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Review: Rise of the Zombies – The Zombie Apocalypse Survival Game (DVG)

Posted by Andreas Ludwig on March 8, 2013

Game: Rise of the Zombies – The Zombie Apocalypse Survival Game Review

Publisher: Dan Verssen Games (DVG)
Published in: 2013
Designer: Dan Verssen

Topic: Surviving in a  Zombie Apocalypse
Game Type: Cooperative-Competitive Card Game
Contents: 168 Game Cards, two 6-sided dice, 8 Plastic Stands for Survivor Characters, 1 Sheet of Counters, 1 Digital Timer, 1 Rulebook

Number of Players: 1-8OFFTOPIC_rund

HFC Game-O-Meter: E 


Our Rating (1-10):

Graphic Presentation: 8
Rules: 8
Playability: 9
Replay Value: 9

Overall Rating: 8.5

PRO Easy game mechanics, fast to learn, good written rules, lots of decisions, very thematic, good simulation, high replay value because it is difficult to win, cooperative, quality components (cards, rule book, box)…
CONTRA …but some of the components are less convincing (counters hard to read because of the chosen font which sometimes looks too cramped; plastic stands are ugly and don’t hold the counters in place too well; the timer looks a bit cheap and battery sometimes detaches from the electrical contacts so it stops working), no player aid, for some players the extremely unforgiving nature of the game may lead to frustration.
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Introduction

RotZ_table

Zombies on the table!

There are so many Zombie games available on the market that it didn’t really awake my interest when Dan Verssen Games announced Rise of the Zombies, their new game funded by Kickstarter. We own several Zombie themed games and all of them are fun to play once in a while, but there was no reason to believe that a new game would actually bring some new game experiences to the table, so this game was not really on our radar. Then a review copy of the game arrived out of the blue and we did what we always do when a publisher sends us a new game – we quit playing the games we were currently playing for fun, took Rise of the Zombies into the HFC Test Lab and started our test sessions. 

So, what is the game about? It’s the usual setting you would expect from a Zombie game: the players are survivors in a world which was overrun by Zombies, no one knows what and why it happened, the world is just a looting ground and life is reduced to a constant run from a safe house to a new shelter, while trying to survive the walking dead. Actually, the rule book draws you into the story right away by letting you read a letter written by a certain “Gordon”:

The Howler is very dangerous because she attracts more zombies

The Howler is very dangerous because she attracts more zombies

“If you can read these words, there is still hope. On these sketch cards you will find my recounting of The Last Days of our World. Did it start in the water? The food? As a bio weapon? I never found out. 

I was touring Washington D.C. when the President declared a National Emergency and the Army barricaded the streets. Trapped in my hotel room, I watched Apache helicopters firing wave after wave of rockets into the shambling masses surging up Pennsylvania Avenue. I sketched what I witnessed on the cards you are holding now. For two days, the helicopters came, and my towering hotel shuddered from the ever approaching blasts. The third day was the worst. I awoke from a troubled sleep to silence.

Just before dusk of the fourth day, flames engulfed the White House. It burned throughout the night. At dawn, our flag over the White House had fallen. I raided the hotel’s kitchen for food and supplies and began my trek out of the city. For six days, I slept in sewers, slunk down alleys, and peered out of garbage dumpsters, sketching deep into the night to preserve my sanity. Seeing was never a problem. Something was always on fire. They were everywhere. Swarming. Searching with mindless eyes and rending flesh with outstretched hands. They never slept. They never stopped feeding. They mindlessly stalked the living. That’s all they did. 

I met other survivors along the way, but they each fell to the mindless hoards through carelessness or misplaced courage. On the seventh day, I found this house. I call it my Safe House. It was fortified with boarded windows and barbed-wire around the front yard. I met the guy who did the work. He was a construction worker before things went bad. There are more of them every day, and it is dangerous to sneak out for food. I don’t know how much longer I can stay here. I saw an Army helicopter circling the park on the other side of town yesterday. If I see another one, I’m making a run for it. I asked the construction worker if he wanted to come with me, but he said he’d stay here for a while and wait for the Army. I wish him well.

I’m leaving my sketches behind as a sign of hope. All is not lost. We will survive”

-Gordon

This letter explains the situation at the beginning of the game because the players start in the mentioned safe house, and since it’s not really safe there anymore, they will have to follow Gordon, who left the house to make a run for the rescue helicopter he saw.  This story introduction also gives the background for a very distinctive art style that is used in the presentation of the game: it’s a card game and all cards are sketches, pencil drawings that look interesting and fresh, and that’s what Gordon left behind to give other survivors some hope. It’s a nice touch, a great introduction for such a game and it did awake our interest and we wanted to know more…

Presentation

RotZ_Contents

Unboxing the game

In the box you’ll find a 19 page rule book, also made of glossy paper and with many illustrations, a glossary that explains the different keywords and terms of the game, lots of examples to explain every step of the game-play, a complete sample game, and extensive background stories for all the survivors you can play. All this is done in a style that continues to draw you into the theme while reading. Red Color is used for the headers, and the examples in the rule book as well as the zombie card texts and numbers. The texts and numbers on the other cards are brownish, but the rest of the rule book is black and white, as are the illustrations of the cards, so the entire game is presented with an intense, sharp contrast very fitting to the Zombie topic.

The heart of the game are the 168 cards, which are divided into action cards, Zombie cards and survivor cards. These cards are also made from quality cardboard, they are very robust and protected with a glossy finish on both sides, so they would probably last long even if you don’t sleeve them. They are pencil drawings that look absolutely fantastic and it’s not just the usual gory picture or photo used in other games. This art style sets it apart from all games I know and it is done in a realistic manner, you don’t get a cartoon or such, but the sketches capture the Zombie feeling in a perfect way and it looks new and fresh and supports the story of the game and makes it even more immersive (see Gordon’s letter above).

RotZ_Survivors

On some counters, the font is hard to read

Then you get one counter sheet with the survivor counters, various game markers for wounds and experience, in addition to special game scaling markers (because the game scales according to the number of players). The counters are thick with the same glossy finish used for the cards, so quality material here as well, but we had to clip the corners after removing them from the sheet because they were sitting tight in there, but no big deal. The only minor problem is with the survivor counters because they are named after the stereotype characters we all know from the various Zombie movies – you have the Biker, the Cheerleader, the Scientist, the Cowboy and so on – all in all 13 survivors which you can choose from. The font used for the writing on these counters however is for some people hard to read since it looks a bit cramped for the longer labels, but you will get to know these stereotypical characters by the image anyway, so it’s not much of a problem.

