18 July 2018

I Lied.

It has been more than a year since my last post in this blog. 
It must be said that despite my efforts to change the focus from game development to game critique, it was not meant to be. Instead of writing detailed passages about how to get good at other games, I just kept pouring my soul into my notebooks, adding layers upon layers of conceptual design for various games, RPG, board game strategy, family board games and even card games. 

I don't know at this point, if any of those ideas will become a full fledged products, that other people will buy and spend time with, but I'm hopeful. 
However, I will be saying good bye to this blog, for more than a 4 years it served me as practice point in writing, editing, working and failing with social media and many other things. When you grow up you leave your toys behind, but you never forget them. 

I will be moving to a new address and continue developing games 
and bothering other people with my work. 
All the good and new stuff at:

13 January 2017


Every so often bloggers, youtuber and other so-called media people post an apology for being distracted from their hobby by mundane things in life. I guess it is my turn now. I have not posted in this or other blogs for over two years.
I'm NOT sorry about it.

Happy? During those two years I've changed several jobs, girlfriends, medications and even moved to a different country twice. The only thing that happened with this blog is that Triss Merigold has crawled to the top of most viewed post. Me, on the other hand have been busy understanding and practicing various concepts for tactical, operational and global strategy wargames. Have I published anything yet? No. But I will. Most likely share it here.

But, it feels good to be back with more experience under my belt.

As always yours,
Mark-Paul Severn.

Considering that today is Friday 13th do not be surprised if next post will come next year or so. :D
but fingers crossed.

6 November 2015

Halo 5: Guardians : campaign review

Before we get to the analysis of the new Halo campaign lets have a quick look at the usual selling points. Halo 5 is a definitely a "next-gen" game, with outstanding graphics and traditional halo multiplayer fun. Each gun has its own unique advantage and use in the game. 343 Industries have kept true the original formula of picking right combo of guns for each playstyle. Multiplayer map, (despite the lack of forge and split screen mode) still deliver good gaming experience (if servers are running of coarse). Despite some minor technical problems, Halo 5 runs well, and some problems most likely will be solved in coming patches. The biggest problem of Halo 5 can not be fixed by patches, however. It lies in the new way 343 decided to tell the story in this new chapter of much loved game.

To understand why Halo games were so successful earlier, we need to uncover the mechanics of the previous Halo storytelling.

First of all, our protagonist, Master-Chief and Cortana are always in danger. This provides the classic balance between them, as Master Chief does the brawling and fighting while Cortana protects him by advice, information and sometimes a joke. Classical stereotypes of "strong, silent type" and "damsel in distress" are filled, easily recognised by most people. In addition, each and every crisis situation our heroes are facing they meet together and react in absolutely different way, evoking whole range of emotions. Every time Cortana is worried or actually scared because the 117 is in danger, player feels that in short one liner like "I'll be fine" or "I always do" Master Chief is confident and that feeling passes to player as he shoots his way through or faces a dive into another abyss. 
they will meet again. too soon if you ask me.
Second of all the nature of problems is urgency and constant evolution of crisis player must face. Once player is used to the idea of fighting Covenant, Flood approaches, then when there is a plan of escape it turns out that threat is much greater, then Covenant actually invade Earth, and so on. Note that if you played any of the previous games, both main characters and side characters react differently, adding emotion and different layer to the main story of Master Chief and Cortana, which in turn makes rather repetitive shooting gameplay, meaningful. 

Third. Attention to story in each mission. Each story of Halo had a story within story often told or shown in small cut scenes in the middle of linear gameplay. Classic example of that may be a scene where Master Chief loads a video log before encountering Flood for the first time in original Halo. Or  a moment in Halo 4, when before defeating Didact (main Forerunner antagonist) Master Chief is thrown off the light bridge and saved by Cortana delaying action. When games actually hands control back to player, all he needs to finish the enemy and detonate the bomb. Though it robes player from the pleasure of killing the bastard, it provides enough tension before the final scene, where Cortana leaves Master Chief. Each main storyline had those moments, like Jonson's squad facing the Flood for the first time, Keyes moving her ship into the slip space portal following the Prophet of Regret. I should especially mention Halo 3:ODST, as its campaign was build around the same concept, and gave an absolutely fresh look at the Halo universe.

left to right: Val, Locke, Buck, Tanaka
Fourth: Great characterisation. Each significant character had its motives, reasons, fears and loves fleshed out and supported by dialogue, musical theme and interactions with others. For example in the infamous ending of Halo 2, Sargent Jonson is threatening the Guilty Spark, just to be stopped by Miranda Keys in a very gentle way, by tap on a shoulder. Simple gesture but shows how much care has been taken to make this scene emotionally charged.  Each significant location had similar work done, to communicate it unique feel and sense. Others, non-playable characters received similar attention. best example would be a difference between Elite and Elite Royal Gard's armour. 

