Deadzone Points Values

Of all the games I’ve worked on, Deadzone is probably the most awkward to balance in terms of points. There are all the usual reasons for points systems not working, though in the case of DZ it’s more than that. Terrain plays an unusually large role in the game, and for this reason the exact set up can make a huge difference to the relative values of individual models and, indeed, whole strike teams. The type of set up that you normally play on may make one side or another globally better (or worse) or it may favour a particular troop type.

When you have a game with a fixed terrain (as with most board games), then this whole aspect disappears. Even when compared to most tabletop games the scenery in Deadzone is unusually important. This issue is, therefore, more problematical here than elsewhere.

I could have been far more prescriptive when I was writing the game, defining exactly what went where. However, this was against one of the major themes of Deadzone, which is that you have a set of terrain you can assemble as you choose (and re-assemble, and so on), and build up into whatever you think looks cool. So I opted for suggestions and guidelines instead, to allow you to keep the freedom.

DZ is still a very new game, and so people are still familiarising themselves with all the ins and outs of the tactics and forces available. It’ll take a while for things to settle down. This is normal.

For the moment, I’m hearing a number of comments about points. “This model is too expensive”, “that faction are all too cheap”, and so on. However, these comments don’t yet show a pattern when compared across gaming groups. In fact, they are frequently completely contradictory. While I was at Salute I was told that the same faction was both entirely unstoppable and that it couldn’t win because it was horribly overpriced. In an abstract sense (which is the only way you can practically point something) this cannot be true. However, when taken with the many permutations of missions, player skill, and terrain (yes, back to that) it can.

On the little evidence I have, one thing that seems to be influencing things is the style among individual groups. By “style” I mean what the group collectively accepts as a reasonable way to set up the game; what “looks right” and so on. It’s not really right or wrong, but as I mentioned above, even 10 or 20% more or less scenery can make a huge difference in apparent values of models. If this sense of what looks right differs between groups then they may well have different experiences of how one faction fares compared to another. Anyway, it’s a theory.

So does anything need to be done? Personally, I’d say it was far too early for any rash changes. What we need to see is the results of hundreds or thousands of games, and we don’t have that information yet. For every person who’s saying that x or y is wrongly pointed, another tells me that they’re fine. If I did change the points values then the ones who think they’re right now would complain when I did so. Can’t win 😉

If you’re interested in exploring your own perceptions a little, try playing a DZ game and then refighting it (same strike teams and missions) but with half the scenery. Then a third time with double the original amount. Then ask yourself: did the value of each model stay the same or change between battles? Even more awkwardly, did the amount by which they changed stay the same or vary?

Aren’t points systems fun?

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35 Responses to Deadzone Points Values

  1. Josh says:

    Thanks Jake! I totally agree (about the terrain) and it is one of the things I love about the game and am looking forward to seeing how it plays out as groups figure out what they like, what plays well, and it also says a lot about the style of gamer…. does the terrain have to “look or feel right” or is there an advantage/disadvantage to certain set ups (what we have been calling “paintball set up vs city block set up”), and also how to certain scenarios and missions work with different terrain set ups. A lot of variables!!!! But tons of re-play value and tricks to learn too!!!

    • Quirkworthy says:

      The replay value is another reason I took a more sandbox approach with DZ. I think assembling your own gaming environment can be almost a game in itself!

      Replayability is probably at its best when you are at one end or the other of a scale that has freeform at one end and entirely rigid at the other. For completely different reasons.

  2. Do you happen to have any good ‘rules of thumb’ for terrain set-up that you think is most suited? Like the ‘building piece is a 9 by 9’ rule in the book. One of the ones that I’ve been going by recently is at least 4 deployment zone cubes should have cover in them. Terrain is actually something I’ve been wondering about alot. – So much so, I put up a diagram showing my usual terrain levels.

    I think a good number of walkways are particularly important as an example of what you’re saying, especially for Enforcers. The jet packs no doubt fit into the points cost, but if there’s no good reason to use them on the board, then I can understand why people might feel they’re overcosted.

    • Quirkworthy says:

      Jump packs is a good example of something that can be worth nothing, yet must always be paid for.

      It’s hard to give precise examples of what is or isn’t the right amount of terrain because it’s not just about how many cover or level 3 cubes you have. It’s more subtle. For example, I’d normally (but not always) use a larger number of smaller buildings than you’ve used in your picture. I think that breaks up the areas of open ground more. So, whilst I might have the same number of open cubes as you, they wouldn’t be in such large contiguous groups.

      Would that make a difference to the way the game played and the relative value of models? Probably. Though I’m not entirely sure what or how important that difference would be.

