Gamers are well aware of the Horizon Zero Dawn video game. It’s won numerous awards for it’s innovative gameplay, compelling story, and beautiful environments. And now, you can bring Aloy’s world into your living room with Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game, designed by Sherwin Matthews and published by Steamforged Games.
Translating the Horizon Zero Dawn gameplay into board game mechanics isn’t easy, but I was pleasantly surprised at how well everything correlated to what I was already used to from the video game.
Let’s see how it plays!
Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game Gameplay
A session of Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game starts with players selecting their Hunter. Now, you won’t be explicitly playing as Aloy or any of the other named characters from the video game series, but the bast game features four characters to choose from.:
- Nora Marksman using precise aim to strike opponents at their weak points.
- Carja Warrior that embraces their ability to evade enemies, relying on their own agility.
- Banuk Survivor who revels in the glory of defeating enemies, which they do in style.
- Oseram Forgesmith who is tempered in fire, wielding flame against all takers.
From there, Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game becomes a competitive cooperative experience. Players must work together to take down their quarries in each Encounter, while earning individual glory to prove themselves as worthy additions to the Hunters’ Lodge. At the end of each encounter, players earn Sun tokens and Half Sun tokens based on their glory earned in that encounter.
The end of the game is triggered with the final hunt, triggered by the Hunters’ Call card. After working through multiple encounters, it’s time to take down the last beast – the target of your hunt at-large.
Whoever ends up with the most Suns at the end of the game is the winner. So, it definitely pays to work together as a team, but it also behooves you to play in a way that maximizes your personal glory. The Encounters get progressively more challenging, so don’t think that you’ll be able to stroll through the tall grass without the help of your companions.
In between Encounters, players have the ability to spend some time around the proverbial campfire, leveling up and buying new gear from the Merchant. This gives the game a nice flow where you’re in the thick of battle and then you get a much-needed breather before heading back into the fray.
With multiple combinations of encounter setups, the ability to play sneakily or aggressive, and a wide variety of enemies, Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game sends you into the heart of the wilds.
Staking Our C.L.A.I.M. on Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game!
The table presence with Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game is all in the magnificent miniatures. Steamforged Games hangs their hat on their ability to showcase the best minis that you could ever want, and they deliver in a big way.
By using “scaled sculpts”, you’ll feel the terror as your tiny character faces down much larger threats like the Sawtooths and Shell-Walkers. All come in a light gray, ready for you to apply your painting skills to bring even more life to your table. I’ve added them to my growing backlog of miniatures to paint, and I’ve realized that I really need to start making a dent!
Apart from the miniatures, I appreciate the 8 engraved custom dice to help you track your hits. There are also six large Encounter tiles that you’ll use to setup the various scenarios in the game. They are double-sided, which is a smart way to expand the boundaries of the game without added cost or cardboard.
All of the cards are solid quality, although it did take me awhile to sort them all out during the initial setup. It wasn’t immediately clear which cards were meant to be in my starting character deck and which ones were for later (Upgrades). Once I understood the iconography, this was much more clear but don’t feel bad if you encounter the same issues just starting out. Since this is a game centered around the decks, I’ll probably end up sleeving the cards to counteract the constant use.
Other than that, there are a lot of cardboard tokens, representing everything from Wounds, to Traps, to Damaged Components. You’ll also get a bunch of plastic baggies to help keep them sorted. My only qualm with the cardboard is that the Skill Tree tokens, used to track the progression of your character, are quite small. You track level on a single card, so they have to be small, but they’re also easy to lose.
The rulebook is THICK, clocking in more than 50 pages. It might seem daunting, but I think that it’s about twice as big as it needs to be. Steamforged went with larger, descriptive images instead of condensing everything down. It ends up making the rulebook heftier in exchange for making it easier to read.
If you’ve played a lot of tabletop roleplaying games, you’ll be familiar with the action economy that goes into the Encounters. There’s always a lot that you can do, and you’ll be able to play your character in a variety of ways. Typically you’ll be leaning into your strengths, but there’s nothing stopping you from trying out a new playstyle.
You will be limited by the Action cards in your hand. I didn’t find myself lacking the necessary ammunition very often; most of the time I had something offensive that I could do in addition to evasive or defensive actions.