These are four pillars of Halo story telling. With variety of approaches it made first trilogy, ODST, Halo: Reach and Halo 4 a great games and whats more important - great stories. Now lets look at the Halo 5: Guardians campaign, an see how well it fares. Beware, there will be spoilers in the coming text.

Halsey: if only people share information with me,
i'd solve the worlds problems.
Ever since Doctor Kathryn Halsey been introduced to the Halo universe she plays more and more important role, and Halo 5 begins with scene that drops a huge hint that she is the one who created Cortana, only later to confirm that hint. However, this goes into odds with story in Halo:Reach, where Spartans risked their lives to get Forerunners construct (Cortana) off the planet. Then without any explanation of events between Halo 4 and 5, Captain Lasky (who was just a Commander in previous game) orders fire team Osiris into the fray to save and retrieve Doctor Halsey from the Covenant. That would not be so odd, if in previous game, UNSC have not actually ordered and actively attempted to assassinate her. Yet, when Osiris brings her to Infinity, the very same Spartan who tried to kill her is assigned to protect her. I'm I the only one who finds this odd?

The focus then shifts to fire team Osiris as they leap out the Pelican, land into battle between Covenant and Forerunners, fight their way through with as much as possible noise. That's Infiltration, mind you. Another odd things is absence of Fire team Majestic, who were main protagonist in Halo 4: Spartan Ops. No mentioning or even a hint on their role and current position.    

Chiefs new armour
Then to make things even more interesting, Master Chief appears as a part of the Blue Team. If you have not seen "Forward into Dawn", TV short series this would come as huge surprise. Then according to  Locke, our new protagonist, Blue Team has the longest service record of all Spartan teams, and what's more they are a family. Yes, brothers and sisters. Surprised? Across more than 6 games Chief, was posed as a loner, and now for the justification of 4 player cooperative game they drop a bomb: Chief had a family. Some have made a quick conclusion that Blue team is a Majestic, but no name, voice or even armour design matches them. I guess we have to wait for DLC pack to uncover that mystery.

Another mystery is the way Cortana sends a message to Master Chief, and how quickly Infinity finds out about this, triggering the unusual reaction from Master Chief: to disobey an order and go searching for her. After that, game focuses on Osiris and Locke, giving players only 3 missions as Master Chief. Yes, three missions chained together, where Cortana appears only in one, the rest being just a voice over comms.

To avoid re-telling the whole storyline, lets analyse how missions are built in Halo 5. Sadly, there is only two type of mission: run and gun, and sit and fight. There are two exceptions in campaign: two maps where player can interact with NPC and just observe their behaviour. Sadly both maps have maximum 4 NPC to talk to.The mission on Meridian consist of delaying advance of Prometheans between sections barricaded by walls. It may not be obvious but Prometheans are able to teleport, so where is the point in that combat?

Run and gun is nothing new, you simply move from one pointless objective fighting through waves of enemies to another. On occasion you get a Mantis or Scorpion to support your team. Apparently to make your life difficult, enemies set up are an energy shields to block your movement. Sadly these shield can be taken out in six shots, but every time your   encounter them your veteran Spartans ask you what to do with them. Occasional flight missions are exactly same, as you fight off wave after wave in order to get the mission done. No sense of urgency whatsoever, despite the shouting in comms, as you know that until the last wave is defeated mission will not progress. Even death can't make you worry enough, as you do not die, but became incapacitated until your teammate revives you. This kills the sense of danger and urgency outright, despite being useful.

In sit and fight missions, you are locked to certain location and must repel identical waves of enemies. Yes: identical! Ever so often script spawn same groups as just killed, and only after your defeat at least 3 of them, game triggers a voice over saying: "That's last of them." Remember I've mentioned variety of enemies in combat? Halo 5 does not have it. Instead, it repeats 3 cycles of enemies. For Covenant these are: grunts with Elite, jackals with Elite leader (!), and Elite in active camouflage. In several locations it places Jackal snipers. For Forerunner's cycle is even more boring: Crawlers, Soldiers, One (!) Knight either with close combat or long range weapon. Then cycle repeats itself, over and over again.

