More Zone fiction. Part 3

3.  THE NEW TRINITY

True to their word, the boys from Vladivostok had brought their own guns.

The sky was brightening uncomfortably fast, but Kaspar and Gleb knelt on the grass and began dividing the rucksacks’ contents into two large backpacks as if they had all day. Yuri was stung by the notion they had, in fact, paid the garrison commander that much, and that he should have held out for more money himself. 

The first bag had a party’s worth of gourmet snacks, various camping supplies, and at least a hundred tiny bottles of liquor, the kind they served on jet airliners. The second contained a French press coffee maker, what looked like a kilo of Turkish dark roast, and one of those compact video cameras preferred by extreme sports athletes – or amateur porn makers. The latter, in Yuri’s opinion, seemed more in line with young Sokolov’s demeanor than crunching numbers in a ledger. But he was no expert in either really, so he held his tongue.

The third bag held the weapons.    

Gleb had no sooner unzipped it when Nikolai elbowed his way in and dug out a fancy Heckler and Koch VP9 pistol, brandishing it sideways like a street thug on American TV.  Yuri bit the inside of his cheek to keep the scorn off his face.

Kaspar and Gleb had brought ugly little futuristic sub-machineguns that they clipped to bungee slings under their jackets, secret agent style. Everything smelled of lubricant and new plastic. There was enough ammunition to chop down several trees.

The former soldier in Yuri sized up their weapons: small caliber, high rate of fire, sloppy past twenty meters…

Bullet hoses, he concluded. Look sexy, but they lock up tighter than a duck’s ass at the first hint of dirt. Video game shooters. Useless for the Zone.

The taste of ashes grew stronger. Zakhar’s warning was unfolding before Yuri’s eyes like a horrid prophesy.   

The urge to walk away swept through him like a stiff wind. He could slip into the trees and disappear…

The next perimeter patrol would catch them. Technically, no one was allowed to come this close to the Cordon, but so long as they were still outside the wire and young Sokolov had told the truth, the three of them to get off easy. Vladivostok had laid out enough cabbage. A baton upside the head, a couple hours in a cell maybe, but they’d walk. No harm, no foul.   

Of course Yuri’s days as a guide would be finished. To abandon a tour was the ultimate black mark. He would have start all over, move far away, to a city probably, with its herds of people and traffic, noise and garbage and sooty air. At his age, no degree, he’d have to drive a truck or take scut work in a factory to pay the bills. He and his wife crammed in a tiny concrete apartment in a drab complex with a thousand others just like it… No more forest at dawn. No more slipping through the Cordon at midnight. No more drinks at Yakov’s bar after a run. No more haggling with Zakhar. No more terror, no more wonder, no more Zone, ever again.

Yuri spit on the ground. That would not do.

Call Yuri Bonyev a smuggler, a thief, a moon curser – call him a man of his word. His wife would say he had chained himself to a fool’s dream, to misguided integrity, but really, there was no nine to five for him. He already had a job – Zone guide – and Yuri Bonyev was no quitter.   

Besides, Vladivostok had his name. They knew where he lived, what he looked like. It might take a while, but trouble would catch up. Like it always does.    

Yuri spit again and watched the three men as the deep blue of night melted into dawn. Leaving wasn’t an option, not really.   

He jostled his own back pack to settle it on his shoulders. Sokolov may be footing the bill but they were in Yuri’s world now. He was the boss here, and bribes or no, it was time to move.

Yuri straightened Sasha’s sling across his chest and was about to speak when Nikolai interrupted.  

 “Look at this muzhik, will you? Fucking AK, he thinks we’re in Donbas.” He gestured at Sasha with his pistol. “Where’d you get that? Off the back of an army truck?”

“No,” Yuri replied. “I got it in Syria. Fighting Kurds.” 

“Oooooh, the old goat shot up some rug merchants in Damascus. Well, the streets are a different game. Best keep up with the times.”

“These are not your streets, Mr. Sokolov,” Yuri started.  “And the Zone is not a game. You should have more respect – – ”

“I should, I should, I should…” Like a little boy in big shoes, Sokolov tried on a world-weary laugh. It didn’t fit and he didn’t notice.

