Zona Alfa: Preparing for a Zone Excursion!

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Ah, another radiation fueled sunrise.

I said come in! Don’t stand there!

Okay, now that I got that out of my system, welcome back! In my last post, I expressed frustration that I didn’t have much to write about since, well, nothing had arrived for my current passion project, Zona Alfa. Well, as the saying goes, good things come to those who wait, and I got the rest of my needed models to play Zona Alfa in two days of package delivery goodness. A village from Sarissa Precision, their Russian one to be specific. I had also ordered a bunch of Lead Adventure miniatures, and this had turned out to be quite a laborious task.

You see, Lead Adventures, because of Deutsche Post having issues shipping to North America and elsewhere, currently only ship to the UK and the EU. Luckily, I have family in the United Kingdom, and I had an order ship to them, and them to me. This combined with a prior order from Magister Militum in the UK, would give me the bulk of my Pripyat Stalkers. The latter order was split in half, since they didn’t have all of what I ordered…

All three orders shipped weeks apart. They all arrived almost together, in a span of two days. Honestly, it was kind of awesome.

This first batch is particularly ragtag. They would not be out of place in Metro 2033, a distinctly post-apocalyptic experience. As I’ve said before, STALKER, and in turn, Zona Alfa, is not inherently post-apocalyptic, since it is both localized and people come of their own free will to the Zone.

However, these models still fit in perfectly; They look like a bunch of unaffiliated individuals, perfect for an Independent team. I will focus on painting these as individuals, with no real unifying theme other then being very, very grubby. I’ll point out my favorite of the bunch, and talk about why I like this one so much.

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“They say the Zone is a harsh mistress. That implies that you had any control in the first place, tovarishch. The Zone simply is.”

This model is simply perfect, at least in my very personal definition of what that is. A rugged, veteran Stalker who has clearly been around the block (or Reactor, as it were), and I can see him leading teams of Cordon-fresh rookies to their demise. The model itself tells a story quite well, and is full of character. The trench-coat and well-maintained rifle, a sturdy gas-mask and pouches full of goodies. This guy is simply cool, and probably why I bought the whole set.

On the other hand, these guys are far more equipped. I would hesitate to call them military, but that in-game distinction for Zona Alfa probably fits them the best. To use a faction from the STALKER games, they look a lot like Duty, the paramilitary group dedicated to eradicating the Zone and its various dangers.

With not quite uniform equipment, but with a heavy Russian/Ukrainian military influence, these guys feel like trained soldiers. I particularly like the the two Stalkers with AS VAL assault rifles, larger-bore integrally suppressed weapons that pack a mean punch over short distances.

I really like these guys, and I’m looking forward to using them as a more elite team.

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“Deadly anomalies, dangerous mutants, anarchists and bandits… None of them will stop Duty on its triumphant march towards saving the planet!” –Duty Propaganda

Of course, these are some very “old school” models. Chunky, with large weapons, hands, feet, etc. I actually love models like these, as I find they take washes well, and look great once painted. But they are definitely not for everyone; Anyone looking for more “realistic” models will probably be happy with other miniatures.

I believe these are hand-sculpted, which also is a very traditional style. Modern models are quite often designed in CAD and 3D-printed to produce a master, from which are made either resin models or plastic sprues. Models of this type are getting more and more rare, with most being older lines or in this case, specifically made to fill this niche.

I do in fact like both styles, and I only care about consistency for models within a team, not across the collection, so there is a little bit of room across the board for any style of models in my Zone.

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Scale Comparison! From Left to Right: Spectre Miniatures, Lead Adventures, Eureka Miniatures. Even with the base on the Spectre guy being shorter, he is still quite tall! This Eureka miniature is one of their newer ones, and as such holds up pretty well scale wise, their older line up of NBC suited soldiers are quite a bit smaller.

Like you can see in the above picture, my collection is quite eclectic! But none of these guys will rub shoulders in the same camp, only venturing to fight the Zone or each other, and in that case, it won’t matter overly match if they don’t match.

Now I do have a marked preference for metal miniatures; I like their heft, and the fact that they remain stupidly easy to strip of paint if I mess up. Playing a 2000 point metal Imperial Guard army in 40k has set me up for working with this materiel quite well. But it does require a bit of work.

