KONTRABAND – A ZONA ALFA EXPANSION

John gives a the low down on the Kontraband expansion for Zona Alfa, and a prize winning battle report on one of the scenarios from the book.  

John tells us “There’s a competition on the F/B page for battle reports. I sent a copy of the article to the rules author and I’ve won a copy of the rule book signed by the author and illustrator.”

Zona Alfa was published by Osprey in early 2020. It’s a skirmish game set in the Chernobyl exclusion zone where teams battle for salvage and hope to survive. I’d hoped to play it at the club, then along came the pandemic. The author supports the game well via the Stalker 7 website and solo or Coop rules were soon developed, where the player games against the zone itself rather than a physical opponent. I’ve posted 3 battle reports here and you can check out Guerrilla Miniature Games U Tube channel where a full 7 game campaign is played out. These rules are highly recommended.

Kontraband is an 80 page expansion to the Zona Alfa ruleset (which you will need to play Kontraband), available through Amazon as hardcopy or Wargames Vault as a pdf. It develops the ideas above to take the game in a different direction, recommending a play area of 3’ x 3’ and a crew of 4 veterans. It is set deep in the Exclusion Zone at high threat level so it’s worth playing through a few standard Zona Alfa games before diving in. Here’s what’s in the book.

Crew Members.

Crew members can either be Stalkers – good at combat or Scientists – good at technical tasks, a further option is to include a dog companion for which there are detailed rules and additional rules for Hazmat suits. Each crew member can have different equipment or skills so it’s worth spending the time to make them complementary.

Zone Setting.

The play area is populated with a recommended nine searchable locations (points of interest). The crew have to live off the land so these need to be searched for food, drink, ammo etc. to sustain the crew for the next game. There are 20 points of interest cards from which the 9 are randomly selected, shuffled and placed as an Incident Deck, the top card being revealed when a point of interest is searched. These cards are nearly all bad news and may spawn a zone hostile within close combat distance, dangerous plants or booby traps. There is a greater emphasis on melee combat than in Zona Alfa.

The objective of the game is to search Anomalies to retrieve artifacts (the recommended goal for a campaign being 12 artifacts). It is recommended that the play area for a game has 3 Anomalies to search. The rules for anomalies are fleshed out and there are options for different area effects if the anomaly search goes wrong – four ways to die. Models can be caught in a gravity force field, electrocuted, blasted or teleported away from the anomaly.

There is no game turn limit, the risk of staying in a dangerous area is handled by zone events. Starting on the second move, and becoming more likely with each subsequent move, there is a risk of a zone event, for example: an energy wave, vermin stampede, security patrol, angry mutant or anomaly movement to ruin your day.

New Stuff

This covers a better way of dealing with wounds than the original rule book, there are new weapons and accessories with better options for melee combat. Zone hostiles can be made more dangerous and the concept of fatigue and obsessions are introduced. In Zona Alfa, progression is covered from Rookie through to Veteran. In Kontraband, crew members can add sixth sense, extra toughness, and an additional skill after a number of survived missions.

Missions and Expeditions.

There are 6 separate mission ideas for pick- up games or to link together to form an expedition and a sample expedition of 5 missions in the rulebook. So whilst waiting for some new figures, I decided to try out the reconnaissance mission.

Here is the table layout with 9 POI (blank dice) and 3 anomalies (Spheres), the crew will enter at the bottom RH  corner. Their mission is to search the 4 POI at the corners as a minimum, destroying all Zone Hostiles and retrieving samples from any of the corner POI which contain a hazard. I selected a crew with 3 Stalkers and 1 Scientist.

Turn 1.

For the first turn the crew will check out the POI closest to their entry point, the abandoned farm equipment. Each crew member can have three actions per turn and it’s worth using one action “alert” to provide overwatch for the Searcher. The top card from the Incident deck is revealed.

Here the vermin swarm is spawned by using a D10. The dice roll number is the distance in inches/2 from the POI and the facing gives the direction. The Leader (Nimzo), with the steady hands skill and a red dot sight has one action before the swarm can charge into the nearest model and attack it. They are destroyed.

Had the incident card been a bandit ambush, it’s likely that one or more crew members would have been out of action on turn one, unless crew members are on alert to take pre-emptive action.

