The console selling action-adventure game Horizon Zero Dawn has just arrived in board game format! I’m sure everyone who has either played it on a console or has caught a glimpse of these beautiful miniatures has been on the prowl, waiting for the retail release to drop. Well, I’m happy to announce that the latest from Steamforged Games is now upon us in all its glory! And speaking of Glory, you’ll need plenty of it if you want to win Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game!
Choose Your Weapon
Starting off, you have a choice of four different class types: the Nora Marksman, Banuk Survivor, Carja Warrior or Oseram Forgesmith.
The Marksman’s strength is in her bow as she targets specific components, taking multiple shots and ignoring armour.
The Banuk Survivor sacrifices cards to deal bigger, bolder attacks per turn. However, sacrificing cards is no small feat as these cards aren’t only your actions, they’re your life. Run out of these and you’ll faint!
The Carja Warrior specializes in high damage at a close range. Tread carefully though, as this damage dealer can’t quite take what she dishes out.
The Oseram Forgesmith is a trapper and a smasher, gaining benefits when staying in close proximity to the enemy. He loves to watch them burn!
First Things First...
If you’re expecting the sprawling epic story that Horizon Zero Dawn blessed us with, then you’re going to be disappointed here. Instead, what Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game offers is the chance to create your very own experience. You'll head to the hunting grounds on your own or with some friendly competition. Believe me, not once did the need for a story register to me.
I was too busy dodging and rolling from enemy attacks. Finally aiming my bow and releasing an arrow that ignored the enemy’s plates of armour, I landed a much-needed critical hit. I scored myself precious resources and much-needed glory.
The game doesn’t say all this, but thematically, this is essentially what is happening in the background. Having an active imagination is helpful too, but as board game enthusiasts this is already part of the territory.
Let's Go For A Hunt
Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game’s campaign consists of 5 randomized hunts that gradually ramp up in difficulty, with the fifth and final hunt featuring the dreaded Sawtooth! These four hunts prior to the finale grant the opportunity to not only level up your character but also to collect resources that you can spend at the end of a hunt. After each successful hunt, the merchant opens his shop. This is a place away from the dusty, mechanical fields. A place where you’re able to upgrade, customize or even buy new weapons, armour, and ammunition, as long as you have the necessary resources.
Setting up for a hunt takes roughly a minute. This consists of placing the double-sided game boards for the map, adding the monsters to their specific tracks, any additional tiles and then choosing your starting position. It’s a super quick game to set up! Putting away mid-game is also a breeze as you stack all of the cards belonging to your character (character deck, items, weapons, armour, upgrades etc.) under your character card. So simple!
Each player starts with a deck of cards containing some of their character's abilities along with their character card and equipment set beside them. Visually, this is exactly how Horizon Zero Dawn looks when you enter into the menu to check out your character's equipment. Steamforged Games has absolutely nailed this aspect of the original IP and so many more! But we’ll get to the soon… After players set up and position their characters on the board, the game begins.
The player who won the last hunt or has the most experience with the game (if it’s the first hunt) receives the Leader token and starts first. From my experience, games like these usually have a standard flow of turns. Yet, in Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game, the enemies' turn is every other turn regardless of player count.
Example: Player 1, Enemies, Player 2, Enemies, Player 1, Enemies etc.
This imbalance allows for interesting strategies and encourages players to make the best use of their limited actions. However, a higher player count could lead to major downtime. Playing with one other person definitely has a good flow of back and forth.
Pride And Preju-dice
All of the playable actions per turn are pretty standard. You can move across the board, attack with a melee or ranged weapon, and heal, which is essentially returning cards from your discard pile to your main deck. Attacking will require rolling dice, with ranged attacks having the extra requirement of drawing and playing an arrow card. Dice come in all types of colours! Well, 3 different colours: orange, blue and black.
Each coloured dice is covered with symbols of attack power and vary inconsistency. Blue dice have all-round damage but have no chance of a critical hit. Black dice are a 50/50 gamble, but is exclusively crits! And the orange dice sits somewhere comfortably between the 2 other colours. You really want to know this early as the gear you have equipped (both weapons and armour) will require rolling the dice presented on said equipment card.
If you aren’t too keen on the dice for your weapon, or you want to increase the dice you can roll at any one time, the market is the place to do this. New weapons or upgrades can be purchased there to resolve these issues and make your character stronger or a more consistent hitter. The same can also be said about defending against enemy attacks.