Instead, he shook his head as if Yuri were the world’s stupidest man. “You Ukry are soft from the hat down.”

He waved his pistol at the trees, toward the fence. “This place, this Zone of yours is not magic. It’s nothing. Like Church, maybe something powerful happened back in the day, but all that’s left now is stories and fences. And old goats like you cashing in on them.”   

Nikolai picked up his video camera in his other hand, held it and his pistol up like Show-and-Tell, and Yuri was a retarded toddler. “These right here, technology and firepower. Add money, and you’ve got the new Trinity.”

He turned to his two big shadows. “Am I right?” he demanded.  

Kaspar and Gleb nodded. They had mastered the art of looking interested.  

A thousand replies buzzed in Yuri’s head like bees, but he managed to keep them from slipping out. “We need to leave now,” he said instead. “The morning patrol will be here soon and we shouldn’t.”

Nikolai Sokolov mock bowed. “Whatever you say, Mr. Best in the Area. Believe, me, I’m dying to get this over with even more than you.”

***

The best investment Yuri had ever made was Sasha. Cliché as it sounded, the AK74 had saved his ass a dozen times over, more so in the Zone than Syria. And Syria had been war. Cleaned and oiled after every run, Yuri had spent hundreds on custom parts and upgrades. His wife complained the gunsmith saw more of his money than she did – which might have been true, if Yuri was being honest.

His second best investment was a subscription to Zakhar’s Monthly. Six pages of flimsy newsprint, it had recipes for fried, vodka-infused SPAM, reports of mutant sightings and artifact finds, and was perfect for toilet paper. Plus, coded into the sunrise/sunset table on the back page was that month’s schedule for the Zone Enforcement patrols and drone flyovers. 

Rumor was the Turk received copies straight from the garrison commander’s desk. God only knew how he managed that, but the information was never wrong. It was expensive, the subscription, but worth every kopek, seeing as the alternative was cell in Vladimir Central or ‘an unfortunate incident while resisting arrest.’  

So Yuri spent the rest of the day leading his charges through the countryside in a game of ‘Dash and Duck’: short, fast spurts from cover to cover.

It had rained the night before and the bugs were out in full force. The sun was hot. Steam rose from the damp soil. There was no wind or clouds.

Like all good foot soldiers, Kaspar and Gleb endured silently. Like every bad officer Yuri had ever encountered, their boss never missed an opportunity to complain.    

Sokolov sprayed bug repellent around his head and shoulders. He was on his second can. “Hey old man, this place has roads, no?”

It was early afternoon. The four of them were resting in a stand of pines, rust-red foliage murmuring overhead. “Yes, it does,” Yuri replied, eyeing the sky.   

“So why are we not taking the fucking car?” Sokolov snapped. “You trying to prove a point? Show me I’m getting my money’s worth following your wrinkly old ass?”

Yuri checked his tone before he answered. “No. I’m trying to stay out of prison. There’s a drone overhead right now.”

“Bullshit.”

Yuri pointed up. “Hear that?”

The three men cocked their heads to listen and out of the rinsed blue sky came the faraway sound of a lawnmower engine.

“That’s a Pchela 1T,” Yuri lectured. “That bee may not have a sting but it has very sharp eyes. It would spot us in a heartbeat.”

Sokolov frowned but his ego was too brittle to give up easily. “So? We paid the Major to look the other way.”

Yuri took a moment to check his Vostok before answering and wondered if he still had aspirin in his kit bag. This one was giving him a real headache.

“So all surveillance footage is monitored at the big Pervomajsk base north of Kiev,” he explained. “Not locally. Any unauthorized incursion is logged in an official incident report and tagged by GLONASS coordinates before being handed off to the nearby garrison. To the Major. It wouldn’t matter how much money you threw at him; he would have no choice but to respond. Troops would be on us in less than thirty minutes.” 

Gleb spoke up. “I told you, Boss. Best in the area.”