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Going for a swim! Unfortunately, Dawn Dish Detergent will not remove horrible radiation burns.

I soak all the models for a few minutes in soapy water, then scrub them with a toothbrush. Then I rinse them in a new source of soap-free water, then take them out to air-dry. It doesn’t take long, and on some manufacturers it isn’t essential, but I find it greatly increases the strength of the base-coat’s adhesion to the model. If your going to paint them, you might as well give them the best possible start!

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Looking clean, and ready for some paint!

Now, I’ve got a lot of work to do, getting crews painted, terrain assembled and painted, and various other tasks. However, this won’t prevent me from getting my first game of Zona Alfa in tomorrow! After all this build-up, I’m really excited to get an idea of what the game plays like.

We have a lot of terrain at our communal clubhouse, and with local conditions being favorable to cautious social-distancing gaming, it should give me a good idea of what else I need play a full-scale campaign. I’ll be using a basic, low threat first mission, and I can start tweaking things to my preference as I go. There is a bit of local interest in the game, and I’m hoping to have it take off a bit!

Now the rest of this article has substantially less pictures…so bear with me, or tune it if you’d like, I won’t hold it against you!

My last post about Zona Alfa on this blog, was, frankly, an outrageous success. I got a really warm welcome over on the official Facebook group, so if any of you are coming from there, thanks gents! You guys rock!

Now in terms of my eventual Canadian Zone expansion, I’m still waiting on a company here in Canada to ship me my 28mm Canadian Military models. They are a small, one man operation, so they tend to take a bit of time. But to fill that specific niche is worth it. As well, while most of the monsters will carry over, I do want some local, specific nastiness. Some guys had some great ideas over on the Facebook page, and I’m going to use some for sure!

Mutated Raccoons may be a thing…(side note, I hate the damn things. I used to work behind the scenes removing them from places they shouldn’t be at an amusement park, and that cute factor is a lie!), as well as some bears, coyotes, and the occasional Listowel redneck who had a bit too much radioactive moonshine. It is kinda fun to do local research for a game, and my friends here like the idea, despite how dark a subject matter it can be.

I’m leaning toward a more “free” zone, with the Canadian government selling licenses to harvest materiel from the Zone, and a healthy black-market in weapons cropping up around it. We do share a border with the United States after all! The “hook” as it were, in this case, is the fact that Cobalt-60, a rare resource, is actually produced quite a bit in the reactors near me, and the “medical gold rush” of cancer-defeating artefacts produced by this Zone draw a wide array of Stalkers. Your average Canadian Stalker is a far-cry from a dour, sombre Stalker from Pripyat though! Medically aligned Stalkers from major pharmaceutical companies will be my specific neat thing for this Zone.

Finally, while it may be a while before I get to Canada in the campaign, quite conveniently from a recent history stand-point, is the deployment of the Canadian Army in a training capacity to the Ukraine. It won’t take much of a jump in logic for a few, special operations trained soldiers, to venture into the original Zone for some training of their own, with the backing of the local Government. Perhaps paving the way for a future Canadian Army Stalker detachment?

Now, today’s article was focused on old school, metal models. But the way of the future is far different, and I am now the proud owner of a resin 3D Printer! (Or will be, once it arrives…) I am going to use it for producing a lot of cool monsters, smaller terrain, and yep, Stalkers! And that is just for this specific game. But not even that will truly diminish my love of the older style, hand-sculpted models of yesteryear. Raise a glass, if you will, to the old breed! But I will be featuring some 3D printed stuff in the very near future, since a friend of mine has printed some stuff for me to use in this game, that will add a certain Post-Soviet feel to my Exclusion Zone.

But, until next time, Happy War-gaming, wherever you are! For such is life in the Zone.

 

A Good Day for a Roadside Picnic: Getting started with Zona Alfa!

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Oh no, not another game. I swear these things just keep showing up.

As usual, it all started with the same question: “hey, you ever heard of Zona Alfa?” I hadn’t, so I did a bit of digging, and found a game that can be summed up fairly easily as ‘Frostgrave with Kalashnikov’s’. This was, in fact, a major selling point, and after spending my hard earned rubles on a PDF copy from Osprey, I purchased a physical copy from Amazon. It took a long time to get to me, given current circumstances, but that was okay, I could wait.

