I’ve been looking for a good tabletop successor to games like Necromunda and Mordheim for some time. I love thematic games that have the potential to lay out an epic story arc, and I’m a big fan of miniatures games. Games like Dystopian Wars, Kings of War and Warmachine have given me hours of entertainment (though in the interest of full disclosure, 90% of the enjoyment is from time spent painting and modeling - I really don’t get much time to play these days!) so when I heard Mantic was doing a skirmish game with campaign rules, miniatures, and scenery, I jumped on their kickstarter from day one. And when I found out it was to be played on a board (no ruler! hooray!), I had a good feeling it was going to be a winner. And now, after hours spent modeling, painting and playing, I know I’m right.
Don't be fooled by this posted image - the box is a lot bigger and it's not called "Contagion" anymore!
Though I spent far too much money on this kickstarter, in this review, I’ll mostly keep it to the retail components of the base game of Deadzone. I’m also going to write this review for the board game player, rather than the miniatures enthusiast (we’re in the minority here at BGG anyway). This may be a challenging game for you to pick up because of the assembly required to get started, but ultimately I think it’s quite worth it.
Though there’s a lot in the retail version, beware: there are lots of options for expansions already. The kickstarter did over a million bucks, and this allowed production of the game to get, well, quite a kickstart. The base contents do allow for considerable replayability, but if you find you like the game, you may find yourself eyeing the expansion bits sooner rather than later...
Mantic is a relatively new arrival to the miniatures wargaming scene. They make affordable (again, relatively - this isn’t the cheapest hobby!) figures for table top battle games along the lines of Games Workshop’s Warhammer and Privateer Press’ Warmachine. They tend to be less expensive than those two examples, but the quality of their figures is also not often quite as nice. So I was pleasantly surprised when my copy of Deazone arrived. The cardboard counters are quite nice, this is one of their first well made (i.e., not flimsy!) game boxes (and it’s big: 18” x 12.5” x 4.5”), and the rulebook is big and sturdy. The game comes with a paper map, which is rather cheap looking and an unfortunate choice. [edit: this was only in the KS version. The designers were so enamored by the mousepad version, they put it into the retail copy! So don't worry about the paper board, you won't get one.] The designers were enamored by the mouse pad-material they used to make the kickstarter stretch goal/add on board, and unfortunately, the retail version of the board suffers. The retail copy includes several sprues of very sturdy terrain (boxy buildings that characterize the architecture of the remote, recently settled colonies where the action is supposed to mostly take place), and the included figures are good as well. The figures are loose pieces of “resin” plastic rather than the hard plastic used to make the terrain. The game includes about 23 miniatures from the Enforcer (big tough space marine guys) and the Plague (mutated humans and their ilk) factions.
Here's what you start with. But don't get your hopes up: they're neither assembled nor painted!
Each faction has about 6 or 7 unit types to choose from, and this should keep you entertained for many games before you might start itching for expansions. The kickstarter did quite well and four other factions are already available, as are additional figures for the Enforcers and the Plague, but what’s included in the box provides an excellent start with lots of replayability. I like the Enforcer minis more than the plague minis, both in terms of aesthetic and quality. In part that’s just my personal taste, but it did seem like the plaguers had more flash to trim off as you assembled them. During the kickstarter, colored minis were an option to pick, so enforcers would be blue plastic, and plague red plastic. I don’t know if this colored plastic version will be widely available in retail, but it was a nice touch particularly for those who may not want to paint their copy and would be happy with just the retail box as the expansion figures will not likely be in colored plastic.
Boardgamers: take a moment here. This is a “some assembly required” game. By “some” I mean, pretty much everything. Even if you download the quick start rules, it will take you a few hours to clip, assemble and prepare everything you need. And if you plan on painting, forget about it. It could be weeks before the game hits the table!
[edit: and as an astute poster noted: there are NO instructions included. I'm an experienced modeler, and I screwed up a few things. If you're new to this, I'd recommend finding some tutorials, videos and close-up photos to study before just diving in!]
A pack of plague hellhounds rips to shreds a pair of hapless rebels. How much cooler would this have been if they were all painted and there wasn't any of that obnoxious flash on any of the models?!
