Your bow is drawn tight, muscles tensing as you stalk your prey in the high grass. You can hear the soft whir of gears, and by looking through your focus you can see a strange glowing path upon which you know your quarry will travel. You wait patiently for your moment to strike, when suddenly your opponent -- that Oseram lughead -- sprints across the dusty ground and smashes their club into the beast! Sparks fly, springs and sprockets jettison off in all directions, and your opponent walks off triumphantly with scraps of metal and the glory of a successful hunt. Do you have what it takes to rise above him in the esteem of the Hunting Lodge and become the most prolific hunter these lands have ever seen? That's the question central to Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game.
Published by Steamforged Games, Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game is a semi-cooperative game for one to four players, inspired by the world of the video game of the same name. In Horizon, players each take on the role of a hunter from one of the various tribes in the land. There's the sharp-shooting Nora Marksman, the noble and powerful Carja Warrior, the resourceful Banuk Survivor, and the sturdy and steadfast Oseram Forgesmith. Players take on the call of the hunt which, in the base game, means beginning a long quest to hunt down the infamous Sawtooth (more incredible "big game" creatures are and will be released with future expansions).
The game is semi-cooperative, which means players will need to work together to make sure they're not completely wiped out by the machines they encounter along the way. But in the end, through the accumulation of glory, only one player will come away the victor of the hunt. Players gain said glory by defeating creatures in a series of five escalating "hunts." From quick skirmishes against smaller foes to clashes with the graceful deer-like Grazers and the lumbering giant crab-like Shell-Walkers, players must carefully balance risk and reward as they use cards from a customized deck and nail-biting dice rolling action to strike out against their foes.
The cards which make up each character's personalized deck vary greatly, from special abilities to arrows, traps, and powerful attack boosters, these decks (and the starting gear of each character) make each player feel extremely distinct from one another. The deck represents both cards you draw to take actions and your life total, so if you're struck by an enemy's attack you'll have to discard cards from your deck. Run out of cards, and you faint - losing a turn and potentially ending the hunt for everyone.
One of the most interesting aspects of Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game is the mode of the game that happens in between each minor hunt leading up to the tango with the Sawtooth. In between each smaller hunt, players have a chance to level up along a skill tree and purchase upgrades from the market. These upgrades and skill tree progressions offer even further customization as you make your way through your journey, and it's one of the most satisfying moments of the game.
The gameplay itself feels fast and fierce -- you could end up in and out of an encounter in a few short rounds, or you may find your hunting party barely scraping by as a Shell-Walker unloads wave after wave of attack on you. And the added layer of trying to gain the most kills and glory while competing with your rivals on the board makes this a fast-paced dash to the finish, each and every hunt.
Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game also includes variant rules for fully Cooperative play, though it removes some of what makes the game so satisfying when you're not racing against your fellow players to score the most wins. As a result, cooperative mode (and solo play, for that matter), end up with an extremely low difficulty level, showing just how much of the challenge comes from desperately trying to gain glory against the other players at the table.
The look of this game is absolutely stunning. The unpainted miniatures including with the base game -- both of the hunters and enemies -- are beautifully and evocatively sculpted. I'm especially fond of the look of the lumbering Shell-Walkers, whose boxy sculpt really stands out on the table.
My only real complaint with the game comes from the rulebook, which could use a bit of refinement in the way it lays out the rules of the game. Though it reads well from start to finish -- setting the scene and revealing elements of the game in a way that builds upon previously taught concepts -- it's very difficult to reference on the fly. A cheat sheet on the back of the rulebook helps in some cases, but because it doesn't have the space to expand upon the rules it shows in brief, there were several moments in our gaming experience that were brought to a halt as we pored over the rulebook, flipping to find a specific, nuanced (but important) rule. All that being said, there are several fan-made resources online that streamline the rules, as well as a few fabulous how to play videos which take much of the burden off of the rulebook.
The Bottom Line
Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game does an incredible job of translating some of my favorite moments from the video game to the table. From enemy behaviors that really feel like AI, to the various tribes on display here each acting in ways you'd expect them to, this game really captures the flavor of the original game. With tremendous production design and tight gameplay, this may be one of the best semi-cooperative games I've ever played. Though it sports a somewhat hefty price tag ($105 USD on the Steamforged Games page), the level of pure adventure on display here is worth taking a closer look at. And for diehard fans of the original game, Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game truly surpasses expectations.
Get This Game If...
- You're a fan of the original video game source material
- You're looking for a semi-cooperative, dice-rolling battle game
- You've always wanted to shoot an arrow at a giant robot deer
Avoid This Game If...
- You're looking for a fully cooperative game (the full coop in this game will be too easy for most game groups)
- You're looking for a campaign-style miniatures game
To learn more and pick up your own copy of Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game, head over to Steamforged Games to start your quest today!
The copy of Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game used in this review was provided by Steamforged Games.