a grime world
Zombie board games can be found everywhere. It is one of those subjects that are a recurring theme in our hobby and they don't show any signs of stopping. There are one's that feel like your taking part in a Night of the Living Dead. Other that make you feel you are in 28 Days Later. Some that sink you into the deaths of the worst B-movies of this genera. But this little card game has the feel a little TV show called the Walking Dead.
In that respect, Rick Grimes is always putting a team together and holding up in some place until the hopeful end of this plague of zombies dies out. But every time, his house is given a 'once over' by an outside group of survivors, that will brake up his team or kill a few of them, but most definitely bring an attack of those walkers into the mix as well. And that is what you'll be doing too. Creating a team of like minded characters, use their ability's to your advantage, maybe score some points. Then another player will steal one of your team. Or leave your door open, so the horde walks straight into your camp, slaughtering your friends, leaving you alive to witness this massacre. Just like the Walking Dead, the zombies are the backdrop. The real enemy's are sat to the left of you and the right.
This is all done in a very light humoured, quick playing card game fashion. Everyone will be given a hand of cards that, at the beginning of the game will be drafted with the others players at the table. Each person taking one card from that hand, to form their own deck, before passing on the remains of those cards to the next player. This gives everyone at the table a chance to analyse what cards are available at the beginning of the game, as there are several types and you may wish to collect a certain set. There are a scattering of zombie cards. Some event cards. And a large chunk of survivors from four different factions and some that belong to none.
On your turn, you'll recruit characters from your hand into your camp. These need to be of the same faction, so no mixing of Hippies and Punks is allowed. Although the neutral characters can slide into any camp without causing a fuss. Each faction has strengths and weakness, plus all of the three ability's that the game has to offer. But all of these are in different moderations. Hippies have more chance of manipulating. Survivalists are more violent with attacks, where as Economists, Punks and the Neutrals have their own holes and forces. This makes choosing the faction you want to use and important stepping block. Although you may have in your hand, three Survivalists that can search but have no other ability.
reinforce those walls!!!
Having characters in your camp means that you can use these ability's as actions, but within boundaries. Having placed those three search worthy Survivalists, you can only search with one of them. If you had characters with the attack and manipulation action, you could also preform those. One of each of course. Having diverse characters that can do a bit of everything is a bonus, as they can do their secondary action instead. Having this limit puts pressure on the player as they puzzle out, who does what. Added to that is that once a character has activated, it is exhausted and laid on it's side and will only stand back up at the beginning of your next turn. Where as those that are not used are left standing. Technically, they are standing guard of your camp. If any intruders come along, they are your first line of defence and will die in the line of duty, if attacked by the zombies. Or even worse, another player. You will feel the pinch of pressure as you decide, who is expendable and who is useful, every turn.
There is a bonus to having a great number of people in your camp, as you can transform four characters into one victory point. That sounds easy, yes? And it is easy. Plus, using their ability's before hand is big bonus as once this is done, they are removed from the game, leaving your camp empty and your hand a little thin. You'll feel a little naked and unprepared for an attack. Mind you, it probably wont be the zombies that come after you, as they have their own objective. It will be the other players. If you have no one defending your camp, they may attack to make you discard a card from your hand. If that card is the last one in your hand, you are neutralised and have to also hand over one of your victory points to them. Nasty humans!
must eat cardzzzzz!
That bonus of having a great number of cards to do almost anything and everything you want, has a down side. If at the end of your turn, the player with the most cards, in their camp and hand, will become an automatic target for the zombies attack. This doesn't happen once or twice...no, no! This happens every players turn. Now, you may be lucky as there may not be any zombies in the Downtown area of the game, which is the centre of the table. But that will be more than unlikely as zombie will amass when a character defending a camp, is killed. Or when players decide to discard cards zombies from their hand to deplete the likelihood of being the automatic appetiser for the horde. You can also discard and survivors from your hand to Downtown. These stay as survivors that anyone can recruit on their turn, with a bit of manipulation. You'll do all of this, just to avoid being attacked by the horde. But is it worth it. Sometimes it's better to be picked on by the zombies than the other players. What do “THEY” want? To see you defenceless! Or see you have your potentially good cards given away!
This back and forth of eyeing up your opponents and judging whether certain risks are worth taking, are what this game is about. It is a real “Dog eat Dog” world. Of course, players could work together to keep the horde at bay...But that wont happen.
let the zombie win
Event cards are also in the mix and can be played at anytime. You may be worried that they can mainly be used to knock over other players sandcastles as “Take That” cards. Fret ye not! They are more defensive. Diverting a zombie attack or give you a few more cards. They even helping cull the numbers in the horde. So, not so Munchkin like as it looks. In fact, the amount of brain strain you will get from this game is quite high. Every card has a variety of uses, not just to keep your score or count the number of zombies. Balancing out your actions by the amount of cards you play, trying not to be the target of the zombie, while at the same time painting a target on your chest, is difficult. There is a lot of ducking an diving, playing lots of action then playing none. It may be a bit back and forth for some players, never feeling like your advancing in the score department. But it is a intense, player dependant and interactive game. The fact that there are different ways to play, are a bonus. You can tweak the game to your suit your level, making it harder or easier. I have only play tested the normal version and therefore can not comment on how these extra ways to play feel. I will say that I do like the idea of the size of the horde as the zombie victory point on the casual mode, in comparison to the zombies having an independent score pile. Coz the zombies can win as well...
this ain't no munchkin
Talking of that, a draw back is the fact that the game uses nothing but the cards. They are your VP's, the zombies VP's, the horde and of course, the characters and events. This can sometime get a little confusing on the table and in the aftermath of an action. As you can mistake the horde for their score or even when discarding a card from your hand, does it become a VP, zombie or go straight to the graveyard. Some other components would have been nice. Tokens, markers or a score board to register all this information. Even just a play mat to represents Downtown would benefit the game, indicating where everything goes...Maybe a stretch goal!
The art has a layer of dark comedy behind its grim and bleak cartoon designed. The zombie, well, they all kind of look the same. But the character art is very distinct for each person. You can even tell which character is which from across the table, thanks to the colour pallets used and the shapes and forms of each. On close inspection, you with see lots of in-joke, mainly movie references on the mashed up survivors. For example, Claude-San is a mix of The Bride from Kill Bill and Walter Sobchak from The Big Labowski. As in Munchkin, this humour only traverses the first viewing of each card. After that, it's just a face.
All in all, a game that has teeth and looks that are deceiving. Not so Munchkin as you think. Although the actions are simple, you can accidental mix up rule sets, causing a little confusion at the table. And as simple as those actions are, you will be scratching your head for a while, when your turn comes around. A very, in you face, small and quick playing game that does a lot with minimal components. Playing with fewer player can be very aggressive, as I found in a three player game. More players, I believe would be more fun, as there would be time for you to breath in-between turns, a chance to regroup your camp and your thoughts. You will feel hot and clammy after playing this, just like Rick does after thing turn to crap. And maybe you'll end the game with a splash of blood across your face.