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Dawn of the Zeds (Third edition)» Forums » Rules

Subject: Question about difficulty and length, does it scale? rss

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Matt Price
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I just got this beaut of a game to the table the other night, and played (most of) a short solitaire game (level III). Good fun!

But I think I'm not getting something about the variable game length... You can build your event deck with more cards so the game plays longer, but the zombies still have just seven spaces to shamble through before they hit Town Center and eat everyone. The National Guard will arrive later, and you'll have more cards to get through. Is there something I'm missing about the game that balances this out for longer games?

Or are longer games just always harder? I'm wondering if I've missed something about how the game scales?
 
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David Boeren
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I haven't tried different lengths, but you're pushing back against the Zeds. If their pressure moving forward and your pressure stopping them are roughly equal, then a longer game should be about the same difficulty.

If you're barely winning on short, that to me would indicate that the Zeds are pushing slightly harder than you are, and more time in a longer game may allow them to cross the finish line turning a barely won game into a barely lost game. In that sense you could view it as a little harder. You were losing already, but managing to hold them off until time was called.
 
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Christophe Jannin
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extending the game means (mostly) increasing the pressure of the Zeds as most card are in their favor, making the game harder.
 
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Tom Chick
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mattprice wrote:
I just got this beaut of a game to the table the other night, and played (most of) a short solitaire game (level III). Good fun!

But I think I'm not getting something about the variable game length... You can build your event deck with more cards so the game plays longer, but the zombies still have just seven spaces to shamble through before they hit Town Center and eat everyone. The National Guard will arrive later, and you'll have more cards to get through. Is there something I'm missing about the game that balances this out for longer games?

Or are longer games just always harder? I'm wondering if I've missed something about how the game scales?


You're not missing anything. The game doesn't scale at all. Longer equals harder. It's that simple. Dawn of the Zeds is ultimately about how many turns you survive.

In fact, that's one of the things I miss from the 2nd edition. The variable placement of the National Guard meant you weren't entirely sure how long you had to hold out. There was a lot of suspense and uncertainty as the deck dwindled and you kept hoping that next card would herald the arrival of your salvation. But in the third edition, you know exactly how long you have to hold out. Furthermore, the National Guard is no longer a victory condition. They're just another helpful unit like Petra's biker gamg or the Rangers. The victory condition is only ever that card at the bottom of the deck.

-Tom
 
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Brian C
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TomChick wrote:
In fact, that's one of the things I miss from the 2nd edition. The variable placement of the National Guard meant you weren't entirely sure how long you had to hold out. There was a lot of suspense and uncertainty as the deck dwindled and you kept hoping that next card would herald the arrival of your salvation. But in the third edition, you know exactly how long you have to hold out. Furthermore, the National Guard is no longer a victory condition. They're just another helpful unit like Petra's biker gamg or the Rangers. The victory condition is only ever that card at the bottom of the deck.

Aw, the first change in design that doesn't sound for the better. I wonder though, why they would swap to a more transparent ending, opposed to that wonderful hoping and praying the next card is the National Guard, of the 2nd edition.

There must be some reason?
 
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Al Cott
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That's a great idea for a variant though.

The END card could be shuffled in to the final act to add that uncertainty.

Maybe there would have to be some extra cards added to stop the possibility of skipping the final act altogether?

I've only ever played the 3rd edition. How was the deck constructed in the 2nd edition?
 
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Morten Monrad Pedersen
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The national guard is now a counter on the board and it must have a sufficient number of turns to reach the town center.
 
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Tom Chick
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Lumpy75 wrote:
I've only ever played the 3rd edition. How was the deck constructed in the 2nd edition?


The third and second edition deck-building are mostly identical, with each "act" having some mandatory PITA cards shuffled into the mix. However, there was no end card on the bottom of the deck. Instead, the National Guard was shuffled into the bottom, and when it appeared, you rolled for victory based on whether you'd secured a track for their approach. If not, it got shuffled back into the deck and you had to wait for them again.