A browse of the PDF copy and the Facebook page Stalker7 by the author of the game showed a game I could very much enjoy, and even play solo if so desired. So I did what I usually do, jumped in with both feet.

Before I go any further, I’d like to express my delight at how lovely this book is. It is well laid out, like all the Osprey Blue Book games. But the artwork is phenomenal, the lore snippets interesting and mysterious, and the overall ‘tone’ matches very well with the video games, movie, and novel that inspired it. It can’t reach out and flat out tell you, outside of the introduction at the beginning, but it wears it’s inspirations on its sleeve, and is all the better for it.

The game takes a lot from S.T.A.L.K.E.R, the popular game series by GSC Game World in the Ukraine, which in turn took a lot of inspiration from Roadside Picnic and the movie Stalker which came after. Zona Alfa is more of a homage, but it isn’t shy about making it known where its ideas came from.

An interesting point to make here; There has been many Post-Apocalypse tabletop games in recent history. To name them all would take time, and to save you that hassle, I can say this; Those games wear their inspirations on their sleeves as well, but they are based off Western Post-Apocalypse ‘tropes’, and this comes across in how they play and how they depict the world they are trying to show. Zona Alfa, despite being a western production, by the simple fact it is delving into the Eastern European take on the topic, takes an entirely different approach.

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Stalker, the movie that is, is a great example of what I’m about to go into.

The Post-Soviet bloc tends to have a much bleaker approach to the whole topic, combined with a mystical angle. One could argue it is more ‘realistic’, but I’d say it is more of a ‘dog eat dog’, post-Soviet existentialist take on the topic, and a more bitter, brutal and unhappy world. There are no grand victories in Roadside Picnic, STALKER, or Metro, just small ones that let you live another day. Fallout in it’s current depiction is more optimistic, a totally different feel. Mad Max is bleak, but also leans into the ‘weird’, leather and football pad aesthetic. Media from the post-soviet bloc just doesn’t seem to do that, instead it is more rooted in what we know, specifically the soviet experience.

Weirder still, is that Zona Alfa isn’t truly post-apocalyptic! The world, in general, is absolutely fine out side of the titular ‘Zone’ this all takes place in. Outside of criminals forced to hide in the Zone, locals who never left, and the poor Military grunts guarding it, everyone involved is here out of their own volition. They have chosen, for whatever reason, to make a name for themselves running artifacts and mutant parts out of the Zone for profit, science, or whatever reason.

Then there is the giant, reactor 4 sized ‘elephants foot’ in the room. Roadside Picnic takes place in a undefined location (widely assumed, and I believe as well, to be Canada), and Stalker (the movie) moved it to the Soviet Union. Then Chernobyl, the actual real life event, happened in 1986, after both of these pieces of media came out. The Zone was suddenly real.

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The remains of Reactor Building 4.

Let me be perfectly clear here; the actual event was horrid. We should look at it with a certain amount of reverence, and anything I mention after this should take that into account.

The Zone, being called what is was, was almost immediate fuel for conspiracy nuts and fiction authors alike. Chernobyl was the buzz-word to use in your fiction to be serious about nuclear-power. But for the Kiev based GSC Game World staff, many who had been alive when it happened, it was a personal thing, and they used that. When they made Shadow of Chernobyl in 2007, it was an buggy, messy, masterpiece. The tale it told balanced the pieces needed to tell a compelling, terrifying story of Soviet science going horribly wrong. It became in short order a cult-classic, and in writing this post I made sure to go and actually play it, despite my absolute terror at playing any survival horror game. Don’t say I don’t do anything for my craft! Anomalies from Roadside Picnic and dangerous mutants were added to a ‘second disaster’ exclusion zone around Chernobyl, and it is a terrifying, compelling experience that doesn’t easily leave you.

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This is a heavily modded version of Stalker. But the atmosphere has never changed. This is the aftermath of an Emission, a blowout from Reactor 4 of some sort of weird psychic energy.

Zona Alfa was born from this fandom, as many of us on the tabletop front have waited for years for a game to ‘nail’ that feel. The game doesn’t tell us directly where the ‘Zone’ is, but the references to the Sarcophagus and stuff in the lore snippets make it very clear where the game takes place. Patrick Todoroff, the author, does however encourage you to relocate the zone to wherever you want. And in time, I will, which I will get into later.

