I’m a huge fan of the original Horizon Zero Dawn videogame. Its mixture of exploration, imagination and some of the most fun combat you could have cost me hours in leisure time. It was a game that I picked through in chunks, gasped at its breath taking set pieces and scenery, and enjoyed a story that while seemed far fetched, managed to be both full of heart and humanity and sold itself extremely well.
How do you take a game that quite literally covered an area the size of a continent and make it something playable on some pressed and printed trees that sit on your table? You take the one of the core facets of the experience and hone it down into the one of the purest parts of the game. The hunt itself.
One the things I enjoyed about the original game was the combat and how much it required planning ahead of the execution. With the number of resources and possible lines of attack you could take, often what you did before you notched that first arrow would often decide on how the entire scenario would play out. In HZD in tabletop form, Steamforged have tried to emulate this on the table in how the core parts of the game plays. You’re not playing part of a bigger campaign. Its more like the journey of your own warrior as they climb the ladder in the Hunter’s Lodge to be proclaimed the best at what they do. You have the choice of playing with your team mates to victory, against them or take on the various scenarios yourself. You’ll not be facing any of the characters that you know. Faceless Carja and anonymous Nora will be your friend or competitive foe. You may decide to become an Oseram or a Banuk but you’ll never known their name unless they tell you or you name them yourself.
Predetermined maps will show you how the map tiles are laid out and in what orientation. They’ll decided where the enemies and landscape items will be placed. The enemies and hunters will start in their set places, the machines following specific patrol routes until they become alerted to your presence. It’s up to you to decide how you attack and who first, as once the machines are alerted then you have to either stay and fight, or move in order to bring one of your team into the line of fire.
Just like in the videogame, you’ll have a range of equipment that you can utilise against against your mechanised enemies, and just like the videogame, you can improve and upgrade the equipment as you deal with the set encounters that you face. Every encounter requires you to reach a certain target score in order to move onto the next until you face the last difficult encounter. You’ll do this through a mixture of movement and deckbuilding. The deck acts as both your equipment and your own source of stamina. Bows requiring arrows to fire if you want to take on the machines at a comfortable range, unless you’re more comfortable getting up close and personal. Just like Resident Evil Three, the enemies follow some set AI about who they should be chasing or avoiding. The bigger enemies have their own decks to draw from and some have components that you can destroy in order to remove some of their skills and abilities. Run out of your own deck and you faint. Faint too many times and it’s goodbye to the encounter and potentially the chances to move forward.
It all comes back to the planning in order to be the most successful. Horizon Zero Dawn works best when you are cautious and take your time, when you are in control of the situation. The idea here is that you remain in control and decide when the chaos commences. Though in all honesty, it is sometimes just as fun to light that blue tough paper and set everything off at once. Even in a successful attack against you, you can roll out of immediate danger and pull back to attempt a counter attack. The machines will stay alert which can be occasionally annoying, but it plays into the fact that this is meant to be a small moment in the bigger picture and it forces you to act, rather than wait for things to calm down again.
By the time you reach the harder encounters, you will have grown your deck and your armoury and so even the most challenging machines can be felled with some patience and planning. We were lucky to get a chance to play both the Thunderjaw and Stormbird expansions. For those looking to enjoy a supreme ass kicking and major challenge they are worth looking out for. Even just for the models alone which are absolutely huge, like hand span huge. Seriously, they need a box the size of the base game just to house them and they represent the final challenges for those who have mastered the core box.
Solo mode works well and for me fits the design of the game the best based on the original videogame. Competitive mode is normally the most fun as you avoid the wrath of the machines while you take them down, and the wrath of the other players as you steal points away from them. Cooperative works as long as you’re happy to tramp over most of the obstacles in your path as it becomes close to being an easy mode, but that doesn’t make it anything less enjoyable.
When it comes to looks, Horizon Zero Dawn is a strange one, which seems to fly in the face of the source material while at the same time getting a huge amount of it spot on. The hunters and the machines look amazing on the board, with the high detail showing well on both sets of characters. Mini painters out there who love the videogame are going to have a field day with this. I could actually see some of the machines spending time in a display of some sort once they do get painted, simply because of the quality. The art work on the cards are suitably stunning, following a graphical influence from the videogame and looking their part on the table. Fans of the game are going to feel like they never left the screen.. almost.
I also get the feeling that this is part of a much bigger picture and only because this is the core game that comes as part of a much more substantial offering in terms of the original Kickstarter. It makes me wonder if there are other mechanics waiting to be discovered but are contained in other boxes. I’m only considering this because the world of the videogame was so huge and so jam packed, that I don’t think a single one box could do it the justice it deserves. It depends on how you look at what is on offer here. It’s part of the curse of a big Kickstarter. Those who backed big get to see the full pizza, while those who order just a slice are hoping that it manages to sate their appetite for the IP.
The Horizon Zero Dawn Board Game is a snapshot of a bigger world. Unlike other Steamforged titles like Resident Evil 3, at the end of the campaign the world hasn’t changed significantly. The Cauldrons will still be producing the beasts that you fight within its future world. There won’t be any stunning reveals as to why the world is like it is. You never encounter the red haired warrior of Aloy from the games. You never really move on from the hunt and you never get the sense of closure the videogame delivered. For those who wanted to play that board game, then you might feel disappointed. I feel that certain criticisms could easily disappear from HZD board game by labelling it what it is, rather than what I expected it to be. For all the things I wanted it be, it manages to deliver on what it is, which is a highly effective deck building combat hybrid. There’s Horizon Zero Fat on this game. It plays well as a serious of calculated moments and my other criticisms aside, it brings the hunt..
You can find out more about the game by visiting – https://steamforged.com/en-gb/collections/horizon-zero-dawn-the-board-game
This review is based on the final retail version of the game provided to us by the designer and publisher. We were not paid for this review. We give a general overview of the gameplay and so not all of the mechanical aspects of the game may be mentioned.