The terrain is excellent and one of the most exciting parts of this game. The 2’ x 2’ paper [edit: I mean mousepad material!] “board” is an 8x8 grid (so each space is 3” x 3” and can typically hold 4 of your human-sized figures), and the buildings are designed to occupy a “cube”, so that every space is either inside or outside and can extend upwards as high as you want to go. The buildings are ugly, but in an awesome, quickly fabricated, we-just-colonized-this-place sort of way and I really like how they look (mine are, however, painted…!). The retail box also includes a sprue with boxes, ladders and other random goodies to enhance your creations.
Yes, my set would look this awesome too. If it were pro-painted for the cost of 10 boxes of Deadzone...
While the game does include a fair bit of terrain, if you glue it together you might feel as though you don’t have enough terrain to get variety with multiple games. However, I do strongly recommend gluing unless you’re a pretty keen miniatures enthusiast, or super careful: the game comes with precious few connectors. These are the “lego” bits that allow you to assemble your buildings in multiple ways. And building your terrain is a super fun mini game in and of itself! *but* this is rather time consuming if you're careful, and if not the connectors can break, which can leave you very sad when you run out… Another kickstarter tangent: there are already several variant terrain sets available (or soon to be available), including fortifications, a landing pad, and ruins. I bought all of ‘em, which allowed me to glue together everything for lots of variety since I was fairly sure I’d break those connectors like they were going out of style.
The landing pad is totally rad, but takes up a lot of real estate. I built mine just like in the photo above, but I wish I'd used it for towers and elevated walkways instead - another bonus to not gluing, I reckon!
In addition to the cool minis, each faction comes with essentially three decks of cards: one is a set of reference cards for your units. These cover the unit’s point value, their stats and special abilities, and a photo of the mini. I believe your model stat cards include models that might not be included in the base game - so you can proxy in your favorite alternate model to try before you buy. (but am not certain - anyone with a store-bought copy want to correct me?) A second deck are your battle cards: these are special cards you play on your turn to enhance your actions. They don’t dictate your actions however, so they’re different than the cards from games like Combat Commander and Battlelore. And your third deck is called the mission deck; these cards help with set up and tell how you'll be earning your victory points for the particular skirmish you're about to play. These cards are sturdy and look like they’ll survive a lot of wear. Though that’s good, you don’t need to shuffle them but once per game, so they shouldn’t be at risk for wearing out quickly anyway.
I found the rule book to be very clear and well written. It’s easy to find things, and chock full of colorful photos. Reading through, I felt I had a pretty good idea of how to play, and there are already some great player aids here on the geek (props to RangerRob and Schmoozies, your player aids have helped us a lot, thanks!). However, as with any miniatures game, once you sit down and are faced with the complexity of certain situations, it can be tough sometimes to find a clear ruling in the book. There are certainly a few ambiguities, and there’s already a small FAQ, but in general, I found this rule book to be pretty good for a miniatures wargame.
Deadzone is a skirmish game between two opposing factions. Game play is fairly quick, though we’ve not yet been able to get a game down to the advertised “60 minutes” - it’s been more like 2-3 hours for us but we’re still looking things up in the rules and taking our time with set up. For us, I suspect this will get down to 2 hours or a bit less, but rarely do I ever imagine finishing a game in 60 minutes (if you don't glue your terrain, 60 minutes will be your set up and take down time!!!)
Game set up: To start a game, each player selects their forces. Each figure is assigned a point value, and players may take up to 70 points worth of figures and equipment. You may take any number of leaders and troopers, and as many unique, rare and specialist units as you have leaders and troopers. You can also hire mercenaries and other named characters, but I don't think any of these come in the base set. Different types of ammo, grenades, or extra battle cards can also be purchased if your Strike Team doesn't quite hit that 70 point sweet spot.
You then shuffle your battle cards and deal out a deck of 20 cards, the remainder are put back in the box and won’t be used. This is your deck for the game, and serves as a timer. If ever you need to draw a card but your deck is empty, the game immediately ends. You start with four of these cards in your hand.
Now you shuffle and draw one mission card. This is one of the cool aspects of this game: this card contains your victory conditions! The plague victory conditions tend to involve killing the other side, while the enforcer victory conditions tend to be a mix of killing and controlling certain spaces on the board. There are also “infiltrate” missions (get units off the board through your opponent’s side of the map), “survive” missions (keep at least half your force alive), and others. You can get one re-draw if you really don’t like the mission you drew. The plague player then draws three random mutations (most are beneficial, but a few are hindrances).
