How to Play Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game

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Interested in picking up a copy of Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game, but after some more info before you buy? After a review of the game’s mechanics, or an overview of the rules and how the game runs? Check out our How to Play Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game article for an in-depth look at the game, its mechanics, and what it’s like to play!

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How to Play Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game – Introduction

Today at FauxHammer.com, we’re going to plunge into the untamed wilderness of the far future. Grab your spear, your bow, and get ready to salvage some scrap: the world of Horizon Zero Dawn awaits.

You can find our full product review of Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game here. Make sure you’ve had a quick look at that before you read on here!

Horizon Zero Dawn The Board Game Review Miniatures (E) 2
Horizon Zero Dawn The Board Game Review Miniatures (E) 1

As readers of out other recent product reviews will know, we’ve recently decided to step up our playtesting here at FauxHammer.com.

Board games, TTRPGs, Warhammer, whatever. They’re all about getting people around a table and doing stuff together.

So, that’s what we’ve decided we’re going to do now. Enlisting some FauxHammer nearest-and-dearest, once again, we’ve gone to the awesome The Games Table in Norwich.

How to Play Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game – The Team

Today’s testers are a duo of super-geeks with a phenomenal pedigree for board games, role-playing games, and tabletop wargames. These chaps sit atop a collective hoard of miniatures, models and board games that would make any dragon envious, and have a good forty years of gaming experience between them (which is impressive considering neither one of them is in their thirties yet).

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From left to right, you’ve got myself, Leo, and Jordan. Leo and Jordan are, without doubt, the only people I could get hold of short-notice some of the most clued-up and knowledgeable gamers around. Both boast extensive experience with TTRPGs, board games – including Steamforged Games products – and tabletop wargames. Who better to have an up-close look at Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game’s system?

How to Play Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game – The Venue

As with our How to Play Epic Encounters articles, we set up shop at the awesome The Games Table in Norwich.

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For those local to it, The Games Table is a fantastic and spacious venue that will cater to all your gaming needs. Whether you’re after a scenic battlefield for your game of Warhammer 40,000 or a table for something smaller, there’s a space for you.

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Not sure what to play? Well, The Games Table have a library of over 400 games for you to choose from. Turn up and try something new!

Perhaps your hobby arsenal is looking a bit underfed. The Games Table have a tidy little inventory of supplies and other gaming bits for you to peruse.

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If you’re a local – or even if you’re just visiting – make sure to check out The Games Table. You won’t be disappointed.

How to Play Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game – Playtesting (Base Game)

We’re going to look at the Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game in two parts today. First, we’re going to have a look at the base game. If you haven’t already, you might want to take a look at our review of this product, which is available here.

Then, we’re also going to have a look at how the expansions work with the help of The Thunderjaw Expansion. You can read our review of this product here.

Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game is for 1-4 players and should take 60-90 minutes to play, depending on how au fait you are with the game and its rules. We found it took considerably longer – about 5 hours for our first complete run-though. This will get quicker and quicker as players become more familiar with the game, but…

Setting Up

There’s quite a bit of set up involved in Horizon Zero Dawn: the Board Game. We’ll walk you through it here.

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First off, make sure you’ve got everything you need. Separate out your cards, make sure they’re all in their correct piles and decks. Decide who is playing which hunter and ensure they have the corresponding decks and miniature. For our game, Jordan played the Banuk Survivor, Leo played the Nora Marksman, and I took the Oseram Forgesmith.

Horizon Zero Dawn The Board Game Review Hunter Miniatures (E) 3
Horizon Zero Dawn The Board Game Review Hunter Miniatures (E) 4
Horizon Zero Dawn The Board Game Review Hunter Miniatures (E) 2

Secondly, allocate two areas of your tabletop of play-space. You’ll need a large area to set up the Encounter Tiles, and another area for some card decks. You’ll also need a reasonable amount of space in front of each person for their own cards, decks, and equipment.

Once you’ve allocated these spaces, you need to set up the cards. Doing this is simple, but you do need to ensure it’s done right.