There is another game that uses same ridiculous method: Destiny. With integrated jump packs and ability to do splash damage, Spartans act more or less same way as Guardians in Destiny. For me this is a serious downfall, but you my reader are free to make your own conclusions. However, due to this approach in mission gameplay, Halo has zero creativity on enemies, as you know how they will act and in some cases even where they will spawn. Especially frustrating that during last missions Forerunners who are protecting Cortana are fielding lots of Crawlers.

What happened to the Knights? Where are the elite warriors of Forerunners? They all look like a copy-paste. That's just lazy.

Boss battles. I'm not going to spoil anything by saying that there s only one boss in Halo 5: The Warden Eternal. He fights (or rather gets stuck) same way every time you encounter him. In addition he keeps threatening and be arrogant even after you defeat him 7 times! Yes, same boss battle 7 times with just minor variation. For example, last combat is interrupted by Cortana, almost same way as it was done in Halo 4, but with a purpose of obvious betrayal from her. Don't get me wrong, for the most of the game Cortana speaks like a apocalypse preacher from really bad movie, but everyone keep thinking that Chief can fix her somehow. So this big surprise that Cortana turns evil, is no surprise after first 5 minutes in the game. Seriously 343, it seems that you forgot how to build up a tension for a cliffhanger.

Lets summarise Halo 5 campaign in our four pillars:

1. Danger. 
At no point in the campaign none of the characters is in real danger. Despite the so-called massive civilian casualties and presence of gargantuan Guardians, no one is hurt or even endangered. All Spartans have faith and courage to fight waves of mindless enemies and listen to crap told by  NPC, Cortana and Warden. The only emotional reaction they produce is pulling the trigger.

2. Urgency. 
Do things get more and more desperate as events unfold? Sadly no. Players may take their time in beating the missions, since there is no time limit, even for events like get to Guardian. NPC keep telling us that there is destruction and horror caused by wake of the Guardians, but we never see that. The closest situation is when Osiris is leaving Meridian and we hear one woman begging for help. That's it. And there is nor reaction from the Locke or other Spartans whatsoever.

3. Attention to storyline during the missions.
I cannot express how disappointing Halo 5 is in this area. Intel you gather during the mission opens only a fraction of information about what happening. Conversation between characters are short and pointless, usually confirming target, shouting warning or commenting the obvious. Most of the Osiris mission are based on getting from point to point, more specifically to reach location of Cortana and Chief. Mindless hilarity of this process lies in simple fact, that Roland (Infinity's AI) have discovered
forget the cloak. its not in the game
the slip space coordinates by decoding the signal of teleporting Guardians. But instead of teleporting team into those coordinates, Spartans are going to Sanghelious, to board another Guardian and jump with it. As you fight through, NPC occasionally make a short remark, like "these statues are older than Egyptian pyramids", only to be cut short by Locke or others. Sadly, this is another similarity with Destiny, where NPC are pretending that they care or surprised.

The biggest disappointment here is not Locke or meaningless story. It is that after Halo 4, focus has been shifted from Master Chief! By the end of Halo 4, John 117 has suffered a first major defeat in the whole series, and suddenly realised that he is not a machine, but a human being. His story became not only heroic, but humane and emotional. His loss of Cortana was by far the most hear-breaking scene in FPS games. There was an incredible potential to develop that story, and give Chief something new, something to live and fight for. Instead we get a boring story of 4 dudes trying to get from point A to point B. Such a shame. 

4. Characterisation 
Are character detailed in Halo 5? Do they make us care for them? Lets see.

Spartan Locke has a best position since his character has been promoted in (horrendous) TV series Nightfall and he is leading the team Osiris. However the only emotions you get from him are sense of duty and politeness. That's a lot to ask from Spartan? He does try to put a good show in conversation with Buck (yes, Buck from ODST!), but that all you get from him.

Buck, has a second good position but he's character gets to crack a joke in a background, promise to buy a first round and be saved by Locke. If you loved his character in ODST, you will love him again, but he get nowhere near to the old glory.
Ladies of the team, Val and Tanaka are mostly out of the picture, unless the enforced show of team spirit is shown in the cut scene.  Commander Palmer, follows the same pattern, despite never participating in combat. Halsey, Lasky and Roland enjoy several minutes of bickering, and so much praised Arbiter says just several phrases in the whole game. That is another slapstick, since during the hype Arbiter was shown as a key figure in reaching to Chief. However the dramatic conversation between Locke and Arbiter take less than a minute in the game, and has no effect but show off by Cortana. No deals, no talks of trust, just "we are short on time and appreciate your cooperation". Seriously, Locke talks to his enemies as if he is a cop who catches them red-handed.