Nikolai Sokolov scowled but his defiance drained away. He fished his phone out of his jacket pocket instead and sagged against a tree trunk. “Maybe I’ll get my money’s worth after all,” he groused, and fell silent, swiping at the screen.

Both Kaspar and Gleb caught Yuri’s attention. Each gave a small, satisfied nod.

Yuri nodded back and looked up into the sky, listening as the engine sounds faded. Perhaps this run won’t be so bad after all, he thought.    

Even as that notion jelled in his head, Yuri pictured the Turk behind his counter. He had a roll of 1,000-ruble notes in his hand and they were crumbling even as he counted them and the dust from his thick fingers fell like tiny snow onto a new set of BN-4 Night Hawk binoculars, more and more and more until it covered it like the hump of a shallow grave in winter.   

“Well shit,” Yuri muttered.


ZONA ALFA: The Factory at Dobryanka

ZONA ALFA Test Game Jan. 19, 2019

Four members of the Cape Cod Wargame Commission spent Saturday afternoon playing Zona Alfa. We decided on a Factory Raid in a Threat Level Two area – four Hot Spots plus the Mission Objective.

A 2 v 2 game, Other Pat and I faced off against Matt and John. Each player was allowed 12K to form their crews. In typical authoritarian fashion, Matt’s Evil Landlord and a Property Manager Henchman rousted the Serfs, kitted them with AKs and E-Juice (Amphetamines and Vodka) gave them a rousing speech and sent them into battle. The rest of us opted for more balanced forces with a mix of Veterans and Hardened Zone dogs.

The Mission Objective was a cache of supplies in the old factory. There was a Six Turn Limit and no Visible Hostiles in sight.

Turns One and Two saw both sides jockeying for position trading shots on either side of the factory. Matt advanced to the car wrecks adn the Army truck. Eager for Salvage, John triggered the Hot Spot to his front by the barracks and spawned three Zombies. Fortunately for him, they popped up out of LOS of his squad and began shuffling toward the nearest visible target, in this case, a gaggle of Matt’s Green Recruits.

Part of my squad angled toward the factory while the Sniper and RPK looked for good angles near the fuel tanks. Other Pat’s Veterans leap-frogged between the Conex containers and the Office.

There were some casualties, two Serfs who got caught in the open by my sniper. Evil Landlord Matt was unfazed. “Plenty more where they came from.”

Turn Three and Four saw both sides scrupulously avoiding any more secondary Hot Spots, moving wide around them to avoid the triggering radius, and trading fire, trying to Kill or at least Pin their opponents. The race to the Factory was on.


A nasty little firefight erupted around the old brick building; people chucking grenades through windows, spraying full auto through doors, firing down onto the factory floor. Then to add to the chaos, someone – can’t recall who – triggered the Zone Hostiles lurking around the cache. More Zombies.

Despite all the flying lead and shambling undead, lucky dice rolls by Other Pat and me carried the day. Our opponents were beaten back and conceded the game.

My man Ivan, providing covering fire from the gantry like a hearty comrade

Our Take Aways:

  1. This was a one shot game. We all agreed we would be much more cautious with our crew if we were in a campaign.
  2. Big areas need more cover. AKs have decent range and even though support weapons like the RPK and the Sniper rifle slow a STALKER down, they can definitely reach out and touch someone. My Sniper suffered some bad luck but even then, his position on those Fuel Tanks dominated that section of the table. (Matt also could have used Smoke Grenades, had he thought to bring them.)
  3. Might be good to introduce a Chess Clock or sand timer to ratchet up the tension, force decisions, and speed up the game.

That’s all for now. Settling down for a holiday tomorrow and going to watch “Counterpart” on Amazon.

Thanks and have an excellent day.

New Zone Fiction, Part 2

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Part 2 of the latest tale from the Exclusion Zone

(READ PART 1 HERE)

 

  1. LOOSE BOOTLACES

 

Nikolai Sokolov, the accountant from Vladivostok, was an idiot.