In a similar way, coordinate your strategy with the other players. Even though the enemies will go in-between player turns, you can use the initial configuration to plan out your attack and the react when things go astray. As you level up, you’ll enhance your deck and equipment, opening up more options for you to take.
I also like how the deck is representative of the life that you have remaining. It’s a resource that grows as you progress through the game, allowing you to shape your strategy and set yourself up for success in future encounters. I love the options that I get as I level up my character, especially getting rid of cards that don’t fit my strategy.
For a game grounded in a successful IP, Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game looks wonderful. Sometimes with these sorts of projects, publishers have to re-use existing art assets and be content with what they’re given. I’m looking at you, upcoming Skyrim Adventure Game…
There is a lot of iconography in the game, and it took me a few plays to get comfortable with it. Some icons are strictly applicable to enemies, like their attacks and component details, while others are more global like status conditions and upgrades.
I’m mostly drawn to the futuristic aspect of Horizon Zero Dawn franchise, and the aesthetic is captured well within the game components. The terrain is wonderful (and could also be used in your tabletop roleplaying games), and the layout of the cards is well-presented.
The main issue I have with the aesthetic is with some of the cardboard tokens. It’s almost like they are a little too simple? Most are a white icon on a gradient background. It’s clean, clear, and functional, so I don’t know why it’s a sticking point in my head. Maybe it’s because the edges of the Blazing Sun tokens are cut-off.
But, at the end of the day, the look and feel of the game is perfectly reminiscent of Horizon Zero Dawn, which is exactly what I’m looking for in a game like this.
Obviously people who are already fans of the Horizon Zero Dawn franchise will be drawn to this game, and I’ve already mentioned that the game does capture the essence of the component destruction that the video game is known for. There’s only one quest in the base game, the Sawtooth, so you’ll always have that encounter be the endgame. The variation comes through the Encounters leading up to then, and the character progression choices.
If you are a big fan of miniature games and turn-based combat, you’ll find a nice home with Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game. You can hide in the tall grass, evade enemies through the ruins, and distract them to give yourselves an edge. It’s also a great game for people who enjoy cooperative experiences but still want to be ranked against their peers at the end.
Lastly, there are a multitude of expansions for the game. I only have experience with the Sacred Lands Expansion, which adds two more Hunters and Encounters. So, if you like games with mountains of content that add replayability, different setups, and new abilities, then this might be a good way to dip your toe into that pool. As of the writing of this review, there are 8 expansions and 2 more exclusive expansions (plus Kickstarter exclusives).
If you want to play as Aloy, you’ll need to hunt down a copy of the Kickstarter Exclusives.
Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game is oozing with the theme of the wilds. When you target enemy components, you feel like you’re actually Aloy chipping away at these threats. In my first game, I prioritized traps and forcing enemies to move through my traps on their way to me. I felt powerful!
The game is fairly long, comprised of five separate hunts. I think it could have been cut to 4 hunts or even 3 hunts, but then you’re sacrificing some of that level-up progression that I enjoy. This is a main-course game that will take up your evening. Of course, you can always cut it down or play over multiple sessions, keeping your decks intact.
The component-destruction aspect of the game is my favorite by far. Excess damage doesn’t get carried over and applied to the enemy, however. Even still, the game puts you in the shoes of heroes. You always feel well-equipped to handle the encounters. By the third encounter, the enemies don’t pose as much of a threat and I found myself targeting them instead of their individual components.
Theme comes through, and I’m curious to see how the other expansions improve and change the game overall.
Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game: Conquer the Final Hunt!
There’s a lot to like with Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game. Deckbuilding, quality miniatures, and worthwhile character progression. I’ve had fun testing my hand at the various Encounters with others, and I’ve found that working solo adds the challenge that I’m looking for when playing board games alone. With a full table, some of the Encounters can be breezed through.
Because of the aforementioned reasons, we’re happy to aware Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game with the Nerds on Earth Seal of Awesomeness award! It’s a beautiful game that has prompted me to fire up Horizon Zero Dawn on my console in anticipation of the sequel. I’ve really enjoyed finding how the different Hunters click with their preferred strategies.
You can pick up a copy of Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game through Steamforged Games directly, or look for it on the shelves of your Friendly Local Game Store (FLGS)!
Disclaimer: Nerds on Earth was provided a copy of Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game, and the Sacred Lands expansion, from Steamforged Games in exchange for an honest review.