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Horizon Zero Dawn The Board Game Review

WBG Score: 8

Player Count: 1-4

You’ll like this if you like: Dark Souls, Horizon Zero Dawn The Video Game, Kingdom Death: Monster

Designed by: Sherwin Matthews

Fans of the video games series will already familiar with this story. For those of you that haven't played that, let me quickly catch you up. It's the distant future. The world has gone to pot. Robot machines terrorise the land. Your job its to clear the area of these monsters, and get a job with the hunters guild. All caught up? Great, let's get to it.

Before I start, I want to declare that Steamforged sent me these game for free for a free review. No money changed hands. The fact that I got the game for free does not in any way affect my opinion.

There has been a lot of chat about this game online recently and I wont to cover four main points that have come up from this.

  1. Is there enough in the base game for a good experience?

  2. How easy is it to learn?

  3. Does the semi-cooperative game work?

  4. Is it any good?

I will cover these in more depth but the short answers are, not really, no, very, and yes.

Learning The Game

Let's start with the rule book. It's a monster. Lots of pages. Lots of rules. Seemingly difficult. But two key points here. It reads really well, and once I read it, I found the game very easy to play. I am left somewhat baffled by the reaction to the rule book and rule set online for this game. It really isn't that difficult and the rule book is mainly pictures! Let me talk you through the basics.

Basic Rules

You are hunting monster robots. There will be a choice of three maps to hunt on. Pick one and discard the other two, then set up the boards accordingly. Another player will choose one event card from three options. On your turn, you will be able to take two actions which includes options of moving two spaces which could alert a near by enemy, moving one space which would sneak by anything, distracting a nearby enemy and making it move one space of your choosing, crafting to get three discarded cards back, or attacking.

When you attack you can attack from range using a ranged weapon and ammo, or from close by using your melee weapon. When you attack, you roll the dice shown on the weapon and ammo card and deal the rolled damaged, minus the enemies armour if it was alert prior to the attack. Any attack will make it alert afterwards if not destroyed. Any successful attack rewards the hunter that strikes the final blow with salvage cards and glory points.

Once all players have used both actions, the enemies have their turn. Non alert enemies will patrol through pre-set paths. If they move off the board they are lost and cannot be attacked. Any alert enemies will attack following their own attack cards, generally targeting the nearest hunter. You can roll to avoid damage using your armour. Any damage you take means you must discard one card. If you run out of cards, you faint. If your hunting party ever collectively faints more than half the number of players, you all lose. If you can defeat enough enemies for each missions points target, you can move on to the next map.

That all seems relatively simple to me. And there really isn't that much more in the rules. Just some specifics about how attacks work, mainly line of sight etc. And what you do between fights, which is where the fun really begins!

The idea of this game is that you will move through various hunting grounds, taking down the quarry in each, before resting at the camp fire. Here, you have the opportunity to upgrade your character both with your own personal skill tree and via acquiring new items from the merchant.

There are three levels of map to hunt on. Completing each level means you can advance one skill. You have a choice to make not only on which skill you wish to acquire, but also which path to take as not all skills lead to the next. Moving up the skill tree will also increase your total deck size, and therefore your durability.

Once you have made this decision and taken any appropriate cards into your deck, you will then be able to spend any salvage cards you acquired from fighting in the previous rounds to buy new items from the merchant. There are three levels based on what map you just hunted on. Choosing suitable items for your character is crucial as each of the four main hunters has their own speciality, focus and fighting style. This brings more than just variety of game play, but also avoids players fighting over the same items at the merchant stage.

Adding the right cards into your hand to increase your chances in the later battles is important. This is a deck and character building game after all, and what you add to your deck each round will come back to help you in later fights.

The variation of the four main characters, the skill trees you can choose from, and the cards you acquire from the merchant, all create a very exciting and enjoyable diverging experience. Each hunter feels unique, and exploring each ones own strengths and specific fighting styles was a lot of fun for me. I like how each character finishes a game with its own distinct characteristics based on your own choices through the game.

Once you have fought your way through four different battlefields, the hunters call will sound and you will face up against the mighty Sawtooth. This foe has a more varied attack, with four behaviour cards instead of just one, and a much larger total hit point value. Taking Sawtooth down will end the game for all hunters.

Each successful hunt will reward the hunter who made the final blow with glory points. At the end of each battle, the hunter with the most glory points will be rewarded with sun tokens. If the hunters make it through all battles then all players win. But the hunter with the most sun tokens at the very end wins the game overall.

With all that said, I think I can now answer two of the four main questions.

  1. Is there enough in the base game for a good experience?

Yes, there is. But the final battle does feel a little anti-climactic. You will find it relatively easy after all your upgrades. The Sawtooth is tough, but you will be tougher by this point.

2. How easy is it to learn?

Pretty simple. There are 51 pages in the rule book, but the basic rules are simple, and the flow of play is easy enough to to grasp and very repetitive, so you will master it quickly.

This leaves the final two questions, which need more thought.