      As they are fond of saying in chick flicks: “it’s complicated”.

  3. John says:

    Our experience so far is almost exclusively Enforcers vs Plague and between my brother and I. He is normally enforcer and I plague something we will swap around as I have some interesting ideas for the enforcers but need to see of they work vs his plague

  4. Scott Whaley says:

    Thanks Jake. I have really enjoyed reading your blog on game design and more recently the development of DZ. it’s great to get a ‘backstage’ glimpse of what’s going on.

  5. Teemu Hemminki says:

    It’s quite clear that our extreme examples Enforcers and Plague get a totally different outcome in entirely open terrain vs. terrain with 3 battlezones in it. Same goes for the multi mat games, 14 squares between deployment zones can be devastatingly good for Enforcers.

    I’ve decided that in a normal game of deadzone, first level should have one battlezone worth of terrain. My experiences with this decision so far have been good.

  6. Kevin Bates says:

    Can we get some examples of what sort of terrain you’d recommend? obviously you helped point out the models so the amounts of terrain that were used for internal playtesting is probably the amount that we should be using.

    My friend and I have just started playing DZ, and it really took us a while to dial in the “correct” amount of terrain for Kings of War. Looking to skip that, especially since we don’t have as good of a frame of reference. Should the boards be as dense as Infinity, or as light as most skirmish games are? Somewhere in between is probably ideal, but thats a big spectrum.

    We’ve been theory crafting a plague beast list (with mostly hounds and swarms) but without knowing what terrain we can expect to see at a tournament (say gencon or next adepticon) its difficult to tell if this sort of list is hilarious or just hilariously bad,.

    • I’m thinking maybe 2 Battlezones overall is the ideal amount?

      • Kevin Bates says:

        Yeah, that sounds about right. I’d love to see something like: 25% of the tiles should have a Building section on it that blocks LOS and provides elevation, and 25% of the tiles should have area terrain that provides cover and blocks total LOS. No 2×2 or larger sections of adjacent open tiles.

        Or whatever.

        • I tend to have a ‘thing’ about making my Deadzone battlefield look like an actual place.

          One of my best looking games of Deadzone I had somehow managed to arrange my scenery so that it actually looked like a street / alleyway. It was the first time really when overwatch ended up becoming MASSIVELY important to the game. as you had the situation where people were waiting behind the walls of a corner for someone to try to run through.

        • Quirkworthy says:

          @Alistair – making the battlefield look like a plausible place is an excellent idea and should be a goal whatever game you’re playing.

  7. Damien Smith says:

    Great seeing you back giving Deadzone some love. We’ve missed you!

    I get that the blog is done on your own time and subject to no master. There’s just been a lot of noise on some Facebook groups about the game losing steam due to lack of attention. (They want the FAQ updated)

    I’m always thrilled to get your behind the scenes take on development. An earlier poster suggested sharing what playtesters used as terrain setups. If you took any pictures at these sessions, that may help give some idea of how dense the playfield should get. I’ve always had the idea we should be playing in very dense battlefields. Now I’ll consider elevated walkways more.

  8. Quirkworthy says:

    Sadly I don’t think any of the testing sessions were photographed. It’s not something I would normally do.

    One thing I tried to avoid when I was testing this was to use too rigid a set up. Obviously, once it was released there were going to be a wide variety of approaches adopted, so I deliberately varied the set ups I used in an attempt to mirror that. If you see what I mean.

    That said, I’m sure I can come up with some sample set ups to show you the sort of thing I would normally use. This will be in a few days when I’ve got the memory card I’ve ordered for my new camera 🙂

  9. scarletsquig says:

    A new take on this you might want to consider – Cover means *nothing*, 8×8 board size and movement rules which allow you to easily move a combat monster 6 cubes in a single activation means *everything*.

    Consider the humble dirt-cheap 5 point mawbeast, possibly the #1 candidate for most undercosted model in the game.

    Command action (sprint), move card, move, sprint = 6 cubes of movement. It can be planet bowling ball for an entire 8×4 section of the middle of the board, and that mawbeast doesn’t care as long as there was a wall for it to hide behind before the mad dash.

    3+ Fight Mawbeast +1 move into square, +1 enraged = 5 dice, 3.75 successes on average (not factoring in exploding 8’s which favour the side that rolls the most dice), with AP 1 will score a kill like clockwork against the vast majority of size 1 models in the game. And then the infinite fight chain begins.

