11 June 2021
Words & photos by Robey Jenkins of Project Omega Publishing
Horizon Wars: Zero Dark is a sci-fi skirmish game published by a relatively new one-man games company, Precinct Omega Publishing. The game gives players the tools to fight covert missions with a handful of elite specialists. What makes Horizon Wars: Zero Dark unusual is that it’s been written to use the same core rules to play conventional player-versus-player games, and also to play solo or co-operative games. In PvP, players must contend with an unpredictable third party – the Red Force – that also acts as the main antagonist in solo and co-op play. You don’t have to play PvP with a Red Force, of course, but it makes the whole thing far more interesting if you do.
In this Miniature Wargames exclusive, POP shares enough of the rules for you to take them for a spin in a solo or co-op battle. This month, we’ve got the basic rules for play, if you just want to get to grips with the core mechanics of the game. Next month, author Robey Jenkins will share the rules for the enemy “Red Force” and a set of pre-designed heroes, along with the details of a mission you have to help them complete.
WHAT YOU’LL NEED TO PLAY
To play, you’ll need: 6+ twelve-sided dice (d12s); a normal, 54-card deck of playing cards including two Jokers; Miniatures or counters to represent your heroes and the bogeys of the Red Force; some counters or chits to indicate certain states in which heroes or bogeys may find themselves; and – finally – a roughly square space of up to 4’x4’ on which to play, with whatever terrain inspires you
HOW TO PLAY
Measuring Range & Distance
The default unit of measurement is the inch (“) if you plan with 28-32mm miniatures, but if you want to play with 15-18mm miniature, treat references to inches as centimetres. A part of a unit is considered to be a whole unit, so if a target is 7¼” away, it counts as being 8” away. Distance is how far a model moves and is measured from the centre of a model’s cylinder. Range is how far a model shoots and is measured from the edge of the base closest to the target.
Many events will require you to flip a card from the Control Deck – a normal, 54-card deck of playing cards, including two Jokers. When a card is flipped, simply take the face-down card at the top of the deck, turn it over and place it on the top of the face-up cards in the discard pile.
A few rules in Zero Dark allow players to “re-roll” one or more d12s. This is exactly what it sounds like: you pick up a d12 and roll it again. But it is important that any one d12 can be re-rolled only once, regardless of how many rules apply that would offer a re-roll.
The basic component of a battle in Zero Dark is the activation. In one activation, a character will perform an action, including any bonus actions, then there will be a Control Deck flip.
A character can perform any of the following actions when active:
- Close Quarter Battle (CQB)
Note that there is nothing to stop you from activating the same character multiple times in a row.
Some actions are described as “automatic”. This means that they simply happen – no test is required or permitted and no bonus actions can be generated.
All characters have a set of statistics or “stats” that define their basic capabilities. The stats are Mobility (M), Fight (F), Acuity (A) and Discipline (D) and are described in more detail later. They all have a value between 2 and 6.
Some actions require the character to pass a test. Tests are always made using a nominated stat and the method of the test is to roll a number of d12s equal to the stat (or a modified version of the stat if the test is particularly challenging).
Most tests are normal tests. For these, the object of the dice roll is to make groups of d12s that equal or exceed a target number determined by the test. Some tests have a fixed target number. Others, the most common being shooting, have a target number determined from the circumstances of the test. Each group of dice that equals or exceeds the target is one success. If the modified stat value for the test is 0 or less, the test fails automatically.
Tests are described in generic terms based on their stat, the stat modifier (if any) and the target number. So a D(13) test is a Discipline test in which the player rolls a number of dice equal to the character’s Discipline stat with a target number of 13. An M-2(10) test would be one in which the player rolls a number of dice equal to the character’s M stat, minus 2, with a target number of 10. In this case, if the character’s M was currently 2 or less, the test would automatically be failed. An F±n(v) test would be a more complex test in which there might be positive or negative modifiers to the stat, with a target number that will vary depending on conditions. You will need to refer to the rules to know how to modify the stat in a particular circumstance and what the value of v will be.
Lucky 12s – Normal Tests: Every 12 rolled in a normal test, in addition to contributing to groups as normal, confers an additional success.
