Wednesday, February 13, 2008


After my first foray into zombie board gaming, of course I was excited to try out Zombies!!!, another entry into the genre. Unfortunately I walked away with a decidedly mixed experience.

In Zombies!!! the objective is to be the first player to make it to the helipad and escape the zombie infested city. The players don't have any direct conflict, but they are competing over the same resources. The city layout is completely random every play, with the helipad not being placed until late in the game. In the end it boils down to a race, except with mobs of zombies between you and the goal. And due to the randomized layout you don't actually know where the finish line is going to be. Which unfortunately means that you don't really have anything to do until the helipad comes into play.

To combat the lack of something to do in the beginning of the game, there is an alternate victory condition for killing 25 zombies. The problem is that killing zombies without dying is hard. Combat is resolved by rolling a die, where you can use ammo counters to increase your roll or a life counter to re-roll. Statistically you're going to need to cough some of those up every other fight, and you potentially could blow through all of them on one zombie. If you die your zombie kill count is halved, making it very difficult to amass the required 25 zombies (especially because all the other players will gang up on you if you get anywhere close). The only way you can refill your ammo and life counters is to venture inside buildings, which always come infested with a host of zombies. The risk vs. reward is dubious unless you've got some sort of edge to tilt the extreme randomness in your favor. But even if luck is on your side, combat fundamentally isn't very satisfying.

You get a hand of cards to add some strategy. In general the cards seem to lean more towards inhibiting other players than helping you out directly. Almost all of the weapon cards require that they be played in specific buildings, which results in them very rarely being played. So you end up filling your hand with smack-down cards in a hope to win by being the last man standing. There's a limit to the mayhem you can unleash, as that you are only allowed to play one card per round. So what really seems to happen is that everyone saves up some uber cards until the endgame, where chaos erupts on the mad dash to the helipad.

If there's one thing this game does well, it's creating the feeling that there are a crap-ton of zombies swarming the city. The moments after the helipad is placed when everyone is scheming about that last rush are truly great. I like the theme, I like a lot of the ideas, but this game seems broken without some significant gameplay changes (which are hard to make confidently without playing lots of games). Thankfully the issues are well documented and there's a good set of alternate rules available. But I'm a little shocked that the second edition release of this game hadn't fixed more issues out of the box.

My first night of Zombies!!! Was disappointing. The second time, with more players and alternate rules, was much more satisfying. I'll happily play it again, but it's clear that the game has some fundamental issues that'll prevent it from being a favorite.

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