Horizon Wars Zero Dark : Rescue Mission

This is my third go at the game. This time with a proper 4x4 table (since as anyone who's ever owned those other-wise excellent cardboard terrain from Corvus Belli can testify, 2 sets of them don't make up 4x4). I also used the full rules instead of the training run ones. Thankfully, I didn't spawn any EWOp or use an EWOp of my own. That's a hacker in generic parlance as the hacking rules merit their own separate topic, since it has its own AI activation table. Not as involved as Infinity thankfully. But it is more rules overhead when you're learning a new game.

So this time round I played the Rescue Mission as a one-off instead of part of a campaign. That meant I had one primary target: a VIP I had to rescue and 3 secondary targets, some NPC hostages. The only bit I changed from the actual scenario was to place the hostages in buildings instead of randomly deploying them out in the open. I also swapped the Spook (that allowed me to somewhat mitigate Control Deck card draws) with a Sapper, allowing me to bring all kinds of fun stuff to the battle. I opted for the most basic: a Sentry. In this case (if I read the rules right) a sentry gun.

I sneaked up the table with Rambo but this time even with his 5-6 attack dice, he was less than his normal killing self thanks to extremely poor dice rolls. But he managed to get to the building in the middle to pull out a hostage. My Medic, with a faster movement value got another hostage out that was in a building closest to the extraction zone.

Then I drew an Ace from the Deck and spawned a Sniper Elite smack dab in the middle of the table, on top of a building yet. The sniper took out my sentry gun in one go, even with it being on Overwatch. My rolls for the team were bad. My roll for the AI Sniper was excellent. Sigh.

My Sapper (engineer) went for a 3rd hostage that was on the 2nd floor but didn't manage to get her out before the time ran out.

AAR: This time I felt was too cautious this time and didn't go for the VIP in the furthest building from the team's insertion point. Should I have? The jury is out. I probably failed in the mission since I didn't extract the VIP. Only 2 other hostages of lesser importance.

Also, due to the extremely dispersed (random) AI deployment, I was never able to take out all the AI Grunts, so the AI Elites and Bosses had fewer activations, compared to my previous 2 games. That made my task slightly easier. And also if I wanted to "game" the system for an easier game, I could just avoid killing all the Grunts, thereby giving me an easier game with fewer Elite and Boss activations. (Of course, as the game designer rightly noted, what's the point of "gaming" the system just so one can win?) The AI Defense Mech spawned too late in the game to be of any use.

With 3 games under my belt and a better grasp of the game system, I can cautiously say this has promise for the solo/co-op SF skirmish gamer and compares favourably with my other favourite SF skirmish game, Star Breach. This is not to say that one is necessarily better than the other. They both are different games. Star Breach (as a game) feels more complete as it comes with a comprehensive set of missions and the Bolt Action/Gates of Antares dice draw system makes the game quite solo-able without any special rules. Zero Dark is more of an open sandbox where you are given the tools, some guidelines, then you can use them to flesh out your own gaming world. There is some background fluff included for Zero Dark to use if you wish, but it's not strictly necessary.

I think the only other small personal niggle I have is that Zero Dark uses D12s. Since you need about 6-8 dice at any one time (the suggested 6 in the rules really isn't enough) and yes, I know I can buy more but with the whole Covid situation making international shipping so iffy, I don't know when I can get my D12 dice in. So I resorted to buying some (pricy) AD&D polyhedral dice locally just to get 3 extra D12s. I really wish the game used D10s (which I have a lot of thanks to Wrath of Kings and Gates of Antares and a few board games the use D10s). But it's a personal niggle that doesn't detract from an otherwise good game. (I'm sure for gamers that only have D6s they would be making the same complaint 😀)