  • First, take the Event Deck. and shuffle this. Place the cards face-down to one side of the board.
  • Next, separate the Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3 Merchant Decks and place them beside the board in sequence.
  • Now, shuffle the Salvage Deck and place that beside the Board
  • Now, we arrive at the Tracking Deck. This is a bit more complicated.
    • First, separate out the Level 1, 2 and 3 Tracking Cards.
    • Shuffle the Level 3 cards and place them face-down. Do the same with the Level 2 cards and place them on top of the Level 3 cards. Finally, do the same for the Level 1 cards, placing them face-down on the Level 2 cards. You should have one stack of cards.
    • Last of all, take the Hunters’ Call card and place it on top.

Your set-up should look a little like this:

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Cards for days.

There is a lot of set up involved. On our first go-through, it took us an hour to get everything sorted out and prepared. Whilst this’ll get quicker the more familiar you become with the game, first-time set-up is hard work as you’ll need to be glued to the instruction manual for the most part.

But, with it done, you’re ready to play!

How to Play

Just like the video game in the Horizon Zero Dawn board game, you take the role of a hunter, looking to defeat the machine-like enemies that prowl the post-apocalyptic wastes of your world. Armed with semi-primitive weapons, you must defeat your foes to earn prestige, and collect resources to upgrade your gear.

Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game is semi-co-operative. On one hand, you need to work with your friends to defeat the machines you’re up against. On the other, only one of you can amass the most Glory Points (which you cash in for Victory Points) and catch the eye of the Hunters Lodge, thus winning the game.

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Like all things in life, you are simultaneously working with those around you, whilst also being in direct competition with all of them.

A game of Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game is split into five Encounters, and each encounter is made up of three phases: the Tracking Phase, the (perhaps poorly-named) Encounter Phase, and the Campfire Phase.

1. The Tracking Phase

The Tracking Phase is the first part of any Encounter. During this phase, the player with the Leader Token and the Fledgling Token (the game suggests the eldest and youngest player respectively take these, but also suggest you just allocate them how you want) draw cards from the Tracking Deck and Event Deck.

The Leader draws three Tracking cards, the Fledgling draws three Event cards. They keep these secret from each other and the other players. Then, they pick one card each and play them at the same time. These two cards represent how the Encounter Phase will be set up.

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The Tracking Cards sit on top, the Fledgling Cards beneath. This determines the shape of the playing board, but also the boon granted to the Fledgling.

The Tracking card selected represents the board and how it will be set up. The Event card applies a condition to the Encounter Phase.

However, on the first Tracking Phase of the game, only the Leader draws cards. No event cards are played. Only the player with the Fledgling card – technically the player in last place – gets to take advantage of the benefits offered by the Event Card. On the first turn, no-one is in last place, so no Event card.

With the information on these cards, you can now move on to the Encounter Phase.

2. The Encounter Phase

This is where the real meat of the game takes place.

First things first, set up your encounter. Using the card drawn and selected by the Leader, construct the board according to the details there.

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You can see the layout of this board matches the set-up in the cards on the right in the image above.

The card will contain details pertaining to how to align the board, where certain machines spawn, and where there are certain terrain features. Once these are all set up, the encounter can begin.

I. The Hunter Turn

First off, you and your friends get to do your thing. Beginning with the player with the Leader token, turns then move clockwise through the other players.

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A Hunter’s turn is made up of three steps: the Hunter Activation Step, the Enemy Step, and the Maintenance Step. First, in the Activation Step, a Hunter can perform two of the following actions…

  • Sprint – move up to 2 squares in any direction
  • Sneak – move 1 square in any direction
  • Craft – take the bottom three cards in their Action Deck discard pile and shuffle them back into their draw pile
  • Distract – choose a non-alert enemy within 2 squares and force the enemy to move 1 sqare towards the target square
  • Make a Ranged Attack – shoot something
  • Make a Melee Attack -whack something

Some abilities also allow players to make free actions, which don’t count towards the total number of actions a Hunter can perform.

