The radar blip vanishes on the plot, replaced by a data box stating simply incoming missile. “Shields!” yells the Lieutenant. A pale crewman turns in his chair. “Shields are down, Sir.” He joins the officer in staring helplessly at the main display. Blinking lights cover the ship. One in particular stands out. “If I reactivate them now..”. He need not go on. The Lieutenant can see. The conduits in the Rear Hangar are ruptured. He sent Taylor and Smith back there not 10 minutes ago to fix them. They are probably patching the fuel duct right now. If he brings Shields back online it will flood the compartment with boiling plasma. The fuel will go up, taking the whole compartment with it. If he doesn’t… the data box briefly vanishes and then reappears. Incoming missile 30 seconds.
Have you ever wanted to play a space game where this happens? Where great science fiction material erupts into life as you play? Many games might address this situation with a written card effect or a monologue. You probably get a choice.. do you activate the shields or save the crew?
In Zeno there is no written card effect and no monologue. Situations like this emerge naturally during play. The ship is not merely a two dimensional background upon which the game takes place. It is a living part of the game – and you can control it. Systems fail and malfunction, with suitable in-game effects. Conduits rupture, spilling plasma, fuel and toxic coolant. Fires, explosions and gaping wounds in the hull torn by asteroids, raiders and more.. these happen to the ship during play and what you do about it is up to you. Reactivate systems, repair the conduits, fight the fires, seal the breaches and battle the alien menace threatening to make your comrades disappear screaming into the dark, one by one. Or maybe you get there in time to operate the Thrusters and the asteroid sails harmlessly under the ship. Perhaps you do enough harm to the Threat that it slinks away for a while to lick its wounds. Possibly you win just enough time to complete your objectives and get the blazes off the ship. Until next time. After all, it will be different every time you play.
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Zeno does not just have a space horror theme. It is an actual horror game, presenting players with suspense, terrible foreknowledge and gripping moral choices. While there is an alien menace aboard the Riga, the worst monsters come in human form.
While the theme is mature, there is no nudity, swearing or explicit portrayals of violence against people. There is a little blood and gore. We believe it is suitable for those aged 14 and up. The game system encourages situations to develop and be interpreted by the players, rather than serving them up in a pre-packaged state. While it is possible for more mature themes to emerge, these will flow from the players and their imaginations rather than the game itself.
Set in space in the distant future, the game is played on a map of the Exploration Cruiser Riga. Tasked with exploring the frontier, this huge ship has for several weeks been exploring Star System Gliese 892. The second planet from the sun has proved fruitful. Here lie the dust choked ruins of an alien civilization. Numerous wonders have been returned to the orbiting ship. These relics of a dead age seem likely to occupy archaeologists for years to come. However, not everything that came back was a relic. Or dead.
In a semi co-operative game, players compete against and co-operate with each other throughout the game while trying to complete a common objective. Players can all win the game, all lose the game or somewhere in-between.
In Zeno the players all lose if the ship is lost. This can happen in many ways ways; it can explode, disintegrate or be overrun by the alien threat. The latter happens if you run out of time.
Players win individually if they successfully evacuate a winning number of survivors in their faction. The aim of the game is to get enough people off the ship before is it too late. The number of survivors you must evacuate can be reduced by completing objectives. The ship is a hornet’s nest of personal, political and religious agendas.
It is possible, albeit difficult, to win the game as a paragon. You will usually have to tread on a few toes to get ahead; ignore the occasional fire, sneak contraband onto the shuttle or commit high treason against the Empire. This does not mean you are not co-operating. You are semi co-operating.
Excepting solo play, there is nothing very different about how different numbers of players can enjoy Zeno. There are a few small adjustments depending on the player count. In theory any number of players can participate, but we propose to ship enough game materials to equip 5 players. The player materials are not very complicated though and with a little work more players could easily be added. If you have other games you probably have suitable components.
Game duration is controlled by the size of the scene deck. This is the same size regardless of the number of players. With more players, each player has a smaller scene deck. This means each player has fewer turns in which to win. However, they require fewer successes.
The number of successes needed to win can be adjusted to increase or reduce the difficulty of the game, regardless of the player count.
Solo play is a little different but it is still recognizably the same game. You will still have most of the same crises and decisions to face, albeit on your own.
The artwork in Zeno is much more than eye candy. It is an integral part of the game, helping to tell the story and enable narrative interpretation. It also speeds up the game because you can see what is happening.
Most of the artwork tells a story. It may not be a very big story, but it will tell you something about the survivor, robot or situation you are dealing with.
Click here to explore the gallery of prototype game art.
The art adheres to a common style with painstaking attention to detail. You probably noticed the ship on the homepage. That is the Riga. It is not just an illustration of a ship we cooked up. It really is the Riga. Compare it to the Ship Map on the Induction Tutorial page. You will see everything is where it belongs; hangars, cannons.. even the transit system.
Zeno features over 250 core illustrations, not counting items, weapons, skills and the like.
Sometimes in a game you will experience a beautiful moment. Everything will just click and you will be presented with a perfect little piece of storytelling. Brief as they are wonderful, these little moments are the jewels in the crown of gaming. Zeno is not an attempt to tell a pre-written narrative. It is an environment designed to encourage moments, and from these your own personal narrative can develop.
Zeno is a pressure cooker chock full of storytelling ingredients which will naturally blend during play to create a unique experience.
In order to do this the game has a stripped down feel. Materials are designed with the bare minimum of text which, in concert with the accompanying art, enable game events to be interpreted and explained quickly. There are no long narratives for players to read out.
We have found the best format for delivering text to be the Senryu; a short form Japanese poem. Many of the cards in the game feature these. Players do not have to read them out, though they may. Their purpose is to aid interpretation. At 17 syllables each they are just as long as this sentence.