You can either lay the survivor counters on the cards, that works just fine or you can turn them into stand up counters by using the plastic stands. These are rather ugly though, mainly because they are nontransparent and big which I simply don’t like and they don’t hold the counters tightly – which is their only purpose. Only 8 stands are included, so you have to switch the survivors from time to time and that may damage a counter if you don’t pay attention. I would have preferred transparent plastic stands like the ones which are used in the Arkham Horror expansions, but as already mentioned – if you don’t like these plastic pieces either, simply lay the counters on the cards, they are only markers anyway. Then you get two small white dice, the usual dice that come with such games, so no surprises here.

Timer

The ghoulish-neon-transparent timer ticks down mercilessly

The real surprise though is the timer that is included in the box! We never had a game that came with a timer, so to discover this green timer in the box was quite interesting. The game is played in real time and that’s why it’s there, it’s a rather cheap thing, sometimes the battery detaches from the electrical contacts so it stops working in the middle of the game without you knowing it… so you either make sure the timer works by putting a small piece of carton on the battery to put some pressure on the contacts or you can alternatively use an egg / tea timer that you will probably have in your house anyway. The color of the included timer is an ugly ghoulish green though, so it may beat your egg timer in this regard since that definitely fits the theme…

One major complaint however, the box has no useful divider or storage system (just a floppy carton that is not helpful at all), so when you put all the cards back into the box after your game session you either have them all mixed together, or you will have to use a rubber band to keep the different card types separated. Since we sleeve all our cards we can’t use a rubber band (that would damage the sleeves) and will have to find a way now to keep them separated and safe. Sentinels of the Multiverse is a good example for a simple but effective storage system that can be used in such a box.

These complaints aside, the bottom line is that the game comes with great artwork and the overall top quality of the cards is worth the money you have to pay for it.

Rules

Rule book

The rule book is clear and offers many examples and illustrations

As we all know, games are only as good as their rule books, so let me give an all-clear signal here right at the beginning. The rules are well written, have an Index on the front page, a glossary at the end of the rule book explaining all the used terms and keywords, and come with many examples for every step of the game.

All the different card types are explained well and there is almost no part of the game that is not covered in detail. At first we were a bit unsure about who is engaged with whom, but we were able to get this straight by carefully reading the extensive sample game notes. Since we are used to ASL rules, we always suppose that different terms actually mean different things and that caused some major confusion in the beginning about ‘moving’, ‘following’, ‘advancing’ and ‘retreating’,  which are used in the rules as synonym terms (only difference is that the movement mentioned in the “new location card sequence” called ‘advance’ doesn’t require a follow symbol to be discarded) but that could have been explained better or even completely avoided by just sticking to the term ‘move’ / ‘movement’ throughout the rules.

By the way, don’t let the fact that the rule book is 19 pages long fool you or even scare you off – the actual rules don’t need that much space, most of the rule book is filled with background info like the life stories of the different survivors, examples, card images, the glossary etc. and the rules are written in a large font, so this is by all means a casual game which can be learned in no time and a reading once or twice should be enough to get you going.

The game engine as such is very straightforward and simple and so a player aid might not be something that is necessary here, but actually it would be helpful. As the following sections of the review will explain, the game is casual only in regards to the gameplay steps, but otherwise is a skill game, highly depending on familiarity with the cards and options that come with them and it is played under the pressure of real time. A single sheet listing the main turns with their sub-steps of the Sequence of Play and the single steps of the special ‘new location card sequence’ would be helpful for beginners to learn the game. They are listed in the rule book but on different pages and flipping through the pages with more than one player at the table is time consuming and the one thing you don’t have in this game is time…

Gameplay

Players

The game can be played with 1-8 players

As the introductory letter of Gordon at the beginning of the rule book explains, the game puts one to eight survivors in a safe house and the goal is to reach a helicopter waiting on the other side of the town. The survivors will have to search for weapons and other supply stuff to be able to make it through the Zombie infested town and to keep the walking dead at bay while moving from location to location. They can barricade a location, help each other, watch the back of fellow survivors while they move forward, using melee weapons or ranged weapons whatever fits best the given situation and can interact in many interesting ways.

Attacking and killing off zombies will give them some confidence to survive – translated into game terms, this means that they will get experience points which can be used for better equipment to prepare themselves for the more dangerous locations in the game.

Weak individual Zombies shamble around not being much of a threat, big dead dudes on the other hand can be hard to kill and will even pin a survivor in a location while others shamble closer. Zombie groups can be met in the town that are dangerous for anybody playing as a lone wolf, survivors can decide to use shotguns and exploding gasoline to fight the walking dead or to just use a silent crossbow and sneak around the threat. Using a flashlight can help finding new stuff, but can also attract more zombies, fighting in a parking lot with a melee weapon can mean that a car alarm can suddenly go off, again attracting more undead corpses, shooting while being in a gasoline station can blow stuff up… a story full of tension actually unfolds on the table by just playing the game.

Victory Conditions

RotZ_Construction

Some survivors have a special skill (here: construct) and an inherent weapon (here: tools)

First of all, as already mentioned, the game plays in real time and that sets it apart from the other Zombie games we know. That means depending on the difficulty level (Introductory, Standard, Expert, Insane) and the number of players, you have a certain time window (from 40 to 95 minutes) to reach the helicopter. If you don’t make it in time, you lose the game. If you die on your run to the helicopter, you lose the game. If you reach the helicopter in time and you survive but you have Zombies with you in the helicopter, you lose the game if the time runs out (the pilot will be eaten and can’t start anymore).

The only way for a survivor to win the game is to reach the helicopter in time without any Zombies being in the helicopter. However, this does not mean that all survivors have to be in the helicopter to win the game, every survivor wins for themselves, so if in a three-survivor-game one survivor makes it to the helicopter and there’s no Zombie around and the timer is running out, it’s a victory for this individual survivor. If the second survivor is still alive and on the way to the helicopter, even has no Zombies in the location he is currently in, but the time is running out, that means the heli starts and this survivor has lost the game. The third survivor perhaps was killed somewhere on the way, it’s a lost game for him even if there’s enough time on the clock left.

So, the game has no cooperative Victory Conditions, but the coop aspect will come in rather naturally while playing the game. A lone survivor will have less chances to make it to the helicopter and team play will become very important to just stay alive. The Zombies in this game are a dangerous lot and to have other survivors around in a fight greatly increases your chance to survive such an encounter and survivors can trade items and weapons they find on the way. But as in real life, it’s not always so easy…

Player vs Player combat

RotZ_Paramedic

Other survivors only have a special skill, but depend on 0 XP weapons or the protection of other survivors

There’s an optional rule called the ‘Otis rule‘ (any Walking Dead fans will know why it’s called that way 😉 ) that is in effect if all players agree to have it in play before the game starts.