Whilst players can choose to just clonk their opponents with a plain old attack, they can also choose to target components. This doesn’t reduce the enemy’s hitpoints, but does weaken them overall. Destroying components also award Glory Points, which players need to win the game.

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Killing enemies also rewards Encounter Points, which need to be obtained to end the encounter successfully. The number of Encounter Points required to end an encounter can be found on the Tracking Card.

II. The Enemy Step

After a hunter has activated, enemies on each tile can perform action. There are a couple of rules for determining which machines do what first:

  • Enemies closest to the hunter that just activated go first
  • If there’s any conflict between which machine goes first, the player whose turn it just was chooses

Enemies exist in one of two states: alert or non-alert.

  • Non-alert enemies simply keep following their patrol routes, following those purple arrows on its tile.
  • Alert enemies cannot become non-alert again for the remainder of the encounter. Enemies become alert if:
    • It is attacked (even if it doesn’t take damage)
    • Another enemy in the same square is alerted
    • Another enemy in the same or adjacent square is attacked
    • A Hunter is in the same square as it at the start of the enemy activation step
    • A Hunter is in an adjacent square and isn’t in tall grass
    • A Hunter sprints in an adjacent square

Once an enemy is activated, players must consult its Behaviour Card to see what it does. This covers everything from moving to attacking. There are more behaviours to consider for the more aggressive and dangerous enemies.

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Players must be careful taking damage. Their Action Deck also counts as their hitpoints, so every time a Hunter takes damage, the pool of cards they can draw on gets smaller. Once they run out of cards, they faint.

Machines also don’t have to roll to do damage. If certain conditions on their behaviour cards are met, the damage is simply done and players must defend. For example, the Scrapper in the image above is within range of the Oseram forgesmith, so automatically deals damage. The Forgesmith then has to roll the dice dictated by their armour to see if they take damage.

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Unfortunately, Jordan rolled consistently poorly against damage. His base armour was dictated by the black crit dice, half the faces of which ensured he’d shrug off all but the worst of blows. However, the other half of the faces were blank, meaning he’d take full damage. Which he did. Very often.

Fainting isn’t great, either. When you faint, you forfeit your Glory Points, and are more likely to miss out on kills – which means no salvage. With no Glory Points, you can’t win the game. With no scrap, your ability to do certain Actions in hampered (the Oseram Forgesmith needs Blaze to do fire damage, for example), and you can’t upgrade your gear – which makes subsequent hunts all the more difficult.

III. The Maintenance Step

Finally, once a Hunter has had their go and the machines have responded, we arrive at the Maintenance Step. This step exists to allow players to see if the encounter continues. If players have defeated enough enemies and gathered enough Encounter Points to end the encounter, they can choose to do so. They also may have failed, should the party be too exhausted to continue or the enemies have escaped.

  • If everyone has fainted (i.e. taken damage to the extent they’ve run out of cards, or have exhausted themselves to faint by running out of cards), the encounter ends in failure.
  • If the encounter is not forced to end due to failure, players should total the number of Encounter Points accrued so far. Should the number be equal to or greater than the number required by the Tracking Card, players can choose to end the encounter if they wish.
  • If players have not accumulated enough Encounter Points, or the majority does not agree to end the encounter, the encounter continues.

Players should keep an eye on the machines left on the board. If a machine escapes, they may not be able to accumulate the requisite number of Encounter Points needed to be successful.

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With the board cleared of enemies, the group could tally up their winnings. Well, everyone but Jordan, who had fainted. Again.

Also, don’t forget to draw your salvage cards for every enemy you kill! These are extremely important, as they dictate not only your ability to do certain damage, but also how well you can trade.

3. The Campfire Phase

The round ends with the party returning to the campfire. Here, they can spend their salvage and level up.

I. The Victory Step

Once a successful encounter has ended, an observer from the Hunter’s Lodge emerges to reward hunters for their skill and bravery.

