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Subject: Please help me like this game... rss

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Andy Kent
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Hi

This game gets a lot of love on BGG and is considered to be one of the best (if not the best) solo zombie games available, and I have always wanted to play it. I was therefore very excited to find a copy that I could afford - the 3rd edition is far too expensive to ship over here and the 2nd edition is very rare - I eventually found a polybag copy on ebay that didn't break the bank. So I couldn't wait to play it.

After 8 or 9 tries, however, I must say that my experience has been crashingly disappointing, and I feel I must be doing something wrong - either in my approach, expectations, performance or understanding.

I found the rulebook terribly constructed so it took me a few games to really get to grips with the basic rules (I have only played the classic nightmare scenario) but once I got the system I have played another half a dozen times. This is what I have found:

- The game is crushingly difficult. I have lost every game, no matter what I try to do. I have never made it past the half-way stage before being overrun.

- The game is very fiddly. There are a number of things to keep track of (I kept forgetting the various ways that the infection rate rises, for example) and the number of exceptions and special cases in the rules makes it difficult to play a smooth game.

- The game more or less plays itself. I feel that my input is basically to make the moves for the game, and my actions are a very small part of the narrative. It's almost as if the game is at heart a narrative engine, and is creating a story - I have very little impact on the outcome.

- The game is overlong and becomes boring after a while. My games have all got to a tipping point where most of my forces are dead/in hospital, and the zombies are too numerous and powerful. After that there is nothing I can do and the game is a mechanical process of getting a zombie to the town square.

- Your starting set up decides your fate. The random choice of characters and random amount of supplies/ammo can seal your fate from the start. In one game I took Professor Agee and got given Mr Johnson, Mayor Hernandez and Pickles, and rolled 3 supplies and 1 ammo, with strength 8/9 zombies on the tracks. Good luck and goodnight.

- Your choices seem false. The zombie onslaught is so intense, that you need to concentrate on foraging for ammo and shooting. The other things you can do - research, healing, building barricades, restoring order and so on - seem a waste of action points.

I am no stranger to Victory Point Games states of siege, having played Ottoman Sunset, Hapsburg Eclipse and Zulus on the Ramparts. I have had issues with all of them - I find Ottoman difficult, with the game weighted against you, I find Hapsburg a bit fiddly with more tracks and modifiers to manage, and I find Zulus quite random. But all of them are quick, simple and enjoyable, even though I lose most of the time (or all in the case of Ottoman). I feel I am making important decisions that effect the outcome, or at least I'm enjoying my part in a story.

I have wondered if playing the Walking Zeds scenario might make the game better, but it appears to simply make it harder and more fiddly, with another track and more rules and exceptions.

So, can anyone help me? Other people love this game, and I really want to enjoy it, too. Is my approach way off the mark? Is there something I need to do more or do less that might give me a better outcome? Are there common house rules I could apply? Or do I just have the wrong attitude - should I simply try to see the fun side of losing every time?

TDM
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Joe Donnelly
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I think all your points have merit. After one play, I have little interest in going back to it.
 
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Wes Erni
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I do think the Second Edition of Zeds does indeed have its problems, but they are mostly different problems than you have found. Most of my problems were fixed by the expanded Director's Cut, but I still admit that the new Third Edition is a better game. Details:

the_demolished_man wrote:
Hi

I found the rulebook terribly constructed so it took me a few games to really get to grips with the basic rules

This is indeed the most difficult State of Siege game to absorb and I am also not a great fan of the rules (I think there have been more situational questions for Zeds then the rest of the SoS franchise COMBINED), but it really depends on your perspective -- I almost felt nostalic for my hard-core wargamer days while reading the Zeds rules, which can't come close to the difficulties some of those wargames had.

Quote:
(I have only played the classic nightmare scenario) but once I got the system I have played another half a dozen times. This is what I have found:


I only played the "Classic Nightmare" twice -- the increased depth of the "Walking Zeds" was far more appealing. In general, the Advanced game is the most thoroughly playtested, and multi-dimensionally balanced version of any game. "Basic games" and optional rules aren't "vetted" nearly as much (and often have too little or too much depth).

Quote:
- The game is crushingly difficult. I have lost every game, no matter what I try to do. I have never made it past the half-way stage before being overrun.


You are a massive favorite to win every version of the Second Edition (sans the full Director's Cut expansion) -- its just a matter of discovery the way to play the game efficiently (and then living with the often unsavory techniques needed to bend the game to your will)

Quote:
- The game is very fiddly. There are a number of things to keep track of (I kept forgetting the various ways that the infection rate rises, for example) and the number of exceptions and special cases in the rules makes it difficult to play a smooth game.