It allows player vs player combat and that means survivors can attack each other and not just Zombies. You might think that doesn’t make much sense since it was just explained that survivors will naturally tend to team play to have better chances, but… there’s always a but… here’s something to consider: The hand size of cards (i.e. the options the players have in the game) and the health points of the survivors are decreased with a greater number of survivors, while the infestation modifier goes up. That means there may be a situation when a wounded survivor has so few cards due to his wounds that he’s not a big help to the group anymore and the others may decide to get rid of him/her to change the group counter in play (these are adjusted immediately whenever the survivor number changes – only the game duration time that was based on the initial number of survivors and the chosen difficulty level is never changed). So killing a fellow, wounded survivor is perhaps the better option… the remaining survivors get a bigger hand size, i.e. more options, and more health overall, while at the same time a smaller group makes less noise and attracts fewer Zombies. This rule certainly introduces an interesting additional level of decision making!

Set Up:

The Location Infestation number is a modifier that is either zero for 1 or 2 survivors, or increasing in steps with more survivors up to the max of +4 when playing with a group of 8 survivors. This modification will increase the possibility of Zombie encounters in the various locations and is both a game scaling mechanism for balance reasons and a sort of simulation of the fact that more people will attract more Zombies more easily.This group counter is actually the in-built scaling mechanism of the game. The more survivors in the game, the smaller their hand size of cards, meaning more survivors working together will have less options individually. This is done to prevent the game balance from toppling in favor of a group with more players at the table.

But the hand size is also the health of each survivor, say in the example game above with three survivors, each survivor would have a hand size of 5 cards and accordingly 5 health points. That’s basically a similar format as it is used in another Dan Verssen game series, Down in Flames, where the hand size is used to portray the engine of a fighter plane and its abilities.

The game begins when the safe house card with the survivor counters, the group counter and the helicopter card are all in place, the players have their starting hand drawn from the action deck, have their survivor card in front of them and the timer is started to count down the available time left for reaching the helicopter. Since this is part of the story portrayed by the game, it’s essential to stick to this real time schedule and to accept that the helicopter will only wait for the amount of time depending on the difficulty level and the number of survivors.

The clock is never stopped for whatever reason. You cannot decide on what to do next? Two survivors want to go here, one survivor to go there? You want to check a rule? All fine, but the clock is ticking away and you know the pilot will start when your time runs out leaving you behind… it will be a rather unusual game experience at first, but it greatly enhances the tension of the game and the immersion of the story told by it.

Player Turn

Some locations are more dangerous than others... but also worth the risk...

Some locations are more dangerous than others… but also worth the risk…

Rise of the Zombies has only two main turns, the Player Turn and the Zombie Turn. In the Player Turn there’s no strict sequence of actions other than:

1. all players discard cards

You can discard none or all of your cards in hand. The game has no hand size limit while you play, so you can actually have as many cards as you like and nothing is forcing you to discard a card. But without discarding it may be impossible to get new cards when…

2. all players draw cards

In this step you do have a hand size limit according to your health, which means you may draw cards from the action deck up to a hand size corresponding to your current health (the health defines the hand size at this point and you can’t have more cards than that at this particular step of the game). That is what makes the former step of discarding cards rather important. You may have 10 good cards on your hand and you want to keep them and use them later and you can do that, but if you are wounded and say your health is down to 3 it would mean you can’t draw new cards since your hand is already over the allowed maximum of your health (3 cards).

3. all players play cards

This is the main turn of the game where most of the action, the table-talk and all the decision making takes place. All players can now play cards, attack zombies (or even other players if the Otis Rule is in effect), preparing items and weapons for use, taking cards back into their hand that are already on the table to use them in a different manner (cards have several features but you can only use one of these features at a time), trade items and weapons with other players, moving forward to new locations, or retreating to former locations.

The interesting part is that all of this can be done – and often has to be done due to the time limit – by the players simultaneously. The sequence only says discarding cards happens before drawing cards and drawing cards before playing cards. Within these three sections, all players act simultaneously, there is no player turn order. The trickiest part is section 3 when everybody in the game can actually do all possible actions at the same time. There’s no first play a weapon, then attack, then make a new item ready or such thing, all actions that are allowed can happen in every order as long as a survivor is able to perform them, which is mostly depending on his cards in hand or in play.

Action Cards

skill

A skill is an ongoing effect which improves a character significantly

Every survivor will draw cards from the action deck during the game (step 2) and this will determine their options since almost everything is done by playing and using cards. Action cards supply the survivors with different weapons and items, give them certain abilities and skills they can use, bring them into contact with companions who can help them, or give them the knowledge of specific locations. Since the goal of the game is to leave the safe house and to reach the helicopter in time, these locations are important and the only way to move forward. Survivors can only move from location to location (it’s not like in Up Front where you are moving in the open before you reach a location, in RotZ you are either in location A or location B, never in between them) and only the survivor who has a location in hand can play it. Playing a location means the survivor in question will move there after placing it as part of this action, while other survivors adjacent to this new location may follow this survivor, if able.

To keep in mind that the movement action of the survivor placing/playing a location card is actually free, think about it as the knowledge about a certain location a survivor has. You are not allowed to trade a location card with another survivor (perhaps a stronger one who is better equipped), only the survivor ‘who knows the way’ to a location (=who has it in hand) can go there first (playing it and advancing the survivor counter onto the card) and others may follow him later.

Following means to play a card that has a follow symbol printed on it and then discarding it, so this movement is not for free, it will cost you a card that also offers other functions besides moving, so you will have to decide if it is worth to use the card to follow another survivor. It may be a skill, a weapon, a location, an item etc. but as long as it has a follow symbol, you can also use it to move to a location adjacent to your current location. Technically ‘following’ is moving and the only time you don’t need to play a card with a follow symbol to move into an adjacent location is when you play a new location yourself and movement is done as part of the placement action. That’s a bit difficult to understand at first because the rules could be a tick clearer on this movement/follow aspect, but that’s how it works.

Some cards can be played from your hand as an instant reaction to things that happen in the game and all cards that have a follow symbol or an attack symbol can be played from your hand to follow or to attack. Other cards like items and specific weapons can only be used if they are ‘ready’ which means that you pay experience points (accumulated by killing Zombies) to play them on the table in front of you.

When they are ready, you can use them any time you can afford this: Item use is always free (but most items, like first aid kids, are discarded after one use), you can use any one weapon for your free attack and as many additional weapons or the same weapon again as long as you pay for them with attack cards. How to use an item or a weapon is regulated by notes on the card (for example, which items are “one shots” or how a certain weapon works).

Items and weapons can be given to other survivors in the same location at no cost, but they can only take them to their card hand, so if you want to give another player a weapon or item that is already in play for your survivor (‘ready’, in front of you), this player will have to pay experience points again to play it as a ready card on the table again. You can also withdraw a ready weapon or item back to your hand any time, but you have to pay the XP cost again if you want to make it ready. Why should I withdraw a card when I paid for it and could use it any time? Well, for example to use the follow or attack symbol on the card. There are also weapons and items with certain requirements, e.g. a weapon which can only be used if it is the only ready weapon.

