Sunday, August 31, 2014

Game report: Waterloo's first invitational

Last weekend (on the 23rd), Waterloo hosted a day-long invitational game of HvZ. This was Waterloo's first invitational, and my first game since graduating from Mount Allison.


Waterloo's rules allow sockwhips, which are commonly used as they are good for clearing corners. I had never played a game with sockwhips before - and for that matter, have not used throwing socks much, as I prefer blasters. As Waterloo has special zombies which require socks to stun (more on that later), and does not allow high-velocity modified blasters, I decided to do some minimal mods (lock removal and parasitic resistance zapping) on some new Stryfes that I had lying around and attach sockwhips to them.

Although the game was well-organized overall, there were some issues - in particular, there was some confusion over what modified blasters could be used and whether and how blasters could be combined with sockwhips. The rules PDF, as a moderator told me after the game, was written hurriedly and was a compressed version of a compressed version of the rules for Waterloo's regular weeklong games. It was vague and, in some parts, contradictory. I had asked one of the moderators for clarification before the game and, to make a long story short, not all of the details of the rules had been hashed out before the game, there was overall poor communication on the subject, and as a result I ended up finding out only the night before the game began that attaching sockwhips to the front of dual Stryfes would not be allowed.

Needless to say, this was disappointing - I was looking forward to being able to seamlessly transition between melee and ranged combat, while having weapons appropriate for all zombie types ready at all times.

Since this was Waterloo's first invitational, some issues are to be expected and, aside from this one thing - which AFAIK was only a problem for me - the game was well organized, well run, and well balanced. So, overall, no complaints.

The campus

The campus was a very good one for HvZ, and featured plenty of terrain that favored zombies. The game area was limited to the portion of campus surrounded by ring road, plus building E5. You can see a map the campus here. The blob-shaped road which surrounds a dense cluster of yellow buildings is ring road. As you can see, this area of campus is complicated and convoluted - but what the map does not clearly show is the extensive system of overpasses (which are shown as yellow lines indistinguishable from the buildings) and tunnels (which are not shown at all). Fortunately, I had the foresight to make a small map of the area which I attached to my arm, but even with that, it was easy to get lost.

Much of the area outdoors consisted of gaps between buildings which were narrow enough to allow humans to be hemmed in yet wide enough to give zombies plenty of room to maneuver. The one exception to this was ring road; as it was the edge of the play area, attacks could only come from one direction, and there was enough space between the road and the buildings to give the humans plenty of opportunity to fire on approaching zombies.

The indoors areas also favored the zombie side - or, perhaps I should say that they favored the human side, but less than indoors areas usually do. Many of the corridors had nooks and crannies and there were plenty of doors, all of which made for great ambush spots. There were also some small atriums with many entrances; areas of this sort require good organization on behalf of the humans to clear or defend.

Human groups often traveled along ring road both because it is relatively safe and easy to navigate, and indoors because, despite the abundance of good ambush spots, this was still safer than being outdoors and away from ring road.

Special zombies

There were two types of special zombie in the game: wraiths and tanks. Due to good performance on the part of the humans side early in the game, the zombies only had the one wraith that they had at the beginning of the game, and then gained only one tank later.

The wraith had two long sockwhips which could be used to tag humans at a distance. This made them extremely effective at ambushing humans in stairwells or walking under balconies - or so I heard. I only saw the wraith once, and that was outdoors.

The tank was immune to everything except for socks and missiles, and had two (narrow) blue armbands in addition to the usual headband. This made the tank difficult to quickly identify - especially for people who are used to only looking for headbands, and very much especially at night. Ultimately, it was the tank who zombified me - by the time I noticed that the zombie charging me had the armbands, it was too late to switch to socks. To make matters worse I reflexively swung my blasters as I would if they had sockwhips attached to the front. The lesson to be learned here is that you should always, always, practice with *exactly* the loadout that you intend to use - assuming that you can, of course (*cough* poor communication *cough*).


Combat at Waterloo was markedly different from combat at Mount Allison. At Mount Allison, during missions, the humans tended to travel in a small number of large groups, which the zombies would ambush and charge opportunistically. All play took place outdoors; all academic buildings were safe zones and hiding in them during missions was strongly discouraged. (Sneaking through them to grab a bite from a human group backed up against the doors, on the other hand . . . I had some fun as a zombie that way.)

At Waterloo, the zombies had a strong presence right from the start, the mission goals required the humans to split into smaller groups (or, sometimes, they split anyway due to poor organization), and the campus was convoluted enough that it was possible to run away from the zombies, turn some corners, go through some doors, and loose our pursuers (and sometimes also get lost ourselves). The campus was also large enough that it was possible for human and zombie groups to simply never meet, especially if the humans were traveling indoors.

All of the encounters where zombies spotted a human group that I saw ended with the human group running indoors. There were some good clashes, though - all of which occurred because the humans needed to access an area which the zombies occupied. I wish that there had been more.

