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For the younger gamer : Army of Zero

Army of Zero,

2 players, Ages 8+
, Reviewer Nigel Buckle

This is a strange mix, you get a fairly simple game aimed at boys and a puzzle with a £1000 prize. I won't comment about the puzzle other than to say the solution wasn't at all obvious!

Packaging is an oversized and flimsy box containing 3 decks of cards and some dice. Given the target audience (boys) I would have much prefered a more portable and sturdy smaller box - I can't see the packaging lasting very long.

First thing you notice is no rulebook, instead the rules (and the contest entry) are on the cards. This is fine, they've numbered the rule cards so it is easy to work out the order to read them.

Game is relatively simple, feels a bit like top-trumps with dice.

You get 3 combat cards (2 attack, 1 defend) and 10 warriors. The game comes with 84, so in theory there is lots of variety in the team you will get.

Each warrior has 4 ratings, all run from -2 to +2, Speed, Combat, Weapon and Armour, and I think the total on each card is zero (haven't checked all of them).

So you might have Speed 2, Combat -1, Weapon -1, Armour 0. Or Speed -1, Combat +1, Weapon -1, Armour +1, etc.

You are dealt a hand of 10 warriors and you select the order they will fight. Each turn you flip over the next warrior in your stack and then decide your combat action - either you fight (play an attack card or defend, play the defend card).

What happens next depends on the choices the players make:

* Both defend, nothing happens, discard the warriors, pick up all combat cards (more on this below)

* You attack, opponent defends - you roll your die (regular d6) and modify it with your combat rating (-2 to +2) and your opponent does the same. If you equal or exceed the defender you've hit. Then roll for damage, you roll your die and modify with weapon rating, your opponent does the same but uses Armour. If you equal or exceed the defending warrior is dead (remove from the game), otherwise it is discarded.

Your warrior is then discarded, and your opponent gets back the defend card, but you don't get back the attack card.

* You both attack. In this case you both roll a die and modify using Speed. Highest roller can then attack by rolling the die and modifying with Weapon rating, and the defender rolls modifying with Armour.

Surviving warriors are discarded, but the attack cards are put to one side.

You only get back your combat card when you defend, but you get back all the cards you've played. This means you can at most attack twice in a row, then you must defend (as it will be the only combat card you have left). This is where the order of your warriors becomes important, you want the warriors with high armour to appear when you want to defend, and there is an element of bluff and double bluff - do I attack, attack, defend or defend, attack, attack, or attack, defend ...

In an attack/attack round you want a high speed rating, if you are attacking vs a defender you want a high combat and weapon rating.

Once you've fought 10 combats each player gets back their surviving warriors and reorders them, then you repeat until one side has no warriors left. It all sounds quite interesting. The cards are nice card stock and all individually illustrated. There are a number of clans, and the clans seem to specialise in an area, so the Zebra clan for example are usually 'fast' (high speed).

You could play variants where you get cards from a clan or two rather than a random mix.

How does it play? Rules are simple and after the first couple of battles it is very intuitive, however after a while it gets a little repeative - having to go through the deck over and over to reach a resolution starts to show the problem. A game typically takes 20 minutes.

Depending on the mix of cards you're likely to see one side end up with fast characters left and the other with high armour, and then it gets tedious. One side nearly always wins combat (high speed) but can't inflict the kill (low weapon vs high armour) the other side doesn't die but can't win. Yes you can't keep attacking, but the die roll mechanic means if you have an armour 2 character it is hard to kill unless you can match it with a weapon 2 character.

We played 4 games and each one ended up with this 'stall' end game, usually when one side was down to 3 characters. Once a player runs out of characters both sides scoop and restack, which means if you have less characters than me I can put my 'weakest' characters at the bottom and they never have to fight again. I think it would be better to play a certain number of combats rather than a fight to the death. It would also cut the playing time down a bit too.

Overall, quite interesting if a little frustrating in the end game. Gamers who like more control would prefer a version where you draft your warriors rather than getting a random mix, but for the target audience the random method is fine.

My son (who is 9) said the game was fun, but got boring at the end where one side was winning but couldn't finish off the other - we both agreed playing 5 times through the decks would be better.

If you are looking for a quick, simple 2 player combat card game for your 8-12 year old, you could do a lot worse - not sure there is much here to appeal to girls or adult gamers though.

For the target audience I'd give it 8/10, for general gamers a 5 or 6 depending on how much the theme and the mechanic of ordering your warriors interests you.

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