Counter-tests are typically made to oppose the results of another test, although they may also be made to oppose some other status. Making a counter-test is like making a normal test in that you roll a number of dice equal to the relevant stat. However, with a counter-test you are looking for results on the dice that exactly match the value or values the counter-test is opposing.
Counter-tests are described with a “c” indicator. The target of a counter-test will depend upon the circumstances of the test, but will either be “v”, where the target is a single value, or “r” where the target is to match results on another dice roll. This means that cD(v) is a Discipline counter-test against a single value, whilst cAV(r) is an Armour Value counter-test against the results of a dice roll.
Lucky 12s – Counter-tests: A natural 12 on a counter-test will always counter one whole success or count as a successful match if the target is a single value.
All movement is measured based on the centre point of the model’s ‘cylinder’.
Basic Movement Actions
There are three basic movement actions in Zero Dark:
- Cautious Movement : Cautious movement is up to a distance equal to the character’s M, rounding up. Cautious movement may not move up or down in height. Cautious movement is subject to a D(v) test where v is twice the total distance moved, +1 for each bogey within 12”. The first success nullifies the primary action of the next Control Deck flip unless the flip would cause a complication. Additional successes may be spent on bonus actions.
- Normal Movement: The conventional tactical manoeuvre is upright and alert. Normal movement is up to a distance equal to twice the character’s M. Normal movement is measured horizontally and may move up or down in height up to an amount equal to half the character’s cylinder height. For distances greater than half their cylinder height, characters must jump or climb instead (see below). This vertical movement doesn’t count towards the total distance moved.
- Urgent movement: When caution is thrown to the wind, sometimes there’s no other option. Urgent movement is up to a distance equal to three times the character’s M and must be in a straight line. Urgent movement may move up or down in height up to an amount equal to half the character’s cylinder height. For distances greater than half their cylinder height, characters must jump instead (see below). This vertical movement doesn’t count towards the total distance moved. A character who performs a movement action may gain the prone state at the end of any movement as a bonus action (see States). At the end of an action or bonus action in which a character makes an urgent move, the character becomes stunned(+1).
A character may end movement facing in any direction. Bogeys must end movement facing in the direction they moved.
Whilst most movement in a game will usually be conventional, normal movement, characters may want to climb walls, leap gaps or drag allies to safety, or – if they’re unlucky – have to tumble from a height.
Jump - Jumping may be up, down or across.
- Jump up/down – Characters may attempt to jump up or down a distance up to the character’s cylinder height by performing a jump M-AV(10) test. A failed test stops the character at the obstacle without going up or down it. If one success is rolled, the character stops at the top of or clears the obstacle. If jumping over an obstacle, the width of which is equal to or greater than the character’s cylinder width, the character stops on top of the obstacle. If the width of the obstacle is less than the character’s cylinder width, the character stops on the far side of the obstacle. Additional successes may be spent on bonus actions. A character may also attempt to jump up or down a distance up to twice the character’s cylinder height by performing an M-AV(13) test.
- Jump across – A character may jump horizontally up to 1” for every success in a M-AV(v) test, where v is twice the distance across the gap. If a character passes the test with only enough success to cover the gap, place the character on the far side of the gap, with their base touching the edge. Often, when jumping across, there will be a distance for the character to jump down as well, which is dealt with as described above. Characters jumping across may not also jump up.
- Climb – Climbing may be up, down or across and may be up to a distance equal to characters’ M value, minus their AV. Climbing up a ladder allows characters to move up to 2M, minus their AV. If the total is 0 or less, the character is too heavy to climb. A character only needs to spend part of a climb action actually moving vertically, so a character with M3 may, for example, declare a climb action, move 2” horizontally to the foot of a ladder and then 3” up the ladder to the top of the ladder and 1” horizontally from the top.
- Falling – This is a bonus action. A climbing character who becomes wounded(+1) will fall. Characters who jump down a distance greater than twice their cylinder are falling. A character who fails a jump across test will fall. A falling character immediately moves vertically downwards and suffers two hits for every full 1” they fell. A cAV(v) test may be made against these, with v being the number of hits taken. Characters who are climbing cannot do anything else including entering the prone state. If climbing characters suffer a wound, they fall.
The character shoots at a target. Most shooting is of the straightforward kind that involves pointing a weapon at visible enemies and releasing a shot in a more-or-less straight line that either hits them or doesn’t.
