Thursday, 28 February 2013

Keep Calm, Nerf On!

In the Nerf Internet Community (NIC) that we fans of Nerf have, I believe we have our own kind of Royal Family. One of the few flagship to the Nerf and HvsZ world.
"That's a pretty big call MyLastDart"
Well, I say it's true! Why? I spend a lot of time scouring the .net, in and out of Forums or Facebook Pages - and seen a lot who let rampant flaming, and trolling run amok - and the Admin are no where to be seen. Sometimes the Admin get involved in flaming themselves. Not good. But look hard enough you will find the few gems.

In the NIC, we truly have our own Royal Family :)
One of those gems is this very group. The one thing that struck me quickly about this group was their motivation, their passion to keep the games up and interesting - for their Zombies AND Humans. I've spent a lot of time in and around HvsZ forums and various groups, and there are few who support both sides actively.

They capture the main ingredients of Nerf - Fun-loving, Respectful and Passionate environment that everyone is welcome to and walks away having made new friends or memories that just won't fade. It's so important for this select few who live by this, it is clear to see why their Reign runs strong.

With much pride and honour, I had the opportunity to get to know the team behind the group and find out some behind the scene info us fans may or may not know :D I give you none other than -
"Hello to Ash and all his readers. Neil here from Canberra & Southern NSW Dart Tag. I’ve been interviewed a few times now, and with my retirement I’m keeping quiet and giving you all a chance to meet my team. Though I might make the odd editorial comment"

MyLastDart: Please can introduce the Admin team to Nerf fans that are not already aware of the Legendary work you do?
Chris  - AKA Combustible Props. I’m a part time Nerfer, in- game ref and prop builder. (NeilCombustible Props is on Facebook. Also, Chris and I run a melee ‘battlesports’ group) (MLD: Check out their Hundred Swords page - l.o.v.e it!)

Soul - (The Soul Smith). In-game ref and forum troll. (Neil – He’s also known as ‘The King of Knives’)
Lachlan - AKA More Dakka. I help coordinate our games, and try to get video of most of our big games up on Youtube (my channel is wil5oncle7us, we have our own channel coming soon). I also do a fair bit of modding, my favourite job so far was this flywheel boosted vulcan:

Joe  - Admin, author of the blog FoamDartGoodness, and former executive with HvZ@ANU.

Dave - Admin/moderator, Chief admin of the Tactical Edge (Neil – Tac Edge is a closed indoor group. If you are worthy you might be allowed to join.)

MLD: How did you guys get in to Nerf and can you remember your very first blaster? Which blaster sits proudly on top of your mantel piece?

Chris: I got into Nerf by making a M41A Pulse rifle out of a stampede (Still being built!). After a number of people saw my work, they mentioned there were Nerf games being played nearby so from then on, I was in.

Soul: My first blaster was a Maverick, and it also became my first painted blaster (steampunk). A Zombie horror themed painted Buzzbee Double Shot sits on my mantel. My arsenal varies depending on game type. Blaster vs Blaster style games require more powerful and/or better ROF blasters, so the Nerf Stryfe comes out and gets a workout. HvZ games tend to bring the cooler looking, but poor performing blasters out to play. That's when the Buzzbee Double Shot and Rapid Fire get dusted off. Indoor games are the only time my Vortex get a go, but even then... the Stryfe tends to hog all the gametime.

Lachlan: I remember one of my classmates about five years ago picked up a Recon and I just had to get into it too. The attachments were so cool! Those were dark days for the hobby in Australia though - I couldn't get spare streamlines and got a Maverick simply because they sold spare suction darts! How times have changed...
Joe: Started playing with blasters in '09 because HvZ started up at the Australian National University. First blaster was a BuzzBee Tommy 20 and Belt Blaster; both bought at the same time ahead of the first HvZ game in Australia. Literally on top of the Nerf cupboard is my Storm Tommy. Not the best blaster in the world (actually pretty shocking in practice) but certainly a nice representation of an amazing point in my life.
Dave: I initially got into Nerf for cosmetic modding and the fact that they not only looked great but could safely shoot darts. My first blasters were a Maverick and then a Longshot (back when they were new). My intention was to turn the Longshot into a pulse rifle. For a long time my Longshot was looking impressive on the mantel but after that I switched it for a White-Out Longstrike (yes I know they fire like rubbish but they look great).