It was a wonderful mechanic and it's absence is one of the more egregious "what were they thinking?" changes in the third edition.

-Tom
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Tom Chick
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mortenmdk wrote:
The national guard is now a counter on the board and it must have a sufficient number of turns to reach the town center.


Why? It's not as if reaching the town center is any sort of milestone. The only thing that matters in terms of reaching the town center is whether it gets to use super-weapon upgrades. Furthermore, it gets to move two spaces each turn (once during 4R and once during actions), so it can reach the town center pretty quickly.

Frankly, the hard-coded placement of the National Guard ten spaces from the bottom is another example of the questionable scaling. Deck sizes vary dramatically, but the National Guard is always ten cards from the bottom.

-Tom
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Wes Erni
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I think much of the controversy over Zeds "scaling" and the National Guard/endgame changes is fueled by lack of experience. Zeds 3 was extensively playtested, and my main worry over the balance is giving the Zeds a chance once players "unearth" the game's secrets. I playtested the Epic version only 5 times, and once I admit I suffered a horrible beat-down (the game length with my sad start combined to give me ZERO chance). But the other four were wins, three of which my "engine" was so overwhelming that the Zeds were eventually blown off the board (literally true in one case).

The true problem with Epic games is that they magnify trends (often fueled by wide differences in Hero team effectiveness) -- deck variability is reduced (most cards will now see the light of day), and tension can get lost when "the result" becomes pretty clear long before the end. The Epic game being "so much harder" is just an illusion however. It is true you only can win by going through the deck -- but look how easy the deck becomes (once you have cracked the game's code). The Epic deck may have 175% more standard cards than the Short game, but only 37.5% more "evil" Special Events (and the Fate deck is more your friend than your enemy). There might be twice the early Research cards, but that is more than compensated by having triple the Act 1 cards (with "Xeno", you can have the Super-Weapon ready for action before the first Special event -- trying accomplishing that in the Short game). So many more Heroes and "goodies" to draw (I still have never lost if the awesome Rangers "hit town"). And of course there is always only one "End card" -- quite nerve wracking in the Short game even if doing well...not so much if the Zeds have been long since crippled.

Of course all of this is moot if you are being reliably massacred, the learning curve is steep to "turning the tables". But it can be done, the published game is considerably easier than the game I playtested most extensively, those Zeds can be taken down hard. I do prefer the shorter scenarios due to their variability threatening my "system", while at the same giving the less experienced players a "glimmer of hope" that they can hang on to a "survival victory".

Dawn of the Zeds suffers from the same vulnerability that afflicts most "complex solos" -- with such rich nuance and options, how can we give newcomers a chance while challenging "pros" who know every trick? The Second Edition suffered from numerous elements that were gamebreaks to some, while the game was considered very hard to most. The variable National Guard had its attractiveness -- but too often an early NG appearance just handed out a cheap win, possibly just when the game was getting tense. Also, many players wanted to "see" the Guard in action rather just being a deus ex machina device. There are pros and cons to both approaches, but the Third Edition "fixed, but not decisive" Guard appearance does do one vital thing to the gameplay -- it forces the player to face that terrible End card that is often the only hope for a "white-knuckle" finish.

One nice thing about the Third Edition presentation is the DYO difficulty level. I may gripe about the "watered down Zeds" in the published game -- but crank it up to Level V, toss in some key "pro-Zed" optional rules (several of which were once designed to be "standard"), and I know I will be in for a challenging game.

I may be too critical about the Epic game, my opinion may be overly influencing my objectivity. And I did have one awesome, roller-coaster of a long game -- the other four "Epics" however...not so much.
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Morten Monrad Pedersen
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TomChick wrote:
mortenmdk wrote:
The national guard is now a counter on the board and it must have a sufficient number of turns to reach the town center.


Why? It's not as if reaching the town center is any sort of milestone.


