Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Zombies!!! Part 2: Gameplay & Verdict

In our previous entry we took a look at the box content for Zombies!!!, a game from Twilight Creations Inc for 2-6 players.  Here we'll take a look at how the game plays and give it an all-important final score.
A game of Zombies always starts in the Town Square, so this and the Helipad must be removed from the Map Tile Deck at the beginning of the game.  Once the deck has been shuffled, the Helipad is randomly inserted back into the bottom half of the deck, and the Town Square is placed into the centre of the table.
With the Town Square placed, the players must each choose the colour of their Shotgun Guy and place him in the centre square.  Each player is then given 3 Bullet Tokens and Life Tokens, and dealt a starting hand of 3 cards from the shuffled Event Deck.  With the Shotgun Guys placed and the hands dealt, it's time to get started with Zombies!!!

The first thing on the agenda in each player's turn is to expand the city map and increase the zombie infestation.  A tile is drawn from the top of the Map Tile deck and added to the map already on the table.  The map tiles must be placed so as to keep the road network running uninterrupted, so a tile can't be placed in position which would leave a road running into a dead end.  If an unplayable tile is drawn then it is discarded, and this phase of the player's turn is skipped.  To discourage players from creating a 'closed' map, any player who places a Map Tile in such a way as to prevent any more from ever being played misses their next turn.
When a new Map Tile is played it needs to be occupied by zombies.  If it's an Unnamed Building then the player places a number of zombie models onto the tile equal to the number of road exits on the tile - the T-junction above, for example, would generate 3 zombies.  These zombies must be places on the road, and no space can contain more than one zombie.
If a Named Building is placed then things go a little differently.  The top-left corner of the tile determines how many zombies, Life Tokens and Bullet Tokens are placed onto the square, and these must be placed inside the building itself.  Any square can contain a combination of zombie, Life Token or Bullet Token, but no square can contain all three.  The Hospital above contains the text "Z-8 L-4 B-0", which means that the tile must have 8 zombies and 4 Life Tokens placed on it, but no Bullet Tokens.
Once this has been done the player draws card off the Even Deck if necessary until they have a hand of 3 cards.
With the map expanded and the Event Cards drawn, it's time to move.  The player rolls a die, and can move a number of squares up to the value rolled.  Every time they come across a zombie they must combat it, and only if victorious can they continue to move.
Combat is very simple.  If a player lands in a square containing a zombie then they roll a die.  On a roll of 4 or more the zombie is killed, and the player adds it to their zombie pile by the side of the board.  If a roll of 3 or less is made then players have two options; discard a Life Token to re-roll the die, or discard a Bullet Token to increase the value of the roll by 1 (so if a 3 was rolled, 1 Bullet Token would need to be discarded to make it up to the required 4).  Whilst the main goal of Zombies!!! is to get to the Helipad and escape, players can also win by being the first to have 25 zombies in their pile.
If the zombies get the better of a player then they are not out of the game, their survival merely suffers a setback.  Their Shotgun Guy is returned to the centre of the board and given 3 new Life Tokens and Bullet Tokens, but half of the zombies in their zombie pile are discarded, and any weapons they've gained from the Event Deck are also discarded.
When the player has finished their movement phase they roll another die to determine how many zombies they will move this turn.  Each zombie can only move one space in a turn, so early on the game there will be very few movement options, but later on in the game this can be helpful for surrounding your opponents with a legion of the undead.
For the first few turns the game will continue on in this fashion.  Place a Map Tile, roll to move the Shotgun Guy, roll for combat, roll for combat, roll for combat, roll to move zombies, end the turn.  It's an incredibly basic system, which means that it's easy to pick up, but unfortunately it also means that it becomes repetitive very quickly.  Players will continue to move around the board racking up their zombie body count, until finally the Map Tile everyone's been waiting for comes out...
