Dead Star – City of Horror review

CityofHorrorCOVER

I’ve said it pretty often that the reason I love to play games is the social interaction you get from them. Whether you’re working co-operatively trying to save the world or striving to screw over your opposition, there’s little better than sitting around the table and playing something, anything. There are, of course, a selection of games where the cruelty is as important as the interaction, games where the main focus is on being mean, striking out for yourself and screw the consequences for everyone else. Diplomacy is probably the finest example of this genre, a game where friendships are crushed in the pursuit of victory, and now we can add the newest release from Repos Production to the fold. City of Horror is here, and it’s not pulling any punches.

The only way to win? Survive.

Actually, that’s slightly overdramatic. In reality you need to survive in a better fashion than everyone else. Played out over the course of four rounds, you and your fellow humans seem to be the only ones left in a city that is rapidly getting overrun with zombies. A rescue helicopter is on its way and will pick up everyone left at the end of the final round – perhaps. As the game opens, you’re given a selection of these characters ranging from abandoned children to business types… even a heavily pregnant woman is thrown into the mix. Each character card is double sided and must be flipped over showing that you have used their special ability – doing so means that they’ll be worth significantly less points should they manage to escape the city, however.

Now, we say city, but really it’s a section that has descended into chaos. It’s always built at random, but there will always be an Armoury, Church, Hospital, Bank and Water Tower along with a crossroads in the middle of the board. The survivors are randomly given a starting location, but before you even begin there’ll be problems. There are only a limited amount of spaces in each place which means some folks could well end up out in the open, stuck at the crossroads where the danger is even greater.

Someone's going to get eaten. Someone is ALWAYS going to get eaten!

Someone’s going to get eaten. Someone is ALWAYS going to get eaten!

At the beginning of each round a card is flipped showing where the zombies will spawn or shamble to, along with supply drops of extra Action cards and syringes of antivirus. These syringes (also available from the hospital by trading in cards) are vital; if you don’t have at least one for each of your survivors by the time the helicopter comes, they’ll be left behind to join the ranks of the undead.

The actual play of the game is very straightforward. Once the zombies are spawned, players will (hopefully) move a single character to a new location, ending up in the Crossroads if there’s no room at their chosen destination. You then work your way around the six areas, working out if there’s going to be a zombie attack in each one. If conditions are met, all players (not just those at the location) are allowed to contribute to killing off enough undead to stop the attack. If this happens, great; move on to the next place and start again. Unfortunately, most of the time – and especially when those Action cards start running low – the attack will happen, and this is where the magic starts…

You see, not a huge amount of stuff actually happens in City of Horror. Over the course of play you’ll only actually make a small amount of decisions; the emphasis is on doing everything you can to save your own hide, and this is why the game is so good. If an attack is going to happen, someone will die; you need to do whatever you can to stop it from being one of your characters. At this point, the game comes into its own as you try your damnedest to prevent the zombies from claiming your character as dinner. Anything goes. Any deals that you can cut are valid and there’s no penalty if you back out on them, aside from the fact that you may well end up being hated by your friends. When that vote happens and someone is thrown to the baying horde, alliances and vendettas are created and shattered in moments. There’s little more entertaining than pulling a fast one, promising you’ll side with one person then stitching them up. Don’t worry about offending them; they’ll be planning to do exactly the same thing to you as well.

A metric ton of cardboard! Everything is double sided adding plenty of replayability.

A metric ton of cardboard! Everything is double sided adding plenty of replayability.

Repos have put together a great package in City of Horror. The city tiles are thick and sturdy, and although the first print run did have a minor issue with warping (nothing that couldn’t be sorted with the assistance of a heavy book) the latest print run has had no reported problems. All components are of good quality and the artwork is suitably horrifying and comedic in equal measures. Also, this is the only game I can think of that comes with a pre- and post-birth character; yes, the Pregnant Woman can have her baby mid game. Good job too, it gives her two votes…

And that is why this is such a great game to play. Between the amount of though that has been put into realising the theme to the simplicity of the rules, from the sheer cruelty of how you know that not everyone will make it out alive… it’s a brilliant and entertaining romp of a thing, filled with arguments, broken promises and more “I can’t believe you did that” moments that you’ll be able to stand. The prequel, Mall of Horror, was entertaining enough but had some limitations. City of Horror expands the experience, offering a much wider range of options and giving players the chance to truly do everything they can to survive. The team at Repos Production have come up with a gem that will play out differently every time and is well worth picking up. Just don’t expect to be friends with everyone when everything is over…

City of Horror was released in 2012 by Repos Production and Asmodee. Designed by Nicolas Normandon with art by the fantastic Miguel Coimbra, you can pick up a copy from the guys at Gameslore for £32.99. Between three and six can attempt to survive the zombie onslaught and the whole thing will take you between 60 and 120 minutes. Well, it should do if you last that long and that’s far from guaranteed…

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