MLD: What is Canberra & Southern NSW Dart Tag (Nerf Wars, HvZ) and how did it come about?
Neil: Everyone has kindly left this question to me to answer The group exists purely to run Nerf and HvZ games. It came about basically because a few of us who were just getting into the hobby wanted to see more games in the region. The group was started by myself and my friend Goldie (who is based in Wagga and runs Riverina Dart Tag – they’re on Facebook) Luckily – or unluckily depending on your point of view – we started at the right time to fill the void left by the demise of HvZ at the local Australian National University (that's another story).
MLD: What season (year) are you guys in so far? Is it open to anyone? Or is this only available through membership of a group? What is the best way for me to get in touch with you if I want to come a long for a game? Age restriction?
Neil: May as well do this one as well. This is our 3rd year of running. We’re open to anyone and everyone. We only have a Facebook presence, so you’re best off to find us there. We only have age restrictions for certain games (14+ for ‘Urban Combat’ games). Otherwise generally we prefer if you’re a young ‘un you have a parent or guardian with you. Strange to say considering we’re playing with toys, but we don’t really cater for pre-teens.

MLD: How many members do you have to date? General turnout/game length? I noticed a lot more females playing Nerf/HvZ - what do you think is behind that shift?
Chris: Every big game we pull at least 40-50 people and will play for a good 5 hours. HvZ is more accessible because it’s not your mil-sim wannabes with massive hyper cannons. You can play HvZ with your every day Maverick We regularly have families playing together.
Lachlan: We have 185 members in our events group, and 1747 followers on our C&SNSWDT main page, which I think is incredible. Neil has to be credited with building this empire up from the ashes of ANU HvZ. Of course not all of these show up - the best we get is a shade over 50 attendees at a game. We play quick rounds, our longest HvZ games might go for 45 - 60minutes, so we fit four or five rounds in a good day and people can come and go during the day as they wuss out.
Joe: Depends how you define members. We have 1700+ 'likes' on the page but our regular games draw about 50. We do have some girls who play but the mix still isn't great. I think HvZ typically has a better gender ratio than other blaster based games because it is typically more relaxed, and that makes it easier to get involved.


MLD: How do you help keep things fresh for both Human and Zombie players? I see you arrange a steady flow of games.
Chris: If we are getting bored with a game type chances are the players are too. You have to keep mixing it up, testing game types etc. If it doesn’t work completely but it’s still viable, keep thinking about it. HvZ always works but when you add small mechanics to it like spitting zombies (socks) and tentacles (pool noodles) it shakes everything up.
Lachlan: We try hard to incorporate new ideas based on earlier problems. This keeps the games fresh. So for example, a big problem is trying to get Master Zombies (MZ) to reveal early on to get the game started. Neil had the idea of giving the first few MZs to reveal pool noodles to use as weapons, so there is an incentive to reveal early. It gets the game started quickly, and gives the humans a new type of super zombie to worry about. We've got enough ideas for super zombies and situations that we can keep mixing them up for a while. Some ideas don't work, so it's important to recognise that and fix it - and with many short games in a day, we can tweak the idea until it's right.
Joe: HvZ games are always a little tricky to keep fresh. People always want to see new ideas and new game types, but they will almost always add complexity and the reason HvZ works so well as a game is because it's so simple. So finding that right mix between new enough for the experienced players but simple enough for first timers is always a fine line. Throughout each day of games we'll typically start with a generic HvZ as a warm up game, then add extra features as the day progresses. This varies from day to day but will typically include things like pool noodles or socks for early zombies, specific "missions" for the humans, things to affect zombie respawns, etc. We do also run a lot of games that aren't HvZ based though. Sometimes we'll add in melee weapons, other days will just be 'blaster vs blaster' games; it's all about coming up with a variety of well designed games for your players.
Might be the first time i'd run at a Zombie.