    Even something like an enraged Yndij (4 dice, 5+ fight) that you might expect to put up a bit of a fight will only get 2 successes against the 3.75 of the mawbeast. Dead Yndij almost all of the time. Most of the time the mawbeast will pick on the easier targets, and “friend in the cube” as a defensive measure is the last thing you want, since you’re just making things easier for the infinite fight chain once the mawbeast gets a kill.

    Should a mawbeast fail to kill, no problem! Send in another mawbeast. 6 dice this time due to friend in the cube. This will kill, pretty much anything.

    And you can easily take half a dozen in 70 points with plenty of points left over for other stuff.

    Play some games against a marauder power list with any of the factions, you will very, very rapidly start to reconsider that a 3+ Fight, AP 1, Fast model should be 5 points, *on the recommended board size for the game*.

    On the other hand, on 16×16 boards they’ll get murdered before reaching combat, and even if they do on a board that large there won’t be as many models in adjacent cubes so their damage potential goes way down.

    A lot of Deadzone’s balance problems come down to the card/command-stacking combos allowing such fast movement on such a small playing field. 12×12 feels like the best fit for the 70-point game with the current rules and points values. 8×8, melee rules, 16×16, shooting rules.

    TL;DR – Board size makes more difference than cover with the rules as they stand. 🙂

    • Quirkworthy says:

      Whilst I agree that board size makes a lot of difference, I’m not sure that it’s more important than the amount of terrain. Play on an 8×8 with zero scenery and see. I also think that you’re being somewhat selective in your “evidence” here.

      “Easily” assumes that you have drawn a Move card, have the command available and also make the command roll. All possible, but I think “easily” is overselling that.

      Even if you get movement, the opposition has multiple options to overwatch against the model before it arrives. That’s the point of overwatch.

      “Infinite fight chains” are 100% avoidable by simple positioning.

      A friend in the cube adds a dice, so it is less likely that the opponent will double you. If they don’t double then they get no free action and so cannot chain combats.

      Sending a second Mawbeast in is fine, but did you really have another Move card, another point of command to burn and make the command roll again? And move past all the overwatch? My, you’re lucky.

    • Kraggy says:

      I think that the thing you describe here is a situation where your Mawbeast Starts within 6 cubes of its target, so if you get this opportunity off more than once your opponent really needs to look at their setup.

      If you have a 2 level building suddenly the Mawbeast will struggle to get to its target. The game is meant to be played in three dimensions and if your buildings dont go much past two levels then it you are missing out on a really cool aspect of Deadzone.

      I keep ordering terrain so I can continue to build upwards 🙂

      If you have a cube high wall in the way its struggles to get to its target. This I think is one of the big things that adds to the board setup making a huge different.

      Ok so in two turns the Mawbest can make it, but in that time I would hope to deal with it / sit on overwatch to deal with it.

      Just my two pence.

      TL;DR – Deadzone is 3D, adding extra levels will help resolve some of these issues.

      • Quirkworthy says:

        The 3rd dimension does make a difference, but isn’t really the crux of the perceived issue here. Not that I think it’s an issue…


        • scarletsquig says:

          I’m just genuinely relaying the experiences of my gaming group, I know there’s some maths there but it’s based on playing a lot of games and seeing others play a lot of games.

          The move card is by no means a requirement to pull off the scenario described, 5 squares rather than 6 is often more than enough on a board with a typical amount of terrain on it, Move card is more of an icing on the cake scenario. In a similar fashion, an enraged yndij will often not be the target, something squishier will be (any Reb with 6+ survive makes a tasty snack!).

          A friend in the cube will not typically avoid doubling, you’ll generally tend to get 2 successes against the mawbeast’s 4 as a rule of thumb, leading to a dead figure, and then a free fight action which kills the friend as well, and then a move action which will hit another model. Seen it happen so many times, marauders and plague can very easily stack up a 3-4 model kill chain using a single activation, and it’s pretty much game over at that point.

          Enraged friend in the cube bodyguard would be a viable counter if the defender could choose a model in the cube to defend with, but this isn’t the case, the attacking model picks the target. And then, once it kills the squishy target, the free breakaway that the free move action offers allows it to completely ignore the enraged friend and hop into a different cube with another squishy model.

          Positioning to avoid placing any models in any of the 17 cubes surrounding any individual model is much more difficult than it sounds, and is definitely not 100% avoidable, especially for factions with a lot of models, Rebs typically have 12 models and are very squishy and easy to rip through in melee, with 5-6 cubes of movement the mawbeast does have the freedom to slam into a weak spot. Putting three models in the same cube is probably the only reliable method of stopping the mawbeast since it cannot then move after killing the first two models. Three models in the same cube is a terrible idea for all sorts of other reasons though.

