Zero Hour Preview
Designed by Jay Little
Art by Matias Tapia
Graphic Design by Randy Field
Published by Split Second Games
So, there has been an outbreak, the Z-B13 virus has taken a hold of the globe and you are among the few survivors exploring cities and meeting all that comes at them while travelling in search for Intel that will allow them to track down the ultimate mastermind behind the Z-B13 outbreak.
Zero Hour is the story of you and your fellow survivors as you try to gather that intel, in Zero Hour, you’ll be trying to survive everything this world gone mad has to throw at you by rolling dice and allocating those dice to locations throughout the city that you will be investigating to find precious resources and intel that will ultimately lead you to the Mastermind behind it all.
How does Zero Hour play? Let’s start with how you, as survivors can lose, or win, the game. If at any time during the game you run out of one of your three resources(Ammo, Food or Fuel), you lose the game. If, you make it to the Mastermind, and are forced to flee? You lose the game. If all survivors are rendered unconscious? You lose the game. IF at any time the Z-B13 virus mutates and becomes incurable, you lose the game. BUT! If you reach the Final Showdown and defeat the Mastermind, plus clear all city and Mastermind locations that are active AND resolve all active mutation cards, you, as survivors win the game.
That game is played over 2 phases, the City Phase and the Event Phase. In the City Phase, this is where you are searching for those resources to keep you resource dials from hitting zero, plus you are finding Intel, which is what you need to reveal the Mastermind. The City Phase can end in three possible ways, either the survivors clear the city by fully exploring it, or the survivors choose to retreat before it is completely explored, or you could even be forced to flee due to the rising threat level. The Event Phase is like a regrouping phase, where the survivors are travelling to the next location and I’ll cover that a bit a little later.
Each player is going to be playing a Survivor and each Survivor has different abilities to help the group in different times of need, it’s important that each player fully understand what their ability does and fully communicate that with their team as using these abilities are very, very important, these are your rule breakers and your ways to manipulate results. Split Second Games has done a fantastic job in making this group of survivors well rounded and equally representative. With 7 women and 7 men of various races and backgrounds, plus, a dog, which is also a necessity in these types of survival games, right?
At the beginning of the game, you will have a city, completely unexplored in front of you. Each city will have various locations in it, which require differing combinations of dice in order to fully explore, some of those locations will be locked, adding to the difficulty. Some locations will have negative effects as well. So, on a Survivor’s turn, they will roll their starting pool of dice, usually at the beginning, that will be five action dice and one Threat Die, but that will change as the game progresses. After your initial roll, you may spend resources to re-roll dice. Ammo will allow you to re-roll any number of threat dice that you have rolled, Food will allow you to re-roll any number of Action dice of your choosing. Then, when you are satisfied with the results, or you just don’t want to spend further precious resources, you resolve the threat dice. The threat dice all have three symbols on them, and three blank sides. The symbols will either reduce the health of the Survivor, or increase the threat level in the city, increased threat leads to more threat dice being rolled on a player’s turn, lost resources and can eventually lead to forcing the Survivor’s to flee the city they are exploring. After resolving threat, the survivor then will assign their Action dice to the city. There are three places where you can use your Action dice, in the City/Mastermind locations, Hazards or in Research. If for some reason, you cannot commit a die anywhere, the threat marker will advance one space automatically and your turn is over. So, the City/Mastermind locations will have dice listed that are needed to fully explore that section of the City, you must fill these locations from left to right and when you fully clear that location, you gain the resource(s) that are listed next to it. Hazards are in the area as well, and because you HAVE to place Action Dice if you can place them, these Hazards come into play. Hazards will cost resources once filled. Finally Research. You see, each round there are two face down Mutation Cards that will resolve at the end of the round, if you have the required Research assigned to any revealed Mutation Card at the time of resolution, that Mutation has been prevented by your hard work, but if not, those will haunt you until you go into the Final Showdown with the Mastermind, as you cannot cure those Mutation Cards once they become active, until you are at that Final Showdown. 6s are required for Research. One rule I have mentioned, you can only assign die to one area, you can’t assign dice over multiple locations, just one. After your initial placement of Action Dice, you check for end turn. Did you assign Research? Did you clear a location? Can you not assign a die? If the answer is yes to any of those, play passes to the next player, but if not, you may, and I repeat, may prepare a second action. If you can perform a second action, you may re-roll any of your Action dice, but you must re-roll at least one of them, in addition, you will be re-rolling any threat dice that were blank. You then act out this Second action in the same way as your first action, but regardless of the outcome of your second action, play will pass to the next player.
After a few rounds like this, if you have fully explored the city, give yourself 2 Intel, and let’s blow this popsicle stand. If you are choosing to retreat, because threat is getting high and you have fully explored the number of locations equal to the number of players, just proceed to the Event Phase, if you were forced to Flee, suffer the consequences listed on the Threat Track and proceed to Event Phase. Now, if you have 5 Intel gathered at this point, you will reveal the Mastermind, so you now know who you are going to be fighting once you get your Intel to 10 or above.