MLD: I have heard about different themes of games - night time fright/24hour survival/story-driven/Regular blaster games - have you tried any of these? What is your arsenal like? What happens if blasters kick the bucket at the zombie showdown? Do you have any resident in-house repair guys and do they charge by the dart?
Chris: Can’t comment on 24hour games as we are one day only type. But we have had indoor glow dart games and games where you had to get your small team to a chopper past heaps of zombies, pirate games where you could only have a pistol/sword as well as the 5v5 blaster games. Blaster dies at the end? Pull your pistol. You may not win but you get street cred for being a boss! We have a number of people (myself included) who know blasters so asking around will help.
Lachlan: We do regular blaster games - if by that you mean CTF and things like that. We sometimes get out in business areas for our urban combat games, which is clearly more risky than playing in the park, but we haven't had major problems yet. As far as the story based stuff goes - I think it's a different type of player who goes for that sort of thing. I think a lot of our players like how casual our games are - a good guiding principle is, someone should be able to show up late with a raider NIB and still have a good time. I think the way we do HvZ accommodates this nicely. And honestly, I don't think we as Admins can be bothered organising any sort of complex meta-game. Night and 24-hour games are different again - we don't really have a safe venue to play in at night, and even if we did, it's a big commitment compared with a day game. I have had many a blaster failure in the heat of battle. I find however that the stock blasters are incredibly reliable (with a few exceptions), so when my gear fails, it's invariably my own fault. A lot of us are experienced modders and well capable of fixing simple problems, so there's no real dedicated repair guys - and we would prefer to teach rather than fix it for you. Of course I wouldn't hand any of my own babies to someone else to fix.
Joe: We regularly run themed based games but I'm often the first to admit that I don't get into that side of the game so much. I'm all for having a story behind a given game, but at the end of the day it's still about the game itself for me. I hate nothing more than using thematic principles to dictate bad game design and I think it's a big flaw in the Nerf Internet Community (NIC) in general. If you insist on having a story or theme to your game, all well and good, but make sure it fits the rules, not the rules being invented solely to fit the story. My personal arsenal? Large. Well over a hundred blasters. Almost one of everything released from the Longshot forward, at least two of anything I ever intended on using in a game, and 6-10 of my favourites. Blasters break somewhat regularly throughout our games, but predominantly it's just small malfunctions like jams. Either way, both tend to get you turned pretty more often than not. Lots of players within our group are avid modders and with that you'll typically gain an understanding of the internals of a given blaster. With that understanding, you're then pretty well placed to assist when things do inevitably break. If it's a big job and you have no intention of doing it yourself, some of our guys would charge. However most advice and assistance comes free, provided you're willing to help yourself.
Neil briefly regrets his "One Man Army" designation
MLD: How do you encourage new members? Is there a general cost to attend the games? What if they don't own a blaster?
Chris: Keen to try? Come along and ask (nicely) to try it all out. We can lend you a blaster.
Lachlan: Most new people join through word of mouth. We've been featured a couple of times in local news and blogs which got us a few new members. We also attract a bunch of people just by being in the park and having fun. We never charge for attending games - on the one hand, that puts responsibility on us, and on the other, all we are putting into this is our time, and where else would we be on a Saturday?
Joe: Everything we do is based around encouraging new members and that is 100% the way I feel groups like this should be run. New members need the most work in convincing them to come along and join in; existing players have already experienced a game and provided we did our jobs well, will want to come back of their own accord. Specifically this mostly falls back to game design; making sure that the games are easy to understand, require minimal investment on their part (both time and money), and fun to play. If we tick these boxes there's no reason a player shouldn't come back. As to how we get new players involved in the first place, it's mainly through word of mouth. The FB page itself is obviously a great resource but it's not really the kind of thing you'd just find on your own if you didn't know what to look for. You had a good time, you'd tell you friends; you see a work colleague with a blaster in their desk, you'd tell them about the group; someone walks through the park while we're playing, you'd explain to them what we're doing. It's not rocket science and it's not hard, make things fun for people and more people will come.
Dave: I certainly bring the odd spare blaster to lend out and I also bring a selection of eye protection for our members, as eye protection is compulsory for all our games.
MLD: Do you take any inspiration from TV shows for any story led or inspired missions? The Walking Dead? Horror flicks?
Chris: Black Hawk Down, Game of Thrones, Hunger name it.
Lachlan: Not really, directly adapting a TV show probably won't make for a fun game. We make a fun game then worry about what it looks like - zombies with pool noodles look like Resident Evil zombies with tentacles. We do look to pop culture for promotion though, like calling one of our early melee games "Game of Foams". We also ran a competition about working blasters into movie scenes, which got us some great images and videos.
Joe: Again, I'm sure some of the other Admins do, but I'm far more a 'nuts and bolts' style Admin. I like the workings of games; the other guys can deal with the fluffy story bits.
At Haig Park
MLD: Can you give me a rundown of a typical games rules - do you have game marshalls? Or players manage themselves? How do you best manage to avoid disputes?
Chris: Don’t be a dummy. Any contest about a hit, is a hit. None of this "you didn’t get me" stuff. I won’t go into rules because most games have the same base rules.
Lachlan: By and large players manage themselves, but you do have to deal with the occasional troublemaker. Usually this is just a newcomer who doesn't get what we are about. We have a few, maybe 10, senior members who will step in if people break the rules during play, and we are looking at official-ising this game moderator status in some way, but at a HvZ with 50 people, about half of those will be regulars who know the rules, and keep the noobs in check. We find if you are tough on someone early on, they'll either figure it out quickly, or not come back - either way, it's a win for us. (Neil – and I yell at people – a lot).
Joe: We do have in game moderators (players who will take on the role of referee if required) but our players are generally pretty good. If it's a more complicated game we might have an admin sit out to specifically ref/run the game, but they're not overly common. Disputes are pretty simple to work out. If there's contention, the benefit of the doubt goes to the human; if someone calls a hit, you take it regardless of whether you felt it or not. If players can't abide by these general principles, an Admin may need to get involved to reinforce said rules. (Neil – see my comment above about yelling).
Never can go wrong with a Hail-Fire in HvZ :)
MLD: Is playing a Zombie as much fun as running around like a stealthy Rambo?
Chris: Playing as a zombie is always hard because you have to run and not everyone is quick. This being said we have multiple games played so there is a big chance you can play ‘Rambo’ at some point. To keep game length down we sometimes introduce a Juggernaut (unkillable zombie and mobile respawn point).
Soul: It can be, but first-timers often have trouble getting into the mood. Everyone wants to play with their Nerf toys, but zombies aren't armed, so 'newbies' are often a bit disappointed when they get tagged. Once people have played a couple games they slowly discover how much fun being a zombie can be, especially once a horde starts to grow.
Lachlan: The two best things about HvZ are being in a final stand against the horde, or being part of the horde rushing the last few survivors. No matter which side you're on, it's fun where the action is.
Joe: Playing a zombie is amazing fun.
Dave: Leading the zombies is certainly a lot of fun, forming up as a horde and running down those who left you to die or didn't cover your back!
Anyone else see a problem with this defence tactic in a HvZ game?
MLD: Are all the rules set in stone or is there room for innovative ideas? Holy Water Super Soaker? Can I go full melee Dusk Till Dawn style?
Chris: Rules are there for the game unless we say otherwise. Melee for the melee games (Neil - Or The Hundred Swords group on Facebook).
Lachlan: I'd say we pride ourselves on our flexibility - but again, we pay attention to what works and what doesn't. We have tried allowing melee weapons at HvZ, and it's way too overpowered to allow at regular games. I wouldn't mix water and Nerf either, mainly because I wouldn't trust my electric blasters to survive being sprayed.
Joe: Always room for innovation, just don't mess with the core rules too much.
When there's no time for darts...