I can't argue here. Personally I would have simplified some aspects dramatically (like having an Outbreak every time a doubles is rolled for Hand-to-Hand combat etc. rather than keeping painstaking track of Infection). But even that view is colored by my expectation of what a State of Siege game consists of -- Hermann Luttmann was a through and through wargamer who took great pains to adept his ideas to the SoS franchise, but remained intensely interested in the minutiae. Once I take that perspective, Zeds appears rather simple and abstract to a wargamer (doesn't mean you will like the resultant game however).

Quote:
- The game more or less plays itself. I feel that my input is basically to make the moves for the game, and my actions are a very small part of the narrative. It's almost as if the game is at heart a narrative engine, and is creating a story - I have very little impact on the outcome.

This is a common reaction to many State of Siege games -- some do resemble your comment, others (like Zeds) absolutely do not. There is so much room for the players to bend the game to their will through efficient play and unorthodox strategies that some of the become borderline broken. It is just that players have to play ruthlessly, and dropkick the theme to some extent. Many games (including Zeds) are MUCH deeper than even the designers knew, leading to victory chances that soar far past the intended "target". Of course, whether I am playtesting or not, I am looking how to twist every rule I read to my advantage even in my first "pass" at the rules, so I am hardly the "mainstream" solo gamer. But Zeds having little depth, and obvious, but futile decision-making...no (of course much of the depth to be manipulated appears in the Advanced game).
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- The game is overlong and becomes boring after a while. My games have all got to a tipping point where most of my forces are dead/in hospital, and the zombies are too numerous and powerful. After that there is nothing I can do and the game is a mechanical process of getting a zombie to the town square.

The game did get to "overlong and boring" when I reached the true "gamebreak" (95% win), but I personally found it quite fun even when I was winning just 80% of the time through creative play. Of course my decisions were dominating the game, which is certainly more fun than just "mechanically dying". I did make the mistake of always playing the "campaign" version -- if you almost "can't lose" if the Rangers "hit the Town", I shouldn't have always played the version I almost always have them appear. Shorter scenarios would have created much more uncertainty.

Quote:
- Your starting set up decides your fate. The random choice of characters and random amount of supplies/ammo can seal your fate from the start. In one game I took Professor Agee and got given Mr Johnson, Mayor Hernandez and Pickles, and rolled 3 supplies and 1 ammo, with strength 8/9 zombies on the tracks. Good luck and goodnight.


I agree about the set-up, but in a different way. With a dream team and plentiful supplies it is almost impossible to lose (once you have "cracked" the game's code). Towards the end I always started with just 2 Supplies and 1 Ammo to make it interesting. Before I discovered the ultimate gamebreak, Professor Agee was my starting Hero given the overwhelming power of the Super-Weapon.

Quote:
- Your choices seem false. The zombie onslaught is so intense, that you need to concentrate on foraging for ammo and shooting. The other things you can do - research, healing, building barricades, restoring order and so on - seem a waste of action points.


Second Edition Zeds did have an internal balance problem -- Healing for example was almost always a waste of time. But Research a waste? "That is why you fail" (imagine "Yoda voice"). The Third edition does a much better job of balancing the options. Of course the biggest part of every form of Zeds is maximizing the Hero traits. The reason Zeds feels immersing (to some), is the game IS the Heroes, you would lose every playing if you just had a bunch of "schmoes" manning the defense.

Quote:
I am no stranger to Victory Point Games states of siege, having played Ottoman Sunset, Hapsburg Eclipse and Zulus on the Ramparts. I have had issues with all of them - I find Ottoman difficult, with the game weighted against you, I find Hapsburg a bit fiddly with more tracks and modifiers to manage, and I find Zulus quite random. But all of them are quick, simple and enjoyable, even though I lose most of the time (or all in the case of Ottoman). I feel I am making important decisions that effect the outcome, or at least I'm enjoying my part in a story.

I have wondered if playing the Walking Zeds scenario might make the game better, but it appears to simply make it harder and more fiddly, with another track and more rules and exceptions.

So, can anyone help me? Other people love this game, and I really want to enjoy it, too. Is my approach way off the mark? Is there something I need to do more or do less that might give me a better outcome? Are there common house rules I could apply? Or do I just have the wrong attitude - should I simply try to see the fun side of losing every time?