To be honest, Yuri hadn’t actually met Nikolai yet – another thing he had neglected to tell Zakhar –  only two thick necked byki named Kaspar and Gleb who wore silk suits and said they were acting ‘ex parte’ for their boss. Their fancy clothes hadn’t covered all the temhota ink but Latin in their mouths was like a diamond earring on a pig. Yuri had been five seconds from making an excuse to turn them away but then Kaspar had tossed over that wad of bills as a ‘retainer’, and Yuri had decided he could overlook such inconsistencies.

But now Mr. Sokolov and his two shaved head associates were late, which made Yuri angry.  Being disrespectful to the Zone was not a quirky incongruity; it was the kind of mistake that landed you in a shallow grave.

Of the half-a-dozen unofficial routes into the Zone, Yuri had decided to bring them in through the ‘Gazprom Gate’: the service track for the old gas pipeline that ran through the Northern cordon fences. It was one of the known weak points in the perimeter, so the area was under regular surveillance, but it was a straight shot to exactly where Sokolov and his bulked-up assistants wanted to go. A brisk hike, they could be there before sunset with low risk.

Besides, the local Zone Security garrison commander was notoriously strict about patrol times and routes – punctuality he was no doubt well compensated for – which was precisely why Yuri had specified a 04:30 start; it was dead center of a twenty-five minute window between drone flyovers. Several other stalkers who had been waiting nearby were already gone.

Yuri glanced at his watch and peered down the logging road for the twentieth time. His old Vostok read 04:41 but he didn’t need it to tell him morning was near. He could feel the sun creeping toward the horizon, bringing exposure with it. The heavy, pre-dawn darkness would only last a few more minutes.

Normally he would have breathed in these moments as ballast for the journey. Pungent soil and pine sap, the last of the night’s wind in the trees… these things centered Yuri against the strangeness on the other side of the fence. But this morning there was only bitterness in his mouth like cigarette ashes he couldn’t spit out, and that made him doubly angry. No ballast and a delay. Two problems and he hadn’t even begun.

Yuri wondered if this was an omen – a bad start to a bad idea that could only end badly. Delays, he’d learned, were like loose bootlaces: comfortable at first, but guaranteed to trip you later, always at the worst possible moment. Backing out was not an option, the retainer was spent. But if the accountant didn’t arrive soon, Yuri would have no choice but to reschedule.

It occurred to him to do it anyway, to teach these Vladivostok boys some manners. Problem there was Kaspar and Gleb had been very explicit about Mr. Sokolov’s ‘itinerary’, and they hadn’t come off as the flexible type.

The Vostok’s illuminated hands were passing 04:43. No accountant. Suddenly everything Yuri was carrying got slightly heavier.

Saint Strelok…

And then, as if the devil had heard instead, there was music – the throbbing, thumping, shouting, nightclub kind.

It grew louder, closer. Its beat shattered the cool morning stillness. White headlights flared between black tree trunks as a civilian car raced up the logging road toward the stand of pines where Yuri waited.

His jaw dropped.

Seconds later, a dark, sinuous sedan skidded to a stop in front of him. It crouched in the swirling dust, sleek and shiny, beaming incandescent white-blue light into the forest, pulsing noise like a giant alarm clock teleported from a robot future. The grill emblem was Mercedes. The windscreen sticker had a Vladivostok registration.

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Хера се, Yuri groaned.

As he spoke, the music cut, the lights snapped off, and out stepped Kaspar and Gleb. They were swathed in brand new Halti foul weather gear. Fur ushankas covered their bullet smooth heads. Neck-tattooed Kaspar came around the hood and nodded at Yuri. Pointy nose Gleb stepped back and opened a rear door. A young man emerged with a sneer and a tan. He immediately held up a phone.

“No fucking bars out here. How am I supposed to log on VKontacte in this place?” he said.

The byki folded their arms and waited as the young man huffed and stomped beside the car, waving his phone.

Gleb tried. “Mr. Sokolov,” he began. “This is Yuri Bonyev. I want to — “

Nikolai Sokolov looked Yuri up and down, then scowled. “This? This is all I get for my five thousand? One wrinkly ostolop?

