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