Cortana, after being our companion for so long, has went through the biggest transformation. No longer we will hear joy, empathy, compassion or even sarcasm. Cortana get a talk of world's peace and Forced Mantle, only to be dislodged in the end by Locke and another flying bulb called Exuberant Witness. The way latter appeared is similar to walking into the miners den and listening to their chat. That NPC apparently was so important that it did not need a cut scene for introduction.  

Finally Master-Chief. He does not really need an additional characterisation, but since he has got such a small time in campaign, he keeps his usual approach. But when he finally faces Cortana it is nothing we can relate to. No trust, no emotion, just "come home with me", when every bit shows that she has became a Mrs. Evil. Blue team gets its characterisation in fancy helmets and good voice over, which does not tell you anything in particular.

To say that Halo 5 campaign is a total miss, would be exaggeration. Despite being repetitive and short (only 4,5 hours) it still provides a lot of fun. and But mission structure, lack of well defined conflict and one-sided characters are definitely the worst in the whole series. If you play this game for the single player, you may want to wait until it will become cheaper. Story line fails to develop previous storyline and lean to unnecessary simplification. One of the saddest part is that musical theme of original Halo, has been replaced for a casual Hollywood epic.

Mark-Paul Severn  


16 January 2015

DnD Attack wing: next step in wargaming evolution.

Today I saw the future. It was magnificent. It was fast, quick to learn, easy to understand, difficult to master, it had a rich lore and could be packed into one relatively small box. The biggest surprise was that it had Dragons, which did not needed thousand special rules, and could operate on same principles as any other unit in the game. Other surprise, was that i did not needed 50+ hours to assemble my army and crash course in miniatures painting in order to have ONE HOUR OF FUN. All I did, is opened the box, put some models on a base and learnt how to plan, move, and roll some dice to see who wins the fight. Was it easy? No! Game has a tactical depth, asks for a great deal of strategical thinking. So as any other wargame, you may say.

You would be absolutely right about it, but what make DnD Attack wing special, is that frees your mind from huge amount of needles work like calculating number of shots, number of inches travelled, bonuses for charging, special rules, stupidity of sword challenges in plasma-gun firefights and loads of other geek pleasures. (Yes, Warhammer 40000, I'm talking about you.)  

What it offers in return is game play where almost everything is automated, except process of making decisions and dice rolling. your movement follows template pathways, allowing for flanking and tactical retreats when necessary. Movement itself is very important, as it places you models in more favourable position if you are able to outflank enemy outside of his firing ark. 

Combat is surprisingly simple and interesting. Attacker rolls his dice if target is in firing arc, defender roll his defence dice and possibly spends his Evasion tokens. Terrain, items, like shields, spells and other abilities may add more dice to your roll.  Then defender cancels number of attack equal to his evades. On top of that, if defender has got an Armour, he automatically cancels one attack for each point of armour he has. 
Armour saves? Cover saves? Invulnerable or Feel no pain saves?! Please. 

Armour, however is not unbeatable, if attacker rolls a Critical Hit, then it will bypass armour and will inflict a face up damage card. My luck was such, that in my first critical was "Shattered Armour", which successfully destroyed my one point of Armour. In some cases, just concentrating firepower of your units on one Dragon, or most dangerous opponent will bring it down, without need of Critical hits. 

Magic, has its own simple and beautiful rules. In essence, there are one-shot spells and items, which act as normal attack with some additional effects. On the other hand there are timed weapons, like Breath weapons for Dragons. After they are used, in the same fashion as any other attack, player places several time tokens. Each one of those tokens is removed at the end of the turn. When no tokens left, you may use weapon or ability again. 

Let's talk about ground troops. They are represented by models in your unit, card and several tokens which has Firepower, Defence, Life and Armour values. The biggest change and innovation is how units stats change after it takes casualties. Meaning: when attacks and life points go down, Defence goes up! This is an ingenious solution representing lonely troopers trying to survive under fire breathing Dragon! Smaller targets are much more difficult to hit. Each race, of coarse gets its special fantasy abilities, like free focus, or charge. But I'll let you discover details for yourself. Just, watch out for Giants, they are nasty. 

