City of Zombies (2013) review
While playing games, I forget that I am learning something. Maybe I’m being enlightened about a culture. Or maybe it’s about how to manage stock within boundaries. And maybe if I’m feeling really special, it’s about overcoming and escaping gravity. Games do a good job of hiding these little lessons. But here's a game that blatantly tells you that you should have played this in math class and possibly your exam score would have been higher.
Aimed clearly at the younger generation of app playing school kids, City of Zombies is a tower defence game with zombies, where players are using maths to fight off these hordes of undead. It all sounds exciting, doesn't it?
Getting into the game can be very easy by watching a tutorial video. Which is something that I should have done from the get go. As the rulebook is colourful and divided into lovely sections, but to read it is like examining a corpse that's been ripped apart by the Z's. There are bits of information here there and everywhere and sometimes you read the full breadth of the page while other times you read half of that all the way down and then go back up to the top. Again it's on a folded piece of paper, almost map like that makes it confusing a little. I would prefer a more straightforward page 1, page 2 etc, with the basic rules placed together and not miss mashed with the extra add-ons to make the game harder.
But apart from that, the game is relatively straightforward. The players are trying to protect a group of civilians at their camp. Just until the rescue plane arrives. The zombies will be approaching from the far side of the board and the players, in turn will have a chance to take pot shots at them by rolling three dice. So after the initial spawning of the zombies which again is done by dice rolling, each player will roll the 3 dice and you some math to take the zombies down. Each zombie card has a number on it which refers to the result you need to remove it from the board. These cards come in 4 levels, each level having harder zombies and possibly aliens to kill as well as different events that can help or hinder the team. Taking down a zombie can be quite easy with the level 1 zombie cards, as most of the values are 12 and below. Making easy math for the younger players.They may only have to match the value of one die to a zombie. Or do some addition and add the values of two dice together. With one exception. All dice must be used in the attack. If for any reason one die is left out, that player basically misses a turn. Once more for the younger players, this rule can be ignored. Bringing in a family fun air for the game.
After all players have had a turn at rolling the dice, any remaining zombies advanced by one space. Zombies that arrive at the safe zone will eat a number of civilians and clog up the barriers. This is bad but not in a way that you think. You could lose all of your citizens that you are trying to protect but that would not end the game, only give you a low score. As that is their only role in life. To give you points. When a zombie has had its fill of your civilians it will stay there until it is joined by 6 of its own friends. Basically once your camp is surrounded by zombies, the game ends and you loose.
Now there are varying levels that you can adjust in the game, making it harder for your team of players. As well as adding stronger zombies, that are well into the 30’s and 50’s, and some of them will be prime numbers. Now you may be wondering what prime numbers has to do with anything. Well as I said this is a math game and in the rules it's not just addition that you can use but also subtraction, multiplication and division. Which are all wonderful things that I forgot about over the years, and I'm sure you did too. Coming up with ways to defeat a zombie numbered 37 with three dice numbered 5, 2 and 3 becomes a race between players to see who can do it first. And it kinda feels like I'm playing against Carol Vorderman in Countdown, trying to arrive at the designated number before my fellow team members. Which isn't too bad a thing when I'm playing with my daughter but more of a fun challenge when I'm playing with my adult friends. Sometimes a player will shock another buy arriving at a solution before the other players. Which is amusing. Or when one-player suggest taking out one zombie by doing some complicated math, while another player finds a way to take out two zombies with some simple math.
A die can also be squared or cubed which gives a lot more variety in your numbers. And playing with players who are good at math, the game never seems as complicated. As it seems there is no die wasted. Which is good. After struggling to succeed with my daughter, I now see the possibility of actually winning with her in the future. Due to playing with brainiacs.
And that's a fantastic part about this game, as it can be adapted to the group that you are playing with. Making it harder by having the zombies spawn closer to the base or interjecting the higher or weird values. And also adding some variant rules which also come in the game. There are hero cards which the players can be given, each having a special power. There are heroes to be saved from the main board, that in time if touched by another zombie, they become a zombie too. And a very tough one at that. And there's also an apocalypse mode which gives each zombie a special power. So many nice ways to tweak the game to fit your group. And what better way to play with a group of children. While stretching their thought process by using math.
There is a bit of an unbalance in the game depending on the number of players playing. Playing at a lower count means that you have less turns to pick off zombies before they all advance on your position. Playing a 1 or 2 player game, you'll have two chances of removing zombies. Whereas in a 3 player game, you guessed it, you have 3 chances. Which is not too bad if in the Spawning phase you roll poorly. Again, playing with four or more players, six zombies will always appear. Again, do the math in relation to the amount of turns versus zombies spawning. This isn't a big negative against the game but something that experienced gamers will probably pick out. As this is meant to be a fun family educated game, these rules can be tweaked by the players to make it easier or harder.
This game is being used in the national curriculum in England, which is fantastic. And there should be more like it. It's a fun and addictive way to exercise your mind in a numerical way. With its colourful cartoon artwork which is adorable, and it's iconography clear and well defined in size, as well as in the rules. There's even information on the card of, which numbers are divisible by others, as a visual aid. The components are nothing to write home about. Basic dice, poker quality cards and a sturdy board. But there's enough they're to make this game a recommendable one. That's if you're into tower defence games, Zombies, educational math, and zombies... this is a no-brainer.
Technical Score 8/10
A tidier rulebook would have been a bonus. The box could have been smaller, as it is only a deck of cards dice and a twofold board. A condensed fourfold board may have made this game more compact and portable as well as reduce the price. Great art and fantastic iconography make for a slick playing session. Plus the simple mechanisms are easy to teach.
My BGG score 8/10
(very good - enjoy playing and would suggest it)
I want to give this game a higher score because I love the fact that it is an educational game, and an addictive tower defence game. Plus my family are big on zombies. Simplicity and clean mechanics make this an easy game to place on the table and have fun with, although there is not a lot of substance here for many gamers. It is a rinse and repeat game. But addictive for some. I am looking forward to playing more and adapting this as my kids get older.
Combined score 8/10
And now it’s over to you...