Tag Archives: zombies

The Wave of The Future – Zpocalypse review


I have a curious relationship with anything that deals with an apocalypse of any type, which I suppose comes from being brought up in the United Kingdom in the 80s. With the United States to our west and the Soviet bloc to the east, the dangers that the cold war could suddenly break out into something rather warmer seemed to be a staple of society back then. TV shows like the terrifying Threads didn’t help (seriously, watch it on YouTube, it’s the definition of bleak) as kids who watched it and similar broadcasts very sure that we were going to end up the victims of some nuclear conflict or other. But then we grew up, Russia broke up, and the threats now come from other parts of the world – and for some reason we now all seem to think that we’re all going to be eaten by a horde of zombies. Our relationship with how the world may end has shifted and we’re now reasonably alright with it being part of light entertainment. Life, nowadays, is generally much improved – unless you’re the poor bastards in the world of Zpocalypse.

Nuclear holocaust isn’t the only thing they have to contend with, oh no, for designer Jeff Gracia has decided to throw hordes upon hordes of zombies into the mix as well. Everything has gone to crap, but just as you and your fellow survivors think that all hope is lost, a chink of light appears as a message comes through. Survive a few days more and you’ll be plucked to relative safety by the army. All you need to do is live! And while it would be easy enough to stay inside your fallout shelter, hiding away from the awfulness without, well… that wouldn’t make for much fun in a game, would it?

Scavenging and survival are your two main objectives in Zpocalypse, as you aim to save a group of people under your guidance until the cavalry arrives. This is not, however, a co-operative game. Plenty of opportunities exist to make life even harder for your opposition, as if living day-to-day in an atomic zompocalypse wasn’t tricky enough. Anything you can do to make your life easier is encouraged, even at the cost of the lives of others. Survival of the fittest is the order of the day, pulling in victory points at every possible opportunity, but even the strongest isn’t guaranteed to make it through this game.

Saying that, you’re going to have to be strong if you’re to get through the initial challenge of the frankly abysmal rulebook. I know that a second edition of the rules are currently in the works and will be made available to players soon (I plan to add an extra part to this write-up when I get my hands on them) but for those of us who own this first edition? Well, I’d be surprised if one in ten people who have a copy of Zpocalypse have managed to navigate through the rules and played out a full game correctly. Efforts to get this to the table have swiftly become a festival of house rules where “that sounds OK, let’s do that” is an often heard phrase. Early impressions where that the contents of the box were more like a playset with which you could do whatever you please, with the rulebook acting as a set of general guidelines rather than a ‘this is how you play’ affair. You know, like a rulebook should be. This one, though well written, can easily see you having to skip from page to page and back again in order to work out something that should prove simple.

Anyway, as time wore on and research was done with various groups of players, something good came out of the awfulness. Underneath the mess of instructions, we found something that actually worked. Piecing together a rule change here, an errata there, we somehow managed to come out with the semblance of a working set of rules and ended up having fun with Zpocalypse – which is great, because this is a game that really does deserve a bit of attention.

That's a LOT of stuff. And there's even more available if your pockets are deep enough.

That’s a LOT of stuff. And there’s even more available if your pockets are deep enough.

Beginning with a couple of people, your squad will look to grab as much useful stuff as possible that will not only keep you alive but also help fortify the safehouses in which you’ve made your bases. Exploration of the randomly generated map (something which I love in any game – it adds to replayability) will reward you with new items and people who can be brought on to your team. Of course, more people in the team requires more food to keep them going, but managing to keep their bellies full will mean that more stuff can be done. Things that you find can be kept and used in the way they were meant to be, traded to other players or even broken down into elements that can strengthen the walls and barricades. Some of it will be more useful to others and can prove useful as bargaining chips when you’re over a barrel and in need of assistance, so while I said that this isn’t co-operative, there are chances to work with opponents.