Now you set up the board. Place your buildings and other terrain (low walls, barrels and boxes, etc) so that the board is reasonably but not completely covered. Excessive cover favors the plague! Next up you place random equipment and your forces. To determine deployment, you also use the mission cards: at the bottom of each card is a small graphic; these are used to determine who sets up first, where they set up, where the objective spaces are (the spots that the enforcers may need to control), and where some of the random equipment counters are found. These latter counters typically provide a one-time bonus for the figure that picks it up, or victory points.
Setting up the board is half the fun! This image looks like it includes a few extra bits than the retail box does, but is an example of what your board might look like just before deployment.
Playing the game: The game is played over a series of rounds. During a round, the player with initiative goes first. He may activate as many figures as the leadership stat for his commander (typically the “leader” figure with the highest leadership stat!). He activates each figure one at a time, and when he’s done, he passes the turn to his opponent. This goes back and forth until each player has activated each figure once. With typically 5-10 figures per side, this is often only 2 turns each player - and soon only one turn as the casualties begin to mount! The player who finishes activating all their figures first gains the initiative and will go first in the next round.
Activating your figures is the meat of the game. It’s during this time your sniper will assume a position atop the tower and begin to meticulously eliminate the opposition. Your 2nd generation plague horrors will hurl themselves across the battlefield to rip the enemy limb from limb. Your leader will bark commands in an attempt to gain the upper hand. It’s also during this time that you’ll be playing most if not all of your battle cards to improve your chances of success at whatever you’re doing.
Though I’m not going to go into a detailed description of the actions your soldiers can take each turn (see some of those player aids linked above!), I’ll discuss briefly dice tests. The game uses 8-sided dice instead of 6-sided dice for skill checks. (this and no rulers made this game a no brainer for me. I’m thankful the designer decided to think outside the “miniatures games” box a bit, it really paid off ) These checks are typically opposed: If I plan on shooting you, I will roll a certain number of dice and compare this to my shooting stat and you will roll a number of dice and compare to your survive stat. (e.g., for a plague trooper, their shooting stat is 6+, so any result of 6 or more is a success. An enforcer’s survive stat is 4+, which is quite good!) In this game, 8s are “exploding”, that is, you count an 8 as a success, and roll another die. You keep doing this until you stop rolling 8s. The number of dice typically starts at three, but you add dice for various bonuses like card play for either player, extra ammo for the shooter or cover for the defender. The figure's stats don't vary, but the number of dice rolled varies a fair bit. Your survive “successes” are subtracted from my shooting “successes” and if the number is positive this is the damage you take. Damage can then be further modified down by armor or special abilities. Figures have three states: uninjured, injured (one point of damage), or dead (more than one point of damage!). Understanding how effective each of your troopers are, and knowing the weaknesses of your particular target is key to making a kill: it can be quite hard to land a successful shot!
Line of site is “true”, which is to say, you can’t shoot at me unless your figure can “see” me, which makes for some interesting tactical decisions and makes the terrain extra cool (tall towers are fun!). If you can’t see me, but you can see the cube I’m in (the 3” x 3” x 3” space where my figure is hiding) you can “blaze away” or lay down suppressive fire in an attempt to get me to dive for cover, making me much less effective on my next turn. Once you start mixing special abilities in, and get used to the more complex actions some figures have available, the tactical decisions become most excellent! Do you put that heavy machinegunner on overwatch, to take advantage of acting during your opponent’s turn, or do you try to suppress that space where you know those evil plague dogs are waiting to rush from? Do you maneuver your leader up the field to take advantage of better viewpoints, or do you keep him hidden so he can focus on commanding? Do you fire all of your guns, knowing you have several excellent cards in your hand to play - but what if you opponent has the same? The decisions are hard and sometimes agonizing! This is one of the better skirmish systems I’ve played.
At the end of the round, you draw up a certain number of cards and discard your hand back down to another number, typically keeping between 1 and 3 cards. These draw and discard numbers are dictated by your commander’s command value. Cards discarded in this manner are placed at the bottom of your draw deck, so you may see them later - only cards you play are truly “discarded”. And a good card at the right time can be key - deciding which to discard can also be very hard!