Zombies, Attacking, XP

Some Zombies have special abilities or behaviors, for example they can attract even more Zombies to the place they appear in, or they can ambush the survivors, are faster than other Zombies and can follow them more easily, or are so big and strong that they can actually hinder a survivor to leave a location. Individual Zombies and whole Zombie groups have their own attack table written on the card as well as their health points.

In order to attack Zombies, the survivors can either use their inherent weapon (not all survivors do have such inherent weapons, though), or a weapon ready for use laying next to their survivor card. Weapon cards as well as item cards have a certain experience cost (that may be zero) a survivor has to pay to actually make the weapon/item ‘ready’ (for use). Experience is only gained by killing Zombies. All Zombie cards have an XP value (that may be zero) and if a survivor kills a Zombie, he keeps the Zombie card for further use of the accumulated XP. In the ‘play cards’ phase of the Player Turn, he can at any time use the XP he has accumulated so far for playing a weapon or item card from his hand on the table, where it is then ready for use in the game immediately and according to the description of the card.

Each survivor has one free attack per Player Turn, so s/he can attack once either with their inherent weapon or with a readied weapon by rolling a die on the combat table of the survivor card (for the inherent weapon) or on the combat table of the weapon card against a Zombie/Zombie group. If the player has cards in his hand that also have the attack symbol printed on it (a pistol), then they can discard this card and use it as a follow up attack with the same or a different weapon and may continue to attack as long as they can discard cards with an attack symbol. A player can also take back a ready card from the table into his hand to instantly use the attack symbol of the former ready card for further attacks with a weapon. They can attack all Zombies in their location, in every order they see fit or even in a different location (if using a ranged weapon), but each Zombie attacked (even if not wounded) is then considered to be engaged with this attacker (move the survivor counter accordingly as a reminder).

Some weapons have a final attack notation. This means they can be used for a devastating attack that will destroy the weapon (discarding it) and inflict a fixed number of wounds mentioned on the card instead of rolling on the combat table. Final attacks do not count against the free attack per Player Turn and can be used as long as there are cards in play that have the final attack ability (important: some weapons can suffer a reload during an attack which means you roll for the attack and get the “reload” result, so the weapon is not firing at all and you cannot use it again in the current turn. The final attack is still possible, though!)

The game scales to the number of players: 3 players have a hand size / health of 5 and infestation +1. 8 players have 2 health and +4 infestation

The game scales to the number of players: 3 players have a hand size / health of 5 and infestation +1. 8 players have 2 health and +4 infestation

Each successful attack will inflict one or more wounds (according to the combat table of the weapon used) and you place a wound marker on the Zombie the same way as you place wound markers on the survivor cards if hit by a Zombie attack. Once the wounds equal the health points of the Zombie, the walking dead is finally killed and the survivor who killed him keeps the trophy, i.e. the card as a reference for the accumulated XP (you can discard Zombies with zero XP right away, of course, since they are not useful anyway).

Campaign Game, Victory Levels & Epic Cards

Instead of having a single run from the safe house to the helicopter, you can also play a campaign game. That is a set of three games played in a row where you can accumulate campaign points to get an overall scoring at the end. Each game scores its own points and the campaign result is the total after all three games are finished. You don’t have to play with the same survivors and any wounds, weapons, items etc. don’t carry over, each single game is started new. The goal is to get as many campaign points as possible in these three game sessions and to improve your result from previous campaigns. You score 2 points for having all survivors that started in the safe house still in the game at the end (of course the victory condition of all survivors being in the helicopter with no walking dead around while there is still time left on the clock is still valid), or for having at least not lost more than half of your group, you still get 1 point. If you had an Epic Card in play and won its challenge, you get another point for each overcome Epic Card.

Epic Cards are special cards with the notation ‘epic‘ and they make the game considerably more difficult. They can be part of the campaign scoring or can count for a special victory level in a normal single session game. There are only 4 Epic Cards in the game:

Two locations, the Grayeyard and the Sewers – both highly infested and dangerous places

One Zombie Card, The Mutated Prisoners – a dangerous group of Zombies with 30 health points

One Survivor – The Scientist. This survivor has his hand size and health reduced by two, regardless of the game’s conditions he’s in and if he dies, it’s game over for everybody.

Whenever such an epic card is in play and overcome by the players, this is considered as having reached 1 level of Epic Victory per card if the game is won. If the normal game is too easy for you and you draw such a card (or, in the case of the scientist, you chose it from the beginning) you can achieve a level 1 – 4 Epic Victory, or die screaming and lose the game as usual 😛

All these Epic Cards are always part of the game and whenever you draw one you can decide to play it or to discard it and draw another card (in case of the prisoners) or use its other effects, for example the follow symbol (in case of the locations).  Make sure to decide quickly, you know the timer is not stopped for any reason…

Locations & Infestation 

Poodle

How cool is that? A Zombie poodle!

While the survivors run from location to location, they will encounter Zombies. Zombies spawn in their own turn (more on that later) but will also be part of any location the survivors come to. Every location that is played has a certain fixed infestation value according to their distance from the safe house. The safe house card counts as having infestation level 1 and then you simply add 1 point for each location placed after it. So, the second location in play has infestation 2, the third one infestation 3 and so forth. In addition to that, the group counter in play will have an infestation modifier that can be zero, but only if there are one or two survivors in the game, more survivors will make it likely to attract more zombies and the modifier can go up to +4. So not only each location visited farther away from the safe house will become more dangerous, more survivors in game will even attract more zombies there…

While in the main turn of the game all players can do all things at the same time, interacting with each other in any way they want, if a player plays a new location card, a sub-sequence is started, the  ‘New Location Card Sequence’ and performed as follows:

1. Place the new Location card on the table.

It’s important to remember that a new location can only be placed once in any given Player Turn, so you can’t just rush through 4 locations in a single Player Turn even if you have them in your hand.

2. Move the Survivor counter of the player who played the Location on the card

The survivor playing a location has the advantage of moving into this new location for free, there is no need to play an additional card with a follow symbol, but has the disadvantage to be the first one attacked by fast Zombies if any appear and being the only one who is engaged by all the non-group Zombies in that location that will attack later in their turn (groups are considered engaged with all survivors present and attack every single survivor).

3. Draw Dangerous Location Action cards according to the number given on the location card (the more dangerous a location is, the more action cards you can draw)

The location cards have a number at the top right corner that can be zero or greater and that will be the amount of action cards the survivors can draw when they move into the location for the first time (so you only get these cards once, not every time you move into the location!)If any survivor doesn’t follow to the new location immediately but decides to wait until this sub-sequence is over, he can still move there later (again by playing a card with the follow symbol) and is still eligible to draw the cards (some locations don’t give this bonus card draw, though).