“Boss,” Gleb continued, “He was recommended. He’s made the trip dozens of times. Best in the area—“

But Nikolai Sokolov was back jabbing at his phone screen with one long, manicured finger. “This is a fucking joke. Take me home. Who cares about this irradiated cow-shit place, anyway?”

Little alarms were blaring in Yuri’s mind now. He opened his mouth to speak, but Kaspar motioned with one hand for him to hold back. The byki shrugged his bowling ball shoulders as if to say, This is how he is. Give it a moment.

Another minute of phone waving before Nikolai Sokolov heaved out a sigh. “Fine, fine. Let’s just get this fucking over with and get out of here, so I can tell my father I did it.”

He made a show of sliding his phone back in his pocket.

“Well?” he snapped. “What are you waiting for?”

Kaspar and Gleb moved to the Mercedes’ rear and pulled three digi-cam rucksacks from the trunk. Yuri couldn’t help but notice they were new issue, Russian military. Slouched against the fender, a sullen Nikolai radiated the indignant resignation of a man forced to pay a heavy speeding ticket or undergo a doctor ordered colonoscopy.

There was a slam, the chirp of a security system, and the three men stepped away from the car toward Yuri.

Yuri was incredulous “What are you doing? You can’t just leave that there.”

Nikolai looked at him like he was soft. “Of course I can.”

“No, you can’t. The security patrols go through here four times a day. It’ll get spotted.”

Nikolai Sokolov shook his head at Kaspar and Gleb. “This is the best guy in the area, hunh?”

He sneered at Yuri. “We paid that piece-of-shit Major enough money, he should wash and wax the fucking thing. Now can we go into your Ukrainian Dead Disneyland or whatever the fuck it’s called?”

Yuri’s blood went cold. “The Zone. It’s called the Zone.”

“Whatever,” the accountant said, and shrugged past him into the tree line. “First thing we’re going to do is put up some cell towers.”

STALKER4

 

***

to be continued…

 

For those who are interested in Yuri Bonyev’s first Zone run, “A Prayer to Saint Strelok” is available as an ebook at Amazon and in audio at Amazon/Audible.

ZONA ALFA: Test game

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Short two regulars last night, we ran a quick ZONA ALFA test game with three crews vying to claim the data recorder from a downed surveillance drone. Each of the three Crew Bosses had nine K to spend when forming their squad and each intentionally selected different quality troops. In ZA, there are Green, Hardened, and Veteran levels, with 1, 2, and 3 actions per activation respectively. So Matt went with the Zergling Rush strategy of nine Greens, Derek chose the middle of the road with four Hardened troops and a Green tag-along, and Max tried out an all elite force of three Veterans. We set aside any additional Hot Spots and Zone Hostiles in order to concentrate on squad composition.

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It was a straightforward battle with Max and Derek more concerned about Matt’s superior numbers than each other. Multiple firefights broke out across the base. Initially, Matt’s numbers were telling, but once he’d taken a few casualties, the limitation of one action/turn began to show.

On the other hand, Max used his multiple action troops to advance and retrieve the objective quickly, but once the shooting started, he lacked the numbers to follow through. His squad was wiped out before he could get the black box all the way back to his deployment zone.

 

Derek played the long game, leapfrogging forward cover to cover, trading shots with Matt (mostly) and picking off or pinning enemies when he could. His five-man crew ended up being a good balance between quantity and quality; his men could accomplish things when activated and he could afford to take hits as he advanced and engaged Matt’s swarm o’ Greenies. It was a close contest but Derek won in the end.

 

Now it was only one game and we intentionally focused on the squad composition extremes to see if a Swarm or  Spec-Ops type force would have inherent advantages. They didn’t seem too. The weaknesses were apparent right away: Max’s three elites were first to the objective but first to die. Matt’s guys, although there were a lot of them and out-activated the other two forces each turn, were extremely limited. Even allowing for fickle dice, the game confirmed my suspicion that the best strategy is to mix and match different quality troops. Your Zone Crew needs bodies to soak damage AND you have to have at least a couple troopers who can get stuff done when it’s their turn. Introduce Turn Limits and that need becomes even more apparent.