Each round represents 24 hours in the Zpocalypse world and is split into a series of phases. Games normally play out over the course of four rounds, but you’re encouraged to just do a few two-round plays at first in order to get to grips with what’s going on. This is definitely a good call, because although you’ll come to realise the game isn’t particularly complex, there’s a lot of working parts that need to be understood before you can just get on with things and devote yourself to a full-scale play. Players are given their own individual board that allows them to keep track of their squad’s health, armour and weapon skills, all of which are totalled up from your squad members. With every character in the game having their own abilities, it’s a good job that the maximum size is four – it can be easy to pass through a certain phase of the game and miss the opportunity to use them.

You will also have a daily mission that can be attempted while also just staying alive – managing to do so will often provide a very useful boost but are also dangerous things to go for. Getting one of your characters trapped behind a wall of the undead just so you could potentially score a few extra points isn’t worth the loss of their contribution to the group in the end, but sometimes the risk is well worth it! As in most situations, safe is better than sorry, so there’s no harm in focusing on building barricades and holding back the tide of zombies that want to sink their teeth into you. Combat is dice based and happily straightforward; work out whether it’s ranged or melee, add a few numbers and hopefully wipe a bunch of nasties off the board – and that’s it. I like that the focus of the game isn’t just on killing as much as possible, though you’ll certainly have to get your hands dirty if you’re to make it through the nights.

Zpocalypse was originally funded via Kickstarter and did rather well, as evidenced by the huge amount of extras that are available already for a game that’s only been officially out for under a year. Greenbrier Games have since made expansions both large and small available, and throughout you’ll find a very well put together product. You get plenty of good quality zombies in the base box as well as minis representing your survivors (though can get even more of both should you want them), the map tiles are nice and thick, the cards are decent and the custom dice are lovely. The extra elements that are available really add to the game, and I particularly like the accessories pack that turn your barricades from small bits of card into massive lumps of moulded plastic that look like they could hold back a real zombie horde. Or at least cause them to stub their toe quite badly.

All told, this is a decent game that is somewhat crippled by that wretched rulebook. Once you get your head around it, perhaps by using some of the fine resources made by fans of the game to help their fellow players, you’ll find a solidly entertaining experience that’s enhanced if you throw yourself into the storytelling side. I’m delighted that Greenbrier have listened to the owners and are releasing a follow-up rulebook and hope that it’ll streamline play, and with that due to be released soon I think that Zpocalypse will gain a bunch of new converts. Until that is done and made widely available, I can only really give Zpocalypse a cautious recommendation. Put your trust (and your copy of the game) in the hands of someone with patience who is willing to decipher the rules, then devote your playgroup to a couple of shorter games so you can get your head around the flow of things. If you’re looking for something you can just leap straight into, I’d suggest an Xbox 360 and a copy of Left 4 Dead, but if you’re up for putting the time into Zpocalypse, you’ll be rewarded.

Zpocalypse was designed by Jeff Gracia and released through Greenbrier Games in 2013. Between one and four can play with games taking around two hours. Copies of the game are now available through retail, but are available direct from the company in the US for $60. Meanwhile, UK and European folks can get theirs from Gameslore for a splendid £37 – not bad at all!



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Dead Star – City of Horror review


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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Thriller – Zombicide review

The Judge returns! Stuart takes a look at the Kickstarter hotness that is Zombicide. After raising over $780,000 on the crowdfunding site, they turned the game around and it’s now hitting tables around the world – but is it worth the wait?

We boardgamers are predisposed to the disease of shiny stuff.  Like magpies, no matter how many gems and trinkets we layer our nests with, there are always many more to distract us.  Exclusive Essen promos.  Expansions.  Limited Editions.  These are nectar from the gods for the unfortunate collectors amongst our number.

Kickstarter is therefore an almost unlimited source of this sickly sweet wonderfulness.  This phenomenon combines a pre-order system, an advertising campaign and a wonderful game-unto-itself where we, as a community, can all join together behind a common cause to ‘get this thing made!’ and revel in the excitement as the totals increase and bonus stretch rewards are lathered on.

