Missing the killer blow
Tribal societies and advanced, often dangerous, technologies seem like too much of an improbable mix to work, yet Horizon Zero Dawn manages to weave hunting metal sabretooths with a bow and arrow in with a touching and relatable story of self-searching and identity. Beyond the mystery of the collapsed world of Horizon Zero Dawn, one of the biggest appeals of the game is seeing various animals re-imagined as machines with different abilities, mechanical parts and weaknesses. Hunting them, stripping them down to their mechanical parts, using the salvage to improve your armour and weapons to take on a bigger opponent next time is an incredibly satisfying gameplay loop that became one of the core staples of the franchise. It is no surprise then, that when transitioning from the digital form to a board game, the hunt-salvage-improve formula became the core gameplay aspect of Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game as well.
The board game does not aim to re-tell the story of the video game or any other story in the same universe. In fact, the main character, Aloy, does not make an appearance unless you count her body being used as a ‘coat-hanger’ for the armour cards, although you never actually see her face. Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game is just about the hunt for the machines. If you are a fan and can tell your Striders from your Broadhead, everything in the board game will look immediately familiar. You will recognise the tribes your hunters belong to, the weapon and ammo types and the armour sets. Although prior knowledge of the machines and their strengths and weaknesses is helpful at first, the game quickly puts veterans and newcomers on an equal footing by making the rules very accessible.
Whether played cooperatively or competitively, the game is divided into scenarios each setting out a specific tile layout and identifying which machines will be used for this round. After the first hunt is completed, players will use the scrap collected to buy cards to bolster their attack decks or get new weapons and armour. They will go into the next scenario with harder enemies, rinse and repeat until the boss battle at the end.
It does not take a keen eye, however, to notice certain similarities between Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game and another video game IP from the same publisher: Dark Souls. Both games use modular boards, monster AI decks, fairly basic dice combat and use impressive miniatures as the key selling point of the game. Although Horizon Zero Dawn improves on some of Dark Souls elements, for example, integrating deeper deckbuilding elements on top of the dice combat, it still manages to hit the same pit falls. It takes far too long to get to the boss scenarios with intermediate fights losing their novelty fairly quickly. The game can feel difficult because the enemies hit hard, not because the gameplay itself poses any strategic or tactical challenges. And unless you are ready to spend a small fortune to get additional expansions, the serving of the base game is pretty bare-bones with six enemy varieties, including the boss. In one sitting, you have played it all and there is no reason to return to the game again.
When reimagining a video game as a board game, there is always pressure to make the latter feel faithful to the former. In the case of Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game this may have been taken too literally. In an attempt to allow players to wear the exact armour they had in the video game and carefully re-creating the look of the machines in painstaking detail, they may have lost the essence of what makes this universe so compelling.
While fans of the franchise will want to have the game’s intricately detailed machine miniatures on their shelves, Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game's gameplay is a barebone offering with improved mechanics from Dark Souls: The Board Game, but not enough content to make it feel complete.
TRY THIS IF YOU LIKED DARK SOULS: THE BOARD GAME...
As video games, these two franchises could not be further apart, but as board games, they share core gameplay mechanics, although Horizon Zero Dawn undoubtedly offers a brighter universe.
Designer: Sherwin Matthews
Publisher: Steamforged Games
What’s in the box?
- 6 Encounter tiles
- 8 Dice
- 4 Hunters (Nora Marksman, Carja Warrior, Banuk Survivor, Oseram Forgesmith)
- 4 Watchers
- 4 Striders
- 4 Grazers
- 4 Scrappers
- 2 Shell-Walkers
- 2 Sawtooths
- 126 Tokens
- 54 Salvage deck cards
- 5 Terrain tiles
- 310 Other cards (Equipment, skill tree cards, profile cards, behavioural cards, etc)
This review originally appeared in Issue 50 of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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