This is where the game gets competitive.

  • In a two-player game…
    • The player with the most Glory Points is awarded a Full Sun token and becomes the Leader.
    • The other player takes the Fledgling Token. Should there be a tie, no one receives a sun token and the Leader/Fledgling Tokens are swapped.
  • In a three-player game…
    • The player with the most Glory Points is awarded a Full Sun Token and the Leader Token.
    • The player with the second-most Glory Points takes a Half-Sun Token.
    • The player with the fewest points takes the Fledgling Token.
  • In a four-player game…
    • The player with the most glory Points gets a Blazing Sun Token and the Leader Token.
    • Second place gets a Full Sun Token.
    • Third Place gets a Half-Sun Token.
    • Last place gets the Fledgling Token.

In the event of a tie, players are awarded a token one step down from the rank they are tied in.

II. The Level Up Step

If players completed a higher-level encounter than their current skill level, they can level up. If they did not do this, this Step is skipped.

When players level up, they are able to equip themselves with either new Equipment, Ability, or Trait cards depending on how they progress through their talent trees. They must follow the branches illustrated on their skill tree card.

This is a huge part of the game, as it directly affects how your character plays. For example, I had the option of turning the Oseram Forgesmith into a walking fortress of damage resistance or a fire-wielding pyromaniac. Given that he scored bonus Glory Points for setting stuff on fire, I went with the second.

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Levelling up is a big deal as it has a huge impact on how your character plays. Consider it carefully. Perhaps even offer an unintentional prayer up to the Dice Gods.

Sometimes, players may find that they have a higher deck size than they have cards. For example, the Oseram Forgesmith has a starting deck of 18 cards, but with the Ablative Armour upgrade, his deck size increases to 20. If players can’t fill their decks with cards, they do so with Stamina Cards instead. Stamina cards aren’t used for anything more than a visual representation of your character getting beefier.

III. The Merchant Step

Finally, players arrive at the Merchant Step. Using the resources gathered in encounters, players can try and purchase upgrades for their characters. Players visit a merchant of equal level to the encounter they completed: the harder encounter, the better the rewards available.

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The items the merchant has available to purchase after an encounter are determined as follows:

  • Shuffle the appropriate Level deck.
  • Deal cards until 1 Weapon Card, 1 Armour Card, 2 Ammo Cards, 2 Modification Cards and 1 Miscellaneous Item Card have been dealt.

Players must have the correct resources that are listed on a card in order to purchase them successfully.

And with that done, the game returns to the first phase to begin again until five encounters have been completed!

4. The End of the Game

Once there are no remaining cards in the tracking deck at the start of the Tracking Phase, players have reached their final encounter. In the base Horizon Zero Dawn board game box, this is a showdown against the Sawtooths (though we’ll be having a look at another, much meaner enemy shortly…).

The player with the Fledgling token still draws their card, but the board is set up as per the directions on the final Hunters’ Call card.

It all comes down to this encounter, as there are both big prizes on offer, but also the opportunity for the players to collectively lose the game outright should they be defeated.

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It took a fair bit of teamwork and a completely pyrrhic victory from me, who killed the last remaining Sawtooth, then got knocked unconscious in the following enemy step by a Strider of all things, but we did manage to down the base game’s boss.

It’s a tough fight – not, perhaps, dauntingly so, but there’s definitely a good sense of finality to it. The Sawtooths (you fight two of them in a group of 3-4) are extremely aggressive and harry players around the board, dealing high damage and ripping through health.

The criticism of the Sawtooths fight is that Sawtooths aren’t that big of a deal in the Horizon Zero Dawn videogame. They crop up fairly frequently, and towards the end of the game knocking them down is an afterthought. They’re an interesting choice of final fight in the base game – but one that makes much more sense when you consider the expansions available, which we’ll get to in a moment.

Once the encounter is over, players total their Sun Tokens. The person with the most wins and becomes a member of the prestigious Hunters’ Lodge.