Once a player had achieved 10 victory points per the conditions on his mission card, or eliminated all enemy figures with a command value, they have won. If a player is required to draw a Battle card but cannot, the game ends and the player with the most VPs wins. In my experience, the latter end game is unusual. I’ve not had that happen and from what I’ve read, it’s not common in other game groups.
There’s a nice quickstart rule set posted up on the Mantic free-rules website, if you want more details.
The Campaign System
The campaign system for Deadzone is where things start getting interesting, adding a sort of meta game, or between-game process by which you gain experience, rewards and suffer the consequences of your opponent’s violence!
You start by “building your base”. As a young leader, your faction doesn’t have much clout yet, and so you don’t have access to all your unit types, and your options for starting equipment are also limited. You get 140 points to spend on your Strike Force, or the pool of soldiers and equipment from which you’ll be building your Strike Teams, or the 70-point bands of warriors you’ll be taking to the battlefield. Initially, you have access to your troop types (your basic soldier) and clearance for three other troop types or pieces of equipment (e.g., armor piercing ammo, different types of grenades, etc). You keep track of this on a campaign “character sheet” of sorts.
Battles are played largely the same way, with one exception: you draw your Mission before you select your soldiers and equipment, and you don’t get to redraw if you don’t like it. This is nifty, as it allows you to build your forces for the task at hand. Also, when you open up items on the battlefield, if you don’t use them, they become part of your stores. And finally, you can loot the enemy corpses for their unused items too. In this way, you can gain access to items you might not otherwise have clearance for. You just can’t buy more of them until they’re no longer restricted items.
Once the battle is finished, your Strike Force will gain reputation based on how many VPs you earned, whether you won the battle, whether any of the VPs were “core mission goals” (marked in red on your Mission card), and you lose reputation if you hired a dirty merc to help you out! You track both the total reputation ever earned, and your unspent reputation; the former is sort of your ‘campaign score’, the latter is what you use to buy clearance to new units and items, buy items and units for your Strike Team, and buy medical assistance for your dudes who got messed up in the last battle.
Also, at the close of battle, your models gain experience. Each figure gets 1 XP for being in the battle, and an additional XP for each kill. You start at level 1 (called “ranks” in the game) and you may spend XP equal to your next level to gain that level (i.e., 2 XP for level 2, 3 for level 3, etc) and make an advancement roll to either gain a new ability, improve the stat of your choice by +1 (each of your four stats may be improved only one time), or gain a veteran die (a single +1 die modifier to any one roll during your battle - definitely the "consolation prize" to leveling up!). As an aside here: the game design choice of going with the d8 really shines here. You can improve your stats without the rather dramatic shift in odds you would get with a d6. In addition, the d8 acts as a natural scatter die for a grid. Great choice!
Campaigns can be as long or as short as you wish, and there is a campaign book/ expansion called Nexus Psi that provides a series of connected scenarios for a more guided campaign.
A quick nod to the expansions...
Much of what I’ve covered above is just the retail version. This kickstarter made over $1,200,000, the best Mantic has done so far on its various kickstarter projects. This allowed for the funding of a lot of expansion material, some of which is quite nice, but some of which I can recommend you avoid. If you’re interested in getting a “more deluxe” version of Deadzone, read on:
More factions: You don’t just have the Enforcers and the Plague jockeying for power on these various frontier worlds. There are also the Rebs, the Orx, the Forge Fathers (space dwarfs!) and the Asterians (space … elfs? Remember, Mantic is operating in the shadow of Games Workshop and their 40K table top empire; some of their motivation for games like this is likely to provide players with alternative figures to play, well, that other elephant-in-the-room tabletop miniatures game [though perhaps a bit ironically, Mantic's games tend to be much better...]. The Asterian are similar in aesthetic to GW’s Eldar, but the backstory of each faction is quite different, and the Mantic models certainly have a different enough look to them from the GW models). Each faction provides different tactical options and styles of play, and they each look very different from each other. The game comes with plenty to keep you occupied for a while. Unless you really don’t like either of the starter box faction for whatever reason or you’re planning on running a campaign with lots of friends, I’d hold off on buying these for the time being.
