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Rebels of the Outlaw Wastes Kickstarter

As If Zombies Weren’t Enough? A Review of Zpocalypse

Zpocalypse Cover (GreenBrier Games)Game Name: Zpocalypse

Publisher: GreenBrier Games

Designers: Jeff Garcia and Julie Ahern

Artists: Ricky Casdorph and Ryan Lesser

Year: 2013

Genre: Tactical zombie survival combat game

Players: One to four players

Ages: 13+

Playing Time: 90 minutes or more

MSRP: $59.95

With two weeks or so to go until the return of The Walking Dead I’m sure a lot of us are going through a bit of zombie withdrawal. I’ve got a few undead titles which have been on my plate for a while and the first on the agenda to talk about is Zpocalypse. I’ll begin my review by pointing out I haven’t run across all too many games in my time which will lead to a huge division in players’ opinions. Usually those titles tend to be roleplaying games and also to fall into a real “love it or hate it” mentality more due to the fact someone has a tried and true favorite rather than a particular system being utter crap or mana from heaven; yes I’m looking at you D&D and Pathfinder. Yet I can easily see Zpocalypse becoming one of those love it or loathe it sort of affairs and I’ll get to why I feel this way in a bit.

Zpocalypse Map Example (GreenBrier Games)Greenbrier Games took Zpocalypse to Kickstarter in order to produce the title and, when it was all said and done, ended up with over $210k in funding off a $15k goal. That’s what I’d call a hugely successful crowd funding project folks. It also goes to show supporters could tell Zpocalypse was going to be a different take on the zombie genre. Sure, these days the market is flooded with games focused on the undead so if something arrives on the scene which seems radically different, people take notice.

In Zpocalypse, the world isn’t only overrun by flesh eating ghouls – as if that weren’t enough – but also major population centers have been  nuked in an attempt to stem the horror; as with all things in the zombie genre, government measures always make matters worse. Damn you big government! So Zpocalypse doesn’t just throw the undead at you but a hostile environment as well. To say the deck is stacked against the survivors is an understatement.

Upon opening the box you’ll be struck by how much has been packed in; this certainly isn’t a container full of air. Everything included is of good quality, from the various cards, area tiles, minis and more. The art style is pretty much doom and gloom so don’t expect a bright color palate. I’ll also mention the art on the cards is sort of hit or miss but you can’t really expect a Fantasy Flight Games presentation from what was effectively a company’s first big release.

Depending if you’re playing the full length game, or a shorter variant, the name of the game is to survive a set number of days: four for the full game or as few as two in a shorter version. You aren’t facing the challenge alone though as each player will discover other survivors to bring into their fold. Your base of operations is the Bunker and defending your safehouse is a key to surviving as well.

Setting up the game involves shuffling up the various card decks (Armory, Food, Items, Survivor, Scavenge, and Something’s Happening!), grabbing your starting survivor minis, Bunker tile, Squad board, and placing the additional terrain tiles and tokens to the side. I’ll make mention you’ll need to have a good sized table since there are a lot of components to set aside and as you explore the area around your bunker you’ll be laying more tiles.

Zpocalypse Survivors (GreenBrier Games)The name of the game is to kick as much zombie ass before your squad is wiped out; more times than not there won’t be any players left standing before the allotted number of days pass, so gaining as many victory points as possible is important. You’ll also use VPs to train your survivors and you’ll want to take every opportunity to do so since many of the ragged wretches will be nearly useless when you add them to your group.

Each turn (or day) is broken into four Phases:

Scavenge (Morning) – Your squad will set out to try and secure more supplies and encounter other survivors to recruit. You’ll also receive a Daily Goal which you can attempt to complete. A Scavenge card is drawn and any instructions on the card are followed – sometimes an event takes place as well. Players also get to roll as many dice as their Squad’s combined Smarts attributes to determine what sort of Food, Item, and Armory cards they’ll be able to draw. A terrain tile is also drawn and placed along with any zombies as indicated on the Scavenge card; failing rolls will normally increase the number of zombies placed.