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Ultimately, Leo won our playthrough of the base game, successfully claiming more Sun Tokens than anyone else. I came second: whilst I defeated the Sawtooth, I was knocked unconscious and forfeited all the Glory Points I had gained. Jordan, whose poor dice rolling had kept his poor character prone most of the game, came last.

However, we weren’t quite done…

How to Play Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game – Playtesting (Expansions)

With the base game review out of the way, we’ll now have a look at one of Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game’s expansions. As we’ve mentioned already, we’ll be doing this with the help of The Thunderjaw Expansion.

Setting Up

We won’t go into too much detail regarding how to set up your copy of Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game here as we did this above. If you’ve only started reading from this point, you might want to have a quick scroll up.

Instead, we’ll have a look at how to use The Thunderjaw Expansion in your game.

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The first way of introducing the mighty Thunderjaw into the game is by using the Tracking Deck that comes with the box. The second way is to add the Thunderjaw to any other quest by inserting its Hunter’s Call card at the end of any other Tracking Deck.

Once players have decided how they shall reach the Thunderjaw, the next thing they have to do is ensure they are all at least level 3, and visit the level 3 merchant.

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The Thunderjaw’s difficulty increases depending on the number of players in your party.

The Thunderjaw is tough, so players need to be ready to face it as such.

How to Play

We covered all the major steps that go into an encounter in Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game in our the playtest above, so won’t discuss them too thoroughly now. In summary, the game is set up as follows:

Each game consists of five Encounters. An Encounter is broken down into the following steps and phases:

  • The Tracking Phase – this is where players draw cards and set up the board for the next phase
  • The Encounter Phase – this is where you move figures and partake in certain Steps:
    • The Hunters Step. Here, the players have their turn. They can move, attack, and craft.
    • The Enemy Step. Here, Machine or Machines have their turn. They actively combat the Hunters or try to escape.
    • The Maintenance Step. Here, players take stock of the previous round and see if the Encounter Phase continues.
  • The Campfire Phase – this is where players take stock of the Encounter.
    • The Victory Step. Players determine who won the encounter and allocate Victory Points as appropriate.
    • The Level Up Step. As its name suggests, here players spend talent points to strengthen their characters.
    • The Merchant Step. Finally, players can use their salvage to purchase new gear and upgrades.

The Thunderjaw Expansion offers an alternate way of ending your game of Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game. If battling a couple of Sawtooths isn’t really go big or go home enough for you, going toe-to-toe with a massive Thunderjaw might give you the excitement you need.

Facing the Thunderjaw

The Thunderjaw is like nothing you’ve faced before in Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game. A mountain of health and armour, this thing requires Hunters to play smart – and have ensured they’ve got great gear and a firm grasp on their talents.

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In combat, the Thunderjaw is a monster. Capable of scything through a Hunter’s hitpoints with little more than a wag of his robo-tail or a blink of his laser-eyes, he has a devastating array of abilities and a huge deck of Behaviour Cards to keep him unpredictable and forces a Hunter party to remain adaptive.

Knowing your character in and out, having top-tier gear, and a good bit of favour from the Dice Gods is a necessity when facing the Thunderjaw. Whilst you could just about fudge your way through the Sawtooth Encounter with some sloppy play and a few pieces of lower-tier equipment, the Thunderjaw punishes poor rolls or low-geared players with truly devastating consequences.

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For example, keen to get in and set the thing on fire (and boasting a fair few armour upgrades), I got stuck right in at the start of the encounter. Even with a good roll, on a level 3 Ability Card and a big chunk of his health removed, I was powerless to survive the ensuing Enemy Steps. My armour rolls, even though they were good, saw me taking damage every time.

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After a few turns and us having reduced the Thunderjaw to about 66% of its health, we realised there was absolutely no way we were going to beat it. With Leo and I both fainted and the metal behemoth closing in on Jordan, there was no way we could beat it.

Why did we do so poorly? Well, two reasons.

