Probably the most unusual feature of Deadzone is its combination of a board game grid and skirmish game Line of Sight (LOS). This needs explaining as I don’t know of another game that uses this approach.
Those of you who have played my other games will know that I like fast and simple games which include a lot of tactical decision making and choice. The challenge for me here was to bring that design ethos into a skirmish game environment and avoid as many as possible of the traditional pitfalls and difficulties.
These problems tend to congregate around movement and who can see what. Getting tape measures into and between scenery can be awkward and whether things are just in or just out of range is a frequent debate that is only made worse by the measuring being difficult to do accurately.
These problems tend to multiply enormously when you add a third dimension as we wanted to do here. We had all manner of plans for buildings and other terrain and it would be silly not to have that impact on the way the game played.
Gridded boards, on the other hand, have a habit of putting off figure gamers who find their placement of miniatures to be vague and unsatisfying. They want to deal with the exact positioning of their sniper and decide their careful use of cover.
LOS is the biggie. Can you take the shot or not? There have been all sorts of different approaches to this over the years, and most of them are quite fiddly and not very fast to implement. Some work in their own context but would struggle in the confines of a Deadzone board. For example, some rules require you to see a particular part of the model (torso or head or both), some require you to see a certain percentage of the models, whilst others require you to ignore the model and calculate an abstract volume which the model nominally occupies regardless of pose. Each has its merits, but how do you work out whether you can see 24% or 32? If you must see a model’s torso what if they have a backpack? And theoretical volumes? No thanks. Not in the clutter of a close urban environment where shots are often through windows, past bulkheads, girders or other urban clutter. Can I see the space above the model which it nominally occupies? Past that walkway and through that window? Not very practical, and certainly neither slick nor intuitive.
So there were a number of issues that were obvious from the start and all of which made rules skirmish traditionally fiddly and muddy to apply. How to get round this? Well copying what had gone before obviously wasn’t going to work so I had to think of a new approach.
What I’ve gone for is a hybrid system that takes the best of both the figure gaming and board game approaches.
The Deadzone playing area is a 2 foot mat that is divided into 3″ squares, 8 on a side. The terrain conforms to this grid and is also made in 3″ square tiles. The art is of the concrete slab foundation that is common for Corporation settlements and military bases alike and so the grid isn’t so much imposed on a background as an integral part of the way it should look.
In the game the grid is used for movement and ranges (not that most things have ranges). This obviates the need for a tape measure. It is also used for scatter, avoiding the need for templates. It is used for area fire like suppression (called Blazing Away in DZ) or blasts from grenades or missiles (avoiding the need for the other templates).
The grid is not used for LOS.
I See You
So how does LOS work? Well, unlike games such as DUST, in Deadzone a model’s exact positioning matters. He is in a given square, but he is also in a specific place within that square. To make sense of why you need to know a bit about shooting stuff in Deadzone.
When you are firing with a model there is a choice of two modes depending on what you’re using. These modes are Point Fire and Area Fire. Each calculates LOS slightly differently.
Point Fire: this is an attempt to shoot a specific target exactly. The pinnacle would be the sniper’s head shot. The aim is to injure or kill the target.
Point Fire LOS is calculated by looking from the model’s perspective. If you take a model’s eye view, can you see the target? By seeing the target I don’t mean can you see 23.5% of its abdomen or anything silly like that, I mean can you see it at all: yes or no. That’s pretty easy to decide. If you can’t see it at all then you can’t shoot it with Point Fire. If you can see every last bit of it then you have a Clear Shot and this gets you a bonus. The likelihood is that you will be able to see only part of the model and the clutter of the environment will obscure the rest. That allows a normal shot.
As an aside, you’ll ask how much of which bit of the model you need to see? What about pony tails, guns sticking out or whatever? I’ve gone for the simplest approach: any of it. We are already abstracting a moving, living creature to a static miniature; already abstracting the fact that both sides will be moving, changing position and stance and so on simultaneously into random slices of time we call turns. The easiest thing to is to say if you can see any of that model then you can see enough to shoot. After all, the model doesn’t change pose during the game. You, the player, put the model where it is and you could have chosen a million different positions. If you missed the angle your opponent moves to in order to take a shot then why start an argument about what he can see then? Why not just let him make the shot he’s earned by his tactical acumen? Explanations aside, this works very well on the table, is lightning fast to play, and is as free from arguments as you’re going to get.
Area Fire: this is an attempt to keep the enemy’s head down or to drop in a round that has a blast area and so does not need to be perfectly accurate to do its job. Examples would be Blazing Away with an assault weapon, lobbing a frag grenade or popping smoke.
Area Fire LOS still starts with a model’s eye view – after all they’re still doing the shooting. However, in this case all you need to see is any part of the target square, and you can target an empty square if you like. This is a binary question: you can either see it or you can’t. There is no bonus for a Clear Shot at the floor.
What does this mean in practice? Well movement is extremely quick in terms of rules – the only bit that slows things down is the player’s decision about exactly where to move to, and I’m happy with players spending time thinking and deciding on their tactics (I just want to avoid taking time arguing about rules).
Scatter, blast areas, where people end up after they’ve been blown off something by grenades and so on is incredibly easy and sorted with a single dice roll (unless they fall off something or are thrown into a wall which needs a second roll).
Line of Sight becomes the intuitive approach that I used when I was 7, peering over my Airfix soldiers to see who they could see among the defenders of my wood block forts. It’s literally so simple a child could do it. Can you see any of the model/square you want to shoot at: yes or no? It couldn’t really be much easier.
However, simplicity and speed of use haven’t stopped this allowing for all manner of exact positioning advantages and a great deal of jockeying for position among the walls and rubble of the battlefield. That’s the combination I was looking for: simple and fast rules plus lots of tactical decisions and skill.
A Brief Note On Cover
It’s worth mentioning that I have abstracted cover slightly in a similar way to area terrain in a normal skirmish game. Terrain is another difficult area to simulate well, so in Deadzone I have ruled that a square is defined as cover or not. This means that the modelling aspect is allowed free reign, and that you are able to easily add more cover if you like with a wide variety of options. In rules terms it makes cover valuable but not excessively so, and adds texture and tactical variety to the battlefield.
The end result is fast, clean and intuitive whilst retaining the details of positioning and allowing skill in setting up ambushes or crossfires. I’m very happy with it and can’t see why nobody used it before.