ZONA ALFA: Zoned out

Stephen gives us his thoughts on another ruleset.

If you don’t like negative reviews then you may want to stop reading.

That said, whilst this may not be a glowing endorsement, neither is it scathing.

I’ve taken the recent pandemic to make my way through some of the Osprey rules I bought.

Now, Zona Alfa does have some following in the club. And I should preface what I am about to say by making it clear that I have not played the game. But I have given it a few read-throughs. So I reserve the right to take back everything I am about to say!

So, what’s my problem with Zona Alfa?

Well, it isn’t the game mechanics per se. When it was played at the club there were some post-game comments about some inconsistencies and other bits not being clear. That can often be the case with the Osprey blue books, where authors can be constrained by page count. You have to go into them knowing that you may have to do a little bit of work yourself (although part of me also thinks 60 odd pages is enough to get the job done).

That can be OK, so long as there aren’t too many vagaries or incomplete bits.

My problem with Zona Alfa is that…well, it’s all a bit bland and vanilla.

I loved the concept behind the game when it was announced – scavengers ranging over a warped post-apocalyptic world. I was up for that.

However, in Zona Alfa there is no attempt to tie the conceit of the game into the game mechanics. The background is all just a bit of fluff that could be tacked on to any game.

For example, the idea is that scavengers scrounge across a wasteland looking for abandoned hi-tech equipment. But there is no attempt to say anything about that equipment and what it can do to enhance your gang of scavengers or what effects it has on the game. All it’s given is a monetary value. You find a bit of unnamed tech and it’s worth x roubles.

Big whoop.

Since the raison d’etre behind the game is this equipment then I would have expected a bit more. It should be something, it should have a game effect. There’s also something called ‘anomalies’ – areas that have been warped that create unique hazards. Sounds interesting, eh? But all you do is make a roll to see if it explodes.

Again, big whoop.

All of the above could be easily tacked on to any set of rules.

The game mechanics themselves seem OK. In fact, all you’re really getting for your money is a nondescript (but quite serviceable) set of skirmish rules. But with bits of Russian thrown in for good measure in an attempt to give it the smokescreen of character.

Truth is, there’s nothing in the Zona Alfa rules themselves that tie them in to the game world. Compare that to Black Ops, another Osprey game where you control a team of special ops troops to sneak about and conduct espionage. In Black Ops the rules build in mechanisms for stealth since that is the point behind the game. Zona Alfa fails to do the same, the rules just aren’t tied in to the game world.

Quite simply, there’s no reason to buy Zona Alfa. As it is, if you want to play a game with scavengers finding random tech that just has a monetary value or explodes you could use whatever rules you want. Zona Alfa doesn’t add anything, but neither does it take away. It gets an indifferent 5/10

Birch Forest

John Lambert gets green fingers.

I’d missed out on the bargain miniature Christmas trees from The Works but needed some trees for Zona Alfa. I thought about birch trees, this is how I made them.

Wire Armature
I used wire armatures for the trees and found a tutorial on the Marklin model railway site. I had some thin wire from B & Q Garden section and start by cutting two pieces about 45cm long and folded them in two. I placed the handle of a wooden spoon in the bends and gripping the 4 strands of wire in pliers, rotated the handle to twist the wire. I continued twisting until I wanted to inset a branch. These were made by taking a piece of wire about 20 cm in length which I bent half way. Taking one of the 4 strand of wire, I twist this around one half of the new piece of wire, the second half of the added wire now becomes a strand for the trunk, then continued twisting the trunk until I was ready to insert another branch. I then went back to twist the two wires for the branch until it was long enough, leaving lengths of wire at the end of the branch. The tree canopy will be attached to these. I then continued up the trunk, dropping the number of trunk wires or splitting the trunk into two near the top. The loops at the foot of the trunk are folded out and glued to a base.

