Saturday, June 11, 2011

Akula's Zombies

Next up on my games playlist is Akula's Rules: Skirmish Edition (a.k.a. Total AR:SE), a two-page set of rules for survivor vs. zombie battles that can be downloaded from this site (by the way, Akula's main blog also contains some impressive miniatures, terrain and other models.)

As the rules are only two pages long, I feel that anyone interested is better served by getting the PDF rather than reading a review, so I'll go straight to the play report. However, I'd like just to note a couple of things:

1. The game uses a mixed activation system based on cards. A common set of playing cards can be used, although a set of custom cards marked with "survivor," "shambler," "tank/fast," "horde" and "end of turn" can make the game go even faster. It's not hard to create your own with a bunch of index cards.

2. Part of the reason the rules take so little space is due to the omission of several concepts or rulings that experienced wargamers may find "common sense," along with others that will require tinkering before play. As a result, newcomers to wargames or miniature games may find this game a little hard to understand. Examples of this are the firearms and melee skills mentioned in the rule without further details. It's up to the players to determine how the skills are assigned to characters.

Battle Report
For this playtest, I used the following ruling: the firearms and melee skills are assigned to models that represent characters that should have had some previous training with firearms or close combat. Furthermore, I didn't use the infection optional rule. I set up a 6'x4' table in MapTool. The red areas are zombie spawn points. I didn't use zombie hordes in this game, only a lot of shamblers, two tanks and one lich.
The goal for the three survivors (Kate, Mack and Jeff) is simply to cross the map and leave through the left. Kate has a machine pistol, Mack carries an SMG and Jeff has a shotgun. No one has either skill.

In Akula's Rules activation is based on cards. Black cards allow different types of zombies to move, red cards allow the survivors to act. You keep drawing them until you get a Joker, when the round is over. On the first round, the survivors moved to the top of the map, keeping away from the zombies until they crossed the big building at the top center block. Three zombies noticed them and moved towards Jeff. One of them attacked him, but he managed to fend off the monster. Later he fired two shots killing the zombie, but that also alerted other nearby zombies -- luckily, there was only one more card to draw (the Joker) and the round was over.
I started the second round respawning the killed zombie. I rolled a d4 to pick a spawn point -- unfortunately, the one closest to the survivors. I then drew a black number card, meaning that all nearby zombies (including the one just respawned) could act. One zombie attacked each survivor; Mack dodged the attack, Jeff destroyed a zombie and Kate got wounded. I drew a red card next and had all survivors fire their guns. They knocked down one zombie and defeated another one, but the gunfire sounds alerted other two shamblers and a tank. Luckily, I drew a joker, which ended the round!

On the third round, I respawned two zombies, and one of them appeared right next to the survivors. One of the zombies managed to grab Mack and proceeded to viciously bite him, before he could do anything. The other zombie attacked Jeff but was defeated. The two survivors kept running behind another building, getting close to the exit.
On the fourth round, just as they were about to leave the map, the lich noticed the survivors and let out a horrible moan that echoed through the streets, alerting every zombie in the vicinity (30" radius is pretty big even for this table.) Luckily, the next card was a Joker, ending the turn and the effect of the moan. On the fifth round, the survivors managed to exit the map, finishing this scenario.

Because of the card activation system, Akula's Rules plays really fast. The rules state that each survivor may make two actions when activated and I assumed that that includes two movement actions. If there aren't lots of zombies on the table, I'd limit it to a single move per activation, otherwise dodging the zombies may become too easy, as seen in my playtest.

I'd say that any survivor versus zombie skirmish is a good candidate for solo play because zombie "tactics" essentially involve charging into melee and overwhelming by superior numbers. In the case of Akula's Rules, killed zombies are recycled through the respawn zones. Therefore, most of the time survivors are better off outwitting and running away from zombies rather than facing them, which is not only sensible, but requires some tactical thinking. This also points to the need for scenarios with objectives other than "kill all enemies." These features make me think that Total AR:SE is a nice option (and also simple and free) for solo zombie survival scenarios.

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