The "perfect" States of Siege game is "yet to be made" in my view, but I have enjoyed all that I have owned (all but 2) to one degree or another. It is unfortunate that those games with the most depth are almost always vulnerable to "player predation" that raises the victory level past the the optimal point. The games that keep the victory chances lower usually do so by employing random elements that may foil any skill/experience level. To some degree this inevitable, on every game that I have playtested extensively there was a version of the game that I found "tuned beautifully", but became much easier before release to accommodate more thematic players that don't sift through "every crevice" for hidden depth to exploit. I understand, I don't think you will EVER find a "standard game" that makes every one happy (although game like Zeds 3rd Edition come close with their variable difficulty levels). You just have to come to your personal decision whether the "journey" is enjoyable to you (which actually a different issue to whether you find the "destination" enjoyable).

I have a mountain of written material scattered about BGG and other locations concerning Zeds. Although I didn't initially discuss the 2E gamebreak elements, since the 3E creation I do have "spoilers" out there for the Second Edition if you want a short-cut to "teaching those Zeds a lesson".
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Andy Kent
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Hi Wes

Thanks for the speedy and detailed reply.

It's intriguing that you consider the game to be so winnable that you need to reduce you ammo and supplies to the bare minimum! Are we talking about the same game?!

And I am very reluctant to add in the Walking Zeds elements as they seem to just make it harder.

I would be very grateful if you could point me in the direction of your "gamebreak" and "spoiler" information here on BGG, so that I might have some idea about how to "crack the game's code". At the moment it's sitting on a shelf waiting to be traded and I feel there's an enjoyable experience in there if only I knew how to get at it.

Cheers

TDM
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Wes Erni
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the_demolished_man wrote:
Hi Wes

Thanks for the speedy and detailed reply.

It's intriguing that you consider the game to be so winnable that you need to reduce you ammo and supplies to the bare minimum! Are we talking about the same game?!

And I am very reluctant to add in the Walking Zeds elements as they seem to just make it harder.

I would be very grateful if you could point me in the direction of your "gamebreak" and "spoiler" information here on BGG, so that I might have some idea about how to "crack the game's code". At the moment it's sitting on a shelf waiting to be traded and I feel there's an enjoyable experience in there if only I knew how to get at it.

Cheers

TDM


https://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/1025955/dawn-zeds-2nd-e...

A session report back before I discovered the definitive game break. Also, I had been making a huge gaffe in not noticing the Guard post in the Tunnel was an alternative (and easier) source of ammo. Still it was fun then despite my approach being a heavy favorite to win (be careful what you wish for in games, puzzle-solving often has a "bitter aftertaste")

https://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/1036199/dawn-zeds-sessi...

A suggestion to do another session report led this game where I was heading toward the big gamebreak, but wasn't "there" yet. These reports just take too much time and without graphical aids (I am not computer savvy) probably too dry an experience for readers (I don't think I ever did another one).

https://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/1403518/wright-and-init...
https://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/1242894/special-dawn-ze...
https://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/1242894/special-dawn-ze...

A few discussions I was involved in over the years. I am sure there was more, but I am loath to revisit every thread.

https://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/1525708/choices-randomn...
https://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/1586880/first-time-play...
https://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/1588432/first-time-zeds...

This is some Third edition chatter, but I say a fair amount about strategy that can translate to the Second Edition.

I have hundreds of e-mails concerning the nuts and bolts of Zeds, but I would need to spent a lot of time dissecting them. Some dealt very explicitly with the weaknesses to the various versions, some wandered into other topics, and some had info "not designed for public consumption". The "sausage-making" involved in game design is fascinating, but often covered with a "cone of silence". I will say VPG has an outstanding ratio of fixing (or at least minimizing) problems, rather than just whitewashing them.
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Andy Kent
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Hi Wes

Once again thanks for the swift help and detailed response. Looking through your posts, sessions, and discussions it seems that you pull a game to pieces after intensive play looking beyond the theme at the mechanics to find weaknesses and exploitable loopholes. This won't apply to me, so I'm confident I won't "break" the game - I just need some help with a working approach before I give up and trade the game. Lots of people seem to love losing RotZ as much as winning due to the narrative. Personally I prefer a much higher win ratio.