Altogether now: "RUN! GET TO THE CHOPPER!"  The Helipad, as you can see, is a Named Building with 'Z-9 L-0 B-0', so each of the 9 squares has a zombie placed inside it.  The first player to reach the centre of the Helipad and kill the zombie in the space wins the game; they've escaped the zombie outbreak and have left their opponents to inevitable death at the hands of the undead.
At first glance it may appear that the revelation of the Helipad tile is like starting a ticking clock and adding a massive element of tension to the game, but sadly the opposite is true.  As soon as this tile comes out every player immediately focuses their every effort upon stopping eachother from reaching that centre space, and the game quickly loses all momentum, grinding to a tedious, dice-rolling halt.  In most games the Helipad will appear within the first 30 minutes, and then the following hour will be spent with the players tripping over one another in an attempt to reach it.
In our other reviews you may have picked up on a passion for the subject, and an overall enthusiasm for relaying our experiences with the various games.  If you're noticing a lack of that enthusiasm in this review, it's because there is so very little to get passionate about with this game.
The mechanic of 'roll a die, roll a die, roll a die...' is very repetitive, and seasoned gamers will find no tactical element to help break things up.  The negative Event Cards can be played instantaneously, whereas the positive ones generally require the player to make their way to a certain building to be able to use them, rendering them useless for a large percentage of the game.  And even if you do manage to use one it gives your character a bonus up until they next die, at which all of your hard work is undone.  This leaves the Event Deck skewed heavily towards giving negative effects to your opponents, rather than to help yourself out, and Zombies!!! quickly descends into a game of back-stabbing and frustration.
Is it all bad though?  Not quite.  It's fairly easy on the pocket, and the simplicity of Zombies!!! makes it a decent introduction to specialist games.  Once new gamers have pushed past Zombies!!! and into the realm of more in-depth games, however, it's unlikely they'll ever look back.
The Good Points
  • It's got zombies in it! Everyone loves zombies!
  • The simple mechanic and easy-to-follow rules make it a good introduction to specialist games.  If you're trying to get a friend into the hobby or are curious yourself, a game like this would be the place to start.
  • The Shotgun Guys look a bit like Chuck Norris.
The Bad Points
  • Very repetitive gameplay.
  • The basic game mechanic leaves little to offer experience gamers.
  • Zombies!!! is very competitive, and there is little room for good nature during a game.
  • Some Event Cards are extremely overpowered (such as Fire Axe, which adds +2 to all combat dice rolls), but all weapons and bonuses require so many hoops to be jumped through to get them that they're not worth the effort.
Recommended Number of Players: 3+
3 players or more would be recommended for Zombies!!!  This is purely because the game is so back-stabbing that at least with extra players it feels less like a personal grudge match.
Average Game Time: 90 minutes
The time taken to reveal the Helipad is usually less than 30 minutes, but rather than signalling the imminent end of the game it really signifies that the game is just beginning.  Games will often go on for an hour afterwards in the long trudge to the winning square.
Replay Value: Low
Whilst Zombies!!! is a good intro to specialist games, once players move on to discover other games with more involved systems they won't be in a hurry to return.  The modular Map Tiles don't really add anything to the game's replay factor, and every playthrough feels very much the same as the last.
The Future: Ongoing, But Samey
One thing that must be said about Zombies!!! is that it has stood the test of time.  The first edition of the game was released back in 2001, and the 12th expansion has just been released this year, so it's unlikely that Twilight Creations are going to call time on their baby just yet.  Each expansion is themed, and past expansions have involved a zoo, a school and a circus, and come with new zombies, Map Tiles and Event Cards.
By searching online it's possible to find unofficial additional rules to give Zombies!!! an RPG element.  Whilst this would give the game some much needed depth, it would be much easier to simply go out and pick up a more involving game in the first place.
Price: £20
Zombies!!! will set you back roughly £20, which is a good price for a specialist game.  The price should be weighed up against the replay value though, and would be quite an expense for a game which you'll only play once or twice.  It is usually easy to track down, however, and seems to be one of the standard games most specialist stores have to offer.
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