MLD: What is a good loadout for a HvZ game? Why in your opinion?
Chris: Stampede or Raider. Alpha Trooper and Swarm Fire. Anything goes though as long as you can spam darts out and have enough darts.
Soul: In my opinion that depends on if you want to survive for as long as possible, or have fun. Not to say surviving isn't fun, but gimping yourself certainly brings something different to the game. If you want to survive a long time, run with a Stampede/Stryfe/Rayven and carry a lot of clips. If you want to try 'hardmode,' run with a maverick and a pouch full of whistlers
Lachlan: Capacity, reliability, maneuverability. It is painfully obvious when someone is used to other play styles comes to HvZ - a single shot long range sniper blaster isn't much good when 10 zombies are chasing you down, and carrying all the blasters you have will only slow you down. One attribute of blasters I go for is the fear factor - if the zombies can hear your air compressor or screaming flywheels from across the park, they'll go for the weaker targets first. But again, this means nothing if the blaster falls apart in the heat of it. My last resort is the Proton - small, convenient and idiot proof.
Joe: Anything with a high capacity for darts is good. Raider/Alpha Troopers were always my suggestions to new players up until the Elite blasters appeared. Now I'd strongly recommend a Rampage in their place. Why? Because HvZ is not about range. All you ever need to do is out range the arm of the zombie trying to tag you. If your blaster can't make a metre, then you might have a problem, otherwise you should be fine. Capacity is what will save you time and time again. An OK rate of fire is typically enough, even a stock Recon is usually good enough. Faster firing can certainly help but mostly just results in you tearing through your darts faster. If playing seriously I'll normally use a Stampede with two 18 clips taped together. This allows for good range, great rate of fire, good capacity and ease or reloading as you can fire a few shots, then in the lull swap clips and reload from the ground. This method ensures that you still have 36 darts loaded practically throughout the whole game. I'd have countless examples where I've stared down 20-30 zombies on my own with my Stampede and survived (at least in the short term). If playing just for fun I might take a single shot, probably a Nite Finder or Pistol Splat; maybe run with a Recon and the one six clip. Really depends what I'm feeling on the day. Pretty regularly I'll start the game with a less than ideal blaster so that I end up getting turned quicker and get more chance to play as a zombie.
Dave: Good load out for a HvZ is a fair portion of ammo for your choice of blaster, having said that your primary blaster should be automatic/semi-auto or slamfire otherwise you'll never take down the hoard but I think it’s best to start with a smaller blaster to shoot the beginning zombies and conserve your main supply. My personal suggestions are either the Raider/Alpha Trooper/Rampage or the Pyragon (my personal fav) with a large drum and a Ravyen or Stryfe to warm up. I've got my most tags using a stock Raider and carrying around 200 darts.
Neil: Whatever you take, you can’t have enough back up pistols.
Pool noodles ftw :)
MLD: Is there anything that could make HvZ better in Australia?
Chris: For the Canberra scene? Not really. We’ll keep going as we are, and introduce new game mechanics to spice it up. Other areas in AU? A good start is to try being inclusive and not letting the mil-sim types take over. Stock darts, blaster mods within reason.
Lachlan: I don't know much about the other groups in the country, but from what I see and hear, inclusiveness is a problem. You have to make sure a noob can have a good time, or they won't keep coming (Neil – or they’re forced to outlay some big bucks to get up to spec to be welcome in those types of groups)
Joe: More people involved would be nice, the Elite blasters are very much a step in the right direction, and more support from potential venues I guess. Really, we've got it pretty good here in Canberra.
MLD: How are your games/loadouts affected by the new Nerf blasters that come out? Is modding a big importance to HvZ? Or can stock do just as well?
Chris: For HvZ stock blasters work fine. But when you have range as well... it’s just better
Soul: Some people are into modding blasters, some aren't. The new Elite line has given non-modders a chance to step up and compete against modders in blaster vs blaster games, which is great! That being said, you don't need modded blasters if you play smart, and you especially don't need them for HvZ games. In fact super high powered blasters are often banned at HvZ games due to the fact you're often shooting people at near point blank ranges.
Lachlan: Nothing has affected this more than the Stampede I think - before, there was no real option for sustained full auto that you could practically carry around and reload in battle. I don't think anything since has been as much of a game changer. I do like the new blasters, but except Vortex they are all incremental improvements - hoping for something revolutionary in 2013! Anyway, the way HvZ works, modding is really not all that important. As I said, capacity, reliability and maneuverability are king, and it's a rare mod that improves even two of these. It's no coincidence one of the most popular mods is to chop bits off a Stampede. But again, a stock Raider or Pyragon with a full drum is perfectly respectable.
Dave: I pretty much run stock blasters in every game I've played (exception is my Lanard Hand Cannon) modding is not required and you do just as well with the basics as you do the awesome modded super blasters. it’s about how you use it. (Neil – as I often say when shaking my head ruefully at noobs armed to the teeth: “All the gear, no idea”)
Quick-fire to the team:
Fav soft drink?