Reading through your material I pulled out some hints and strategies, mainly about your "survive at all costs" philosophy:

1. Use a fortress strategy, where the centre is heavily fortified but the periphery is left to its own devices.
2. Keep week zeds alive to prevent stronger zeds spawning
3. Forage, forage, and forage, mainly for ammo - only get supplies if you need them for research.
4. Take Agee and research at all costs to get the super weapon
5. CIVs are there to soak up starvation hits from lack of supplies
6. Let a couple of refugees through but only to re-arm the strength 4 CIV
7. CIVs are indestructible cannon fodder - they fight, get healed, fight, get healed etc
8. Protect your heroes at all times for their abilities - only put them into combat as a last resort

You also suggest becoming very familiar with the deck and card counting, keep track of what cards have gone and what is coming up. I must admit I have never liked this approach as it is very "gamey". In reality you would not be sitting in Farmingdale thinking "well, that was the 19th card - time for a Brains! chain reaction - spread out everyone!" It also takes me straight out of the theme immersion and into game world full of cards, dice and counters.

So this strategy seems to be a particularly inhumane one, treating your good citizens as meat shields, only there to delay the zombies rather than as friends and colleagues you need to save. Especially if you are the Sheriff or Deputy. Are there no other ways to win, where you save people? Can it work sending heroes out to fortified places on the tracks to keep zombies at bay while citizens and refugees flee back to the town? Can you never win without a scientist to build the super weapon, or without a double-dice forager? What exactly is your "Tholian Web" strategy?

Thanks again for your help - I will certainly try these tactics and approaches, and hopefully I will win. That at least will help with my issues of difficulty, the tedious inevitability of death, and fake choices. I guess no strategy can help with fiddliness, obscure rulebook, influence of the random set up, or the mechanism playing itself.

Once I can at least win, I can see if I can build on it to be a little more humane!

TDM




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Andy Kent
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Hi

Well, I followed your strategy and left the perimeter villages and towns to their own devices, while I researched madly. I got the superweapon by about card 10 or 12, and after that it was simply a matter of keeping in the centre (with occasional forays out onto a track if a strong zed or a zedmob started approaching. And the game devolved into forage, fire, forage, fire, forage, fire. I equipped one of the two refugees that made it to the town, and also welcomed the VIP survivors. Prof Agee went paranoid and Doc Seaver had a nervous breakdown, so all I could do basically was stand around and shoot.

So, I won, finally. A notable victory with some praise the superweapon and helping the refugees. But the game still basically played itself. I know you can accuse all of the SoS games of that, but this does it more than the others, due to the volume of the game elements - 90% of what I did was activate the game mechanics. With Ottoman Sunset, for example, it's about 50% game, then 50% you. My action decisions here were few and their effect on the outcome was minimal. The choices were obvious, and the results repetitive. The only tension came from whether Mr Johnson would be able to find enough bullets for the superweapon. And the game was overlong - it took about 90 mins. And that would be 80mins creating a zombie action movie, and 10 mins carrying out my actions.

I think this has confirmed my opinion that the game mechanism is basically a narrative engine, and it generates a very interesting zombie apocalypse story, which lots of flair and cool scenes for the movie. But if I wanted that I'd watch an actual movie. Gaming for me is about making important strategic decisions that affect the outcome, and I simply don't get that here.

TDM
 
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Wes Erni
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the_demolished_man wrote:
Hi

Well, I followed your strategy and left the perimeter villages and towns to their own devices, while I researched madly. I got the superweapon by about card 10 or 12, and after that it was simply a matter of keeping in the centre (with occasional forays out onto a track if a strong zed or a zedmob started approaching. And the game devolved into forage, fire, forage, fire, forage, fire. I equipped one of the two refugees that made it to the town, and also welcomed the VIP survivors. Prof Agee went paranoid and Doc Seaver had a nervous breakdown, so all I could do basically was stand around and shoot.

So, I won, finally. A notable victory with some praise the superweapon and helping the refugees. But the game still basically played itself. I know you can accuse all of the SoS games of that, but this does it more than the others, due to the volume of the game elements - 90% of what I did was activate the game mechanics. With Ottoman Sunset, for example, it's about 50% game, then 50% you. My action decisions here were few and their effect on the outcome was minimal. The choices were obvious, and the results repetitive. The only tension came from whether Mr Johnson would be able to find enough bullets for the superweapon. And the game was overlong - it took about 90 mins. And that would be 80mins creating a zombie action movie, and 10 mins carrying out my actions.

I think this has confirmed my opinion that the game mechanism is basically a narrative engine, and it generates a very interesting zombie apocalypse story, which lots of flair and cool scenes for the movie. But if I wanted that I'd watch an actual movie. Gaming for me is about making important strategic decisions that affect the outcome, and I simply don't get that here.