Feed & Fortify (Mid-Afternoon) – Once your Squad has completed scavenging they’ll return to the Bunker. You’ll need to feed everyone – eventually you’ll have more Survivors than your squad limit of four – and, since food is scarce, keeping your active Squad members whole and hearty is a must. Found Survivors are a mystery as well and to view their cards you have to pay extra food too. Anyone who doesn’t eat loses two Hit Points and if they eat irradiated food they’ll lose one HP. Damn! I knew that glowing Twinkie tasted funny…

Zpocalypse Cards (GreenBrier Games)Fortifications will have to be constructed to slow the advance of the zombies and players can assign active Survivors (not just Squad members) to building a variety of sandbag, barbed wire, wall, lookout, and gate tokens to place around the board. Stronger Fortifications require more than one Survivor assigned as well as Scrap that may have been scavenged. These Fortifications aren’t permanent since zombies will eventually destroy them and, in longer scenarios, beginning with the third day all the map tiles are removed (along with their Fortifications) to be replaced with more difficult terrain as your Survivors begin to explore a new area.

Something’s Happening! (Sunset) – The zombies are more active at night and to reflect this a Something’s Happening! Card is drawn and the instructions followed. Each player also draws a terrain tile to place and each will receive the number of zombies as indicated on the card.

Combat (Night) – This is essentially the core of the game as each player’s Squad does battle with the swarms of zombies. The Squads begin in their Bunkers and may perform two Actions: Move, Attack, Heal by discarding a First Aid card, or Search a square with an appropriate icon. Squads also get a single Free Action: Reload by expending Ammo cards, rearrange weapons within the Squad, or trade Food and/or Items with an adjacent Squad.

Once all of the players have had a chance to use their two Actions (and possible Free Action) then the Zombies activate. The player who leads in VPs gets to move the zombies but, since later in the game you’ll have more and more zombies, you’ll probably want to delegate some of the undead shuffling to other players too. Zombies will be drawn to the Bunkers and Squads and make a beeline toward tasty warm flesh. Squads have the ability to roll for defense and have armor stats as well but Survivors left in the Bunker are pretty defenseless so zombies getting in is very bad news; each zombie will turn a Survivor into a zombie, those zombies will turn other survivors and so on.

Combat phases rinse and repeat until either the zombies are all destroyed or the players have no ability to generate Squads; if a Squad is wiped out during combat that player may select two of their Survivors to create a new Squad with Armory cards still in the Bunker. Squads which are killed actually drop their gear in the space they occupied so other Squads can actually gather up their goodies until all combat ends and unretrieved cards are lost.

There’s a whole lot going on during the Combat phase, more than I’m going to get into here, and suffice to say there’s lots of dice rolling and taking into account all the different weapon traits and Squad abilities. Things get really wild and wooly as players do everything they can to wipe out the zombies and keep their Bunkers safe. Even if all the Squads and Survivors are killed the game can continue since it’s possible to recruit new Survivors in the Scavenge phase of the next day.

Once the final Day is completed, regardless of who’s left standing, the player with the most victory points is declared the winner.

Zpocalypse Squad Board (GreenBrier Games)I began this review by mentioning Zpocalypse is a game which will easily divide gamers so it’s important to understand what you’ll be getting into before heading out to make a purchase. Zpocalypse is the epitome of what I consider a “crunchy” game. While there aren’t a hundred pages of rules to plow through – around twenty in truth with plenty of examples – there are a lot of moving parts within the design. I’d heard the first version of the rules were a real mess. While the latest edition lays things out relatively well, personally I think a little more refining would be helpful; you’ll spend quite a bit of time flipping back and forth through the rulebook to find what you’re looking for at any given time.

You also have a lot of cards with a ton of text and various effects which can come into play or asking for die rolls to determine results. Many of the weapons have special traits which may come into play as well. In other words gamers who don’t like to spend much time reading should probably take a pass. There’s a ton of luck involved too with all the card draws and dice rolling so that may dissuade those looking for more of a straight up strategic challenge.