Zombicide is one such successful campaign that captured everything that makes Kickstarter such a great idea for board game publishers everywhere.  This includes flashy components (in this case loads of quality miniatures), a popular theme that scratches an itch not totally covered elsewhere (Zombies!!! and Last Night on Earth are just passable) and a roller-coaster of momentum – bolstered by continual stretch goals.  So you’ve pledged $100 for the game… How about JUST another $10 for custom dice.  Or more tiles… and how do you expect to get by without Uma Thurman from Kill Bill?  Or Samuel L. Jackson from Pulp Fiction?  Or Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory? And so it goes on…

Yes, they did a character based on Sheldon from TBBT – behold, Dave the Geek!

This wonderful journey / descent into hell (delete as applicable) has resulted in me now owning a shiny ‘Abomination’ set of Zombicide with loads of extras.  The ‘Kickstarter Game’ was great fun, but this wouldn’t be the first highly successful campaign where the product was awful – Miskatonic School for Girls anyone? Fortunately for me, for Cool Mini or Not and for Kickstarter itself, the game is fantastic.

Zombicide is a fully co-operative game where 1-6 players adopt a role from a variety of colourful characters all trying to survive a zombie apocalypse.  Players are represented by detailed plastic miniatures – often caricatures of popular culture icons or comically exaggerated stereotypes – and each have specific powers which will need to be efficiently utilised to survive the endless assault from a ravenous zombie horde!

Nine full colour, double sided tiles make up the game board – with 10 suggested scenarios included, many more to download and a PC-based custom editor to make your own – there is NOT a lack of material to play through.  The signature of the game, however, are the dozens of zombie models that flood the board and add to a genuine sense of pressure as their numbers multiply and yours dwindle.

The mechanics are pretty simple – and similar to the equally fun Flashpoint: Fire Rescue – in so much as individuals have a limited amount of action points to spend each turn.  These are used to move, open doors, attack zombies, search for additional weaponry and collect the mission specific objectives.  As players fight off the horde and collect objectives, XP are earned.  Once certain ‘level-up’ benchmarks are achieved, new abilities open up to that character which – in turn – increases the stuff that can be accomplished on each activation.  HOWEVER… the level of the highest player indicates the difficulty level of the spawning horde.  More zombies;   Tougher zombies; and perhaps worst – FASTER “28 Days Later-style” ZOMBIES!

The game is pretty tough – as we have come to expect from co-ops – and players will die.  Just two bites and a player is eliminated.  Theoretically this could happen early in a 2 hour game, though I am yet to see it myself as kindly survivors have always jumped into the firing line for their colleagues. I do feel that this sense danger and threat is a necessary deterrent for splitting up the group too early and the level of vulnerability increases the tension of the play experience.

This review, as ever, is all about my personal opinion from my person experiences and I would heartily recommend Zombicide.  Having played with Ameritrashers, hard-core Euro-fans, super casual gamers and even those who HATE co-operative games, no one has had a negative experience with the game.

Let the games begin!

This is, though, a ‘play experience’ first and foremost.  I can’t imagine deep strategic debate / arguments on BGG about how to maximise your play.  A common complaint of co-ops is the Pandemic argument that one person solves the puzzle and tells everyone else what to do.  My Zombicide experience has seen a natural leader come to the fore, but more as a chairperson – bringing debate to a close – never to the detriment of the play experience, and certainly not to the point where others were not having input.

Other negatives?  Well, it’s not cheap – but the value is right there in the components.  In addition, the ‘experience’ nature means that it won’t be played every week – e.g. you won’t finish it and find yourself desperate to try a new strategic approach.  That said, Zombicide will stay in my collection as a fun, dirty, thematic and somewhat Ameritrashy co-operative experience that plays best with a drink in one hand, and a group of friends around you.

Zombicide, designed by Raphael Guiton, Jean Baptiste Lullien and Nicolas Raoult, was released through Cool Mini or Not in 2012. Copies are trickling out to Kickstarter backers at the moment and the game will be available through retail stores some time in the Autumn.




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