That’s it for this Zone Report. More soon. Have an excellent day.

 

New Zone Fiction

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Another tale from the Zone.  Expert Guide Yuri Bonyev is back, this time handling a completely different kind of creature.

 

***

  1. ACCOUNTANTS FROM VLADIVOSTOK

 

It’s an old photo, faded and water stained. Yuri has seen it on the wall behind Zakhar’s counter for years. It was taken with a cheap Polaroid early on, maybe a month after the first Incident: three men in the amusement park right outside the city, wearing faded military jackets, carrying backpacks and weapons. The sky is clear and morning is so bright, the ferris wheel’s yellow buckets swoop down behind them filled with sun.

A boyish Zakhar stands flushed with excitement, a big grin on his face instead of a moustache. Toma is smiling too, but his eyes are open a little too wide as if he sees something startling beyond the camera man. Pavel kneels, eyes half closed, grinning. His mouth is open in mid-sentence. Probably making a joke. Yuri doesn’t know who is taking the picture. Zakhar has never mentioned him.

The three are by the ride’s sign, the one that reads ‘You must be this tall…’ Someone, probably Pavel, has propped his AK-47 against the post, crossed out the rest of the words and written ‘to enter the Exclusion Zone’ above them. There’s a new line scratched where the muzzle touches the wood. They are all friends, three rascals on an adventure.

Joking Pavel was torn apart in an Anomaly the next day. A tornado of pieces and blood. Toma soured over what had happened on that first trip. He spent the next two years obsessed with artifacts, penetrating deeper and deeper into the Zone to hunt for them. It was all so new back then and such souvenirs fetched huge money. Toma made enough to retire several times over but kept at it, disappearing for days, weeks at a time – until one trip he didn’t come back. A month passed and everyone was sure he was dead.

Six weeks later a Zone Enforcement patrol found Toma stumbling down the middle of Highway 3. He was emaciated, dehydrated, all his gear gone. The soldiers brought him to Zakhar instead of prison and now Toma sits in the corner of Yakov’s bar and drools in his soup, shitting himself when he forgets to get up. No one knows what happened; he doesn’t talk. Of the three, only Zakhar is still around in one piece, although he is ‘The Turk’ now and doesn’t smile much anymore.

Every time Yuri sees the photo he tried to recall if there is such a picture of him somewhere and wonders if one day people will look at it and ask what happened to the young man he was.

Will he still be here in the Zone, a survivor like Zakhar? Will he die like Pavel? End up lost like Toma? Or worse, Yuri muses. Will he be the picture taker? A name no one wants to say, his fate unmarked even by shame.

The world is not fair. Yuri accepts this. When he is honest with himself he knows this is part of the reason he stays in the Zone; the Zone seems to run by different rules, its own ones. Is the photo a sign that it makes its own justice as well? If so, how would its scales weigh him?

Zakhar coughs and breaks Yuri’s reverie. The Turk, as Zakhar now prefers, stands behind his counter with one bushy eyebrow arched. “Leading another tour?” he asks. “So soon?”

Yuri’s mouth crinkles into a bitter line. “No more scientists. Never again.”

“Never again,” Zakhar the Turk echoes, nodding in sympathy. “No good comes from those bastards. They almost got you killed.”

“They did. But to lie like that, bullshit me into bringing them to that cursed bunker…” Yuri lets the rest of the thought hang in the air unfinished.

The Zone is dangerous as it is. This is a daily truth. But to lure someone into a death trap with lies is beyond criminal. There are no words for such depravity.

“So never again,” the Turk repeats. “Until you need the money.”

Yuri reddens with anger but he catches the curse in his mouth before it escapes, tightening his lips in a frown because he knows in his heart what Zakhar says is also true. And because swallowed words are bitter.

Zakhar watches silently until the little skirmish in Yuri’s head is over, then. “So, what do you need for this trip?”