There are several actions your unit may take, each one giving you a specific bonuses.
Focus: lets you change focus result into a hit or evade
Aim: lets you re-roll dice when attacking target
Evade: gives you one automatic evade result when being attacked
Charge: lets your unit re-roll attack dice in close combat.

Wait, you may ask, where could I've seen that? X-wing miniatures game and Star Trek attack wing are using essentially same system designed by FFG. So why this system is a next step in wargaming evolution? Is it so new that makes all over systems old and useless? Short answer is no. But what x-wing system does, is truly an evolution: it takes most common elements of any wargame and makes them so player friendly as never before. I'll compares some of the most important elements of x-wing system with some of Games Workshop products.  

Lets start with units movement. Pre-made move patterns use in X-wing, Star Trek and DnD Attack wing are not so new, Aeronautica Imperialis have used similar method, with manoeuvre cards, however it save player a huge amount if time, as it removes measuring with builders measurement tape, and then dragging all of your models to a new location. 

This is followed by positioning. With exception of fantasy warhammer, positioning in 40k did not really played such an important part, as most unit had 360 degree firing ark, unless designers artificially denied it, like they did to Storm Talon. Here. positioning becomes paramount, as one millimetre out of firing arc may sometimes cost you the game, thus adding an extraordinary level of tactics, not usually seen in most other games. 

Most important is secret planning and alternative activation.  When size of the table-top army reaches hundreds of models just waiting until opponents finishes all of the planning in his head, then movement, then rolling bucket of dice to see if anything hits will take a long time and will put opponent under stress and boredom. With secret planning, you choose your movement on a dial and then alternate movement of your units in order of initiative. If models overlap they either stop or engage, in any case this keeps BOTH PLAYER PLAYING, and paying attention to what happens on the table after every move. Perhaps, Lord of the Rings would be able to find itself on positive side with this aspect. 

 Finally, simplified damage and combat system. Only one roll made by each player for each combat. ONE!!! Compare that to this procedure:  roll to hit, to wound, roll to save, roll for invulnerable save, roll for cover save, roll for feel-no-pain save. If its a vehicle, then roll on a damage table. When Warhammer was born, it was pioneering ways for other wargames, and being drawn around small, platoon sized engagements, this complication was acceptable. But these days players will spend an hour just setting up the models! Then another 4-5 hours rolling those buckets of dice. What x-wing did, is just simplified the very same system to one roll and deck of damage cards. And I firmly believe that DnD attack wing will become a new standard for wargames just because of this elegant simplicity. 

One more thing: becoming best seller. Despite all odds, huge controversies like practically terminating relations with brick-n-mortar game shops, oversized and overcomplicated rules Games Workshop is still a leading company in wargaming. For now. (muhahahaa!) GW main product Warhammer and Warhammer 40k became icons and standards for this industry when no other opponent like that existed. With careful  marketing and expansion Warhammer became a bestseller and system copied and followed so many times, that none cares to count. Every time you look at some other rules for fantasy or sci-fi games you will find a resemblance to Warhammer by Mr. Rick Priestly. 

One of the biggest reasons for that is "stealing" gamers from GW by a new upstart. This rules similarity allows players switching to something new to shorten their learning curve, as in essence it promises to let them do something they were not able in Warhammer. One of latest examples is Dropzone Commander, which despite its small scale, elegant modelling is still a clone of W40K, modified, upgraded with command cards but essentially a clone. Does it sells? yes it does. Is it a great game? No. 

So when x-wing in less than 2 years became a world phenomenon and created portfolio of order for 3 years ahead, Games Workshop kept losing its market, its customer base and profits. Current half a year financial review shows that despite bringing so many wonderful coloured books, card, new edition of rules people are gradually losing interest in Warhammer. Will GW fortunes change for the better? I doubt  that. The simplest reason for that is both systems needs to be replaced with something completely different, modern and quick and GW is not a company know for drastic innovation.

So, the new king has arrived, and his name is X-wing. Now relax and watch other copy its ideas, spreading them around and slowly eating away what's left of GW share of market. 

Your megalomaniac, 
Mark-Paul Severn.






26 December 2014

Beyond the Gates of Antares: Beta rules for download

Here it is, free to download BETA rules for upcoming table-top hit: Beyond the Gates of Antares.

click to download

2 August 2014

Beyond the Gates of Antares: Alpha rules

After a long silence Beyond the Gates of Antares, a new sci-fi game by Rick Priestly has returned. Alpha rules are released for the purpose of playtest and available in low and high color variant.(links are below). File is 52 page and cover most of the know development of this game, including history of the Spill, technology, major races and factions.