To make a basic shooting action, a player makes an F+n(v) test where v is the range to the target, modified by any levels of obscured (see States, next page) the target might have and the mission’s visibility level. Variables (n) for the test are as follows:
- Support +1 for each support token the shooter has.
- Targeted +1 if the target is targeted.
The target of shooting may make a cAV(r) test against the shooting test.
Shooting & Bonus Actions
If a target is put into the out of action (OOA) state or (for bogeys) into the dead state by shooting, any surplus successes in the F±n(v) test may be spent on Bonus Actions (below).
All missions have a visibility level between 0 and 6, with 0 being daylight and 6 being deep darkness, which acts as a modifier on ranges as described above.
- Close Quarter Battle (CQB) – This is less a matter of martial arts prowess than it is an exercise in focused aggression. Unlike most other actions, targets get to fight back. As a result, in a CQB action, everyone involved makes a D(v) test with the target number depending upon the type of target. The target numbers for bogeys are given in the Red Force section. Against enemy characters, the target number is characters’ F+D, minus their current wounded level. Each success is one hit. No cAV test is made against a CQB action unless the target has the combat shield upgrade. To attack a target with a CQB action, a character or bogey must be engaged with the target. Characters or bogeys that move into contact with an enemy must immediately perform CQB as a bonus action.
- Interact – This is a very broad term for actions not otherwise covered by these rules. An interact is automatically successful unless the specific rules say otherwise. If a test is called for, and unless stated otherwise, surplus successes on an interact test may be used to perform bonus actions.
- Medic – The character attempts to patch up a target that has been wounded or hurt. The character must be engaged with a wounded target to medic it. Characters may only perform medic actions on themselves if they are in the wounded(1) or (2) states. Medic is an A(13) test. A success in a medic test reduces the target’s wounded state by –1, but only one success can be used to reduce the wounded state. Other successes can be used for bonus actions as normal. A character who is stunned and wounded, and who has the wounded state reduced, automatically has the stunned state reduced by –1 also.
- Recover – A stressed character may perform recover actions. To recover, the character takes a D(10) test. Each success reduces the stressed level by –1 until the character is no longer stressed. Surplus successes on a recover test may be used to perform bonus actions.
When characters take tests to perform an action, if they achieve more than the minimum number of successes, they will often generate one or more bonus actions that may be performed by any hero (not ally) in the same team. So if an ally performs an action that generates bonus actions, these may only be used by heroes in the team and not by allies – not even by the ally whose action generated the bonus actions. These must be one of the following:
- A normal move up to half the character’s M value.
- Gain the prone state.
- Put a down or wounded(4) target in contact with the active character into the dead state.
- Gain +1 support token.
Each option may be performed only once per action. Any bonus actions not used are lost. Bonus actions generated as part of the player’s action are resolved after the action in hand, but may be resolved in any order. Bonus actions generated as part of the opponent’s or Red Force’s action must be resolved immediately, interrupting the resolution of any other action. Bonus actions are part of the action that generated them, so anything that comes into effect at the end of an action does so only after all bonus actions are resolved.
Bonus actions must all be declared at once, but are resolved in the order in which they are performed. So, for example, a support token may be gained with one bonus action and then used to shoot a target with the next bonus action. Bonus actions can even interrupt the actions of bogeys or enemy characters – for example, if generated by a stress test following being shot at.
Important: Bonus actions can generate more bonus actions but each option may be performed only once per action. So if a jump action generates more bonus actions, these may not be used to perform another jump action unless an upgrade specifically permits this.
Characters can adopt or acquire a variety of states in the course of the game as a result of weapons, tabletop effects, complications or special actions. When a character acquires a new state, loses a state or has a state change in value, this is called “changing state”. States are applied to the character or bogey at the end of the action, bonus action or Control Deck flip in which it was caused. The various states are as follows:
- Alert – Only bogeys can be alert. Alert bogeys have a 360° field of view.
- Dead – The character is beyond help. They may not actually be deceased, but only the very rapid services of a surgeon and full trauma team are going to help him or her. A dead character remains on the battlefield but is prone. It may be dragged but cannot be activated or change state. A dead bogey is removed from the battlefield.