The next stage was to get rid of the twisted wire appearance and add some body to the lower section of the trunk. I used Decorator’s acrylic caulk for this, using a wet modelling knife to smooth the caulk and provide texture. I didn’t add caulk to the free ends of the branch. Once the caulk was dry, I painted the trunk pale stone colour, applied a thin pale green wash then dry brushed white. I painted the ends of the branches black. I had a look at our local birch trees, the branches lose thickness abruptly then a mesh of fine branches drop down almost vertically.
I had a pack of black scourers also from B & Q and by gently ripping the scourer, I could get a very thin mesh which I would superglue to the black branch ends

This mesh is pretty robust and ideal to provide the canopy. For foliage, I had some small clump foliage which was just the job. Once the canopy pieces were glued to the branch ends, it was time to add the foliage. I dry brushed the canopy with PVA and sprinkled the canopy with the clump foliage, leaving to dry overnight. The next day, I gently brushed off any loose foliage and the tree was complete, once sprayed with matt sealant.

Tree on left is painted Armature ready for canopy mesh, Tree on right has partial canopy applied. Tree in centre is finished tree.
If you look a photos of Birch forest, the trees are often grouped closely together in stands, I think due to a symbiotic relationship with soil bacteria. I decided to create stands that would conveniently fit into a storage box. These could be grouped together as dense clumps, or spread out to form a birch forest. I used the same technique as the trees above.

Nimzo’s Crew

John Lambert goes into the Zone.

I had a good look around for a suitable crew for Zona Alfa and chose figures from Empress Miniatures. I wanted a good mix and chose one pack from their Chechen range and one from their insurgents range, I also bought a set of heads with gas masks to covert a couple of figures. I was really impressed with the casting quality and they were a joy to paint. I used mainly hobby shop acrylics and of course, the figures needed to be named.

I really liked the RPG figure with tank crew hat – I think my favourite. The next three I painted in Urban winter style camouflage and did a head swap on Kovacs, the piping on the track suit bottoms I added with a fineliner brush.

(l/r Blokin, Zeitsev, Nimzovitch (Nimzo), Sashlik)

The second set I painted a forest digitised camouflage adding extra dots of paint with a cocktail stick.

You need a sniper called Zeitsev – the Stalingrad hero!. Stay tuned to Radio Pripyat for the next instalment.

BPM 97 Scratchbuild

John Lambert shares his latest Zona Alfa projekt.

I’d bought into Zona Alfa intrigued by the period, the campaign system and the terrain building potential. One of the mission objectives in the rulebook scenarios involves a broken down APC. I wasn’t going to splash out £20.00 for a resin cast model so what could I do instead?. Scanning the ASDA shelves for Gaslands stuff I came across this for £3.00.

Could I use the bits from this as a basis for a model ?

I’d remembered that this brand was secured by screws and not rivets so opening it up took a matter of minutes. I was left with a cab, fuel tank, wheels and chassis. I could use the fuel tank, cab and upper chassis as extra terrain pieces later. What about the lower chassis and wheels?

I’d got this plan off the internet and hoped it would work

The wheels were the right diameter but the wheelbase was 1cm too long so I’d have to cut the chassis and join the pieces with 2 x 30 thou plastic card – my go to modelling material for 45 years!. The track was a bit wide 2mm but I could live with that. I’d sketched out templates for the sides and front of the body, cut them out from 20 thou plastic card and quickly had the basis of the bodywork, which warped overnight!.
I decided to build the front wheel arches from strips of 30 thou card to provide better rigidity and to ensure a square structure. Referring to internet photos I found the bonnet top would be quite complex to make. I used 2 pieces of 60 thou plastic card and sanded this down with wet and dry to get the right profile.
On to the detailing, I decided to be systematic. First I added access doors to the rear and roof hatches from 20 thou plastic card then side access doors from 10 thou plastic card. Cupolas above the driving positions were from 40 thou plasticard. Hinges were from plastic micro rod and I made catches from microstrip and micro rod in long sections that I could then cut to size. These WIP shots show the detailing in progress – there’s more than I thought when starting this project!

I painted the body in dark green, dry brushing with lighter green and using a section from the packaging for the windows. The chassis I painted black and dry brushed grey and light brown before fixing to the bodywork.

Overall I was pleased with the results – a good project for isolation. More episodes to follow!