One of the mechanics that I’m super happy was brought across from Horizon Zero Dawn is monster components. Every single one is implemented in the very same exciting way the video game counterpart presented them. They all work as you’d expect them to, such as the Scrappers scanner which searches for close by Hunters. Now, here is where things get even more interesting. Not only do you get to spectate and watch enemies do awesome things, but instead of attacking monsters outright, you can output damage straight to these components.
Target and destroy a Grazer's blaze tank and you inflict damage to the Grazer plus burn damage from the blaze. Destroy a Shell-Walker's… shell, and gain 3 resource cards. Any destroyed component also bags you a Glory point so this is well in your interest to become the winner of the hunt!
The Hunter Becomes The Hunted
An enemy’s turn starts by following a foreseeable track on the map which eventually leads off the map rendering it permanently gone from the hunt. To stop this, the enemy needs to be intercepted via a lure or an attack. When alerted, some enemies will react in a simple way depending on where other enemies or Hunters are positioned. Similar to the original IP, a Watcher will choose to seek out help from other enemies if they are closer than you are, or will just outright attack you if you are closest.
Other more advanced enemies have a small deck of their own that will randomly determine their turn. Every time an enemy attacks a player, the player will have to roll to save face. Roll the required number or more to negate all damage. Any damage that sneaks through will cost you cards from either your hand or deck.
The objective of each hunt is to gain the required amount of Glory for the hunt. To really win though, you will need to earn more Glory than your competition. The more Glory at the end of your hunt, the better your Sun Token will be. The player with the most points from Sun Tokens at the end of the campaign wins! Pssst… the player who lands the killing blow on the campaign's big baddie gets an extra Sun Token!
Miniatures? More Like Bigiatures!
The level of detail on these miniatures is profound! In the main box, they’re still relatively small in comparison to what’s coming up in the series (looking at you Thunderjaw), but they are absolutely wonderful to pick up, examine and be in awe of. The sizing of each robot is perfect in respect to your own Hunter - and it’s the closest we’re going to get to the epic fights in the actual game
Not once during my time playing Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game did I feel that this game dragged on… like ever. You’re basically doing the same thing every hunt, yet I was eager to get back out onto the hunting grounds! I wanted to try out my newly obtained items and upgraded abilities, this time with a brighter hope of finally achieving more Glory than my opponent! Also, to balance out losses, a boon is offered to the player with the Fledgling token.
The player with this token is given 3 cards from the Fledgling deck, 1 of which can be chosen to help you in the coming hunt or hinder the competition. This definitely put a twist on some hunts. Certain Fledgling cards came into play immediately or changed conditions for specific Hunters midway through a hunt.
There was plenty of decision making during a hunt, and plenty of choices outside of the hunt too, both equally important towards your main goal of scoring Glory and Blazing Sun Tokens! There is plenty to do in this box and playing with someone makes it even more fun. The co-op competitive element during a hunt can be enthralling at times. You’re in direct opposition to other Hunters, but you don’t want them to faint as that is considered a fail for everyone, so this may require you to make sacrifices for the greater good of all players.
Unfortunately, there is no real interaction with fellow players. You can by all means strategically place them into a difficult situation, but no direct interacting.
The game, however, isn’t flawless.
The absence of a narrative could eventually render the base game rather dry. With no coherent story, I could find myself wanting a meaty campaign with a story and branching paths that bring forth tough decision. This is the kind of game that perfectly suits a story mode, especially since Horizon Zero Dawn did a splendid job of it.
Another issue I found was going from hunt to hunt without really running into too much of a challenge. There were instances that had us on the verge of extinction, but it didn’t feel like too much of a risk as those characters run away from the action to heal up. The ante can be upped, however, with the addition of extra enemies placed on the grounds.
My final sort of complaint was raised right at the end of a game, after the defeat of the gnarly Sawtooth, thanks to yours truly. My competitive Hunter and I tallied up our Sun Tokens to find out that we both scored 8 points each. Personally, my issue lies with the tiebreaker. After 3 epic hours of push-pull with my friend, the deciding factor was “Who has the Leader token?” Of course, I’m not salty I didn’t possess the coveted Leader Token. My gripe is that it didn’t hit the levels of excitement that I know this game could give.
All in all, there are plenty of positives to praise about Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game. There are also a couple of negatives that pale in comparison. I feel as if I’ve gotten to see most of the ideas that this box contains. There is plenty of variety to keep the entertainment flowing for many games to come! If you get the opportunity to play Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game, I wish you all the pride of a thousand suns!