I completely agree it's puzzling for me why winning the game is not dependent on the NG reaching the town center. I really like the idea of the National guard being present on the board and not just be a one roll to win effect, but instead being based on fighting it's way step by step through zombie hordes.

So to me the NH on the board mechanic could have been a great change, but not making victory dependent on it seems to undermine the idea both in relation to theme and tension.
 
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Wes Erni
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mortenmdk wrote:
TomChick wrote:
mortenmdk wrote:
The national guard is now a counter on the board and it must have a sufficient number of turns to reach the town center.


Why? It's not as if reaching the town center is any sort of milestone.


I completely agree it's puzzling for me why winning the game is not dependent on the NG reaching the town center. I really like the idea of the National guard being present on the board and not just be a one roll to win effect, but instead being based on fighting it's way step by step through zombie hordes.

So to me the NH on the board mechanic could have been a great change, but not making victory dependent on it seems to undermine the idea both in relation to theme and tension.

Once the decision was made to "show" the National Guard (and for thematic interest make it "mortal"), merely "slipping" the NG into town to win would be an even more "gamey" conclusion. The original premise of the National guard was an all-powerful (in game terms) force that would instantly save Farmingdale the moment it could take over the town's defense. The 3rd edition National Guard is not remotely that strong (I'd rather have the Ranger Scout team), so I have no problem with the current situation thematically. You can make the argument that if a bunch of misfit civilians can whip the zombies, maybe a real military unit SHOULD be invincible, but that is separate argument.

I was never privy to the internal VPG discussion of the National Guard's role (my playtesting began after the "guard decision" was set in stone), but it is pretty clear that the "End card" was a keystone piece to the gameplay AND the "cinematic" narrative. The climactic Zed "surge" is hardwired into the game's balance and the epic stand (or fall) completes the "movie". The NG does NOT save Farmingdale, the town saves itself with an assist from the local Guard. You certainly can argue against that approach, but it is internally consistent.
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Tom Chick
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I think you're missing the point. The second edition had a really cool mechanic with the way the National Guard ended the game. The third edition scraps that entirely and replaces it with a 100% deterministic victory condition and another guest unit along the lines of the Rangers or Petra's Angels. It's a puzzling trade-off.

-Tom
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Matt Price
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Hmm. I never played the 2nd edition, but I loved taking control of the National Guard.

I've only played one full "short" solo game (Level II) so far, and the end wasn't that dramatic. I'd mostly cleared the tracks, and the National Guard was sitting in town so that even if a Zeds broke through, it's unlikely it would remain as the Guard would kick it right out.

But I have to play a few more times of course to get a better feel for the other cards and other rules!
 
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Wes Erni
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TomChick wrote:
I think you're missing the point. The second edition had a really cool mechanic with the way the National Guard ended the game. The third edition scraps that entirely and replaces it with a 100% deterministic victory condition and another guest unit along the lines of the Rangers or Petra's Angels. It's a puzzling trade-off.

-Tom


I think this completely a matter of perspective. The Second Edition National Guard mechanics DID look cool -- the unknown timing of the "cavalry riding in save the day" was thematic interesting (and I had no problem rationalizing the NG being an all-powerful insta-win). But the actual gameplay affect of the Guard was very conditional on the experience level and/or motivation of the player. New players, or players interested in immersing in the thematic elements saw the Guard appearing as a salvation -- grabbing victory from the jaws of defeat (to be fair, that was Hermann's intent). But to experienced players more interested in the GAME itself, that "dramatic ending" was anything but -- just a cheap, unsatisfying win that ended the game just when the deck was getting "toxic", and resources started running low. I only played a couple of "Walking Zeds" games before I decided to just always place that NG card at the bottom of the deck to make it interesting.