- Down – Only bogeys can be down. A bogey in the down state remains on the tabletop but otherwise has no effect on the battle. A down bogey doesn’t block LOS, regardless of its size or shape, or count as a bogey for any purpose that doesn’t specifically affect down bogeys. A down bogey will not move, attack or do anything at all as long as it is down.
- Engaged – A character or bogey is engaged when its cylinder is in contact with the cylinder of another character, an objective or a bogey. A bogey engaged with a character will always perform a CQB action when activated, regardless of the suit of the control card. A character engaged with a friendly character, an objective, a bogey in the down state or a hostile character in the OOA state may act normally. A character engaged with a bogey or hostile character that is not in the down or OOA states must perform a CQB action.
- Entirely Obscured – If no part of the target’s cylinder is in the active character or bogey’s LOS, the target is entirely obscured. Characters cannot shoot at an entirely obscured target except with an indirect weapon. An EWOp may attempt to hack or buff (see page 27) an entirely obscured target within their awareness radius. In this case, the entirely obscured state imposes an additional +4 on the range.
- Obscured – Characters and bogeys can be obscured. Obscured bogeys are offering the characters a less-than-perfect target, making it harder to get a decisive shot. Obscured characters, meanwhile, are making an effective use of cover. Bogeys, therefore, count as obscured if any part of their cylinder is out of a shooting character’s LOS. But characters must be in contact with whatever terrain is obscuring them in order to count as obscured.
- Obscured(1) – Some, but less than half of the target’s cylinder, is out of the shooting character/bogey’s LOS. Characters shooting at an obscured(1) target add +1 to the effective range. Obscured(1) characters add +1 to their AV.
- Obscured(2) – Some, but less than half of the target’s cylinder, is in the shooting character/bogey’s LOS. Units shooting at an obscured(2) target add +2 to the effective range. Obscured(2) characters add +2 to their AV.
- Obscured(3) – Only characters can be obscured(3). This level is only possible if a prone character in the obscured(2) state becomes dug in. Units shooting at an obscured(3) target add +3 to the effective range. Obscured(3) characters add +3 to their AV.
- See also Entirely Obscured.
- Out of Action (OOA) – Any character who is in the wounded(3), wounded(4) or dead states is also out of action (OOA).
- Prone – A character may become prone at the end of any basic movement action and may cease to be prone at the start of any basic movement action. Becoming prone is also a common bonus action. A prone character has a cylinder 10mm high (5mm for 15mm games) and increases their obscured state by +1 up to a maximum of obscured(2). The only move action characters can make whilst prone is cautious movement.
- Stressed – Something has alarmed the character. They need to shake it off before they can get back in the game. When the stressed state is imposed, it is Stressed(1). Each subsequent time it is imposed, it increases by +1 up to a maximum of 4. Stressed characters may only perform recover actions. A successful recover action reduces the stressed state by -1 for each success. If the stressed state reaches 0, the character is no longer stressed. Synthetic characters and all bogeys are immune to effects that cause the stressed state.
- Stunned – The character is suffering from an effect that temporarily prevents them from properly thinking or focussing. If stunned multiple times, the results will stack. So a Stunned(1) character who is stunned again becomes Stunned(2) up to a maximum of Stunned(4). Additional levels have no additional effect, but make the effect harder to shake off.
- Stunned Characters: all stats are reduced by -1, and the character cannot perform urgent movement or benefit from the Stealthy trait. All targets increase their obscured state by +1 for this character, and obscured(3) characters count as entirely obscured. A stunned character may use an action to reduce the level of stunned by -1. This is an automatic action. If a stunned character is the target of a medic action (even if the action is unsuccessful) it reduces the level of stunned by -1.
- Stunned Bogeys: lose all support tokens. In addition, when the next Control card is flipped, if the active bogey is stunned, the primary action is cancelled. Once the Control card has been resolved all bogeys become stunned(-1).
- Targeted – The figure has been identified as a significant threat. Characters and bogeys shooting at a targeted target add +1 dice to their F. In addition, the number of hits on a targeted character from an attack is always increased by +1 (so shooting at a targeted target will always achieve at least one hit). Targeted has no effect in CQB. The targeted state is removed after the first shooting attack on the targeted target is resolved, regardless of the result. Characters can remove their targeted state by spending an action out of LOS of any bogey or enemy character and passing a D(13) test.
