Despite the fact that I’ve been playing games for years, it still amazes me how creative designers can be, particularly when faced with limited resources. The old saying of Necessity being the Mother of Invention rings true very often in the world of games – the amount of boxes I have at home containing a single deck of cards or a few scant pieces that turn out to be innovative and entertaining blows me away. And one such game that hits that mark is Zombiaki II from Portal Games.
I was asked to guest on my favourite podcast, The Dice Tower, a while back. This was a big deal for little me, because I got to take part in one of their fantastic Top Ten Lists and mine was “Best Reprints”. One of my selections ended up being Zombiaki II, a game I was surprised that neither of the show hosts Tom or Eric were aware of. Introduced to me by Chris who helps out on the Q&A sessions on the LMDS podcast, it was originally released back in 2003, the first version of Zombiaki was Polish-language only. With the basics coming together in pretty much in an afternoon (see my interview with designer Ignacy Trzewiczek for more details) you’ll expect the game to be rather simple – and you’d be right. However, while it’s a very easy game to explain and play, there’s much more to be found in this English-language reversion…
The story is pretty standard – the dead have risen (again) and have launched a night attack on the city of Moscow. Barely protected behind some hastily erected barricades, the humans need to stave off the zombies and survive until dawn – if they manage that, they win. Should the zombies manage to get even a single shambling corpse to the barricade before that, the humans lose. So how does it work?
If you’ve ever heard of the video game Plants versus Zombies, you’ll have an immediate understanding of Zombiaki II. Setting up the playing area starts by laying down a column of cards. The zombies begin at their end, the Cemetary, while the humans are holed up at their end, the aforementioned Barricade. In between those are five numbered cards depicting the rows between. Each player has a deck of cards; the Zombie player’s is filled with countless undead with different abilities, the Human’s packed out with (hopefully enough) weaponary and improvised objects to fight back the hordes. Zombies enter at any one of three spaces on the row closest to their side and slowly make their way towards the humans – every zombie has arrows on their card showing how far they may move per turn and which direction they can go. They also have marks depicting their hit points – if the humans hit them enough times, they’re not getting up again, ever.
The side you choose has a major effect on how you approach the game. Play as the Humans and it’s a tense affair, a desperate effort to manage the tiny amount of resources you have available to you to try and keep the enemy back. While most of the weapons at your disposal are little more than pea-shooters, there are a few heavy hitters available to you. Trabants and Trams can take down entire rows and columns of undead but appear infrequently. There’s also a few weapons that can slow down enemies or be left on the playing field for unsuspecting corpses to stumble into.
Meanwhile, with the Zombies, it’s all about sheer numbers, getting as many bodies out there as possible and manipulating the board so that faster ones dont get stuck behind slower troops. Remember that only one zombie needs to breach the barricade for them to secure victory, so even if everything is sacrificed bar one single card, you can still win. It’s got to be said that the zombies probably have a slight advantage over the humans, but that’s the joy of an asymmetrical game. Yes, it’s satisfying winning whatever side you take control of, but managing to squeak a win when you’re on the Human side and you’re down to your final card is incredibly satisfying.
Any downsides? Not really. My only (very minor) complaint is it can prove a little tricky keeping track of any hits on the zombie cards. Obviously this is easily rectified by just putting little tokens on a card when it takes damage – I have little coloured glass beads, but you could use anything that’s to hand… jellybeans, Cheerios, coins, whatever. As long as it’s small, you’re grand. Aside from that incredibly small point, Zombiaki II is cracking, challenging both players in different ways and scratches the itch for a strategic game in less than thirty minutes. Highly recommended.
Zombiaki II was designed by Ignacy Trzewicsek and released by Portal in 2010. The English language version, subtitled Attack on Moscow, is widely available and will cost you around £12/$15. Don’t forget, you’ll need some kind of damage tokens as well, but being inventive gamers I’m sure you’ll find something suitable!