Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Army of Zero Review and Interview with Steve Mainprize

Army of Zero is the first game by Point Zero Games, designed and produced by Steve
Mainprize. The game is a card game for 2 players who are using a squad of hardened warriors in a battle of strength and wits. The game also comes with a puzzle that can net the winner £1000 if they are the first to solve it.

Opening the box, what do you get.
  • 3 packs of cards that make up the 84 different warriors and rules
  • 2 dice
  • Puzzle entry form.

The cards are made from good card stock and the artwork is very nice. There are a number of different clans that the warriors belong to, these take there names from animals such as Panda, Lion and Turtle. There is a slight oriental theme to the cards and they do remind me of a
manga style comic. The animal clan affects the artwork, so for example the zebra clan members have white and black striped armour, while the lion clan all have long flowing blond hair.
The cards have the stats of the character at the bottom, these are Speed, Combat, Armour and Weapon. The value of each is from -2 to +2 with each character balanced out. i.e. if a character has +2 speed, they probably have -2 armour.
The cards also have a number of symbols down the left hand side. These are part of the puzzle but that's as much as I know.

Setup and play are both very simple. The 84 warrior cards are shuffled and 10 are dealt to each player. Each player then takes a dice and their 3 combat cards. These combat cards comprise of 2 sword cards used for attack and a shield card used for defense.
Each player then flips over their first character card. They then place face down either an attack or defend card. These are both simultaneously flipped and the outcome determines what happens. If they are both swords then each player rolls a dice and adds there speed value. Highest goes first and takes out there opponent.
If both players played a shield they stalk each other waiting for someone to attack.
If a shield and sword are played both players roll there dice and add there combat value. The highest hits the other and becomes the attacker. Both players now roll there dice and they add there weapon and armour values respectively. If the attacker is higher they have wounded there opponent and the card is removed.
If not then another round is started.
When a character is removed from play both players take back there combat cards, if not then only the defense card can be retrieved. This means that players can only get two attacks in before they have to defend. Knowing this can help the other player if they have been playing defensively.

The rules sound simple and they are certainly not as complex as other card based games. But they are very quick to learn and fun to play with younger children or as a filler before a bigger game.

The puzzle element and the £1000 prize is definitely an interesting concept and one that I haven't seen since the
Perplexcity cards were released. I have spent a bit of time on the puzzle but so far I'm stumped. So if anyone has any clues then please pass them on.


Presentation 84 different warriors and a simple rule set. 7.5/10

Clarity of Rules Rules are clear, but a flow chart would be handy. 8/10

Game Length Games last around 15 minutes but could be altered by adding more characters. 7/10

Value Nice cards and an interesting incentive. 9/10

Overall A cracking card game that quick enough that it should hit the table during those odd times. (8/10 not an average)

Steve Mainprize is the designer and publisher of Army of Zero. He graciously took time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions about his game.

Army of Zero is your first game, what inspiration did you have to come up with it?

I'd been on sabbatical from work for a while, particularly wanting to spend more time with my two boys. We were playing a lot of games, particularly trading card games, and I think the germ of the idea for Army Of Zero must have come from all that. I wanted a multi-character card game that was easy to learn and didn't require as much investment in time: I think other parents will know what I'm talking about! So basically, what we've done is taken some of the tropes of very "busy" games like
CCGs and RPGs, and filtered them through much simpler game mechanics that are closer to trump games and even rock/paper/scissors.

You have decided to self publish, is it easier to do this than find a publisher?

I don't think either route is what you'd call "easy"! As far as self-publishing goes, I personally think there's definitely something to be said for the satisfaction of following an idea through from the initial concept to having a finished product in your hand, but it probably depends on the kind of person you are. The most creative people I know aren't what you'd call "finishers": they might have a dozen brilliant ideas a day but aren't built to see them through to completion. If you're that kind of person, you're going to need to have a publisher, or at least a business partner, who's going to make sure your scheme ends up fully baked (instead of half-baked!).

So it just so happened that we had the resources and the inclination to self-publish. Your mileage, as they say, may vary.

The puzzle element is quite different. What made you decide to add this element to the game?

I read a story once - possibly apocryphal, possibly true - about two crossword compilers who disliked each other so much that they each independently started hiding insulting messages about the other in their crosswords. The problem was, the messages were so cryptic that neither realised the other was doing it.

I love codes, cyphers and hidden messages: at one point we were going to have the puzzles designed into the Army Of Zero cards but not even tell anyone! The plan was that someone would eventually realise that these unexplained elements on the cards meant something and would start figuring it all out, and the story would start to spread... but in the end we realised that that's a cute high-concept idea, but maybe not such a good business model. Ultimately you have to tell people about the puzzle competition because it's one of the things that makes the product unusual.

Do you have any plans to expand Army of Zero with additional
characters or rules?

We've got plenty of ideas for new puzzles that could end up in a second edition. Some of those puzzles we didn't have room for in the first edition, some have only been thought of relatively recently. We've also got alternative sets of rules that we're playtesting at the moment: some of those just tweak the existing game, but others are basically whole new games, using the existing deck. The idea of an expansion pack that gives characters altered statistics - weapons, special items, that sort of thing - is an obvious option, but it's going to need a lot of playtesting because the balance of abilities between the characters is perfect at the moment and we don't want to mess that up.

Do you have any other games designed and waiting to be published?

Actually, no: we really like the Army Of Zero character designs, and there's a lot of time and effort that's been expended on them. We really want to develop the theme. Wherever we go next, it'll be an "Army Of Zero" product.

What designer are you a fan of and who would you like to work with?

I like Todd Breitenstein for his game Zombies!!! (or however many exclamation marks there are), which is definitely the game we've played most in the last year or so. It works as a game and the atmosphere is spot-on. And although it's not a game as such, I think there must be something in Kit Williams' book Masquerade coming through into Army Of Zero as well.

I implied earlier that there are RPG influences: back in my role-playing days - and we're going back 20 years now! - I used to love playing Paranoia, so I'd probably suggest that working with Greg Costikyan would be a hoot.

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