Saturday, August 04, 2012


Zero! is a card game about air combat in the Pacific theater of World War II.  It is the third game in the Down in Flames series, focusing on the early part of the war in the Pacific, generally through 1942.  The game comes with cards for each of the planes in the game, along with a separate 'action deck' of cards that are used by all players to play the game.  As befits a wargame, there are a number of different campaigns that come with the game that you can play (the invasion of the Philippines, the invasion of Burma, the Pearl Harbor attack, the Battle of the Coral Sea, etc.  Each campaign consists of a number of missions with varying objectives, but before I get into that I want to discuss the basics of the game.

The basic scenario is the dogfight, which lasts for six turns (though you can play as long as you want if not playing in a tournament or other official competition).  Dogfights take place between elements of fighter planes.  Each element consists of a lead plane and its wingman.  The lead planes have three basic attributes:  Performance, which indicates the maximum number of cards that player can have in her hand; Bursts, which indicates the standard attack factor of the plane; and Horsepower, which indicates the number of cards you draw at the end of your turn.  There can be other attributes (Agile aircraft, bomb capacity, etc.) but those three are what drives the game.  Wingmen have an Offense and Defense rating, but no separate hand of cards.

At the start of the game, you get a hand of cards equal to your leader's Performance rating.  For example, the P-40C Tomahawk has a Performance of 5, so if you were playing an element of P-40Cs you would draw 5 cards.  The cards either describe attacks, defensive actions, or maneuvers that you can execute during the game.  Every card has an "Attack" and a "Response" box on it.  Items in the attack box indicate actions that you can take when you play the card to take actions on your turn.  For example, an 'In My Sights' card lets you make an attack using a specific number of bursts to do a specific amount of damage to an enemy target.  Your opponent then gets to play cards from her hand that have 'In My Sights' listed in the Response box, like the 'Vertical Roll' card, for example.  On your turn you play as many cards as you can, then you draw cards equal to your Horsepower (though not exceeding your Performance rating in total cards in your hand), and then your opponent does the same.

That all sounds rather dry, I realize, but it is the interplay among cards (especially with multiple players) that makes the game fun.  And there are many additional elements that mix things up.  Your Horsepower rating is affected by altitude, maneuvering behind an enemy gets you extra bursts (required to play the higher damage attack cards), the action deck has two 'Ace Pilot' cards that let you respond to any card played by another player, etc.  The game is quick to learn, but there is a fair amount of strategy to it.

The campaigns add bombers and strategic targets to attack, as well as a scoring system for determining after all missions have been flown who won the campaign.  None of these additional elements is all that complicated, though I do occasionally have trouble keeping all of the different types of bombing straight (level bombing, saturation bombing, dive bombing, torpedo bombing...), and of course they all have their own rules.  The only rules quibble I have with the campaigns is the fact that bombers are worth ridiculous points.  Usually, getting your bombers home undamaged is worth more points than actually destroying your target.  Of course, your opponent can also get lots of points for shooting them out of the sky, so some missions just devolve into the attacker trying to protect his bombers, rather than doing his best to take out the target.  But that is a minor quibble over a good, fun game.

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