It will depend on the situation whether it is worth following right away or better to stay behind and move to that location later. For example, if you have a ranged weapon that has a better chance to hit from afar (like the scoped rifle), it would be wiser not to follow, wait to see how many Zombies appear in the new location when the first survivor moves there, and then try to kill some of them before following yourself. That can also help the survivor who moved there first because he will be attacked by the Zombies engaged with him, so thinning them out isn’t a bad idea.

4. Draw Zombies equal to the Location’s modified Infestation value (base infestation value of the location plus the group counter modifier)

Spitting

Cool idea: The spitting cook zombie who destroys equipment. You don’t want to meet him during the game, though.

This infestation value is not the number of cards you draw, but is the minimum Zombie experience that the drawn cards have to meet in total before you stop drawing further cards. Say the modified infestation number of the location is 6, Zombie cards are drawn until the total experience points on the Zombie cards drawn so far are at least 6. It can be higher of course, since it’s the first Zombie card that equals or exceeds the infestation value that stops the card draw. In the given example, you could draw a Zombie card with XP 1, then a card with XP 3, a card with XP 0 (always bad at this point, because you get more zombies but a zero XP Zombie doesn’t count towards the infestation card draw and you continue drawing cards) and then finally again a zombie card with XP 3 – leaving you with 7 XP in total (the card draw only stops when at least 6 XP are reached, so 4 was not enough and now 7 stops it, but exceeds the minimum level) and 4 Zombies. There are also certain Zombies which attract more Zombies immediately, and these attracted Zombies don’t count at all, regardless of their XP value! If you would have drawn more 1 XP Zombies or even several Zombies with zero XP, the location could be overrun with the walking dead even at this low infestation level. So the modified infestation value is in no way giving you a concrete idea of how many zombies you will encounter there – let alone tell you how dangerous they are…

5. If  Zombies appear that have the ‘fast’ keyword, they immediately attack the survivor

This is the risk for the survivor who played the location card: Zombies with the “fast” keyword attack him or her immediately, before any other action is taken. Attacking follows the normal attack procedure explained below.

6. Other Survivors may move into the Location by discarding a card with a follow symbol

Survivors that follow to the new placed location won’t get attacked now because fast Zombies only attack the first survivor they see in the location and are then engaged with that target. All other Zombies only attack in the Zombie Turn and then also only the survivor they are engaged with (exception: Zombie groups attack all survivors in the attack phase of the Zombie turn). Since the following survivors arrive when the non-group Zombies are already engaged with a target, they are not attacked by them as long as this survivor is still there. However, if a Zombie is attacked by someone later during this turn (even if no wound is inflicted), he will switch targets and engage the attacker, automatically disengaging the previous target.

7. Drawing Dangerous Location Action cards 

All survivors who follow to the new location can now draw as many cards as the dangerous location card draw value allows, so it’s the same procedure as in step 3 of this sub-sequence for the survivor that played the location card.

8.  All Survivors play cards as normal and the main turn of the game continues

Then the normal game continues with survivors playing cards, attacking zombies, trading weapons, items and so on as explained above until all players agree that they are done with the player turn. Now it’s time for the…

Zombie Turn

In the Zombie turn three steps are performed in the following order:

1. Zombies move 

The Cheerleader is agile and has a great defensive skill. But now she's heavily wounded and poorly equipped...

The Cheerleader is agile and has a great defensive skill. But now she’s heavily wounded and poorly equipped…

All Zombies in a location move one location closer to the nearest survivor. A Zombie in a location with a survivor doesn’t move and will engage this survivor and a Zombie with the keyword Moves 2 will be able to move two locations to follow a survivor – but will also stop at the first survivor it comes into contact with, engaging them. Equally close survivors will use a random die roll to see to whom the Zombie is attracted to. Individual Zombies moving into a location with more than one survivor will also use a random die roll to determine the survivor they will engage. Zombie groups are always considered to be engaged with all survivors (there’s no actual number of zombies in a group but it is considered to be so large that it always contains enough individual zombies to attack all survivors in a given location). Die rolls are used this way until all Zombies in a location are engaged with a survivor, so it can happen that one survivor has to face more than one Zombie. It is suggested to move the survivor counters to those zombies that are engaged with them.

2. Zombies Attack

All zombies in a location with a survivor will attack the survivor they are engaged with. Fast Zombies that appeared in a new played location in the Player Turn are still engaged with the survivor they attacked and will now attack him again if he is still alive.

Zombie groups attack each single survivor in the location. Zombies will use their own combat table printed on the Zombie card and each survivor is rolling on that table against themself for every Zombie engaged with them, each hit resulting in a wound marker placed on the survivor card (remember that these wound markers will reduce not only your health but also your hand size in the draw cards step of the next Player Turn!).

Some instant-reaction cards can be played in the Zombie attack phase to avoid a hit, or even to hit a Zombie as he starts an attack, but only those cards that have a description allowing this specific action. If the health of a survivor drops to zero, he’s dead, all cards in hand and on the table belonging to that survivor card are discarded.

3. Zombies Spawn

A Zombie card is now drawn from the Zombie card deck and placed in the location behind the rearmost survivor, that is the one the farthest away from the helicopter. If a survivor is still inside the safe house, the new Zombie actually appears in the safe house and if the survivor is still there on the next Zombie Turn, he will engage and attack him.

Now the Player Turn starts again with the survivors discarding cards etc..

Replay Value

Playing

This game can be a brain-teaser… you need a fast brain, of course!

The replay value of the game is quite high, simply because it’s so hard to win. There are many ways for the different survivors with their individual skills and abilities to bring something to the group and to interact with each other, so there’s lots to do and to try out in each game.

Not all the survivors will be a good choice at any time however, say for example The Leader who’s ability is to allow one survivor to follow him for free (so he doesn’t need to have and discard a card with the follow symbol) is certainly not the best choice when playing a solitaire game with just one survivor, his ability would be wasted. That doesn’t mean the Leader alone can’t make it to the helicopter, but it would be a challenge for sure.

Among the 13 survivors you will find an interesting mix of strong characters, able to deal damage, supporters who can barricade a location or even find locations easier than the others, healers, melee weapon or ranged weapon experts and many more. Since it will always depend on how many survivors are in the game, the value of each single survivor is relative and the game allows for some experiments.

For example having The Paramedic in a two survivor game might be risky if the other survivor is The Biker who can ignore the first wound he receives and is generally quite able to make his stand if he can bring some med packs on the table. He might not be in need for any medical treatment, while having to deal with the problem that the Paramedic is not a strong fighter and may slow him down. The more survivors there are, however, the more important it could be to have the Paramedic in the group, because there are survivors more in need for her treatment than the Biker and a larger group can still have enough combat power even if the Paramedic is not that helpful in that regard and must be protected.