I'm posting these files based on Rick Priestley opinion:
If you want to share copies with your playtesting partners just share them - that's what the pdf is there for.  
The rules are based on Bolt Action, a great game by Master Priestly. But ruleset itself does not have a rules for vehicles and most definitely will expand in near future. Files are represented on basis that you will not use them for commercial purposes. All copyrights and trademarks belong to Warlord Games Ltd. no challenge of intellectual property is intended.

Beyond the Gates of Antares: Alpha rules (printer friendly low-color version)

Beyond the Gates of Antares: Alpha rules (full color version)

25 July 2014

Review: Deadzone game mechanics

Enforcers with Captain
Deadzone, huh? The first time I had a look at this game I thought it just another Necromunda-clone. Despite having 3-dimensional approach to space and different morale status my presupposition was not changed. After all, small scale skirmish games are established genre, what new could be possibly made there? All of them revolve around same ideas established by Rick Priestly in early W40K and later in Necromunda and Mordheim. Difference in minor details or skills (like Infinity for example) do not make a game revolutional. So I admit:

I was wrong. 

Deadzone by Jake Thorton does not blow you away with its absolutely new game mechanics, it takes your heart slowly, but surely. You'd still do all the usual things: determine initiative, activate models, shoot, move, fight, give commands and use special card. But first of all you do not need to count number of shots or punches in combat. It is probably The Newest Approach to skirmish games we have seen for a long time.But before I will go into details of how it works and what it does, allow me to summarise what this game is about. 

Deadzone is wargame of tactical unpredictability. You as player, would have to fight on several level of the game. 
  • Preparation: gather your team of specialist and prepare for the unknown.
  • Tactical: you need to make an analysis of yours and prediction of opponent's mission objectives. 
  • Combat: you must use your team wisely, play to its strengths in order to prevail and survive.   
Now the most important difference of Deadzone from other games is its core mechanics, which is dead simple on a first glance, and deep on the second. In short it could be described as: highest number of successes wins. In order to succeed in most actions player takes a test, usually on 3 d8. To achieve success they need to roll a equal or higher number of the stat used. For example, for Survive 5+ you'd roll 3 d8 looking for 5 or higher result. 

The real difference begins with two things, first of all: result of 8, is an exploding dice, i.e. gives you another dice for the same test. If again score 8, it gives another dice, and so on. Second: biggest difference of game mechanics is comparing the result of the test. There are 3 stages of success: one success more than opponents, double and triple. The higher is obviously the better. For each level of success in close combat, shooting, commanding or other special actions there is a chart with effects. 

Another big difference is that every model can take either two Short actions or one Long actions. This alone makes for a very intense tactical decision making. For example, in ranged combat you have a choice to either Shoot to kill one model, Blaze away to Pin down entire square with lets say three models, or take an Overwatch and wait till enemy walks into a crossfire.   

One of most controversial mechanics of Deadzone is Cover system. Cover against normal Shooting works as you'd expect: give bonus to your defence. However against Blaze Away (pinning fire) it provides negative modifier. Why? Because it's comfortable to be in cover, and while enemy is trying to pin you down you are more likely to curl and hide. Controversial? Yep, but works fine.

Less controversial, but still unusual system is Command. Some models have a command value , creating your Command pool (number of orders per battle), but shouting orders is a Long Action. With 6+ test on 3 d8 it is a risky business as well. However each level of success, Normal, Double and Triple has three separate entry for effects. This is a bit tricky, because you can't plan your order, you see if your are successful, and then determine the order. However all three entries have 3 distinct similarities: 
  • boost your troops by giving a free action. 
  • confuse enemy by marking one of his models as activated. thus denying him chance of using that model in his turn.
  • get an extra battle card, either from deck or discard pile     

The Battle cards is another level to this game. They act as instant bonus to your troops abilities or actions. Cards are divided into Active - could be used in your activation, Reactive - used in opponent's turn, and Hybrind which could be used in any phase. 

From my experience of playing Deadzone, it's a very alien concept at first, which takes a very different route form most of skirmish games. However once you drop the "bullet counting and cover saves" mentality, and concentrate on decisions and tactical situation around your team, the game flows. What's most important: this game allows situations to build a story of your team, lucky shots and epic fails almost as good as old-timers. Rulebook has an inbuilt campaign system, equipment, perks and special abilities as well as doze of information of major protagonist Enforcers, Plague, Marauders and Rebels.
Those pinky goons are Plague.