Eventually, there was just too much ability for players to manipulate the game-flow and win -- starting with 3 Heroes, 2 Supplies, 1 Ammo and more...still not enough to be balanced. It took a while, and I had loads of fun getting there, but Zeds 2 was officially broken (by playing very UN-thematically). Zeds 2 was flawed, but such an ambitious design was bound to be flawed unless a STAGGERING amount of playtesting was done to evaluate every permutation, every rule impact. The Director's Cut expansion fixed a the big gamebreak, weakened the effectiveness of the balance-crushing Super-Weapon, and added enough nastiness that bringing back the "NG ending" was acceptable -- except the game became too hard for many (several people were very vocal in just giving up the franchise).

At the same time, some fans of the game were avid in having the National Guard become a real presence in the game (rather than just a game ending device). I didn't see the need (in principle, the abstract NG ending was fine to me), but the popularity of the idea probably convinced VPG to include an Guard unit to the gameplay in their "uber-Edition". Which completely changes the game dynamics -- a all-powerful National Guard that just vaporizes any nearby Zeds makes for poor gameplay...so the Guard had to be "mortal"...so it couldn't rationally be "salvation" for anything. I am not saying that I would have gone "in that direction", but it is internally consistent once you make the Guard into a "chess-piece".

Why always 10 turns from the end? I never had a conversation with Alan or Petra on the subject (not really in my playtester purview, and I have found the best way to not get into an argument on theme/realism is to not ask in the first place) -- but I can spin my own private rationale. The small Guard unit fighting its way to Farmingdale is the only intelligence source that the "powers that be" trust -- their report causes an overwhelming airstrike to get "warmed-up". If the Town can be saved (infra-red scans show sufficient "warm-blooded humanoids" alive) laser-guided munitions will obliterate the Zed hordes with a minimum of collateral damage. If the Town looks doomed, a powerful individual responsible for this "Farmingdale lab experiment gone terribly wrong" convinces the President that the few humans still alive have nothing but horrifying death awaiting them, and that a huge "fuel-oil" explosive annihilating all life (and "un-life") is the necessary and humane way to go (think the "near-end" of the movie "Outbreak"). This despicable individual is willing to risk the fate of the human race itself to cover his ass -- every witness, bit of evidence (and research that could save humanity) needs to destroyed.

Feel free to mock my personal narrative here, but I can live with the Zeds 3 storyline (I can't believe a cold-blooded game assassin with no zombie interest ever got that invested in the theme here, but I did). As thematically rich as Dawn of the Zeds is, the company motto remains "The Gameplay is the Thing", the National Guard placement and that crucial "end card" climax is a vital component to balance (as well as their "movie"). It is almost laughable that such a multi-dimensional, exception and quirk-filled (less than Zeds 2, but still) game could be internally and externally balanced through each permutation (Solo, Co-op, Solo-Coop, and Versus) and difficulty Level (officially seven, but in reality many, many more with options). They did try though, they...we, REALLY tried.
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Alan Emrich
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Quote:
I completely agree it's puzzling for me why winning the game is not dependent on the NG reaching the town center. I really like the idea of the National guard being present on the board and not just be a one roll to win effect, but instead being based on fighting it's way step by step through zombie hordes.


I'm in Dallas visiting the gaming scene here (it's wonderful, by the way), and played ZEDS last night, co-op. The National Guard arrived, as advertised, 10 cards from the bottom, as the warning bell to start the countdown clock on Farmingdale's fate. It died HORRIBLY after moving ONE space down its track!

So, yeah, since it's a real unit now, making the entire game dependent on its arrival at Farmingdale just isn't the way to go.

Now, Tom, bless his heart, has a point. And it's one I'm going to take back to Orange County with me and put on the playtest tables as we hammer out the goodies in the expansion kit. A robust "variable ending" system would make a nice addition (along with the myriad new END cards, characters, a couple of new mechanics, etc.). So, thanks, Tom, for bringing that to my attention. Petra and I are already giving some thought to a cool way to do that part of the story!

Alan Emrich
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