          Overwatch cannot stop the mawbeast in it’s tracks. Even if a model on overwatch triples its overwatch roll, it can only choose to shoot/blaze at the mawbeast before it starts its action (when it is safely behind a wall),or after it finishes (when it is in a cube with your own models,making it harder to kill with a shoot action, or risking pinning your own troops with blaze away, giving the mawbeast a much easier target). And that’s assuming the final cube is even visible to the overwatching model, if it isn’t, it can’t do anything, even if it just watched the mawbeast leap across 4 cubes of open ground. Deadzone has no rules for interrupting overwatch and choosing to trigger the overwatch action at any point during an opponent’s move, before and after are the only options.

          I’m really hoping to be convincing on this point. 🙂

        • Quirkworthy says:

          Hey Scarlet – I’m not trying to say that you’re making things up here, just that I don’t think there is a major issue in terms of mechanics.

          I’m writing a post on the “infinite fight” thing, and I’ll include my thoughts on your points in that.

          One thing I will say here is remember that overwatch may be used in response to each action, and that your mawbeast needs to make at least 2 to cover that ground. Your suggestion that the mawbeast cannot be stopped by overwatch is occasionally true, but certainly not every time. You only need to pin it, and all that requires is area LOS.

  10. Chris says:

    Great post, I wholeheartedly agree that it is much too early to make any changes in model points values – maybe in six months, when certain things remain prevalent in a lot of communities.

    So I’m curious why did you decide to go ahead anyway and change the points value for the Kraaw?

    • Quirkworthy says:

      The Kraaw cost was wrong. I can’t remember now whether it was a typo or a mistake in my maths, but it was just not what was intended. I just corrected it to where it should have been all along.

  11. scarletsquig says:

    Ah, Action != Activation. There’s my problem, I’d mostly written off overwatch as ineffective after misreading it due to the phrasing similarity there. Fairly sure anything I put on overwatch will just become a pin target with one of the other 4-5 activations before the melee chain gets launched,but it does at least give me another thing to try out.

    I will submit one final point however – If, in your opinion, the infinite fight chain is something which only happens extremely rarely in games, then what harm is there in removing/ nerfing it? It doesn’t really add much to the game other than turning games with experienced player vs. inexperienced player into a complete massacre (and DZ has a very long learning curve), and there is no equivalent for shooting that allows such a large amount of potential carnage with a single activation.

    When it does happen, it’s generally the “game over” point, and it isn’t much fun for either player… the losing player is kinda surprised at how much death happened all of a sudden and the winning player is left feeling like they exploited a broken game mechanic rather than winning via tactical merit. It kinda sours the atmosphere a bit rather than ending the game on a high.

    Anyway, regardless of the “infinite” aspect of the move/fight chain, even the first free move/fight action is extremely powerful and I do think there’s a case for moving it to “Fight triples” rather than “Fight doubles”. At the moment it happens far too often once a mini does get into melee, as my mawbeast example shows, 4 successes vs. 2 successes happens like clockwork against most of the models in the game.

    It is great to be able to have discussions like this though, and I’m even more impressed that you’re doing this as a unpaid thing in your free time. The mark of a dedicated game developer! 🙂

    • Quirkworthy says:

      The devil, as ever, is in the details.

      I actually quite like that the pinnacle of this working perfectly is so destructive. It reminds me of some of the nasty combos in Warmachine (which is full of this sort of thing). The problems are when one player doesn’t know it’s coming. In this way it’s no different from an experienced player battering a newbie in other games or other ways. if it wasn’t this then it would be something else.

      The issue, for me, is not that there are nasty tactics hiding away, but that the learning curve is hard. I’m looking at ways to help this, and will be doing some posts or videos on learning the game when I’ve worked out the best way to present it.

      As with other facets of the game, this may eventually need to be tweaked in some fashion. However, at present I don’t think we have enough people with enough practice and all on exactly the same page in terms of rules for us to have the info to really go on. Getting there though 😉

      • scarletsquig says:

        When I started reading the DZ rulebook my first reaction was “I don’t get it”. It took both watching demo vids on BoW and a couple of demo games to even start to get the hang of it. Even then it was 2 months before I figured out stuff like “you’re allowed to shoot then blaze away” and other little quirks that I’d missed.