The shelves in the rear of the shop hold expensive gear, the kind Yuri usually does not consider: German military sleeping bags, Russian Army IRP food rations, cases of French bottled water. The Turk has a policy of buying back any item returned undamaged for half-price, which will put even more money in Yuri’s pocket when this is over.

He slides a paper list across the worn counter with a sly grin. “This should do it.”

Zakhar surveys the items, arches the other eyebrow. “Big spender. These tourists must be important.”

Yuri digs a wad of crisp 1,000-ruble notes from his jacket and pretends to be nonchalant. “They have money – which makes them important to me. They pay for comfort so how can I refuse them?”

He hands Zakhar the wad. Zakhar in turn flutters one edge with a thick finger, peels off half the bills and sets the remainder down on the counter. The list is passed to one of Zakhar’s ‘nephews’ who heads back to gather the order. “And now, what about weapons?”

“They’re bringing their own shooters.”

A pause. “Really?”

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The Turk’s voice is quiet but his eyes are hard with concern. Yuri would like to think it is for his welfare but likely it’s because most of the weapons flowing into the Zone these days pass through the Turk’s hands.

“That’s a different kind of tourist you have,” Zakhar the Turk notes.

“They are businessmen,” Yuri counters.

“Businessmen with their own shooters?”

“And accountant and his associates on holiday,” Yuri explains. “From Vladivostok.”

Zakhar is definitely not smiling. “This is a long way from Vladivostok and the Zone is a strange vacation, no?”

Yuri tries to joke. “Perhaps the Black Sea is boring this time of year?”

He’d been hoping to avoid this part of the conversation – partly because he knew Zakhar wouldn’t appreciate men who think nothing of bringing their own guns into the most quarantined place on the planet. And partly because Yuri himself doesn’t want to dwell on the idea of heavily armed Vladivostok accountants.

“Bratva.” Zakhar says the word and Yuri winces.

“Just because they’re from Vladivostok doesn’t make them gangsters,” he protests. “They’re playing at tough guys, paying for a tour of the northern edge.”

The northern district was the most populated before the Incident. Many people, families. Now it’s a haunt of abandoned villages, vacant workshops, and empty buildings. The cement factory is there, a shopping center, and the old gas pipeline with its maintenance stations. Lots of unoccupied places.

“Accountants from Vladivostok sightseeing in ghost towns,” Zakhar says. A flat statement. Plain. Short. Zakar utters it and Yuri hears how implausible it is.

Yuri glances at the wad of bills on the counter, at the Turk’s face. “Better than scientists,” he offers sheepishly.

The Turk considers this. “Perhaps.” He nods after a long pause. “We all do what we have to, no?”

Yuri lets out a small sigh of relief. The accountants will have their tour.

The nephew has arrived with two bundles. Zakhar motions with his chin and the boy sets them on the counter. The rest of the rubles lay on the faded linoleum, bright as new autumn leaves.

Behind the counter and below the old photograph is a locked glass case. Inside is a set of shiny black BN-4 Night Hawk binoculars: military-issue night vision. Hi tech. Very nice. Very expensive.

Yuri nods at the bills then at the case. “Add that too.  And four boxes of 5.45mm for Sasha. One can never be too careful in the Zone.”

“One can never be too careful in the Zone,” Zakhar agrees, and reaches for his keys.

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TO BE CONTINUED…

***

Yuri Bonyev’s previous Zone Run – A Prayer to Saint Strelok

Also available as an audiobook, here: At Audible

 

Thanks and have a good weekend.

 

 

 

 

 

 

ZONA ALFA: KHRABROST’

They say you can’t measure an intangible like courage, only see it in action. Well Khrabrost’ (translated from Russian as ‘mettle or ‘courage’) is how ZONA ALFA measures a Zone Crew’s potential effectiveness in battle. A Zone Crew’s khrabrost’ is linked to the total available Actions among its members. It’s the main value used to build a squad.

There are three types potential crew members in ZONA ALFA, experience levels if you will: Green, Hardened, and Veteran. When activated, each can perform a certain number of Actions according to their level: 1, 2, and 3 respectively.