Gamers will also want to keep in mind Zpocalypse isn’t a co-op experience by any stretch. While you don’t have to take a screw your neighbor approach, and players should be encouraged to try to trade cards when they have the chance, the name of the game is survival. Survival as in your group not everyone else’s at the table, so players will look to find ways of steering zombies toward other Squads and Survivors. You don’t have to make the game a confrontational affair though.

Zpocalypse Fortifications and Card (GreenBrier Games)While Zpocalypse isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea it’s the sort of game which is right up my alley. Unlike many gamers out there (and this is absolutely no knock against them) I grew up with titles which required quite a lot of mulling over before getting the game to the table; streamlined, more abstracted mechanics – one would find in today’s Euro-style games – really didn’t exist in the early 1980s. Zpocalypse might not have the most intuitive rule presentation around but I’m always been used to having to toss a house rule or two into the mix to smooth over any rough patches in gameplay.

One of my fellow gamers absolutely HATED Zpocalypse. Honestly I think hate is a strong word but they stuck by that assessment. They thought it was nothing but a truckload of randomness chucked on top of more randomness. Plus they didn’t feel that in the midst of a nuclear/zombie apocalypse these handfuls of survivors would work against each other in the way the game design nudges players to do so. My reaction to these thoughts were not only did this person more than likely not watch The Walking Dead (they didn’t) but weren’t familiar with any sort of post-apocalyptic fiction or films because they almost all make Darwin’s theory regarding survival of the fittest look like a game of patty cake; the popular mindset is that when “you know what” hits the fan humanity will sink to its most base and despicable nature.

Once again, let me point out you can play Zpocalypse in a much more co-operative manner than you may think and how your gang takes on the challenge is completely up to you.

For myself, I think Zpocalypse is great! I love when I can finish up a game and have a solidly presented narrative to look back upon. This is one of the reasons I enjoy Victory Point Games’ Dawn of the Zeds; regardless if I win or lose I have a story to tell and one which will resonate much stronger than “I moved my meeple here, gathered a particular resource or card, and that got me the win.” I’ll guess many of my feelings have a lot to do with my years of playing RPGs and basing much of my enjoyment othe tale being told.

I’m sure there’ll be plenty of folks out there who take umbrage with my final score for Zpocalypse. I’m sure there’ll be a good number of people who’ve played the game who will think I’m off my nut for scoring the game so high. I think, after over four years of presenting gaming reviews, people have a good idea of what we at TGG is going to dig and what we might not. In my opinion Zpocalypse is a hell of a good time. The rules are nowhere nearing perfect, chucking dice around willy nilly and drawing cards will to lead to a boatload of luck, you can’t bust out any long term planning because every turn is going to throw new wrenches into the works, but when it comes time to kicking some zombie ass the game is a nail biter.

When you get down to it, Zpocalypse brings action and excitement to my gaming table so I’m willing to look beyond some of the blemishes the design may hold.

TGG REVIEW
8 TGG SCORE
0 VISITORS' SCORE (0 votes)
Summary
I’m sure there’ll be plenty of folks out there who take umbrage with my final score for Zpocalypse. I’m sure there’ll be a good number of people who’ve played the game who will think I’m off my nut for scoring the game so high. I think, after over four years of presenting gaming reviews, people have a good idea of what we at TGG is going to dig and what we might not. In my opinion Zpocalypse is a hell of a good time. The rules are nowhere nearing perfect, chucking dice around willy nilly and drawing cards will to lead to a boatload of luck, you can’t bust out any long term planning because every turn is going to throw new wrenches into the works, but when it comes time to kicking some zombie ass the game is a nail biter.
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Jeff McAleer

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1 Comment

  1. Great review!

    Not sure if you’ve seen the latest Zpocalypse rulebook, you can find it here http://www.greenbriergames.com/zpocalypse_rules

    Download the pdf for free or pay shipping for a physical copy.

    note about the 4.2 rulebook, it was reflowed by notorious game aid enthusiast “the esoteric order of gamers” who creates many game aids for complex rulebooks.

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