Due to the random factor of card draws, there’s always a new situation on the table the players have to adjust to and usually each game is open for mistakes because of the time pressure, especially if the players are not familiar with the options and synergy effects of the various cards. This game can be over fast, but with almost no set up time, you are back into the game right away and can start all over again.

The fact that each location doesn’t bring in a fixed number or type of Zombies is also helpful here and although after some games you will have visited each location at least once, it’s never the same situation there, it’s always a thrill to see what is actually waiting for you there. So I can see this game hitting the table quite often in the future because of its interesting gameplay, experimentation options, high tension and quick set up and play.

Creativity

As was already said in the introduction, a Zombie game as such is nothing new and every player even slightly interested in the topic will own one or more of them. Zombie card games… I can at least think about one very known series that also uses cards. The creativity here lies more in the way how known parts are brought together with the tension building real time factor, resulting in a game that is just so much more in the end than just known parts thrown together.

Setup is fast: deal each player a hand, put the safe house and the heli pad on the table, start the clock... the other cards appear on their own during the course of the game ;)

Setup is fast: deal each player a hand, put the safe house and the heli pad on the table, start the clock… the other cards appear on their own during the course of the game 😉

A game in real time is not new either – we were playing in real time when we had the classic Circus Maximus by Avalon Hill on the table. If it was your turn to decide which actions to do in your chariot, to break, or to increase your speed etc., the other players were grinning and counting down 5 seconds… after these 5 secs were over and you had not decided what to do, they grinned even more and the chariot would simply continue on its course from the previous turn. That could of course mean you were too fast for the corner in front of you… the chariot would flip or crash into a wall and the grin of the other players turned into loud laughter. So here also the real time pressure was part of the game and the fun.

The point is that I don’t know of any Zombie themed game which is using this real time aspect and when you have played it once, you will ask yourself why such an obvious aspect was never part of a Zombie game before (we are talking board/card games here, not video games of course). It so much fits the topic that it has to be in a game, and Rise of the Zombies adds this great gameplay element to a Zombie game for the first time.

Also the removal of a strict Igo/Ugo sequence, so that in the Player Turn all survivors can act simultaneously, gives RotZ a special game flow that is really adequate to the topic. The well thought out characters, all the items and stuff you can use, have some realistic touch to them, the Zombie AI works convincingly and all in all it’s clear that some thought went into the design of this game, turning it into a great one.

Simulation Value

Well, the game actually shines in this regard. Denny told me that in a Zombie apocalypse, only 1% of the people would ever survive it, the odds in such a walking dead environment to make it to safety are small, and any Zombie game should portray that tension. The game is focused on the run of one or more survivors from a shelter that is not really a safe house anymore to a waiting rescue helicopter. This is just the classic Zombie situation, a sort of Left4Dead as a card game and it works really well especially because the game is played in real time. This brings some real tension on the table and anyone over-analyzing their moves will bring doom on the other players, because there’s not much time to consider any possible outcome and possibility. That’s simply as it would be in real life.

I really like it that at one point, one has to make a decision, even a bad one is often better than no one at all and it captures the feeling of threat and tension we all know from the various movies. It gets even more interesting if the Otis Rule is in effect, so that a player who is slowing down the whole group with their play style could bring themselves in trouble…‘you still can’t decide now what to do? We don’t have enough time for that, so make your decision now… or we leave this location and don’t come back to help you later… you see that herd one location behind you, don’t you?’ …’ok, if you can’t decide what to do I’ll give you something to decide on… I attack you…’

All this can get very interesting and nasty, but of course it might kill the fun for some players and that’s why all have to agree to use this optional rule before the game starts. But it is amazing how well a game, which is sold as a casual game and certainly qualifies for it because of the easy mechanics, can be such a convincing simulation of the survival run from shelter to the rescue helicopter.

herd

If the herd appears early in the game, you are most certainly screwed… think of Rick in downtown Atlanta here…

The team-play and table talk are necessary and fun and often the players act like they would do if the situation was real. The same arguments we know from characters in The Walking Dead, the same tension of ‘do I go back and help or make the run for the last location?’, do I keep the med pack or give it away? Give me a weapon so I can defend myself at least, you then get the food I still have’ etc.. Tactical thinking and acting is not only possible in this game, it’s necessary to survive. For example, tactically falling back a location with one survivor who is able to use a ranged weapon to help the others from afar or at least strong enough to keep Zombies at bay, thus making sure the spawn point in the Zombie Turn is always two locations behind the group, giving them more space and time.

Bottom line, Rise of the Zombies for me definitely captures the real feeling and allows for realistic actions and options in the portrayed Zombie Apocalypse situation and is a good simulation of it.

That it works as a simulation with the game engine of a casual game makes it even better and more fascinating.

Solitaire Playability

The game is meant to be played as a solitaire or with up to 7 friends and the scaling mechanism via the group counters is implemented to avoid any unbalanced situation where the survivors could just blast through the zombies. It does so by giving individual survivors a smaller hand size and less health points the more survivors are present and that works fine. But it’s of course not realistic (why would have more survivors less stamina and health?) and as a single survivor it’s extremely hard to win the game, although a hand size of 8 cards and as much health points is much better than what the survivors get when they are playing in a group. But even 8 health points dwindle away rather fast when the Zombies appear and one player has less options if playing only one survivor. Usually a group of survivors can do much more even with smaller hand sizes in the draw phase. They can trade cards they can’t use to give them to survivors who need them, there are usually more items and weapons on the table than a single survivor can get together and a group is much tougher because they have more attack opportunities.

So all in all I’d say, of course the game is playable as a solitaire, but I would consider playing the game with just one survivor extremely challenging (but sure you might want that!) and the chances to reach the helicopter and have it zombie-free in time are minimal. Of course, bad attacks on Zombie side, good die rolls on the survivor side, good cards from the start etc., if all goes well to perfect, one can win the game with one character in play – but don’t expect that things always go that way, RotZ is a game of often nasty surprises.

Two survivors is certainly the minimum to have some real tactical options in the game and even when playing solitaire, I found it much better to play two survivors simultaneously. Since there’s nothing that stops the players to freely talk about their cards in hand etc. this game is much easier to play than other games as a solitaire with more than two characters controlled by one player. You can just have the cards open on the table near the survivor cards and decide what’s best for each character to do in any given situation, it works nice.

Can be compared to:

Rise of the Zombies can be compared to any other Zombie theme game out there on the topic alone, but the game that comes to mind is of course Zombies!!! 

Zombies!!!