The Searcher (Ali) has the scrounger skill so can search the POI twice, He secures rations, water and ammo which the crew will need for the next mission – in the game you have to think about the future as well as the present.

Turn 2

At each turn after turn 1 a D10 is rolled. The die roll is added to the turn number and if the result is greater than 10, a zone event occurs the subsequent turn. No zone event for turn 3.

The crew head up the board and Sukova (a Scientist) is best equipped to search the anomaly, which she does.

Here, a skill roll of 8 would normally fail but Sukova is equipped with a Detector which gives her a +2 bonus and she recovers an artefact, which would count towards a campaign goal.

Turn 3

A zone event, an anomaly shift will take place at the start of turn 4. The crew move up to the top RH corner of the board to search the POI, next turn. This will not affect the crew as they will be out of range.

Turn 4

No zone event is rolled. Spassky (Bounty Hunter) checks the POI – not the best option. The card reveals a zone hazard ‘Spores and Spitters’. He survives one attack and retrieves a sample from the POI.

Turn 5

The zone event roll results in an Alpha Predator entering the board at the start of turn 6.

The crew move towards the POI at the top left hand corner of the board but reserve an alert action to use against the Predator when it enters the board. Where possible, they move into cover, this will give protection against the attacking Predator which has Ranged and Melee combat abilities

Turn 6

An area emission effect will arrive at the start of turn 7

The predator enters, this is a dangerous opponent with high armour value. Ruined buildings prevent a direct attack route and it is forced wide and after 3 movement actions it has none left to attack the crew. It’s the crew’s turn and Ali fires the grenade launcher and scores one wound. The Leader gives him an extra action to get into cover. Spassky with Steady hands and a Red Dot sight on his battle rifle fires at the predator. It takes 3 firing actions but the predator is downed. Spassky is stuck in the open.

Turn 7

The Zone event roll results in another Alpha predator arriving. Things are not good for Spassky. He takes the full force of the Zone emission, he’s pinned and wounded and it takes all his actions to recover. Nimzo gives him an action to go on alert. The rest of the team move round to deal with the Predator when it enters.

Turn 8

The zone event roll brings up another zone emission at the start of the next turn.

The Predator enters, Ali fires a grenade which causes one wound, whilst Nimzo causes another. Spassky lobs a smoke grenade at the Predator which has to take a will check. It rolls a 10. This is an automatic pin and the will failure adds another. It will take 2 actions to remove the pinned counter but the Predator will still be able to attack Spassky once when it emerges from the smoke.

It’s a straight roll off, Spassky has the knife man skill and is armed with a Trench knife. Both adversaries roll a hit. Spassky could use his roll to parry the attack from the Predator but he’s a Bounty Hunter. Both take a wound and the Predator is destroyed.

Ali makes it to the thicket which holds the POI they must search for. Sukova manages to search a second anomaly and  grab an artefact before ducking into cover. Nimzo orders Spassky to seek cover under farm machinery. Nimzo joins him there to apply a med kit.

Turn 9

The zone event for the next turn is another Alfa Predator

This turn, the effect of the zone emission is negated because all crew members are in cover. Nimzo and Spassky go on alert whilst Sukova searches a POI, which reveals a mutant.

The mutant spawns 4 inches away from the POI and is downed by Spassky. Sukova retrieves some ‘hotload’ ammo for the crew.

Meanwhile Ali’s search triggers a Zone Hazard  – cobwebs.

Ali avoids the effect of the Zone Hazard, collecting a sample and retrieves a Lithium battery, Med Kit and heavy weapons reload. He will need this for the grenade launcher next mission.

Nimzo gives Ali an extra action so he can go on alert and get in position to attack the Predator the next turn

Turn 10

The zone event for move 11 is another zone emission.

The Predator enters but the crew are ready. Ali fires a grenade causing one wound and Spassky finishes it off with two shoot actions, the extra damage from his AS Val battle rifle proving crucial. In their move, the crew race towards the final POI that needs to be searched to complete the mission. They duck into cover to avoid the effect of the emission. Ali moves slower as he is slowed down by the heavy weapon.

