Well this review has taken me bloody ages to write. It’s a little from the ‘life kept getting in the way’ column but mainly it’s the ‘I’ve been putting this off’ column.
And why? Well because I didn’t like Deadzone very much.
I wish I could give you a better explanation than that but I can’t. It took me ages to read the rule book because it’s really poorly written. It, like the Dreadball books, are also padded like crazy. Lots of big graphics and lots of wasted white space on the page. On the upside the artwork and photography is pretty good. Which is just as well considering how much there is.
The background is flimsy and in some places I actually felt uncomfortable reading it. The page on the character Wrath, for example, is appalling. It’s frustrating as hell because I know Jake Thornton can do better, and has done better. I just didn’t feel remotely invested in any of it and it wasn’t because the premise is, basically, zombie apocalypse in space.
Much like Project Pandora was a Space Hulk knock off with not-Imperial Guard fighting not-Skaven in Space, Deadzone is not-Space Marines fighting not-Genestealer Cult. There’s a convoluted reason for it all but basically the premise is: a virus breaks out. It makes people weird. The Corporation sends in the marines to contain the problem.
Mantic are doing their utmost to flesh out the Warpath universe but this really isn’t the way to do it. Shit writing aside, it’s too specific a premise to have the column inches to talk about the whys and the wherefores of all the races in the Warpath universe.
The rules are a clumsy read and I found myself losing interest constantly. Which was odd considering they’re not actually that complicated.
The game operates the increasingly common alternating activation method which personally I like as it keeps gamers engaged. Plus with some of the mental stuff going into 40k these days the game can be over in a single turn if you’re unlucky. So this way means you at least get a couple of turns in before you’re crushed like a bug.
The gimmick for Deadzone is the movement across 3″x3″cubes (because movement is three-dimensional) which kinda works but weirdly it’s very limiting. As a result scenery and movement covers a full 8 pages and there’s a lot of buggering about with levels.
What is interesting, though, is by assigning sizes and size limits to the cubes, movement can become very tactical indeed. Moving something too big too soon can choke movement for everything behind it. This does give Deadzone a chess-like flavour.
This is partly to do with the line of sight rules. Basically if you can see any part of the model – including the base or silly hair cut – you can shoot at it. Which is absurd and penalises anyone taking a faction (their word, not mine) with overly dynamic models. It also ignores the golden rule of wargaming: a model represents a flesh and blood soldier/warrior with, if not training, then survival instincts. A game that allows you to shoot at literally any part of a model ignores that.
Other games do similar – the Batman Miniatures Game has an overly picky cylinder rule but even that is designed to prevent players abusing the posing of a model. Deadzone does the opposite. Which is shit.
But good news, you don’t get to shoot at them half as much as you would if you could see the whole model. Which makes it all better.
The action in Deadzone is also divided into long and short actions which is a needless layering of process when a single action with a plus or minus modifier would work just as well. Instead each action is, broadly, repeated including a modifiers table which includes around 6 modifiers per action to consider. It’s like playing second edition Warhammer 40,000. Although considering who wrote Deadzone, I shouldn’t be shocked.
What is good is the different conditions that the models can be under including suppressed, pinned, alert and enraged. Whilst I’m not sure about the the last one, the others reasonably represent the impact sustained combat can have on a person. However these aggression levels bring with them the aforementioned modifiers. Boo.
But wait, there’s more. Not content with an abstract movement system, a fairly silly line of sight rule and more modifiers than you can safely shake a tape measure at…there’s battle cards as well. This is a randomly generated deck of faction specific cards that can give your army a handy buff. Aside from being yet another thing to slow down play, it gives players an advantage that falls outside army special rules/abilities or their technological level. It’s the proverbial puff of smoke. Randomly a unit becomes markedly better for no obvious reason. But more than anything, it’s just yet another thing to remember. Again, it’s like second edition 40k. Oh, and there are mission cards too…see previous sentence.
The models are, as I’ve come to expect from Mantic, average. The casting of the Corporation models is probably the best I’ve ever seen form Mantic with the majority of the model very nicely defined. The detail is far crisper because they have lots of nice flat surfaces so it casts well. They have a very groovy and very obviously stolen Iron Man aesthetic which makes them my favourite Mantic models by far.
The armour plates are really nicely defined and they certainly look the part of inter-galatic badasses. I’d have liked to see some equipment/peripherals to inject some personality into what are otherwise pretty faceless models. The weapons are a bit of a disappointment in so much as they’re either lacking detail or fussy and lack definition. Whatever the problem it’s the same one that’s been dogging Mantic models for as long as I’ve been reviewing them and I suspect it’s down to their particular blend of plastic/rastic/whatever.
The Plague are another matter. There’s all sorts of madness going on there. The models are big, scaly and nasty looking as one would expect considering their name. It’s all very Tyranid/Genestealer/Scavvy in feel but that’s not a bad thing and not surprising considering everything Mantic has put out is a rip off of Games Workshop in one form or another.
Unlike the crispness of the Corporation models, the casting quality just isn’t as good. It’s fine and the models are certainly better than a lot of the other tat Mantic has put out over the years but fine all the same. I can’t figure out if the iffy texture on the carapace is down to sculpt or bad casting. Either way the detail just isn’t as sharp as the Corporation models. Although one most be grateful for the detail being there at all. The weapons are really quite poor though compared to any modern standard. Again, think early Necromunda and you’re not far off what to expect.
The scenery, on the other hand, is amazing. It’s cast from plastic for a start. So yay. The level is detail is pretty good and, to be honest, I wouldn’t want it any more so because it’d take forever to paint.
What’s groovy is the system uses clips to lock the panels in place which means you can chop and change the buildings. This gives the system remarkable versatility and makes the contents of the box last far long than it would otherwise.
The downside of that is you’ll spend more time than you’d like fucking about, making the buildings but that can be fine too. If I’m honest, I’d buy the Deadzone boxset for the scenery, because it’s genius. I mean genuinely genius. I’m the first to admit I’m overly critical of Mantic but that’s only because I can see the potential bubbling under the surface. The scenery is one of their best ideas by a huge margin.
Deadzone is full of good ideas but none of it feels terribly well executed. The models are pretty good and the scenery is incredible. The rules lack finesse and the background lacks…everything. That said there is a reasonable game in there somewhere if you can tough it out. I just couldn’t.
Deadzone is available from Firestorm Games priced £53.95.