Saturday 9 December 2023

Zone Raiders Rules Review

Alternative title: Infinity is far too complex, Necromunda is too clunky and dated....

These rules were purchased as a result of seeing my Infinity models going unused for years. Infinity itself is excellent and the models superb, but the learning curve is almost vertical, with fairly complex gameplay and extreme special rules. It's a game I'd like to play, but don't feel like teaching to others. So...

...Zone Raiders?

Fast-paced modern gameplay, campaign rules and a setting cool enough inspire you to play?

The Shiny

I had to get a pdf which I printed in B&W. A nice hardcover is $78AUD (OK) but +$89 P&P (not OK), so not many options there. Bit sad I missed out, as I suspect it is quality. The illustrations and pics of models looked good on the pdf. I found it pretty easy to find info just flicking through the book - it is very easy to read and very well laid out. 

The background and world building is excellent. Megastrata - world of metal and gigantic machines, where unknowable and alien AI rearrange whole sections of the planet. Automated technology has gone wild, with sentient machines prowling the Dark Zones. Survivors hunt for food and resources. It kinda reminds me of Netflix's Blame! but you can easily link it to both Necromunda (underhive vibe) and Infinity (tech) which is surprising as they seem opposite ends of the sci fi spectrum.

The setting info is engaging, inspiring and intertwined a page or two at a time through its layout, but is never obtrusive. It's there to help drive the game, not dominate it (cough Carnevale 150-pages-of-fuff-before-you-get-to-the-rules cough.) It's about ~30 pages of core rules, ~40 of gear/weapons/campaigns, and ~50 pages of factions and optional rules.

Overall, I found this rulebook excellent in layout, easy to use, and good but 'balanced' use of background. A good role model in how a rulebook should look. It feels far more professional and proofed than many Osprey rules I've used. I struggled with using Gaslands, but this was a breeze to use.

If nothing else, the rules have inspired me to paint Infinity models which have sat dormant for 10 years....

Overhead (aka Barrier to Entry)

How complex are the rules? What stuff do I need to play? It uses a d20 (probably as a nod to Infinity as a d10 would also work). You roll equal or below your stat to succeed i.e. if you have Shooting 11 you need an 11 or lower on a d20 to hit. No opposed rolls or fancy stuff.  Stats are sensible: Speed, Shooting, Melee, Defence, Survival (resist damage and radiation etc), Aptitude (training+awareness, initiative - kinda troop quality). It meets my criteria of "must be able to easily teach to others."

While it is not as brutally lethal as Infinity it is a game designed around lots of terrain and vertical terrain at that. A few pieces of 40K corner ruins won't cut it. Grappling hooks and servo-assisted legs are common gear; making wall-running and giant leaps are a regular part of the game and giving a bit of a Titanfall vibe. There are also some special terrain pieces (hazard zones, sentry guns, fabricators, cyro-chambers - that you don't need but are technically part of the game). 

There will also be a significant amount of tokens - wounds, downed, armour fail, no ammo, marked, overwatch, suppression, hunker down - which will a) need to be made and b) clutter the table.

TL:DR - Rules are simple, logical and easy to learn, but there are significant terrain requirements, and plenty of tokens laying about.


It's "alternate activation plus"; basically players take turns activating their minis. Sometimes models can act together and you usually have a few "command points" to allow for an extra action; force an injured model to act or allow you to move two models in a row.

Models get the usual two actions, but Zone Raiders is interesting in its strong emphasis on mobility (wall run, grapple, super leap) as well as reloading - firing single shots is fine, but a burst of gunfire usually requires a reload.

TL:DR - Simple standard alternative activation, with command points and mobility skills elevating it above the norm

My 2013 self said: "I don't have skill to do justice to the sculpts, plus I'd like scenic bases" 

My 2023 self said: "I don't have the skill or the bases, but the whole faction will be table-ready tomorrow."


Simply roll under your shoot/melee stat on d20 to hit (low rolls=good), then defender rolls under his defence to block. There are a decent amount of modifiers but range bands are "point blank" "effective" and "further than effective" meaning their is no complex Infinity range bands to track. 

Once injured, there is an extra step where you roll against your Survival. A fail = model dies. A pass = model is wounded. A model can have two wounds - each wound means a player must dice against their aptitude or lose an action. I like this as they are not 'meaningless' hitpoints - a badly wounded model with two wounds might not move at all if he fails two rolls. 

There is suppressive fire (which places a big 'to hit' penalty on the suppressed mini) and players may opt to Hunker down (and get a major bonus to avoiding fire). There also is the ammo factor - many heavy weapons only have 1-2 shots before reloading and spraying bursts of automatic fire emptying magazines (risk vs reward). 

In melee if an attacker misses the defender may disengage and get a free short move away which was interesting and a simple way to add a decision. Some powerful weapon hits can push models back which could lead to some cinematic falls.