That in mind, Other Pat and I ran a quick game Sat. afternoon. Two crews in a Threat Level 1 Area. (2 Hot Spots) We each built a squad of 7 K. (Seven Actions/Activation between all squad members)

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The Town of Lyetsk

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Other Pat’s Crew: Veteran Crew Boss, Hardened Second in Command, and 2 Green newcomers

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My Crew: Veteran Commander accompanied by 2 Hardened comrades

The larger 6 x 4 mission area allowed us to start some distance from each other and focus on the particular Hot Spot nearest to our deployment. With a 6 turn limit, we each pretty much decided to live and let live, and go for the salvage. Although we traded shots near the end, (a mistake which cost Other Pat one of his new recruits) both of us cleared out the Zone Hostiles and snagged some loot before it was time to evacuate the area. Other Pat got a good roll on the Salvage Table, finding not only valuable stuff but an Anomaly –  which yielded an Artifact worth a considerable amount of Zone Script. (It’s a shame he’s going to have to spend a chunk of it to fill the newly vacant spot on his crew roster)

 

Very straightforward game with plenty of room to avoid your opponent and maneuver behind cover – which we did. Both of us used Bolt Toss to trigger the Hot Spot and spawn the Zone Hostiles. (Dogs at the first, Zombies at the second) The tone of the game would have been much different in a smaller area, say 4′ x 4′ or even 3′ x 3′, far more aggressive and dangerous. (I think a 4′ x 3′ is optimal; 48″ is wide enough to vary deployment spots and allow for flanking, and 36″ is not so deep as you need to use the first turn just getting stuck in.) All in all, it was a good game and there being only two of us, we could stop and discuss options/finer points without worrying about dragging things out for the others.

One we finish up our current Symbaroum adventure, we’ll all be making Zone Crews for a lengthy session of ZONA ALFA play tests. I’m very curious to see how a mini-campaign plays with six players. We’ll probably split into two teams of 3 each, with one fig from each of the team’s squads able to activate each turn. You’ll find out with us how well that works.

Speaking of reinforcements tho… Here’s some new Lead Adventure and SASM figs. I’m a fan of Igor Karpov’s sculpting and wanted to keep the same aesthetic. Below are some pictures. As you can see, the SASM miniatures have the same look but are not as chunky as the original Lead Adventure Last Project line. Still, I think they serve the purpose quite well.

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Lead Adventure figs

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SASM 1

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SASM 2

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L->R: Lead Adventure, SASM, Pig Iron

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L->R: Lead Adventure, SASM, Crooked Dice with Pig Iron Head Swap

And just because I had the camera…

 

That’s it for now. Thanks and have an excellent weekend.

 

 

 

ZONA ALFA: Bunker Raid

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Very quick game last Tuesday night as two small teams raided an old military bunker, each hoping to secure either the main objective, (a damaged heavy armor exo-suit) or a small cache of supplies.

Played in a three by four mission area, Bandits were already present at the site and waiting on their own technician to recover the suit. In game terms, this simply means the Hot Spots were considered already triggered and the Hostiles were visible.

John and Matt’s men took on Derek and Max’s. It was a short, sharp fight, with UBGL on Matt/John’s crew Boss’ AK74 proving itself very effective. Good dice rolls allowed them to steamroll over the battlefield, so straightforward as to be undramatic. They not only cleared the Bandits in no time flat but put a hurting on Derek/Max’s lads too. Both objectives, gear and salvage, easy win for them.

 

The guys will be making permanent crews soon and I have reinforcements inbound in the shape of  some Special Artizan Service Miniature figs. Until then we’ll DnD our way through the next couple weeks. Our 4th level party currently consists of a Tiefling Sorcerer, a Human Rogue, a Dual-Wield Fighter, and a Dragonborn Paladin. Other Pat is keeping us in the dark about his character. Pictures as it all happens.

Oh and courtesy of the nice folks at DP9, the Cape Cod Wargame Commission has some Heavy Gear Blitz in its future.

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