While I can't say from firsthand experience what most of the game was like from the zombie side, I heard from other players that it was a little frustrating, as the humans were hard to find and even harder to confront. During one mission, the zombies didn't manage to find any of the humans at all!

If I had to summarize my experience as a human at Waterloo, I would say that it was like playing a survival horror game, whereas I am used to (and prefer) first-person shooters.

The missions

There were a good variety of mission types in the game - surviving for a period of time before the human HQ (which was a safezone) opened, finding and retrieving some maps, securing and escorting some NPCs, collecting items ("dynamite", represented by bottles), and finally assaulting a set of three insta-zombie-respawn circles, each of which could be destroyed with a pack of dynamite.

There were also some filler missions in between these, where the humans were kicked out of the human HQ and told to just survive while being given no clear goal. Each time, the group that I was in spent these missions holed up in an out-of-the-way classroom, and didn't see a single zombie. The high-tension waiting wasn't boring, and it made a nice change of pace from the other missions, but I think that the game could have been improved for both sides if these missions had been replaced by something a little more active - such as, perhaps, defending the human HQ against zombie entry.

There was only one seriously problematic mission: the bottle retrieval one. During that mission, a stunned zombie carried away a bottle that out group was transporting after the person who was carrying it was bitten (a clear rules violation - stunned zombies cannot interact with the game in any way), another bottle simply could not be found, and a human-turned-zombie lied over his cellphone that the three bottles which his group was responsible for retrieving had been found and delivered (a possible rules violation - it hadn't been made clear whether lying about all game-related matters was forbidden, or whether it was only lies regarding one's status as a human, zombie, or stunned zombie were forbidden).

As a result, two bottles were declared to be out of play, and the humans were given one extra bottle to compensate. I remember hearing from a moderator that bottle missions - that's what they call retrieval missions, presumably because they always use bottles - have always been troublesome at Waterloo.

During the final mission, the humans split into four groups - one assaulted each of the three aforementioned circles and one stayed behind to protect a set of NPCs which the humans needed to stay alive in order to win. This was a mistake - the humans had plenty of time and they could easily have had one large group tackle each circle in turn. As a result, the humans were wiped out and the game was declared a zombie victory. At the end of the game, there was one circle left intact, two humans left alive, and one pack of dynamite. The moderators decided to end the game and declare a zombie victory because they saw no chance of the humans succeeding, it was getting late, and they couldn't get in contact with one of the two remaining humans.

Human organization

There were several groups of humans who each tended to stick together, and the degree of organization varied considerably between groups. Since I was the only person there from York, I travelled with different groups throughout the first half of the game - until I was on the same team as the group from Windsor University, who were very well-organized; from then on, I stuck with them whenever I could.

During the first mission - which was to simply survive for a period of time and then enter the human HQ - I ended up with a small group who were abandoned by a larger one. The larger group was watching the back of the area where we had all decided to make a stand, while the smaller group watched the front. The larger group simply left without telling the smaller one where they were going. I happened to be with the smaller group at the time, and decided to stay with them (rather than chasing the larger group) to make sure that they had sufficient firepower.

After we lost some people to a charge, we decided that a change of strategy was in order, and hid inside a building. We took the long way around, though the buildings, to human HQ. By the time we arrived through an underground tunnel, the first mission was over.

I joined the same team as the Windsor group during the third (or was it the fourth?) mission; our team had to secure one of three mad scientists and escort them back to the human HQ. I must say, I was very impressed by how well-organized the Windsor group was - we moved through the corridors in formation, with sockwhip-users at the front and blaster-users supporting each sockwhip-user. In order to persuade the mad scientist to come with us, a sudoku puzzle had to be completed. A small number of people took turns attacking the puzzle while the rest of the team each watched one potential route of entry. It was very nice to be able to focus on the stairwell and to trust the other members of the team to watch each of the other entrances.

The Windsor group only started taking serious losses when they split in order to ensure that each of the four human teams during the bottle mission had sufficient firepower (the humans decided to split into four teams, with each being responsible for all of the bottles in one of four areas of the campus).

During the bottle mission, I was with a large group of people who needed to search a multi-floor atrium for a bottle. This was not a well-organized group. Most of the people milled about the atrium, with each person trying to watch all of the nearby entrances while searching for the bottle, and some people wandered onto higher or lower floors than the bulk of the group. Some of these people were lost to opportunistic zombies, and the bottle was not found. At the time, we thought that the bottle had been removed and it was declared out of play, but we later found out that it was there all along and we simply had not found it. I am quite sure that, if we had put a two-person team on each door and on the stairway, had the rest of the humans do a sweep search, and then repeated that procedure for each floor, we could have found that bottle with no losses.

There is a lesson to be leaned here - trust is paramount, and trust requires at least some degree of organization and discipline. I've more to say, but it would be better to save that for another post.

In summary

It was fun. There were some communication issues pre-game, but nothing too serious. The game itself was very well balanced and, overall, well run. Given that this is the first invitational that Waterloo has ever hosted, I'm impressed by how smoothly everything went.

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