The game features anomalies, throwing bolts at said hotspots, mutants, bandits, radiation as a background element that shortens the amount of time in certain scenarios. Your crew of Stalkers can be outfitted with gear not too dissimilar to that from the video game, and while there are no ‘official’ miniatures, Lead Adventures in Germany makes probably the coolest looking ones. As of time of writing, they are not shipping to Canada, so I’ve got an order heading to family in the UK to eventually come here. Good things come to those who wait.

I haven’t had a chance to play; Covid and current events in the United States have understandably slowed shipping, so not everything I need to play is here yet, even in solo. But I can show off what miniatures I am using. Eureka Miniatures does an excellent, spooky but realistic line of 1980’s Soviets in NBC gear, and I have more then I can possibly use right off the bat now that my order of twenty models has arrived.

 

These guys look really, really cool. The tank crew are based off a movie called ‘The Beast’, and look really neat. The rest are in full NBC kit, and wouldn’t look out of place as Chernobyl liquidators. My favorite model is the guy carrying the dosimeter/geiger counter. Of course, they need something to fight, and luckily the market for cheap monsters has never been more varied with plastic, pre-primed models from a variety of sources.

 

The humanoid creature, called a doppelgänger, is a particularly terrifying model, and I’m going to stat it as having mimetic camouflage. The two-headed dog is pretty western post-apocalypse in look, but they look neat.  The rat swarms will make for excellent vermin swarms, and I like that they aren’t just large rats, just a lot of angry regular sized ones.

The zombies and ghouls I’ve sourced from Zombicide, as it was pointed out to me that the size works. I went for the ‘Angry’ zombies wearing prison jumpsuits, as I think I can get away with painting them in Soviet/Russian/Ukrainian prison uniforms and they would work, unlike the regular zombies which are very, very western.

Going forward, I have primed the Soviet Tank Crew to get back into the painting grove, and because I had tan Vallejo spray primer. I have a backstory planned for them, and while they are outrageously well equipped, I want to get the rest undercoated so I have less well equipped guys to throw into anomalies. I’m hoping to get a spray in grey or light greenish blue to do the rest of the NBC troops, based off Osprey reference books about the Soviet chemical troops.

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Might need a respray to get coverage to survive handling until I hit it with varnish when I’m done.

Now my plans going forward with this game? Obviously, as with many others, I really want to do the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. It is famous, well researched, and the Stalker games have made it too cool to ignore. I have purchased a 28mm Russian Village from Sarissa Precision to start off the less dangerous parts of the zone. I’m planning on getting some ruined vehicles and BTRs to throw into maps for ambience.

But Roadside Picnic….as a Canadian, I want to bring the Zone ‘home’. And after watching Chernobyl from HBO, I got curious about nuclear power. And, while I knew the Nuclear Plant near me was big, I didn’t realize just how big…

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Bruce Power, in Kincardine Ontario, Canada. About 45 km away from me. 8 reactors, and was until very recently the biggest in the world in output.

Now I’m actually a nuclear power advocate, and the scenario I have in mind is almost impossible, and only in our darkest dreams could it ever happen. But for fiction purposes, it is a fun mind exercise.

I’m talking a Canadian Zone, a level 7 nuclear accident combined with the weird psychic angle from the STALKER games. In the campaign I want to run with one group (I’m in two potentially, and one is staying in Chernobyl only), the events of the player group in the original Chernobyl Zone would cause a global event, a ‘blip’. During this blip, people don’t remember 10 minutes of their lives, a collective memory gap. Some reactors around the world suffer massive, intentional, internally caused damage. Bruce Power would be among them, and a massive, 50km exclusion zone in my own backyard is both a terrifying and compelling idea. Roadside Picnic will have come home. How would Canadian ‘Stalkers’ differ from their Russian/Ukrainian counter-parts? I have no idea, but I intend to explore that.

But all in good time! For now, I hope you all enjoyed my ramblings into Zona Alfa, and hope you stick around to see where this goes. In the mean time, Happy War-gaming, wherever you are, for such is life in the Zone. Cheers!