First, the Thunderjaw is tough. Really tough. With more than three times the hitpoints of the Sawtooth and a massive array of attacks and behaviours, it’s an unpredictable and deadly fight for even the most experienced and well-geared hunters. The difficulty increase from a Sawtooth to the Thunderjaw is like going from walking up your stairs to climbing a mountain.

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The second reason is that we simply weren’t well-geared enough. Jordan’s poor rolling throughout the build-up to the Thunderjaw Encounter had ensured he had killed very few enemies and thus had very little upgraded gear. I also didn’t have the best gear: the Oseram Forgesmith is a melee-based character for the most part, and in closing to melee range in the build-up Encounters had meant I had to sacrifice other monsters to the blows of Leo and Jordan’s ranged weapons, and thus missed out on salvage from those kills. You need the best gear available to stand a chance, and we simply didn’t have it.

The Thunderjaw is a truly brutal fight that will devastate undergeared and underprepared Hunters. But damn, he looks great on the tabletop.

Playtesting: Round Up

Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game is a lot of fun – once you get to the game.

The amount of set-up is staggering. There are cards on cards on cards, and enough tokens to fill a bathtub. The Games Table were kind enough to give us a six-seater table, but even then there were times we found that room was getting a bit tight.

But once you can actually get started with the game, the dice start rolling, and the Encounters begin, it’s a lot of fun – and the semi-competitive element can prove to be very interesting. Do you exploit your fellow Hunters and leave them to suffer in the jaws of the machines, or do you work together to bring down your foes? It only takes one player to upset the balance.

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There are a vast amount of brand-new and original mechanics to get to grips with. However, the rules are fairly intuitive, and the well-written instruction manual does help with this a great deal. Jordan and Leo, both au fait with Steamforged’s Dark Souls Board Game, inform me that it’s not wholly dissimilar from then way that plays.

Once you get playing, things begin to make a lot of sense. Whilst our first Encounter was very slow, the second was a bit faster, and by the time we reached the Sawtooths and the Thunderjaw, we didn’t even need to glance at the rules.

It’s also very exciting and very clever in how the machines’ behaviour and associated attacks work. The fact that enemies just do damage forces you to really think about your character placement and how you effect the board around you. It also adds a level of peril and threat that has everyone hanging on your armour dice rolls. Will Jordan faint again, or will he shield himself with his massive crit armour?

It’s not a game you can pick up and put down, that’s for sure. It’s one that requires a good slice of time set aside for it, and one that also requires players to really think about what they’re doing. It’s difficult to master and punishes mistakes: early-game failures will set players back, so you need to be very careful how you play your character. However, if you put in the time, energy, and effort, this is an excellent game that you can have a great deal of fun with.

If you haven’t done so already, make sure you check out our full reviews of Horizon Zero Dawn: The Board Game and The Thunderjaw Expansion.

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Two happy Hunters – and some guy who wandered into shot at the last moment.

We have to say an enormous thanks to The Games Table in Norwich for hosting us – and allowing us to stick around beyond our original booking time! We also have to say a massive thanks to Leo and Jordan for helping us thoroughly playtest these products, and to Lizzie for once again accompanying us and ensuring the smooth running of the day!

Click this link & buy your hobby stuff from Element Games for the UK & Europe to support FauxHammer.com – Use Code “FAUX2768” at the checkout for double reward points.

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Author

  • Rob has spent most of the last 15 years playing World of Warcraft and writing stories set in made-up worlds. At some point, he also managed to get a Master's degree by writing about Medieval zombies.

About VoltorRWH 114 Articles
Rob has spent most of the last 15 years playing World of Warcraft and writing stories set in made-up worlds. At some point, he also managed to get a Master's degree by writing about Medieval zombies.

1 Comment

  1. Damn, you have such beautiful friends!

    Putting my humility in victory to one side though, I’d completely agree that there was a slightly overwhelming amount of initial setup (and number of cards…), but once we got past that it had the making of a great game. Cracking venue, too!

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