There is no conventional morale but there is Extraction (call escape vehicle, preplanned escape tunnel etc) where models can place an AoE template, and any model in the template (Extraction Zone) can spend an action to leave the battle - with any loot they gained. A force with less than 50% of its men may choose to "bug out" but they loose any loot, and enemies within 8" can force a roll to see if they are wounded. I.e. its better to leave at your own terms...

TL:DR - Simple mechanics, with injury rules, and some extras like reloading/suppression/hunkering. Clever extraction/bug out rules means there is no forced morale but players will probably choose to leave when it is advantageous. Downside: This game will have tokens.

 Terrain, Missions

There are ~10 missions (good) but many centre on a special piece/s of terrain (say sentry guns) which means you have to source them (bad). Terrain is pretty important, and quite interesting with various hazards, low vis,  as well as jump plates, vast chasms, ducts that allow you to teleport between them, explosive drums, zip lines, drop platforms etc. Some terrain may even summon AI enemies to the battlefield.

The terrain requirements will be a barrier to entry to some, but add a lot to the game. If you already have lots of Infinity or Necromunda terrain you will be OK - but if you only have a few 40K corner ruins..

TL:DR Plenty of missions, and interactive terrain and random events add lots of interest but could be a pain to source. 

Weapons & Gear, Campaign

There is plenty of weapons and gear - and - even better - assigned a points cost to allow you to balance forces. The stats are simple: An automatic carbine/SMG has (effective)Range 12, Strength 0, Ammo: Auto, and the Rapid Weapon, Burst special rule which means it can move and shoot easily, and fire two shots (at same or nearby target) at the cost of needing to reload. 

My criticism is the naming "Pneumatic jezzail" and "Mag driver" is not obvious what it is and sometimes they are weapons unique to the setting. I'd rather weapons linked more obviously to archetypes. I suspect the game is strongly aimed at the Blame! universe with the penumatic guns etc.

Most armour gives you a super leap, wallrunning or grappling. Gear is thorough and I like the "battery" a token that allows you to boost a piece of powered gear or give a free action with that gear. There is also rare artifact weaponry and gear made from lost tech.

This was sensible and not overwhelming with 6-12 choices in each category BUT most weapons are designed for the in-game setting; i.e. it allows you to adapt your models to the setting - it's not a completely generic toolbox allowing you to, say, play 40K with different rules.

There are casualty tables, advancement, and team "doctorines" - special rules that allows a team extra loot, better new recruits, biotech augmentation, easier access to artifacts etc. These are proper campaign rules a la Necromunda, not the normal campaign-lite that is in a paragraph of an Osprey book.  There are underdog bonuses for balance and rules for competitive play.

There are also rules for co-op missions which will be great for newcomers; using simple patrol/alert/hunt rules similar to old Kill Team (or Black Ops) stealth missions and a separate hostile Marauder faction. There's 6 specific co-op missions so this is far from an afterthought.


Warbands and factions fit "archetypes" you can fit existing models to. Warbands kinda fit the Necromunda template - leaders, gangers, juves, specialists etc.

The factions are obvious stereotypes. There are technomads who wander scavenging for parts and food. Zone stalkers who stealthily explore ruins for relics. Reclaimers are more heavily equipped "government forces" such as they are. Morlocks are mutant hybrids. Atropics are true alien beings of melded tech and flesh. Nthgens are synthetic replicants who are lesser copies of the leader (like Frostgrave wizard/apprentice). Exanthrope posthumans (space marines?) enhanced by nanotech. You can easily figure out common miniature lines to adapt.

There are also AI controlled creatures who act according to a series of priorities in-game including harvesters, flying reapers and behemoths.

In addition there are rules for vectors - aka mech suits - allowing you to use Infinity TAGs, dreadnoughts, Tau Battlesuits etc as well as the possibility of 'dataplane manifestation' aka cyber attacks in the virtual world using incorporeal avatars 'data shadows.'

My 2023 Infinity painted count now stands at ....17. Let's see how many get done by year's end...


This appeals to me as it hits the sweet spot of fast play/simplicity vs depth/decisions; far simpler and more accessible than Infinity and far more modern and less clunky than Necromunda. It's also better than the obvious alternatives - Reality's Edge is much clunkier hitpoints and 80 pages of special rules - and Rogue Stars (one-stat-that-does-everything but a thesaurus-ful of special rules each mini) stretches the SoBH engine in weird directions.

Zone Raiders was quite similar to my own homebrew  attempts to simplify Infinity for my son and wargaming newcomers, so I'm delighted to avoid having to reinvent the wheel.

The rules are evolution not a revolution - adding slight improvements or twists to conventional mechanics - command points to alternate activation, vertical manuevers, reloading to add risk vs reward to burst fire, extraction rules removing forced morale checks.... 