More units: The game’s initial factions each come with 6-7 options for troops (and I believe cards for even more options). This is more than enough for some interesting tactical choices and great replayability. But Mantic knows their market. More is always better, right? What the hell is a Plague Teraton, or Enforcer Peacekeeper? Want to field a giant battle mech robot thing? Need a few named characters to add to the mix? Some scumbag mercenaries to do your dirty work? All of these models are ready to do your bidding, if you're keen to spend the cash.
Improved game components: The paper mat is perfectly adequate for the game, but you have the option of upgrading to a mouse-pad material 2’ x 2’ game board, which is great. It's a real shame they didn't include a cardboard game board in the retail version, but they didn't... [edit: oh yes they did! I was wrong... Hooray for cool game boards.] If you don’t mind spending the cash, buy the giant mouse pad. It’s rad. The “upgraded” acrylic counters that replace the cardboard counters are smaller and crap. Avoid those… like the plague! They were over priced ($20) for us kickstarter backers, so lord knows what the public will have to pay; these were ugly, small and not at all worth it. But the resin crates used to replace the item tokens that are placed on the battlefield prior to play... Now these babies are very, very cool. Nicely made, they add a lot of atmosphere and theme to an already quite thematic game. Absolutely not necessary, but very neat, and I’m glad I got them.
More terrain: There are three other terrain “styles” available to supplement the basic buildings that are included in the box set, called "Battlezones", the Landing Pad, Ruins, and Fortifications. But probably the most important thing to buy straight away would be an extra set of connectors. Unless you glue together your base-set buildings (thus limiting your board set up options for future games) you might end up breaking a lot of these connectors. If you at all don’t trust your manual dexterity, I recommend getting an extra set of connectors: I believe they're only a few bucks a sprue. The Landing Pad terrain is neat as it allows you to build elevated walkways with the included “legs.” I would avoid actually making a landing pad, as it’s really a bit too big for the 2' x 2' board, and also so big that it’s awkward to move models underneath. I wish I’d made more elevated walkways instead of immediately gluing together the product as advertised (and I don’t play 40K, where it would make a really nice terrain addition)! The fortifications are neat in concept, I guess, but someone didn’t do their homework: the wall tiles are too thick, and they don’t always fit together properly. This is remedied some with glue, but they were awkward and I would have been just as happy without them. Not highly recommended except that I believe they come with a sprue that includes a big gun, and a radar dish. Nifty accessories, but not entirely (or really at all...) necessary! The ruins look to be a very cool compliment to any set, though they haven’t yet arrived - the second wave is due in a few months. If you plan on gluing your terrain, I might recommend one additional normal set (that comes with the game) and one ruins set. You'll be able to glue everything and still have some nice options for good replayability.
As I mentioned above, a campaign / scenario book (Nexus Psi) is also due out soon, and there is a rules compendium planned - this should include all the errata (there’s very little so far, actually) and new abilities and rules for the four new factions being released. Don't bother with these until you've played a few games and are sure it's your cup of fur first.
So what do I think of this massive hobby / game? I like it a lot. It is quick enough to get played in an evening (rather than being a “Sunday Afternoon” game as many of these table top miniatures games are), though we’re still working on getting all the rules straight… And there’s no doubt that even an unpainted copy will look quite impressive on your gaming table.
The rules are simple and well laid out, but don't be fooled. You will find yourself with deep strategic (if you play the campaign) and tactical options, and some of the actions you can take during your turn will require some careful thought and resource management (and probably rules checking!). As with most games of this ilk: easy to learn, hard to master.
• Impressive ruleset, better than most tabletop wargames I’ve played.
• This is one good looking game. If you’re a hobbyist, the models are fun to build and paint.
• No ruler! Hallelujah! Playing on a grid is so far superior to fiddly ruler-based table top shenanigans, I hope to never go back.
• No d6! Hallelujah! The granularity of the d8 (and its use as an easy scatter die) makes it an excellent choice; models really feel different and the more subtle change in odds with an increase of 1 on a d8 allowed the designer more flexibility when creating units. Very nice choice.
• Strong tactics and appropriate Strike Team builds will beat luck. Though dice-based, a good leader who makes appropriate use of cover and plays well should have a significant edge over a newbie.
