Wednesday, September 14, 2016

REVIEW: Fireteam Zero

Today in the Cube:

I've finally been able to get in a couple plays of (for me) the most long-awaited game of last year, Fireteam Zero, a tactical miniatures game published by Emergent Games and Play & Win.

The Fireteam Zero box is HUGE. It may be the largest
board game box I've ever seen.

Now, before I start, in the interest of full disclosure: I've been a longtime supporter of this game and backed it at the highest level on Kickstarter, something I rarely do. Suffice it to say: even before this game was actually in my hot little hands, I was a big fan.

Here's the premise: It's 1942. Four men are chosen to form an elite team, Fireteam Zero, to hunt down and destroy supernatural artifacts that have awakened and begun asserting their eldritch power during World War II. What's fun about this is, unlike comics like Arrowsmith, Hellboy, or games like Dust Tactics or Konflict '47 that have a "Weird War" theme, in which there are special magics, powers or technologies used by either side to fight, in this game it's truly "Man Against Horror."

This co-op game features a series of 9 missions, each involving one of three different monstrous "Families" based on the particular artifact that spawned them: everything from horrible Sandworm-like parasites (The Infested)  to burning skeletons (The Fetch) to chest-bursting frog-spider-crabs (The Children of Typhon).  The monsters come in three flavors: Minion, Elite, and Boss. Even the Minions are no joke. The Fireteam Zero boys have to complete objectives while fighting these monsters in each mission and, once the objectives are met, they all have to reach the Exit Point alive.

Helping Fireteam Zero are some Specialists – scientists and folklorists who advise them in the field. These guys bring added benefits when they're with the characters. However, they always have to be guarded - you can't ever leave them unprotected.

The gameplay, I thought, was pretty elegant. There are four character roles: Leader (which is an all-around balanced role); Close Combat (expert with close range fighting); Marksman (long-range fighting); and Demolitions (making things go "boom"). Each role has a deck of action cards associated with it. You draw a hand of 5 cards and, on your turn can perform a move and an action (you can play any number of action cards so long as they share a damage type: Brawl, Bullet or Bomb).
Some of the boards, cards, dice and other components in
the game. It's really pretty beautiful once you get it on the table.

The thing is, your hand of cards is ALSO your hit point total. When a monster attacks you and does damage, you have to discard a number of cards equal to the points of damage. If the amount of damage exceeds the cards in hand, you're "knocked down," and a special "Lucky Coin" in the game is turned from Heads to Tails. While there are some mechanics (few and far between, however) that can put that coin back to Heads, and you can get back up and come back at full strength the next turn, if another hero is knocked down while that coin is on Tails, you lose. Period. Once that coin is flipped, I always get anxious.

As a result, resource management is paramount: the cards you play, how many you play, and when you play them, all have to be taken into consideration.

Making things even tougher, of course, in addition to the eternally-spawning monsters, is the fact that there is a "Twist Track" that increases the difficulty. Each round, on the monsters' turn, the track is advanced and every few turns you put a new card from the "Twist Deck" on the track. These cards can have effects like preventing heroes from fleeing monsters in their spaces, or reducing the maximum hand size.

So the name of the game, quite honestly, is being careful, cautious, and working together.

The components are impressive. Each mission is played on a series of 4 boards that are each about 12 inches square, and represent a location in the game, from caves to forests to a ruined village and beyond. There are 8 double-sided boards in all included in the core set. The boards are full color and made of sturdy cardboard, matching the quality of the best that companies like Fantasy Flight have to offer. There are also a number of counters made of the same durable material.

The real stars of the game, though, are the miniatures. There are 46 miniatures in all, including 3 big bosses (everything is on 28mm "Heroic" miniature scale, so these minis would likely fit in well with your favorite wargame if you wanted to include them. I plan to do so...), 5 heroes and 2 specialists. (While there are 4 character roles, the 5th hero is a female "Agent Carter" type, who can be used as a Leader).

The minis are beautiful, cast in durable plastic and really nicely detailed. While I think the monster miniatures are awesome, my favorite of all of the figures is Rat, the close combat specialist, who wears a hooded trench coat, backpack, and gas mask, and holds two knives, ready for action. It's a particularly well-sculpted mini, and one that I can't wait to paint up.
Missions can get pretty hairy in a hurry. My munitions expert
was no match for three foes at once and got knocked down.

How does it work? I think the mechanics mesh very well. Each hero has a particular kind of damage they deal, and a number of dice per attack. The amount of their particular damage type that comes up during the roll (Bullets, Fists, Bombs) equals the number of hits on an enemy. Movement is simple — each hero moves two spaces per turn, unless an action allows something different. Monsters work on similar principles, though their attacks and movement are somewhat different.

That's the interesting thing about the balance of Fireteam Zero: this is not a game, like HeroScape or others, where the fight is in the favor of the attacker at all times. Each card play is a major decision; the wrong one played at the wrong time (or the right one played too soon) can have major consequences and even cost you the game. It's the heroes who are continually in peril; the monsters aren't easy, and it's a pretty good bet that if two or three of them gang up on one hero, they're going to be knocked down, amping up the stress level for the rest of the game. And that's what truly makes this a "horror" game — while the setting and theme are inherently spooky, the pervasive sense of peril actually will give you a shiver when you play this.

Now, while I'm in love with this game, I do have some criticisms. Some have said the gameplay is somewhat repetitive, and it's true: players can only really attack or search on their turns. However, there are expansions coming out that will permit things like customization of characters with gear and hopefully that might alleviate some of those issues. There are also, unfortunately some typos in the text (notably the Mission Briefing book), but that's really a minor issue.

If you're interested in a fun adventure game that really lives up to the horror theme (and has super cool miniatures) give Fireteam Zero a shot!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the review, Peter! Nice writing and love the photos :)