- Wounded – The character has taken physical or mental damage as a result of the combat. The wounded state passes through four levels:
- Wounded(1) – The wound is not serious and won’t significantly impede the character during the battle, but will hurt like hell in the morning.
- Wounded(2) – The wound is serious and will impede the character’s performance. All stats are reduced by -1 and the character cannot perform urgent movement.
- Wounded(3) – The character is in urgent need of medical attention. All stats are reduced by -2 and the character cannot move.
- Wounded(4) – The character hovers between life and death. The character can do nothing.
- Unwounded – The character is unwounded. This is the normal default starting state of all characters, although complications may alter this.
Basic Damage is based on the number of hits a character or bogey suffers. Hits don’t literally equate to a single impact from a single round. More hits could either mean multiple impacts or simply a more effective hit from a single impact. One hit causes one wound. For characters, one wound means an increase in the character’s wounded state of +1. For bogeys, the effect is different, and this is explained in the Red Force section. Characters have five wounded states and a dead state. For each unsaved hit, a character’s wounded state goes up by 1. The default starting state of a character is unwounded, but complications may affect the starting wounded state of a character.
INDICATING WOUNDED STATES
Unwounded characters are indicated by the absence of anything to indicate their wounded state! Dead bogeys may usually be removed from the table; however, dead characters must be left on the table. A black counter can indicate the dead state. Meanwhile, wounded characters can be indicated with a red counter marked from 1 to 5, or with any other clear marking system.
Armour is acquired by characters as part of the upgrading process, but all characters begin with light armour (AV 1) as standard. For more options for armour, see the full rule set! Armour has two direct effects:
It increases the target number needed to shoot a target by an amount equal to the AV. This is in addition to any increases caused by the obscured state.
It also provides targets that are hit with the opportunity to make an armour test to avoid or reduce damage. Armour provides a cAV(r) test.
Cover & Obscured State
For details of how cover and the obscured state affects shooting, see the entry for “obscured” in the States section earlier.
When a character who is not OOA is the target of a shooting action, even if the action fails to hit, then after the action is resolved, the character must take a stress [D(10)] test. If the test is failed, the character is stressed(+1). If the test is passed, each success reduces the existing level of stressed by -1 to a minimum of 0. For each additional success remaining if the character is not stressed, the character may immediately perform a bonus action.
A character that fails a stress test immediately makes a bonus cautious move towards the closest means of becoming obscured. This move may not take the character closer to the source of the action that caused the test (such as a shooting character) unless it will immediately cause the stressed character to become obscured. If the character is not obscured at the end of the bonus cautious move, or the character didn’t move (for example, because of already being obscured), the character becomes prone. If a character fails a stress test when already stressed, the results will stack. So a character who is Stressed(1) and suffers a further fright becomes Stressed(2) up to a maximum of Stressed(4). A stressed character may only perform recover actions, as described above.
A number of events in the course of a game of Zero Dark allow characters and/or bogeys to obtain Support Tokens. For bogeys, support tokens are acquired by AI deck events. For characters, the most common way to get a support token is from an EWOp. Support tokens are an abstract way of illustrating all those interesting things that can happen during an intense mission that arise from chance or design: the discovery of a perfect firing position or the presence of just the right sort of shadow; the comforting words of a comrade or a burst of particularly useful data from the Battlenet; the niggling sense of danger, or the hyper-awareness that builds off an adrenaline rush.
All of these are rolled up, simply, into the presence of one or more support tokens.
Support Tokens on Bogeys
Bogeys can have a number of support tokens, usually limited by the bogey’s type. Grunts may have up to one. Elites may have up to two. Bosses may have up to three. Some events can exceed those limits, though. Where this is the case, the rules will say so explicitly. Note that a bogey must always use its support tokens at the next available opportunity and must always use all the support tokens it has available. Support tokens on bogeys have two effects:
- Ablative armour – A support token increases the number of hits required to make a bogey down or dead. Each hit on a bogey with support tokens reduces the number of support tokens by one, cancelling the hit. So a grunt with one support token requires two hits to make the grunt down and three to make the grunt dead. However, if a character hits the grunt with a single hit, it will remove the support token, so the next time the grunt is hit, one hit will make the grunt down and two will make the grunt dead.
