Again, Mantic has listened to the gaming community and released quite a few free tools to lessen these problems. In addition, the comments of the community have been reflected in the development of a new updated rulebook. A rulebook that will be available as a free PDF file for people who already own the first edition of the rules. This is a great gesture of a company that could easily do things ‘their own way’ and ask people to simply buy the new book, and also shows an involvement with both their game systems AND the people playing their games. It also bodes well for the future as new additions might appear and new issues rise. Mantic seems to be listening and trying to keep improving their products.

Conclusion
All in all, I’m quite hyped for this game. It has everything I want from a miniature game and then add a bit extra. Lovely models, great scenery, a slick and fast game system are all included. Add to this that Mantic is very sure about their product and seems to want to keep supporting this and I could well have found a game that I keep returning to. The pledge manager for Deadzone will likely open up early this week, and I’m able to ‘pre-order’ all the new goodness in addition to the ‘older’ starter set and miniatures. Hopefully they will ship these already available items soon afterwards, as I just want to get my greedy fingers onto this plastic (or restic) goodness. If not, it will be a long wait until January or February 2016…

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