Zombies!!! has a similar topic: “reach the heli pad”, but is much simpler and without any cooperative elements

Zombies!!! is a fine game, has now many expansions available, has very simple rules and is also a casual game – if there’s a game out there qualifying as a Zombie casual game, it’s this one. While Rise of the Zombies is a coop game by nature, it allows for situations that this changes into a competitive game and even a versus game, everything can happen depending on the Otis Rule in play or not and the players at the table. Zombies!!! is always an ‘I vs all others’ game and doesn’t allow for any coop that would fit the situation. Everyone wants to make it to the helicopter or to kill the necessary numbers of Zombies for the alternative victory condition while playing cards to make it more difficult for the other players to succeed in the same goal.

In RotZ there’s no alternative to surviving, you don’t win by killing 25 Zombies and it wouldn’t make any sense anyway, you don’t look for opportunities to make it harder for the others, you try to help them because this helps you. But you just might consider another member of the group as more hindering than helpful at one point in the game, but if so it’s a reaction one could possibly have in such a situation. It never feels gamey and the fun is not in letting other survivors die, but to value each member of the group for what they can do. That’s much more interesting than the usual Mr. Green doing everything possible to make it a hard time for Mr. Black in Zombies!!!

The problem with Zombies!!! is also that it does need a lot of time to set up and to play, especially with some expansions thrown in. Then you get a game that drags along with repetitive gameplay and doesn’t stop for a very long time. RotZ, on the other hand, is fast and deadly and there’s a definitive end point of the game, whether you like it or not, if the timer runs out it’s game over. So while it’s always a risk to set up Zombies!!! when there’s 2 hours left for the gaming group for one last game, RotZ is over at a precise time. And the gameplay is much more rewarding, more interesting and more realistic in all aspects. So, if you own and like Zombies!!!, you might like RotZ as well, but since it’s the opposite to that game in all aspects but the theme, you then will like it for the things Zombies!!! can’t give you… and you might end up liking it more.

There are other Zombie games out there, for example the scenario-based Last Night on Earth or the strategic level Zombie State – Diplomacy of the Dead, but both are far too different to be compared to RotZ, except by the way how they simulate the Zombie topic (which they all do quite good!).

Andy_GravatarAndreas Ludwig’s Conclusion:

Ok, as I said in the beginning of this review – although it was not on my radar at first, I am really happy to have RotZ now in our game library and I will recommend this to friends and am sure we will play it a lot at our HFC meetings.

It’s a game that plays significantly different from the other Zombie games we have played so far, and it reminds me sometimes of Up Front. Sure, it’s not that much of a detailed game compared to this classic, but this running from location to location with real tactical thinking, quite realistic options in using different weapons and equipment that are presented in this particular pencil draw style… I was reminded of Up Front when playing the game the first time.

Robert

Funny idea: not only the survivors, but also some Zombies are named after contributors to the game

I was pleased to see that this is a simulation experience achieved with a casual game’s ruleset. Deep games don’t need complicated and long rules and if you ever doubted that, try out Rise of the Zombies with a group of friends able and willing to bring the Zombie Apocalypse to life (as always, it depends on the players, you can also turn ASL into a drinking game if you want…). That the rules are written well (exception: the unnecessary confusion about different movement styles, using 4 terms for the same action) is a strong part of the game and you will be playing in no time even if having folks around that never played it before. You can even make it easier for new players by just explaining everything, that goes even quicker.

The decisions the players have to make in the game while watching their precious game duration time tick away make for some really fun and interesting game sessions. What’s more important, holding on to good cards to have them available when needed, or discarding them if you can’t use them right away to get new stuff? Will I share my good equipment or say nothing about it to the others? Who has the better location? Shall we try the epic card just drawn, turning the victory on the horizon into an epic one, or are we over confident and will then even lose the game? Who stays behind to watch our back, who goes first?

Expect some frantic debates in the later part of the game when players make their actions, trying to coordinate as much as possible in a short time window, and then they realize they can’t pull off the plan because someone didn’t check their options carefully enough…

“Wait…I don’t have a frigging follow card!”

“What do you mean with wait? We just talked for 5 minutes whether we go here or not and all agreed… the location is now PLACED and I’m standing there already… and everybody said they could follow!”

“I thought that pistol is a follow symbol…”

“There’s a big herd following us, we will make a stand here for one turn, if you manage to draw a follow card, fine, if not, we move on. And make sure it’s NOT a pistol again”

“I can give him an item with a follow symbol… and you give me that shotgun you have on your hand since we left the safe house in exchange.”

“What? I am trying to get enough XP to use it myself that’s WHY I’m holding it since the first turn!”

“Ok, then keep it… and I hope you survive the Zombie group at your door. I mean it will be hard with just 3 health points left, but if you finish them off, it will be surely enough XP to make that shotgun ready” (insert manical laughter here)

You will find yourself in constant tabletalk about possible options and impossible tasks and this tends to be a real communicative game and a great social experience. And that’s always a sign of a good game!

The game is very unforgiving and really difficult to win, but that does feel appropriate for the topic (like the difficulty of Arkham Horror where it’s the same – trying to keep an Old One at bay has to be difficult or the whole game feels ‘not right’) . Since it’s so easy to set up and start again, it’s no big deal if all survivors are eaten by the walking dead in 10 minutes. Shuffle the cards and try it again. And if you make it to the rescue helicopter, it feels great because a win is the exception rather than the rule in RotZ.

Sure, it’s a card game and the random factor is there, you also roll a die in the attacks to get a result, but apart from that, RotZ is a skill game and one where you get better with each game. You learn what works in a given situation, when to better discard or trade or to hold on to a card for a longer time. When it’s better to stay in the location to accumulate some experience points by attacks, or better run. You will get to know which location is better as an early location or a late game location, what you can handle with 4 survivors might be too much risk with just 2, which weapon is giving whom the best chances and so on.

The better you get to know the cards, the quicker you can decide, and the more time is actually left for you to reach the goal of the game. The experience point system to use equipment can be hard to master in the first games, because here’s a great potential for mistakes and wrong decisions and a wrong decision can be the end for a survivor. Except for the Scout character, who starts with 5 XP, all other characters will have to make some experience points by killing Zombies to use better weapons and items. That can be a challenge for the weaker ones and for some it will be necessary to get some weapons that don’t cost any XP to be able to deal out some damage at all.

RotZ_Andy_Thumbup

Thumbs up!

A group should always trade these survivors such zero XP weapons, otherwise they might tend to risky actions in their need for a weapon and evoke situations they cannot handle – which in turn is threatening the group as a whole. It’s important to know who should attack when and whom, because if you have a weak survivor that cannot deal much damage, they will never get XP if attacking first, because stronger characters will likely finish the Zombies off, earning the card for the XP. Such little details can mean win or lose in this game but this also means, you have a real experience curve with this little gem of a game, you will get better and more successful when you keep playing it.