3. Does the semi-cooperative game work?

4. Is it any good?

Semi-cooperative games are quite rare. This I think, is because they are hard to make work. I am unsure why this game chose to be semi co-operative instead of being fully co-operative. Only rewarding glory points to the hunter who strikes the final kill creates a weird stand off.

It is rare that any attack would destroy an enemy fully. Usually you are destroying a component or taking damage from the enemies total hit points. If you damage an enemy only to leave it vulnerable for a final killing blow by one of your fellow hunters, they will take all the glory. You get nothing.

In a cooperative game, this is fine. But in a game where total glory points matters, this can lead to players not wanting to attack until they think they can strike the killing blow, or avoiding attacks entirely, waiting for the other hunters to soften up the quarry first. Or, more commonly, trying to strike the final blow, getting unlucky with the dice rolls, and leaving the enemy ripe for an easy kill for another player.

So, in short, the cooperative game doesn't really work. Solo, its fine, and I played with my son who is nine and I was very happy for him to get the glory points, so that was also fine. But if you want to have a game where you are really going for the win, I can see this being frustrating and I would recommend the full cooperative version in the rule book instead. As such, I am left wondering why the semi-cooperative version was included like this?

Which leads me to the final question. Is it any good? Well, yes. It is. It's very good in fact. But it has it's flaws as you have seen. But if you think you can overcome those, then you may well be onto something special here. The sense of adventure as you play your way through the various missions is high, and the feeling of satisfaction as you upgrade and advance your hunter and successfully take own each monster is strong.

There is one other frustration I have not covered yet though and that is the randomness of the salvage cards. With any game using dice, there will always be some randomness, but you can accept that. It's dice. With the salvage cards, its a bit much. After defatting a beast, you must draw salvage cards, and most of the time, it gives you just that. Salvage. But sometimes you draw other cards which tell you that the enemy you just fought is still alive and must be put back onto the board, or that it is dead, but you don't get any glory for that particular kill.

If it was fully cooperative, I think it would be ok, as the teams would take the wins and loses together. But in semi-coop mode, when you defeat a mighty beast only to be told that either it is not dead or you get zero glory for this, well, that's just annoying.

There are some positive salvage cards too, but again, this just increases the randomness which is semi-cooperative mode, just doesn't work.

And the whole game does all miss a punchline. One final big battle. And this is where the expansions come in.

Check out this "mini"!

Thunderjaw, meat the readers. Readers, say hello to Thunderjaw.

Just look at it. Its massive!

In the Thunderjaw expansion you get the chance to add this mighty foe to the end of your battle. Fight your way through the previous challenges as usual, and then face off against Thunderjaw on its own battle map, in one epic finale.

Thunderjaw takes up four spaces and its size really does add to the spectacle. It has 50 hit points and four amazing components to take down, including two disc launchers. Which once destroyed, can be added to your own arsenal to continue the battle. Which is awesome! Taking Thunderjaws weapons for your own feels truly epic.

It feels great fighting Thunderjaw. It brings a suitable conclusion to the battle. A proper way to end this game. Victory or defeat, this is the way the game should end. It's not just the size, but the difficulty and complexity of the AI. You feel like you earnt your victory after this.

The Stormbird expansion does exactly the same thing with a second epic finale to add to the game. Or you could combine them all and have one huge battle, which we did, and I loved it

The Stormbird offers a unique characteristic in that is flies. So, as you work your way through its behavioural cards, some will show it as airborne, and others as landed. Its attacks will vary based on each card and position. It feels very different and truly challenging. In fact, this was the only enemy that caused us to faint across five different games. Bringing me to the final point.

Horizon Zero Dawn is too easy.

Yes, you can very simply modify the game to be harder. But in he initial game you play you wont do this. You wont know if it is too easy for you or not, so will follow the rules. And you will win. Quite easily. And the lack of a real challenge will take away from the experience. In later games, you can add more enemies, or reduce your card count to modify this very simply. But that first experience will be forever tainted.

If the game had difficulty settings so you could set your difficulty using the rule book from game one, and the game was fully cooperative, or at least the semi-coop mode gave rewards for all damage rather tan just kills (which is such a simple fix!) I think this game could be a 9. If the base game included more variety and a tougher boss, it could even be a 10 for me. But the requirement of the expansions which are not cheap, and the previous issues mean this scores an 8. Which is still very high. This is a good game. It wont be for everyone. But if you like miniature skirmish games and have got this far in the review then I would wager you may well agree with me and find this game very rewarded. Let's hunt!

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Nathan Adler
Nathan Adler
May 08, 2023

Hi, just a little rules clarification. You have it down that all hunters activate then machines take their turn, that's not correct. One player activates their hunter then all machines activate. The game is still easy but if you're taking 2/3 times more turns than the machines it would be absurd easy.

Jim Gamer
Jim Gamer
May 08, 2023
Replying to

Ah thanks. I’ll amend that in the above asap. Thank you.

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