(+) It's simple, and easy to teach, and the rulebook is easy to use. Free sample rules here.

(+) Strong and interesting background, reminiscent of Blame! anime but takes elements from many genres

(+) Can easily be adapted to use existing models (Infinity, Necromunda etc) - even mechs!

(+) There is a proper campaign system (not a brief paragraph as an afterthought at the end of the book)

(+) Co-op and AI rules; including purpose-built scenarios


(-) Weapons and gear are focussed on the 'megacity' setting; it's not a completely generic toolkit to allow you to play other backgrounds of your choice; i.e. while you can easily adapt your 40K or Infinity minis to Zone Raiders setting, you can't as easily use Zone Raiders to play a 40K or Infinity setting.

(-) You will need lots of terrain (vertical as well), and there will be some tokens messing up the table. Lucky I have lots of spare pizza boxes...

(-) Hardcopy rules are not cheap

Recommended: Yes. Finally inspired to finish my Infinity and Tau minis...


  1. Another negative for me would be that it's nothing special, just a kind of "best practices" (arguably...) rules offering nothing new or particularly exciting. You could say evolution, is better than revolution but the slight improvements do not look good enough to me to buy this. I mean, for example, why have model-based activation and then add some command points on top of that? Go for full command points instead if you don't like the classic alternate activation where each model gets x actions.

    1. Nothing wrong with a "best practices" game, especially when so many games fall short. I kinda think the sweet spot might be 2-5 action points per turn, max of 2 AP per model.

      - GG

    2. It may not meet what people want - it's actually not generic enough to be widely useful - but why would it matter if its revolutionary or not?

      It's how it compares to other sci fi games like Necromunda, Infinity etc? If you want unique that's what games like Infinity are for.

      It seems a bit like rejecting a 2018 BMW V8 because it's not a new Tesla, when your only other daily driver options are a 1950s tractor and a 1000cc racing bike.



    3. I just don't see the point of buying a game that mostly copies mechanisms already in widespread use with just some tweaks and nothing substantially better or creative. Also, it's hard to convince people to try out new miniature games. So if I'm going to make the effort, it has to be for something really great, not an ok slightly improved rehash of what is already out there.

    4. Novelty is vastly overrated. Newness only lasts a moment before it becomes part of the standard. It's how we stand upon the shoulders of giants to advance.

      Have you ever eaten a really good meal? Was it completely novel, or was it just really well done? What about watching a movie or reading a book? Only a handful of basic themes and structures. Been to a good concert? All the same notes and instruments, just executed well.

      Well-curated games are worthy of note, and selecting the best mechanics is a great start, because so many games have terrible mechanics that aren't suitable or are contrary. Even copying/ cribbing the most popular is perfectly fine, as we've seen with Flame of War.

      Anyhow, I hope you learn to appreciate when designers reuse good mechanics.

    5. I seem to use the opposite approach - when I want people try out new miniature games, I avoid innovative (aka unusual, usually complex) mechanics (say Infinity), but pick simple/common/familiar, as

      (a) I have to put in less effort and we can quickly be playing/less interruptions for rules - I want them to be having fun ASAP; the aim is we can be playing within a few minutes

      (b) people tend to prefer the familiar (see - sequels/book series)

      E.g. I'd lead in with MESBG as it has simple mechanics, or for WW2 to an ex-40K player I'd even use Bolt Action/FOW (which is how I suspect they have been designed); while certainly not loving either of the latter....

      I actually like competitive 'points systems' for casual games as they allow you to balance casual games i.e. in MESBG I'd spot a newbie 50-100 points to allow them a decent game and I can kinda teach as I go...

      The folk who frequent this blog seem to be largely old farts/jaded veterans of many game systems, so I'd expect the average person here to be more excited by Rogue Planet than Flames of War. But that's not the wider audience.


    6. You have an overly negative view of innovation. I despise novelty and gimmicks. Swapping to different dice just for the sake of it etc., I think that's shit. What I mean is genuine creativity that offers something new and better, or at least an interesting way of doing familiar things. It is of course not very common.

      Not that I'm opposed to reusing good mechanics (what that is partly depends on taste though, I'm for example not enthusiastic about some of what you regard as obvious go-to solutions). Of course you can. It's just not enough to be a good designer.

      My experience with introducing games with familiar mechanics (and familiar fluff) to people is that they quickly get them, generally agree that it's an allright game that works, and then lose interest and go back to whatever their main game is. Because the new game just doesn't really offer anything extra they care about. The gameplay isn't really more exciting, there's nothing to explore or master. It plays like a simplified or streamlined version of what they already know. Not everyone is loking for beer & pretzel style dice chucking that essentially serves as background for what is really a social gathering.

    7. I think a significant part of the audience of your blog are somewhat conservative veterans still looking for the perfect "Necromunda" or "Mordheim". Not so sure those grognards are more open-minded or excited by genuinely creative new designs than relative newcomers dissatisfied with the big brand game they started with.