Turn 11

The zone event for move 12 is the arrival of a Spetsnaz zone patrol

The zone emission has no effect and the crew continue towards the final POI. Spassky searches the POI – Marsh gas, if he fails the will check, he will fire at the nearest crew member! He passes and collects a sample having an action to clear the board. The rest of the crew follow, Ali needs to take a swig of Electric Juice to give him the extra action before the Zone Patrol enters.

The incident packed game had taken just over 90 minutes, a bit longer to make commentary notes and photos. I really enjoyed the game which adds extra detail to the Zona Alfa ruleset. I’ve played this scenario 4 times now, each game was different and challenging. I’d recommend this game to all players- whether you are a regular player or a sceptic who felt the original game wasn’t for them.

Reflections

Zona Alfa and Kontraband are well supported by the author who has answered any queries or clarification promptly. The Facebook page is an excellent and supportive source for the game, no bitchy point scorers on this site which is refreshing compared to other wargaming Facebook pages I subscribe to.

 

Renedra Ramshackle Barn

I bought one of these kits unintentionally recently. Unintentionally? Well, I was buying some other bits from Mighty Lancer Games and wanted to get over the threshold for free postage. This seemed a very useful building to add to my Lord of the Rings scenery collection along with the Games Workshop Rohan Houses already in my shopping basket.

The kit is about as simple as you can get; there are three sprues, two identical ones each with a roof half and sidewall for the main barn and a reversible end wall for the small lean-to, and another with two different end walls for the main barn with different doors, plus the single sidewall and roof of the lean-to. So there are just six pieces for the building and four for the lean-to. The two roof sprues also have some accessories in the form of a pitchfork, cartwheel and ladder, making a grand total of sixteen parts.

Doors and windows are all integral – the sidewalls each have a window, but one can be covered by the lean-to. There are no optional pieces, so the only decisions you need to make are exactly where the lean-to goes and which end to put the doors.

So assembly should have been a doddle, but for some reason I couldn’t get the pieces to stick together with superglue. Initially I thought it might be the cheap poundshop glue, but switching to Loctite didn’t help either. So in the end I reverted to Humbrol Liquid Poly – this stuck everything together safely, I’m not sure why superglue didn’t work – it might just have been a bad day.

Once assembled, I sprayed the barn with Army Painter Leather Brown, and when dry stuck it to a base cut from 5mm Foamex. A mistake I made here was not painting the base first; the barn lives up to the Ramshackle part of its name and has a number of holes in the walls, through which the white base was clearly visible. I spent a while poking an old brush loaded with dark brown paint through the holes to cover up the white bits…

I also added some of the accessory pieces plus a barrel taken from a GW kit to the base.

Painting was straightforward – I gave it an overall wash of Agrax Earthshade, then gave it several drybrushes of increasingly lighter browns. The only other painting needed was to pick out the ropes hanging from the doors, and the hinges in rusty steel.

I smeared a home-made mix of PVA, sand and brown emulsion paint over the base and once that had dried, drybrushed it with mid-brown and bone. I finished the barn off with some Woodland Scenics bushes and some long fibre flock (manufacturer unknown, it came from eBay).

With Mighty Lancer’s already very good prices, plus a discount voucher they sent with a previous order and the free postage it worked out to be a bargain. But having built one I’d say this was a very good item even at full price.

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

Outremer: Faith & Blood

Stephen gives us his views on the Osprey rulebook and follows up with a battle report.

I am a big fan of the Osprey ‘blue book’ rules. They’re the right physical size and just the right price that they’re worth taking a punt on. I bought Outremer: Faith And Blood when it came out but it just sat on the bookshelf for ages. This weekend I finally managed to have a game of it. What follows are my thoughts and a battle report.

Like all the blue books the rules can be a bit patchy in places. That’s no bad thing, but it is something to be aware of and you have to realise that player input may be needed. Some are patchier than others, and I’m pleased to say that Outremer was less patchy than some. Though some bits were unclear and did need a bit of improvisation (mainly terrain – but I’ll come to that below).

The game is designed so that each player controls about 6-12 figures. Activation is done by drawing cards. Since each figure is likely to have slightly different stats and a few extra traits I decided to cobble up some character cards. I made them business card size so they could be put in a plastic wallet. The rules suggest using a pack of regular playing cards and you assign a card to each figure. What I did was knock up a bespoke card with the character name and picture for this.

