Welcome back, survivors! Today we talk about the Event board, the second half of the Zero Hour layout. Lots of dials, lots of arrows, some creepy Afflicted hovering in the background… and the constantly advancing Mutation track.
On the left side are three Resource dials for Ammo, Food, and Fuel. All of these resources are extremely useful for mitigating unlucky situations, and unlucky situations tend to happen in the world of Zero Hour. Additionally, events will sometimes give the survivors an opportunity to exchange resources for needed things like Health and Intel. If the survivors run out of any of these critical resources, they will not be able to continue their search for the Mastermind and the players will lose the game. Gather more of these resources in the City, and use them wisely.
On the right side is the Mutation track: a deck of cards at the top, with two face-down Mutation cards below. Each of these potential changes to Z-B13 means the survivors must dedicate some of their valuable time in the City on research. When the survivors leave the City (voluntarily or otherwise), mutation(s) will occur. Hopefully, the team will have researched the virus well enough to suppress it and gain some Intel on the Mastermind; otherwise, the mutation will affect the survivors for the remainder of the game. If two Incurable mutations are in play and not suppressed, the survivors will fall to the Z-B13 virus and the players will lose the game. Balance your exploration needs in the City between research and locations.
There are two important gauges in the middle of the board. The top gauge tracks Intel, which will increase as the survivors clear cities and suppressing mutations. When the team gathers at least 5 points of Intel, they will discover the true identity of the Mastermind... and the Mastermind will start working against the survivors. When they reach at least 10 points of Intel, they know the Mastermind’s location and can force a Final Showdown during any future City Phase — if successful, the team will stop the Mastermind in their tracks and the players will win the game! If the survivors are willing to risk their current position, they can continue exploring Cities for additional Intel that may help them during the Final Showdown… but if they’re pressed for Resources, or if they wish to reach the Final Showdown before Nightfall, they may wish to start the fight earlier than later. The faster the team gathers their Intel, the sooner the third and final act begins.
The bottom gauge tracks time. Exploring Cities and researching Mutations doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Success or failure in the City will advance the Time track, as well as successful research and many of the cards from the Event Phase. When the Time marker reaches Noon in the base game, the threat track will start one space down the track of the next City. When it reaches Night, the next city will be explored on the Night side of the City map, making it much harder to successfully clear. If Time advances too far into the evening, the threat marker will start further and further down the track, making it a struggle to even retreat from the City. The team will need to keep a careful eye on the Time gauge as they build their end-game strategy and survive the inevitable Night missions.
On Tuesday, we’ll start you at the beginning of a game of Zero Hour and walk you through the City Phase.
Everything on the resource sheet ties into one of the push-your-luck systems in the game -- a core theme I focused on during design. Each piece is its own little sword of Damocles, teetering overhead as our intrepid survivors must balance their immediate survival with their long term needs.
Players must carefully manage their ammo, food, and fuel. If they run out of any of these resources, they automatically lose the game! The thing is, you can choose to spend them for some incredibly powerful benefits... at the risk of bringing the group that much closer to the brink of defeat. It's like having a wallet full of platinum level credit cards you never want to use, but the lure is so strong and there are so many things you want...
Time passes as players explore cities and resolve events. Eventually as time passes, night will fall. The city maps are double-sided, and feature a night time version that is more challenging than facing that city during the day. Time becomes another resource the players have to manage -- just how thoroughly do they search a city? Can you afford to rest and recover health?
The mutation track manages the mutation deck, which features a wide variety of terrible ways the Z-B13 virus may evolve over the course of the game. Each mutation the players fail to fully research is turned face up and is sure to introduce something to make the players' lives that much harder. So even the plague itself is different from game to game, and different survivors are better (or more poorly) equipped to help prevent these mutations.
Intel shows how close the players are to uncovering the Mastermind behind the epidemic... You don't even know which of the multiple possible villains you're up against until you've earned at least five points of intel. But then, not only is the Mastermind revealed -- he now knows someone is on his trail, and that specific Mastermind's unique abilities come into play.
Getting time and intel to work smoothly were development milestones that dramatically upgraded the game into a more engaging -- and challenging -- experience. They added more nuance, more little hooks I could hang other mechanics or design bits from.
I love push your luck games. PYL is one of my favorite things to build mechanics around as it feels very visceral and adds flair and excitement to a game. I also love replayable and extensible systems, which is evident in almost every facet of Zero Hour.
The Z-B13 virus is different every game. The Mastermind behind everything is different every game. The events that resolve and the cities encountered are different every game. Add in different combinations of survivors... My hope is that each game feels like its own unique experience framed by gameplay and narrative that unfolds like alternate timelines or revisionist history on how all of this could have happened.
I also worked hard to develop a game with a strong theme and narrative as well as high replay value. And one with very little down-time between players' turns. And a cooperative game that can't be overtaken by a single alpha gamer.
I'm really excited about Zero Hour because I think it hits all these goals. I'm thrilled with how its fundamental design and mechanics work so well together. Hopefully other gamers will, too!!