TDM


Your experience highlights the dangers in "reading the end of the book first". Sometimes skipping the "journey" results in an unsatisfying "destination". I will say one of the great innovations to the 3rd Edition was the possibility of "Chaos death" -- if you don't hold some of the outer "real estate" you automatically lose. And there are many other elements that have complicated (and thus enhanced) the 3e gameplay as well.

One thing you can due to "spruce up" the 2e gameplay is enact the "Director's Cut" optional rule that you must expend a Supply as well as an Ammo to fire the Super-weapon. Supply becomes really important again, and the tension is much enhanced. Still, I find the 3e better balanced all around -- I never played the 2e after playtesting the Director's Cut and probably never will.

I have always been intensely in the internal balance of games -- like you, I don't want my decisions to be obvious. Of course my play style makes that "dream" hard to fulfill -- I would probably have more fun if I just backed off the analysis, but (insert scorpion & frog fable here) "it is in my nature".

I will say one thing about the theme of Zeds in general (and my "heartless" style in particular) -- the battle of Farmingdale is "ground zero" in the fight to save humanity, losing here risks losing the human race. I think it is VERY thematic to take "extraordinary measures" to "win" here.
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Morten Monrad Pedersen
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the_demolished_man wrote:
Hi

This game gets a lot of love on BGG and is considered to be one of the best (if not the best) solo zombie games available, and I have always wanted to play it. I was therefore very excited to find a copy that I could afford - the 3rd edition is far too expensive to ship over here and the 2nd edition is very rare - I eventually found a polybag copy on ebay that didn't break the bank. So I couldn't wait to play it.

After 8 or 9 tries, however, I must say that my experience has been crashingly disappointing, and I feel I must be doing something wrong - either in my approach, expectations, performance or understanding.

I found the rulebook terribly constructed so it took me a few games to really get to grips with the basic rules (I have only played the classic nightmare scenario) but once I got the system I have played another half a dozen times. This is what I have found:

- The game is crushingly difficult. I have lost every game, no matter what I try to do. I have never made it past the half-way stage before being overrun.

- The game is very fiddly. There are a number of things to keep track of (I kept forgetting the various ways that the infection rate rises, for example) and the number of exceptions and special cases in the rules makes it difficult to play a smooth game.

- The game more or less plays itself. I feel that my input is basically to make the moves for the game, and my actions are a very small part of the narrative. It's almost as if the game is at heart a narrative engine, and is creating a story - I have very little impact on the outcome.

- The game is overlong and becomes boring after a while. My games have all got to a tipping point where most of my forces are dead/in hospital, and the zombies are too numerous and powerful. After that there is nothing I can do and the game is a mechanical process of getting a zombie to the town square.

- Your starting set up decides your fate. The random choice of characters and random amount of supplies/ammo can seal your fate from the start. In one game I took Professor Agee and got given Mr Johnson, Mayor Hernandez and Pickles, and rolled 3 supplies and 1 ammo, with strength 8/9 zombies on the tracks. Good luck and goodnight.

- Your choices seem false. The zombie onslaught is so intense, that you need to concentrate on foraging for ammo and shooting. The other things you can do - research, healing, building barricades, restoring order and so on - seem a waste of action points.

I am no stranger to Victory Point Games states of siege, having played Ottoman Sunset, Hapsburg Eclipse and Zulus on the Ramparts. I have had issues with all of them - I find Ottoman difficult, with the game weighted against you, I find Hapsburg a bit fiddly with more tracks and modifiers to manage, and I find Zulus quite random. But all of them are quick, simple and enjoyable, even though I lose most of the time (or all in the case of Ottoman). I feel I am making important decisions that effect the outcome, or at least I'm enjoying my part in a story.

I have wondered if playing the Walking Zeds scenario might make the game better, but it appears to simply make it harder and more fiddly, with another track and more rules and exceptions.

So, can anyone help me? Other people love this game, and I really want to enjoy it, too. Is my approach way off the mark? Is there something I need to do more or do less that might give me a better outcome? Are there common house rules I could apply? Or do I just have the wrong attitude - should I simply try to see the fun side of losing every time?

TDM


I think that this is the States of Siege game that has the most player influence and it's definitely winable and that's without going all Wes Erni on the game .

In case you're interested I wrote a blog post series about adding long term planning to tower defense and Zeds 3rd edition was my main example there and I cover a lot of the decisions in the game, where the player has influence on the outcome: Adding long-term planning to tower defense games – Part I
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