• Significant assembly commitment required and while painting is optional, but really makes the game look quite nice.
• The lack of assembly instructions might frustrate the novice modeler.
• You’ll need to get some hobby clippers to get the terrain off the sprue and glue for the figures at least, and possibly for the terrain.
• Rules are deceptively simple. If you just “jump in” you’ll find your Strike Team unbalanced, your leaders unprepared, and you’ll likely get trounced in your first game; this might be a turn off for some! Take the time to learn your faction, read a bit on strategy, and get prepared before your first game - particularly if you’re the type to be put off if you’re beaten badly on your first game (and what kind of jerk is gonna do that to you anyway on your first game!? Find different game buddies! [says the guy who badly beat his first newbie opponent, sorry!]). Even for a miniatures game as simple and as self-contained as this one, there is a quite a meta game to learn.
• It’s a big game, and will have quite a footprint on your gaming shelves, particularly if you glue the buildings together and start buying expansions.
• If you’re a completist… Seriously consider steering clear of this sucker unless you really know what you’re getting into. Games like these can be a money pit if you’re not careful.
• If you're an advanced hobbyist, you may find the miniatures to be a bit lacking. They're nice, and look great painted, but they're made of that resin-plastic that makes flash hard to remove, and I noticed a few (modest) casting issues with the figures. This shouldn't influence the decision of 99% of readers, but if you're into boutique minis, take a closer look at these figures before you pull the proverbial trigger (ahem, nearly all of my plague figures are cobbled together from other games so I'm a bit guilty of this silly snobbery myself...!)
I would call this a solid 8 / 10, and it may climb higher as we get to try the other factions and campaigns. For the tabletop miniature gamer, this should be nearly an auto-buy. For the boardgame enthusiast, take a long hard look at your commitment level: It’s a great game, but you’ll have to do a fair bit of work to get ready to play!
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- Sami Rautiainen(svrs)Finland
Nice review. I'm still putting mine together and I reckon it'll propably take rest of the year. I'd definately agree that the acrylic counters suck balls. Cardboard ones are more clear and tough enough.
Thanks for the landing pad tip.
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lochmoigh wrote:The only thing I think you may need to double check on is that the mouse pad mat is included in the retail version. Ronnie in one of his videos mentioned that he KS versions would include the paper mat but the the retail versions would not. Mouse pads for everyone.This would be quite cool. If anyone who's happened to pick up a retail copy could comment here, I'd appreciate that. The mouse pad is a big improvement over the paper version.
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edit: nice write up by the way. Still painting up my Dreadball so I haven't even started on the deadzone goodies yet.
so many games so little time...
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- Jason HartloffUnited States
- I bought my copy from a retail store, and I got the mouse pad style board.. it's very nice.
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- Charles SilbernagelCanada
I've constructed all of my Enforcers and Plague models from my round-1 package, and I have to say that Mantic continues to impress me. For the money, I think their models are excellent quality. They do take a bit more work to clean up, due to the material, but don't think for a second that the sculpts are poor because they are cheap.
I'll also heartily agree that the acrylic counters are crap. The ones for Dreadball were too. I'll not be adding on any acrylic counters to any of their games from now one. That said however, that's pretty much the only bad thing I have to say about the game or the components. The figures, rules and terrain sets are tops!
Great write up. Very well put together.
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- D. PattonUnited States
Another thing to be mindful of is first run rulebookincluded with the first batch of the game. It has several items that are FAQed on Quirkworthy, the game designer's site.
If you get that version, you'll want to either print off the sheets and other answers that haven't yet made it into the compiled FAQ. I used post-it notes and hand copied the notes in the appropriate section (can peel them right off later if desired).
There's a fair few omissions and corrections. These include base concepts like how Free Actions work and the missing stats for sentry guns (included as models in the Enforcer team). Additionally, some of the unit cards that describe the faction models have errors. For example, the Rebel head honcho is incorrectly not noted as a Leader and the Plague Dogs don't have the beast trait (prevents them from certain actions including picking up items).
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I skimmed the rules then played using Ranger Rob's summary sheet posted here on the Geek.
That Lee Guy
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- Nice review, Matt! I can't wait to see what your set will look like after you are finished painting them! It looks like a fun game. Ditching the ruler is always a good move for minis games....
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