In the popular Playstation game Horizon: Zero Dawn and its sequel Horizon: Forbidden West (both developed by the Amsterdam-based Guerrilla Games), players take on the role of the young huntress Aloy. The red-haired heroine is found abandoned as a child under very peculiar circumstances and given into the custody of the outcast and hunter Rost. Aloy’s world is wild, bewildering and unkempt. In her world, different human tribes live together under tense conditions. But the people are not alone, for great, beastly, mysterious and dangerous machines roam the earth. Some tribes live somewhat in harmony with these machines, but other tribes hunt these mechanical monsters for their parts. Some creatures are very hostile and are not just prey but predator as well. In these video games, Aloy faces various conflicts between man and machine, man and man and machine and machine on her travels. Aloy has to discover lost lands and she simultaneously discovers more about herself and the history of the world. A key part of the Horizon games are so-called proving and hunting grounds where players are put to the test and must defeat imposing machines. In Horizon Zero Dawn the board game players will also face these trials. Each player is a young hunter from one of four tribes. Who will be able to tame the machines?
Setup and goal
Horizon Zero Dawn the board game is a semi-cooperative game where players encounter and defeat a number of machines in several different rounds (encounters) for so-called glory points. Each player takes the role of a hunter from one of the four tribes that players may remember from the first Horizon video game: the Nora, Carja, Oseram or Banuk. Each player is given their own personal starting equipment and a deck of cards that includes ammunition, traps, items and actions. Horizon Zero Dawn is a miniature game in which players perform actions based on available action points, but this game also ingeniously incorporates deck building elements. Players must improve their equipment (cards) and know how to use them to achieve victory.
At the beginning of each round, encounter cards and event cards are drawn. A combination of these cards is made and an encounter is chosen by the players. Each encounter has a different set-up and may have different rules based on the picked event card. A number of large tiles or game boards are placed on the table (note: for this game you need more than enough table real estate) and miniatures are placed to represent the various engineered enemies and also small tiles are placed to act as terrain.
Players and machines take turns. During a turn, a player can perform 2 actions. With actions, a player can move his or her hunter, sneak, distract machines, create new equipment or ammunition (as in: take back cards from the discard pile) or attack. Players can perform ranged attacks, but need ammunition to do so (certain cards they must have in hand). Players can also play certain cards from their hand to improve attacks or other actions or to perform special actions. For example, players can place traps to inflict extra damage on machina monsters or to literally trap these machines.
After a player has performed all his or her actions during a turn, the machines activate. Roll out! Machines move towards players or even attack players if they are alerted, otherwise these robots follow a predetermined path. When machines attack players, players can be wounded. Injured players must discard cards from their hand or deck (to act as their wounds basically) and if players cannot draw any more cards, they faint for the rest of the round. When an encounter ends, players compare the glory points gained during an encounter and may be awarded a decoration based on their results. These awards provide victory points at the end of the game. Also, based on the glory points gained, it is determined which player will be the “Leader” and which player will be the “Fledgling” for the next encounter. These roles influence the choice of encounter and events for the next round. In addition, after an encounter, players can buy new equipment at the campfire to prepare for the next encounter. After the final encounter, the “hunter’s call”, the game ends. If the players have won the last encounter, they compare victory points to determine the winners, otherwise they will have collectively lost the game!
Horizon Zero Dawn, just like the video game, is extremely well designed. The production values are extremely high and the miniatures are extremely detailed. The game is complex in the sense that the rulebook, like the miniatures, contains many small details. While playing, especially during the first few games, you often have to refer to the rulebook for an explanation of specific rules or situations. It is also a game with longer gameplay. The game is therefore better suited to experienced players willing to enjoy a long game.
The influences of deckbuilding are an interesting addition and a nice way to manage inventory and equipment. Because you are partly dependent on the cards you draw from your deck for the actions to be performed to form your hand, you have to be able to make sporadic tactical decisions, which ensure that the game does not feel like a predetermined puzzle, but rather varied instead. The semi-cooperative nature of the game makes players’ choices interesting: you want to help other players for your own gain but you don’t want to help them too much. For players who want to play a fully cooperative game, it is possible to adjust the game as such and as a result the game can also be played solo very well. The fact that at the end of an encounter, players may be awarded with an decoration, which provides victory points at the end of the game, and a role can also make for interesting choices. You may find it less rewarding to take risks during an encounter if an award is not available, but you may want to gain or retain a certain role.
Horizon Zero Dawn is a beautiful and highly thematic game that does a good job of incorporating the feel and experience of the video game into an interesting board game!