Chris: Water and sports drink (Neil – he meant to say Cider)
Soul: Tap water
Joe: Coke
Lachlan: Farmer's Union Iced Coffee,
Dave: ‘Lift’
Dialling a takeaway what's everyone choosing?
Chinese / Sushi / Pizza / Curry / Croc burger n fries
Chris: gourmet pizza from Crust. Gluten free for me
Soul: Pizza Hut super supreme, curry
Lachlan: Curry me!
Joe: Curry
Dave: Chinese
Rock, Paper, Scissor?
Chris: Why?
Soul: Lizard poisons Spock (Neil - !?)
Lachlan: Foam
Joe: Paper
Dave: Rock
Slam-Fire or Flywheel?
Chris: Stampede
Soul: Flywheel.
Lachlan: Hear Me Roar (Neil – that’s flywheel, kids)
Joe: Slamfire
Dave: Slamfire

Just want to say a very big thank you to Canberra & Southern NSW Dart Tag (Nerf Wars, HvZ) for their kind time and brilliant answers. As a fan I certainly got a good insight into knowing the Admin team better and how they operate the group :) Anyone else out there with a HvsZ group would do well to pick up some tips from these folks.

Before I go - if you are in the Canberra area and you love Melee combat - check out the upcoming event:
Saturday, 9th March: The Necromancer of Black Mountain!


  1. I'm sorry, but this has really been bugging me. Great writeup, I love your interviews, but MLD, it's called HvZ, not "HvsZ". Take a look at the banner on the main site-

    I know it's not important but I've really been bothered by it.

  2. Thanks so much Ash for the kind words!

    @Briknerd, to split hairs even more, Vs is a legitimate term for Verses. So is HvZ, HvsZ, Humans v Zombies, Humans Vs Zombies and finally Humans Verses Zombies are all correct. There is nothing wrong in this case :D

  3. I would love to learn how to make or where to buy boffers like that. Do you happen to have any info on those?