        I would suggest the following as flaws with the layout of the Deadzone rulebook itself:

        – Everything is out of order. Actions, followed by game setup, followed by cards, then campaign rules, followed by background and then special rules makes things constantly confusing whenever the need arises to look something up. Game setup should be first, followed by actions, special rules, then campaign, then background.
        – Really important stuff like how to take damage is tucked away in an unrelated part of the book in between two large images.
        – Actions are not listed in alphabetical order
        – No quick reference/ summary included on the vitally important back two pages of the rulebook, ideally needs an actions summary on one page (action modifiers are the #1 thing I constantly have to look up) and a special rules summary on the other.

        The writing of the DZ rulebook is generally good (blast/frag rules being the major exception!), but the print layout isn’t.
        The core book really needs a reprint later down the line, and possibly an alternate “lite” game mode like dreadball has to ease people into the game. 30-50 points. No cards, no leaders, 1 activation per turn (with the option to pass), no crates, no objectives, victory by wipeout. Have played something similar to this and it works well for providing a stress-free sandbox for learning the basics.

        • Quirkworthy says:

          Sequencing of rules is a conundrum with no universal answer for any game. Whatever order you use will be wrong for someone. I agree that DZ could be improved though.

          Not listing the actions alphabetically is a pet peeve of mine. I listed them alphabetically in my manuscript (you may have noticed that I list all skills, abilities and suchlike as alphabetical in all my games), but it was changed in layout. Now it takes me ages to find the right action, so I understand the issue. However, the change was made to order them in a system which plainly makes sense to some folk: all the moving actions first, and all the shooty ones at the end. I understand the logic, I just don’t like it. Even so, it is a good illustration of how you can make a good case for two very different systems and whilst you please some you confuse others. Pretty much every option you can think of will do this.

          I’ve been thinking of a “lite” version as a training aid too. It’s something we’ve discussed at Mantic a few times and I’m sure it will come to light in some form – just not sure what yet.

          Thanks for the feedback. All useful stuff 🙂

  12. Alex says:

    Scarletsquig, one question for you (and Jake): isn’t overwatch make at the beginning/end of an individual action? You say the the mawbeasts can “leap across 4 squares of open ground” while not being shot at, but wouldn’t you be able to overwatch him at the beginning/end of each move/sprint action?

  13. scarletsquig says:

    Just to offer up a more relevant piece of data for the discussion – I’ve now played 12 70-point games with Rebs and won 1.

    And that one win was a result of luck rather than skill, I drew “Breakthrough” as a mission, with diagonal deployment (less distance between one deployment zone and the other) and a lot of move cards. A few yndij and drones made it off on turn 1, the rest on turn 3 for the win.

    All 12 games have been against a mixture of all other factions in the game. No Rebs vs. Rebs games since I’m the only person in my group willing to play the faction, no-one else is willing to touch it due to considering them very overcosted/ underpowered.

    Survive 6+ is the main issue with them. They are fairly expensive models which get pinned easily, and they die easily, to anything. Having the worst leaders in the game is another major problem. No access to 3-2 or 3-3, and their 2-2 commander option is really expensive compared to other factions.. and not even very good at shooting since she doesn’t have sniper and the gun is deliberate.

  14. crimsonsun says:

    Hi Jake,

    Let me start off by once more saying thank you for all the updates and clarifications you have been posting of late, I may not have been posting but I have been reading 😀 Also I hope you have fun at the Mantic Open day, I would love to attend one at some point but not driving and nottingham being 450ish miles away is a bit of a mission (though I did live in Nottingham for a year a decade ago – so I will come back at some point as I love the City 😉 )

    With all this (somewhat dated) talk about points values I was wondering if you would be willing to share or post up the ‘Numbers System’ you are using for Deadzone. By which I mean the pure math behind at which everything is costed, as I remember reading that you build on systems on a such system because its the only way to really get close to balance.

    I ask for three reasons, first and most critically its for my reference to my own project, as I have never seen a system laid out in such a way and I wanted to see how someone else has done it, as I am worried I have too many/not enough variables in place and more importantly that I have forgotten something critical that will make my maths fall apart :D.

    The second and third reason are really reason 2a &2b, and that is so that myself and others can see why units are priced the way they are, which will allow a far more detailed evaluation as to why any issues exist in force lists currently, as well as from my personal prospective it allows me to bring in custom units. factions, mercenaries that can slot straight into the game without any balance issues.

    Finally, and I seriously have to be quick as I have a bb league match in ten mins but do you have a system for bringing about new traits/abilities/equipment for terms for expanding upon the advancement/campaign system. Now I know a lot of it will be trial and error but I am thinking you must have a core system for pointing it all out before you put anything to playtesters?

    Many Thanks as Always, keep up the good work and I cannot wait for wave 2!! 😀 Crimsonsun

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