    8. "What I mean is genuine creativity that offers something new and better, or at least an interesting way of doing familiar things."

      Q1: Can you give me some examples of this? What games and mechanics show genuine creativity?

      Q2: What do you view as "go to" solutions? What are the alternatives?

      " with familiar mechanics (and familiar fluff)... ...just doesn't really offer anything extra they care about. The gameplay isn't really more exciting, there's nothing to explore or master."
      "....It plays like a simplified or streamlined version of what they already know. "

      I don't think sharing some similar or "familiar" mechanics (<- we need to define these; as this is a very broad term) equates to making the game similar tactically.

      Nor does it automatically equate to mindless beer and pretzels dice chucking if you use methods or themes others have used before.

      Obviously some games are pretty much identical reskins for different periods (Rampant, -Grave, SoBH, Nordic Weasel are obvious indies who do this - and are some of the most popular) so will be very similar in gameplay. But these - and on a wider scale popularity of 40K-a-likes such as Bolt Action/FoW etc also suggests many people (perhaps the majority) DO like the familiar.

      I don't particularly like any of the above, but that's my preference.

      While some prefer social, beer and pretzel dice chucking, and others prefer more complex games with more decisions (and some like both) - I don't think using familiar mechanics guarantees one over the other - or longevity. However it does tend to speed up the orientation process.


    9. If you think Sci-FI/Fantasy folks that read Evil's blog are conservative Grognards do NOT talk to historical players! Those guys make Sci-fi/Fantasy gamers look positively open-minded and progressive when it comes to their rule sets.

      When I was getting into Historical gaming, it was not uncommon to be recommended games from the late 70's to play. Calculating your rating and cross-reference your ratings vs your foe's ratings on Resolution charts is still popular!

      Everyone here knows I think Innovation is over-rated and the designer must meet the needs of the game first. Whether that is some fancy new mechanic or an old stand-by is less important. What is important is that it works. By combining existing mechanics in interesting ways you are innovating. If you make existing mechanics reflect the reality or setting you are building, you are innovating. By assembling mechanics that allow emergent story-telling you are innovating. Sometimes, innovation is not "in your face" obvious.

    10. Totalmente de acuerdo con el seƱor Farrington.


  2. I downloaded the 49-page sample PDF. It's more fiddly than I'd like, but still really good for a Necromunda-esque game. I really don't like that it's using d20 and you want to roll low. At a minimum, players should be rolling high for success, and automatically succeed on a natural 20. Lore-wise, the idea of 100s km tall structures with km tall things just isn't possible on Earth. Earth's atmosphere only extends about 10 kms. Mt. Everest is less than 10 km tall. I like my Sci-fi to be a bit more grounded.

    - GG

    1. I think the lore is borrowed from the anime/manga Blame, and the whole city is a planet itself - like a Coroscant/Death Star. Like Star Wars, I don't think realism is a primary objective....

      Agree rolling low is a bit weird. I get why though; so you roll under your stat - i.e, higher stats are good, so roll low = simple.
      Otherwise you have to have a "low stat is best" which is also a bit jarring, or you have to convert somehow that stat 11 = you need a 9 or higher to succeed which requires some math.

      It's not a 'must have' game but it works for me, to provide a game for newer/younger gamers with consistent mechanics that isn't as complex as Infinity or clunky as Necromunda. I even don't mind the d20, as it is a good lead in to Infinity Code One (actually you could play Zone Raiders with d10 as most modifiers are +2, +4 so you could just use a d10 and halve the modifiers).

      I like my rules now to be able to be explained in a brief elevator pitch: E.g.
      "You take turns moving a mini each, to attack you roll to hit on d20 equal or under your stat i.e. Shoot 8 = roll 8 or less. So low rolls are good. Then to damage, the defender rolls equal or less than his Defence, so if Defence 7, you need 7 or less on d20. If you are damaged (and this is a bit different) you roll against your Survival the exact same way; if you fail, you die, but if you pass you may be wounded - up to twice. Being wounded means you must roll and possibly and miss some of your go next round" "....Also, you can leap and grapple around a lot"

      I can say this to an inexperienced gamer without even taking my hands from their pockets and they go "Gotcha. Giant leaps sound cool" and they kinda know what to expect.

      If I tried to explain Infinity....


    2. Thanks for the reply. I've read and watched Blame!, so I get it, but even so... Anyhow, it's even easier to introduce a game when rolling high is the goal because that's what people expect by default. Might as well be like modern 40k ad have a 3+ 3+ 2+ statline.

      - GG

    3. I prefer to roll high too - but amusingly, I know of some players who are excited about games that value rolling low (cos they seem to attracts 1s then that is BAD in a conventional 'roll high to win' sense!)