Character Cards

I did a simple game – seven a side with the French versus the English. It’s worth saying here that though Outremer is set during the crusades it is really just a generic set of medieval skirmish rules. So that’s how I’ve used them.

View from the English side

It seems to me the key to these mini-games (‘mini’ because they don’t have many figures) is to ensure there’s LOT’S of terrain. So I had a large ruin in the middle, all of which counted as rough terrain and hard cover, and some wood – which also counted as rough terrain and soft cover. This is where I had to do some improvisation. The rules say nothing about shooting into and out of terrain. So I adopted a Saga approach – you can fire into and out of terrain but you cannot shoot through terrain. Since there were a lot of ruins I had to think about how that would affect the game. The rules don’t really help. The choice is either count the terrain as a piece of rough terrain and is symbolic only (so if there are high walls then you can still move through that, etc) OR figures can only move around the ruins through gaps or climb over walls and high walls block line of sight. I can see pros and cons with either approach. In the end I adopted the former.

The game started with both sides either side of the ruins. The French were led by Sir William le Bon with his squire Luc Brecon. The English were led by Sir Walter de Marsh and his young squire Henry Wilton. Luc took up place with the French crossbowmen in some woods overlooking the ruins whilst Sir William took charge of the spearmen and moved up to the ruins.

The English longbowmen advanced to the ruins, with Walter Fletcher taking a particularly advantageous position behind a wall.

With all that rough terrain movement was slowed down. When a model’s card is drawn it can make two actions. Most actions cost 1 point but some cost 2 points. A model completes all actions before the next card is drawn.

French Crossbowmen led by Luc

The French crossbows let fly nice and early as the English tried to cross the ruins. But the combination of long range and hard cover meant the English took no casualties. Models have a series of stats and, depending on how good they are, the better the die type they roll. I like that game mechanic. It’s nice and simple and does the job well. Thierry, a French crossbowman, had the ‘corrective shooting’ trait, which meant once per game he could re-roll a failed shoot roll. He took a pot shot at Sir Walter, missed, and decided to re-roll. Fortunately he missed again.

Luc spots the English archers

Sir William and one of his spearmen, Louis, moved into the ruined chancel. By now Henry Wilton and Adam (an English spearman) had also made their way into the ruins. The two sides faced off against each other. However, an English longbowman, Peter Ashdown, had also moved in to the ruins and decided to see if he could bring it all to a quick end by taking out Sir William. He missed.

Sir William with Louis and Jean

Realising they couldn’t afford to wait, both Sir William and Louis advanced against their adversaries as soon as they could. In the game it’s not just a matter of moving models in to combat. They have to make a Faith Test to summon the courage to go in. The charger rolls his die and he has to beat his opponent’s Presence score. If he fails then he stays where he is. If he passes then in he goes!

Walter takes position

Walter Fletcher’s sniping position was paying off. The French crossbowmen had to advance to shorten the range so they could get a good shot in and as they did so Walter started picking them off. Squire Luc could see the only way out of this was to cut Walter down – he had no choice but to charge the Englishman. Not this time though. He dithered and before he could summon the courage he was taken down by Walter’s bow skills.

William and Louis in the ruins

In the chancel the fight was coming to a conclusion – Sir William and Louis had defeated both Henry and Adam. Sir Walter had now advanced through the ruins toward the chancel. There was only one way to sort the matter out – the two knights would have to square off.

William takes on Henry and Adam

It wasn’t to be though. Walter Fletcher drew his bow, took aim, and…there went Sir William.

Carnage!

Game over.

I enjoyed that game. I wasn’t sure what it would be like with such a limited number of models on the table. I think it works best with a bit of role-playing and players investing a bit of character into the models.

There’s also a campaign system in the game whereby after each encounter the models gain experience and can improve. Oh, it’s also worth saying that models that are ‘killed’ in the game aren’t necessarily dead. Being ‘taken down’ merely means they are out of the game. At game end you make a roll and see what’s happened – they could be dead, could be a slight scar, or something more inhibiting.