Event Phase, here we go. So, those Mutation Cards, they are going to advance now and reveal. If you successfully cleared the city, only one of those cards will advance, if you did not, then two will. Each card will have a Research Rating on it, if the Survivors have that number or more Research Tokens on the card, the Mutation has been prevented and you gain 1 Intel. If not, that Mutation is now Active and move it next to the Tracking Board and no more Research Tokens may be placed on it until the Final Showdown, you do keep the Research you have done on it previously, for now at least. These Mutation Cards have some nasty effects that will hinder your progress, plus if two of them revealed are ever Incurable, you will have failed. After resolving those Mutation Cards, go ahead and rest, if you want, you may choose to do this, or you may be required to if someone left the city unconscious. You may rest once or twice to regain that many health. Next, we’re going to Advance Time, oh that’s right, I haven’t even mentioned that this is kind of a race against the clock, have I? If you ever hit Night, the City becomes far more dangerous and difficult to explore, it’ll happen, time doesn’t stand still for anyone, but just be aware that the clock is ticking in some very painful ways. Next up, the Driver, aka the person to clear the last space in the previous city, is going to help lead our ragged crew through some Events. You didn’t think you’d just travel from city to city unnoticed and un-hampered now did you? These cards come in two flavors, Events or Rumors. Rumors are helpful tools that may be found in the next city, they don’t count as Events, so you’ll have to keep drawing to get to two resolved events. The Events are the time where you have decisions to make, sometimes fairly tough, and important decisions to make, like can you spare food or fuel for that band of survivors you have hampened upon, do you have enough fuel to bypass the road that is blocked. These events all cost time, and some of them are going to cost you precious resources. Remember though I said that Fuel was also a resource, well you can spend Fuel to skip an Event Card to draw another one. At this point, check and see if your Intel is at or above 10, if it is, you Survivors may choose to encounter the boss in the next city and start the Final Showdown, if your Intel is 15, you must have the Final Showdown.
The Final Showdown plays out a lot like the City Phase, with the big thing being that there is a MASTERMIND there waiting for you to fight! Any Intel above 10 that you have take a Intel Dice and roll it, up to a max of 5 dice, and sit those next to the Mastermind. You may on your turn replace one of your Action Dice with one of the Intel die as needed and as available. Also, along with threat die, you are going to have a Mastermind Die in play. This Mastermind die is a bit different than the Threat die as it adds a couple different bad things that can happen like the loss of resources, loss of placed dice & the loss of Research Tokens. Otherwise, play will go just like in the City Phase and If you have Cleared all the locations on the City Map plus the Mastermind Sheet and you have destroyed all active Mutations by assigning Research to them. You, the Survivors win the game and have stopped the Mastermind once and for all. Or have you.
We’ve tackled Zero Hour here 4 times now, each time trying to find different combos of Survivors and each time, we’ve ended up with a different Mastermind, but we’ve ended each game the same way, with a loss. We’ve had some closer than others, 1 die, seriously, 1 stinking die. But each time we have had a good time playing it. We like Co-Ops here when we get the chance to play them, especially Co-Ops that are really cooperative and not just an excuse for one player to try to control the narrative of the other players and Zero Hour manages this. There will be discussion and there may or may not be better places to place dice or things to do, but ultimately, you have to work together with each other Survivor putting forth their best effort or it just won’t get done.
As I said earlier in the overview, Paul & Randy at Split Second Games have done a fantastic job in making Zero Hour feel like one of the more inclusive games I have played. While credit for that should go to them, the art of Matias Tapia really helps feed that with his view of the diversity of this cast of characters that are available to play. Matias has worked on the likes of Borderlands in the video game world, and I hope more of his art comes to the Board Gaming world as well as it’s really well done and it’s apparent he is very capable of drawing people into the world of the board game through his art.
Zero Hour will play in about 60-90 minutes, I don’t believe, if uninterrupted, we would have ever gone over that 90 minute mark and it really manages to unfold it’s narrative as the players use dice to push forward, exploring, pushing their luck a bit and seeing if they can get what’s left in that gas station for their next journey, and you have to push it sometimes. Time is not on your side here, and the ever forward moving clock brings a sense of dread once you realize just how difficult the city becomes at night, doors get locked, there are more hazards to maneuver around and if you mess around too much, and hit night during the wrong event phase, you’ll push that threat marker forward even before you get to the city.
There are similarities here to certain other survival games, but I think the differences here are enough to warrant another entry into this cluttered field of dice rolling, narrative survival games. And that’s who will like this game, folks who love cooperative, theme-y, well designed, fantastically illustrated, challenging, fun games. Jay Little has designed another winner here. I'd be hard pressed to say if I like Zero Hour more or Blood Bowl Team Manager. That’s it.
I was provided a Preview copy of Zero Hour from Paul at Split Second Games and he was the first person to show me the game. I assume this is also how I ended up with the flu a week later and thus delayed telling you fine people about this game which is currently live on Kickstarter and needs your help and attention. So be sure to check it out!