- Improved shooting – A support token increases the number of dice the bogey rolls when attacking, shooting or CQB. A bogey rolls one additional dice for each support token. However, this uses up the support tokens.
Support Tokens on Characters
Characters can only ever have one support token at a time. Unlike bogeys, characters do not have to use support tokens and players may decide whether they want to use one. Support tokens on characters have two effects:
- Ablative armour – A support token may be used to reduce the number of hits inflicted by enemy shooting by one. The decision whether or not to spend the support token must be made as soon as the player knows how many hits have been inflicted.
- Improved normal tests – A support token may be used to add +1 dice to any normal test. The decision to add a dice must be taken before any dice are rolled. The support token is removed regardless of the results of the test.
Each hero is typically represented by a single model that should show a fair representation of the character’s size and equipment. Heroes have “stats” – core qualities that describe their broad competence in basic skills such as moving and fighting, represented in the game by a number between 2 (the minimum value) and 6 (the maximum value). As mentioned earlier, the four basic stats of a character are:
- M (Mobility): How fast and athletic a character is, including how well they jump, climb and perform other feats of speed and agility.
- F (Fight): Characters are assumed to have the minimum equipment and training for the
- battlefield environment. Their Fight stat represents their skill-at-arms and determination to kill the enemy as well as the lethality of the weapons at their disposal.
- A (Acuity): A character will need more than just strength of arms to win victory. Acuity represents his or her intellect, education and ability to improvise under pressure.
- D (Discipline): A character’s most valuable resource is their willingness to keep fighting. Discipline will help a character to stay in the fight when things get tough. It’s also discipline that decides how well a character fights up close and personal.
In addition to the four basic stats, characters have secondary stats, the details of which are generated differently. The secondary stat relevant to Training Run is:
- AV (Armour Value): A character also possesses an Armour Value that represents the quality and amount of armour they are wearing.
- Awareness Radius: All characters have an awareness radius. This is a circle, centred on the character and measuring up to the radius distance from the edge of the base. The awareness radius is equal to their Discipline. A character is aware of anything at least partially within the circle of its awareness radius.
- Cylinder: Each character and bogey also has a cylinder. This is an abstraction that roughly describes the space they are occupying and its dimensions vary depending on the nature of the character and his or her equipment. The cylinder is a vertical shape with a circular horizontal cross section. The default cylinder is 25mm in diameter and 30mm tall.
Note that the pose of the particular miniature makes no difference to the size or shape of its cylinder. Our miniatures can’t leap around, gesticulate or hug cover the way real soldiers can, so don’t assume you can see a target just because you can see a rifle barrel or radio antenna. Similarly, don’t assume you can’t see one, just because the miniature is concealed by terrain. Some miniatures will have larger or smaller cylinders depending upon the nature of the character, bogey or device in question. If two cylinders are touching at any point, then they are said to be engaged.
Measuring cylinders and obstacles
For the purposes of a battle played in the 28mm scale, a cylinder is 30mm tall, so an obstacle that is also 30mm tall will entirely obscure a cylinder from another 30mm cylinder on the same level. However, in the heat of battle, a millimetre can be a tricky measurement to easily establish. Arguing about whether an obstacle is 30mm or 29mm high, or whether a fractional change in elevation, such as a pavement or the base of some trees, should make an obscured character visible is very much not part of what Zero Dark is supposed to be about. If you find yourself in this position, the assumption should be for generosity towards the target who is, after all, usually making a concerted effort to not get shot.
Field of View & Line of Sight
Characters can only react to things of which they are aware. Characters are assumed to be aware of anything in their field of view to which they can draw a line of sight (LOS) and of anything within their awareness radius. By default, the field of view is a 180° arc to the character’s front that should be marked on their base. If a straight line can be drawn connecting the active character’s cylinder to another cylinder or to an object, and the line falls entirely within the character’s field of view, then the active character has LOS to that target. Note that a character who is moving has a 360° field of view. Bogeys and some equipment will also have a field of view, which may change depending on events during a mission.
So – you’ve got the basic rules: if you liked the sound of what you’ve read here, you can get the full rules, including rules to build heroes from scratch and campaign rules, from Wargame Vault or via precinctomega.co.uk. Next month it’s a scenario: The Gauntlet!
This article originally appeared in issue 456 of Miniature Wargames. You can pick up your issue of the magazine here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.