For us, the 8.5/10 is the final score, but it all depends on your expectation and on what player type you are, so I would like to suggest you can subtract a point each from our score for the following reasons:

–  you play games to win and get easily frustrated if the game beats you

–  you like to identify with just one character, playing solitaire games with one character only and always play alone

–  you are the typical lone wolf, the alpha player ‘I say how we play, ok?’

–  you are the over-analyzing gamer who tends to think forever about the best possible move

–  you don’t like Zombies 😉

All the others out there, go and get this game and prepare for some real authentic Zombie feeling 🙂

Denny_Gravatar_142Denny Koch’s Conclusion:

As a member of the ZRS (Zombie Research Society) I love everything related to Zombies, be it books, movies, video games, card games or board games. We own several Zombie games, from the simple and straightforward “Zombies!!!” to the abstract, strategic-level “Zombie State – Diplomacy of the Dead”, so we were quite “into the theme” when we received DVG’s “Rise of the Zombies”.

On a first glimpse, the game reminded me of “Zombies!!!” with location cards instead of city tiles – be a survivor, reach a helicopter. But after reading the rule book for the first time, I began to anticipate that this game was quite different from what we experienced in our other Zombie games. The rules are quite simple and learned within minutes, so the basic game mechanics are not complex at all. But we were really surprised when we played the game for the first time – and were mercilessly beaten by a… clock! It wasn’t even close, we hadn’t reached our third location when the time ran out (and we were playing on “introductory” difficulty to have enough time to look up things in the rule book now and then!).

The next games were even worse – the clock wasn’t always our main problem… most of the time, we simply got eaten by the Zombie hordes before reaching the more dangerous locations.

Scout

This Scout Sniper is certainly well equipped for the Zombie apocalypse!

After a while and several more games (and with a varying number of survivors), we began to realize something. Yes, the game is a card game with some very randomized game elements – you draw cards, you roll dice.

But at the same time, we realized our mistakes we made during the game. Under time pressure, we sometimes forced wrong decisions instead of losing more time. We didn’t make optimal use of the many synergies hidden within the game system – especially the fact that you are absolutely free in conducting your actions during the action phase. There are so many cool strategies you can utilize – swap a zero XP weapon between all players so that everyone can use it during a given turn, withdraw a ready card to use its follow or attack symbol, let a strong player weaken a zombie, so that a weaker player can finish it off, give the player who enters a new location first your disposable weapons with strong final attacks if you can’t follow, coordinate your actions during a turn with the other survivors to achieve very cool combined effects! One of our favorite strategies became the “Scout Sniper watching your six”-strategy: the group advances, while the Scout (who usually gets the best equipment first due to his 5 starting XP) remains 1 location behind, armed with the scoped rifle, sniping the Zombies in the other survivor’s location and watching their backs at the same time by keeping the spawning Zombies at bay.

We discovered most of these synergies between certain cards, survivors, and actions by conducting bad and faulty moves – which got punished by the unforgiving game system immediately. This was the moment when we realized: ouch, what a bad move, tactical mistake on our side, we are dead!

Soon, we came to the conclusion that Rise of the Zombies is in fact a skill game – you get better and faster the more games you play. The better you know the cards and learn how to play them to your advantage, the better your chances of surviving. In this game, you learn by making tactical mistakes and by conducting sucker moves – because they are punished within minutes.We were excited about the fact that you actually realize your mistakes and learn from them and that you see an improvement in your gameplay after a few games. This proves that the game isn’t based on luck entirely (you still need luck, of course), but that the players can have at least a certain amount of control over the situation as long as their moves and actions are well thought out.

The Crossbow is very useful because it protects a survivor from groups

The Crossbow is very useful because it protects a survivor from groups

Of course, Rise of the Zombies is incredibly hard to win, but this didn’t faze us. We love Arkham Horror, we love Sentinels of the Multiverse – both games which you will lose more often than win. But this is perfectly fine if it is part of the game design.

Chances of surviving a real-life Zombie apocalypse are about 1%, so it would be quite gamey if you would win half of the games and if the Zombies were only a distraction, created to slow you down in a race against the clock. No, the zombies in this game are quite convincing and they are really threatening. We especially came to loathe the Howler who attracts other zeds with their noise. If you encounter a herd early in the game, you are blocked (and most often dead if you don’t use any trick upon your sleeve because you won’t grind down their 12 HP easily). There is the spitter who destroys equipment, there are even undead poodles – and who doesn’t love undead poodles?!?

There are always some minor complaints – the rules could be clearer about the “follow” / “move” mechanic which lead to some (time-consuming) discussions. Especially the “place a new location sequence” led to some confusion because we didn’t see the difference between following the first player at step: “players may now follow the first player”, followed by “the players draw danger cards” and between following him during the “all players can now play cards as normal” step. Whether you follow then or during the other players’ actions, doesn’t make any difference. So less could have been more here.

The text on the survivor stand-ups is sometimes hard to read because the font appears to be too ornate to be condensed to such a small space. But this isn’t a problem during the game because you always have the illustration on your counter, which works fine.

Personally, I like the art style. The drawings are minimalistic, as if drawn with pencil or ink on crinkled paper, and colors are used economically but accentuated. All drawings are black/white, but each card type utilizes one specific and distinctive color for its text – red for the zombie cards, green for the survivor cards, brown for action cards. This provides a very clean and clear overall appearance. The drawings are not comical or over the top (as in the bold Zombies!!! cards), but fit perfectly to the background story of being drawn by “Gordon” in a sketch book while he was surrounded by the beginning apocalypse. It’s also very cool that you find the designer’s family and friends on the cards, the Cheerleader, for example, is portrayed (and named) after his daughter, while the Scout is his son.

Rise of the Zombies is probably the most realistic Zombie game out there – in no other game, the zombies are so threatening. Your chances of survival depend on quick decisions and on making the best of your resources at any given moment. Often, you feel and recognize the exact moment when things start getting downhill, and you know what you did wrong this time. But even with perfect gameplay and teamwork, the moment when a herd appears in front of you and blocks the street to the helicopter is very exciting and full of tension. Because your chances of surviving and reaching the helicopter are so slim, it is much more satisfying if you manage to reach the extraction zone in the last minute, or at least if you reach a location position you never reached before without being eaten.

This game certainly isn’t a game for everyone; you need some dedication and the will to play a realistic (=deadly), asymmetrical, and voluntarily unbalanced scenario again and again, trying to refine your gameplay, your tactics, your teamwork (or your anti-teamwork). Because of the unforgiving nature of the game, Rise of the Zombies is one of the most simulative casual games I ever played – and because set-up and gameplay are so fast, this is a game with a certain addictive factor (“just one more try, how far will we get this time?”), so we will certainly try again and again, until we belong to the 1% who survive…

“There’s us and the dead. We survive this by pulling together, not apart.”

-Rick Grimes

 

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