Anyone who knows me in real life knows I have a minor fascination with zombies. From Left 4 Dead on the 360 to the fine cinematic works of George A. Romero via the brilliant World War Z by Max Brooks, the undead are my go to monster, my enemy of choice. I don’t care if they shamble around or sprint towards you aimed squarely at your jugular – I love me some zombies. And when I found out that Steve Jackson Games were planning a simple dice game themed around the walking dead, it went on my want list immediately.
Zombie Dice is exactly what it says. A push-your-luck affair, you receive thirteen custom made dice, a cup to shake them up in and a rules sheet. That’s it. Each turn, you blindly choose three dice – each representing a human – shake them up and hope for the best. If you roll a brain, splendid – that’s a point for you. Collect three shotgun blasts, however, and your turn is over. Brains and blasts are put to the side, but footsteps mean you must keep that dice should you choose to roll again. After each roll, you get the choice to take your points or roll again – the footstep dice go back in the cup and you randomly grab however many you need to get back to three, shake them again and see what you get. You must also consider that the dice come in three colours; green are the easiest to devour, yellows are pretty tough, but reds are filled with potential death. Your decision must rest on how far you’re willing to chance your points combined with what dice are left over. If you’ve already got two blasts against you but need a couple of points to win, dare you run the risk of picking up some reds and losing all your precious brains?
Zombie Dice is not the hardest game in the world, and many gamers out there will absolutely hate it. It’s incredibly simple, basic to a fault (almost), but still… I reckon it’s got a certain charm. You could almost see this as a combat system in a more complex release rather than a standalone game, but it’s fun. Components-wise, the dice are great, but I think there’ll be problems with the cup – I’ve only played a few (admittedly rowdy) games and the top of it is getting a bit wrecked already. I think I’ll need to be careful with that…
Moving on, the partner release to Zombie Dice is the even more portable Cthulhu Dice (although it should really be Cthulhu Die, as you only get one, albeit a customised twelve sided effort). The aim of the game is to remain sane while all around you lose their minds thanks to the influence of The Ancient One. Sanity points are represented as small green glass pebbles – each ‘cultist’ starts with three – and the rules are simple. Choose a victim, roll the die and see what comes up – depending on which symbol appears, you may force the victim to lose a Sanity token to Cthulhu or even steal one back for yourself. If you manage to be the last one standing, you’re declared the winner. Simple!
A bit too simple, unfortunately. Whereas Zombie Dice has a game at its heart (even though it’s far from complex one), Cthulhu Dice feels a bit flat. Roll, move counters, pass to next player – there’s not much in the way of thought and everything is down to the luck of the roll. My group had fun with it, but it was the gaming equivalent of a vol-au-vent – small, looked pretty, but ultimately insubstantial. If you’re going to go for one of these releases, I’d suggest you plump for Zombie Dice – it has a bit more longevity and certainly gave us more of a laugh. I hope Steve Jackson Games continue this idea though – cheap and portable gaming is always appreciated, and a strike rate of one good/one OK-ish is far from a bad start.
Zombie Dice and Cthulhu Dice are both published by Steve Jackson Games and should be available in your local game shops now. They can be played by as many people as you please and take only a few minutes to finish a game. If you’d like to say what you think about either of them, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or post a comment below!