Publisher: Twilight Creations
Designer: Kerry Breitenstein and Todd Breitenstein
Artist: Dave Aikins
Players: One to four players
Playing Time: 90 Minutes
Genre: Zombie game of hand management and pick up/delivery
The premise of Zombie Survival is great. The zombie apocalypse has begun and it is time to barricade yourself and your family into your house and try to survive as long as you can. Wait, the power just went out, good thing you’ve got a power generator. Now the water tastes funny, and you are out of bottled water. It looks like someone needs to run to town to try and scavenge some, but there are zombies in the driveway…
The object of Zombie Survival is to be the last player standing as the hordes of the living dead relentlessly assault everyone. These hordes are represented by the 140 yellow zombie figures included with the game.
Also included are four boards laid out like a floor plan of a house. Each player receives one and also four boards representing the area around the house. They all look good; unfortunately one of the yard boards is misprinted so that it is reversed. It isn’t a big deal, but it is annoying. I’m sure this will be corrected in the next printing.
A game of Zombie Survival is separated into two parts. During the first part of the game each player will select and place the equipment they that they will need in their house. There are a lot of tiles representing people, weapons, generators, equipment, automobiles, and many other items. Each player selects one tile at a time rotating around first clockwise and then reversed as they select tiles to fill the spaces in their homes. Once you fill all 30 spaces, your house is ready to go. The number of available tiles varies with the number of players, so you will never be able to get everything that you need.
I did like this part of the game. Putting together your survival gear is a pretty neat aspect that I enjoyed. The one thing I didn’t like is that there are four different types of automobiles, and the bigger the better. If you are lucky enough to go first and get the full sized SUV, you have a definite advantage over the other players if you end up going to town. It can carry more people, items, and can take more damage than all of the other vehicles. The cars get progressively smaller and the last person to select their car will be stuck with one that can only take two damage. It is destroyed running over the second zombie.
Thematically, you need to suspend reality for a bit. I’m pretty sure most homes wouldn’t be equipped with rifles, silencers, night scopes, crossbows, and long swords. I guess you can just assume that you are playing the survivalist families in the neighborhood, and that the lesser prepared ones had no chance and were eaten hours ago. For my money, I like my games to be thematically sound, but this I can deal with for the sake of the game.
You will also select the people that will be in your house. These are tiles that say”Person” and are very important, as once your last person dies you lose the game. You also get one action per person, per turn, so the more people you have the more actions you get. However you will need to provide these people with food and water so you can’t go overboard.
Or can you? The original rules as written were broken, because players could select lots of people, like 12 to 16 or so. Extra actions that you don’t use can be used to send zombies against other players. So you were able to send a boatload of zombies against someone to eliminate them quickly, and then move on to the next player. It was easy pickings to win the game simply with lots of people. The revised rules now say that you cannot send more than four zombies against another player in one turn, and this does help prevent zombie swarming.
Each person counter is exactly the same; I kind of wish there had been some effort to differentiate the counters so that each player could build some sort of family unit to add some more story and theme into the game. You know, like Dad, Mom, Suzie, Billy, and Rex the German Sheppard. It seems like a missed opportunity with just a bunch of “Person” tokens.
The second half of the game involves simply taking turns. The first player flips over an event card, which are nicely done and have some good and graphic artwork. Kudos to Twilight Creations for the Neighbor event card that looks quite a bit like our old pal Ned Flanders. The event cards have a global effect like the power going out, and also tell you when your people get sick, or need food or water.
There is a tracking board for each player to keep tabs on their supplies of food, water, lumber, and first aid. You use the glass beads included to mark your supplies of each. Once you run out of something you will start to lose people the next time you are called upon to provide that resource, so you had better send someone to town to get more.
Next the zombies come. Each player will place four zombies outside their house each turn. The First player rolls a die that corresponds to a row on their yard boards. A zombie is placed on all four sides of the house in that row. If a zombie is already there, it moves closer to the house to make room. Eventually, you will run out of room and zombies will burst into your house. You want to prevent that as much as you can.
Each player then takes a turn doing their actions for each person. The most important thing is combat. You can take shots at outside zombies or build barricades, or fight hand to hand with zombies in your house (or even step outside to do it if you want). You can send some people to town to collect supplies if they can too.
Combat is one of the things I really liked. Some people will hate it. You actually roll your combat dice into the box lid, which has a large picture of a zombie in it with a circle around its head. If one of your dice land in or on the circle, it is an automatic kill. IF not, then the remaining dice touching the zombie are added up and if they total six or more that zombie is dead. It does take some skill and I thought it was a very cool mechanic.
Finally, if you have any leftover actions you can trade those in for zombies to place on your opponents boards. This is how you shorten the game, by overwhelming the competition bite by bite. This part I hate. It doesn’t gibe with me thematically, and is more a mechanic than in the spirit of survival. Plus, once a player is eliminated, that’s it, they are out and have to sit and watch while the rest of the game plays out.
I would rather have seen the possibility or raids on other houses, or maybe even the possibility for your last people to escape to one of your neighbors homes and fight on against the zombies if they manage to make it through. Then they could share some small part of the victory. The player with the most people living would still win of course, but at least you could play on in a small way until the end.
The worst part of the game I have to say though was the rules. The original rules were absolutely terrible. They were organized poorly, missing key information, and didn’t provide any examples except for zombie movement. They felt incomplete and were very frustrating. The rules left the first group of players that I played with unwilling to play another game.
Twilight Creations has just released a pdf of new, revised rules on their website which do correct and answer many of the unclear and missing information. Prior to this you needed to comb their FAQ’s and forums to figure out the details for playing the game. If you pick up a first edition of the game, I highly recommend tossing the rules and printing out the ones from the website. They will help you out a lot.
Overall, I didn’t like the game. The ideas were sound but I didn’t like the execution. Item selection and combat are good, but sending zombies over to your neighbors doesn’t gibe with me and I don’t like games with player elimination. Everyone can gang up on one player to finish them off and it seems mean rather than gaming fun. In fact you can really tick people off with this game and I just am not that kind of player.
However I will say that when I played with the solitaire rules I had a better time. It was just me against the zombies and I came very close to winning. I lost in the end, but it was still sort of fun.
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