6 January 2020

Review: Zona Alfa

Osprey Wargames have been kind enough to send mne a copy of Zona Alfa - a new blue book skirmish game, out by the end of January 2020.

I've had a few reads through the book and is currently painting up the models needed to play the game. Here's my initial thoughts about the system.

Zona Alfa is written by Patrick Todoroff who's already put out the neat little cyberpunk solo game Hardwired (which I'll be playing this year). And after reading through both systems, there's a few designs elements that'll be seen in both.

Welcome to the zone - super short summary
Zona Alfa is a small scale skirmish game. Between four and ten models pr player. It's alternate activation with each model. Being an Osprey blue book it's streamlined and fairly simple. Best of all (for me) it's oozing russian post apocalypse be it S.T.A.L.K.E.R. or Metro 2033.

The book is 64 pages, comes with a good table of contents - so it's really easy to find your way around the rules. Having giving it a through reads I'm very happy with the amount of page references through out the book, making the first read extra easy. This is missing in a lot of rule systems.

I've had a few blue book now and some have been too full of material to my taste. Zona Alfa seems better rounded this way and doesn't cram too much into too little space (which makes a bad read for me).

As I've come to expect from Osprey publications there's awesome atmosphere setting miniature photos and artwork. 12 full page coloured art pieces in such a small book.

And speaking of 'setting the tone' there's some neat little fluff pieces at the begenning of each chapter. Small 'quotes' from other zone scavengers, telling small tales from the zone. I love this kind of thing - can't read them without using a bad russian accent in my head.

There's nothing to put on the layout on this one. And if you have been on hold for blue books because of size and layout - this might change that view. It did for me.

The system is d10, action point, based. You roll to beat your skill/ability level. Better soldiers have higher stats, and you roll to get below you skill level. There's modifiers as we know them to different rolls.

All models have a personal statline - wounds, combat ability and will (overall training, intelligence etc). There three levels of soldier: Rookie, hardened, veteran. They'll have 1, 2 or 3 action points depending on level.

All weapons have stats as well. Each weapon will have a different number of dice to roll and different armor penetration. So hitting an enemy is depends on amount of firepower dice from the weapon and if you're able to make the skill roll with them.

There's simple rules for making skill checks and a few standard skills. Being a better shot, being a medic, being good with explosives.

There's critical succes and critical failures on roll, which is always nice in a game with modifiers and skill levels. And a critical succes will also give you an extra action points, which I know from Reality's Edge can make all the difference to a game!

Shooting and pinning
Sticking to cover seems to be the way to go in this game. There's some heavy modifiers for staying in cover and being camouflaged. But when a model is hit it will likely go out of action. If it survives or applies a medkit, it'll get some pinned counters.

These take actions to remove - so if you a rookie, you'll be out for a few turns. Making for some interesting choices when building a team. Will you go for veterans with lots of action or rookies for lots for firepower.

The book comes with a few scenarios and a mini campaign. But really what this does is provide a simple frame work for easily coming up with scenarios of your own. Build a battlefield make a few quick objectives for why your crew is there.

Each game takes place inside 'The Zone'. An area that's filled with danger and riches. You'll choose how deep you go into The Zone. The nearer the centre, the more hot spots will be there. Hot spots is where the real gold is, the riches and the great items. But at the same time they will spawn monsters. Deeper in the zone? More treasure, but way more dangerous monsters!

And you won't bee needing a lot of different stuff. You'll really only need 6 critters, 8 zombies, 4 humans, 2 mutants, 1 large mutant - and you're covered for random encounters.

The rules offer super simple rules from the randomly spawned enemies. Enemies always spawn and act as a group and will try and take out the nearest enemy first. You cannot loot a hotspot before you've taken out the enemies spawning there.

Combining the nature of different action points per model, a limited number of game turn and randomly spawned monsters - you'll really find yourself prioritizing while on the battlefield. Because you'll not be able to get around to do everything, The Zone is too dangerous and you'll have to choose. For this reason the rules will also work fairly well for solo play without any real adjustments.

Campaign - making a team

The book introduces a super simple way of building a team. You choice a team value based on combined action points. A standard game is 12 action points per side. The leader takes up 3 action points - leaving 9 points to be used on rookies, hardened or veterans. For simplicity (and fuck micromanagement) you then choose armor, gear, guns and skills from all available normal stuff. No price counting or anything like that - is matters little anyway.

I like this as it goes very well with a using WYSIWYG models from your collection.

There's a nice collection of weapons classes, armor and items to choose from. Both standard gear and rarer stuff you'll have to find in the zone. There's plenty of one use items - that needs replenishing. There's also cool stuff like binoculars (which let you inspect hotspots and affect the dangers within). Scopes for rifles, to help take the camouflage bonuses away from enemies and so on.

Soldiers have equipment spaces depending on gear (load carrying vest) and rookie, hardened, veteran type. So they can't bring everything with them into The Zone.

Experience and factions

After making a team, if playing a campaign, you'll get experience points for your team - that you choose how to use. You can freely upgrade the dudes you want, building the team you want, not being depending on rolls. Experience can be used on skills, veteran level, stat increases, equipment space etc. And you can spend money to gain the same effect.

The standard goal of a campaign is to earn enough money in the bank to get retired, kick back and enjoy some vodka. But money won't come easy as grenades and medkits are one use - and really need to be replenished after a game.

There's six factions to choose from when building a team, all inspired by the factions you'll meet in a game like S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Each faction will come with a small advantage when starting and offer different bonuses after each game - but you'll also have to pay taxes to them. Come out without any loot? They'll take taxes from that pension fund you're making.

Final thoughts
I love the s.t.a.l.k.e.r. and Metro PC games. I've read the Metro books and Roadside Picnic. I've been playing LARPs and Airsoft games with the settings. And been intrigued by the Chernobyl disaster and the Exclusion Zone for years.

I had no intention of getting Zona Alfa. Because I felt This Is Not A Test could easily work it's post apoc magic on a post soviet setting.

But I'm very happy with this book. For the kind of gamer I am, it does something with my interest in a game to read the right setting in the rules. It inspires me. And Zona Alfa really captures the style of those games.

Blue books are cheap, and this Osprey Wargames title is the best I've read. I'm really looking forward to entering The Zone. You should as well.

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  1. Thanks for the review. Glad you like ZA.

  2. just heard about this is it new hot of the press stuff.. cool

  3. You should take a look at Enderain. Similar in scope, but far more tactical and you can fit it into any Sci fi setting. Also the NPC AI is unique and pretty cool.

    1. There's so many scifi systems out there. I do like how ZA is written for the specific setting.