Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Review: Zombies!!! Second Edition: Director's Cut

Arguably the quintessential zombie game.

When I first decided I'd be doing a week of articles on zombie games, the first product that went down on my list was 'Zombies!!!' simply because I don't know anyone who hasn't played it, or a version of it. Simply put it's one of those rare boardgames that appeals to diehard geeks like me, but doesn't put off 'normals'. It's mechanics are simplicity itself, and everyone can understand and enjoy it. Plus it's dirt heap. So why not review it this week I thought, so I am!

Product Description

The box actually comes packed with a lot of basic components. For starters you get 100 plastic zombies in two different poses. OK yeah sure they're small and not incredibly well detailed, but if you want a game about hordes of zombies this might be the place to start. There are 30 map tiles that are about 10cm by 10cm in size or 4" by 4" if you work in old money.You also get 50 cards for the event card deck, 6 human survivors and life and ammunition tokens, which I'm really not going to count, but you get way more than enough. Along with the rules that are printed on to an A4 sheet of paper and two D6's, one red and one blue that's your lot!

The contents of the box.

Gameplay 7.5 out of 10

Right the rules fit onto a piece of A4 paper folded in half. If you are after a seriously in-depth zombie slaying experience with detailed narrative and character development, then simply put... you're looking in entirely the wrong place. Zombies!!! is as stripped down a game as you could possibly hope to find, in fact I'm not sure you could take anything out of the game and still call it a game at all. It really is one of the easiest games to learn to play you're ever likely to find. Sure it's not quite as easy as snakes and ladders is, but then not much is. In fact there's a point to be made about how simplistic the rules are to remember here. I've often come back to my more complex boardgames and needed to re-read some of the rules, if not most of them to make sure I've got them right in my own head. Well after over a years absence from playing Zombies!!! I was able to crack open this box, not even look at the chuffing rules and start playing the game. In fact, teaching the game to people is so easy that anyone with a brain will get it within 60 seconds. That makes it a very appealing party game, and a nerd / normals cross over game.

The two most important tiles in the game, the town square and helipad.

I don't want to 're-print' the rules here, which trusted me would be very easy to do if I wasn't careful, but I do wish to talk about what the game basically entails. The idea of the game is quite simple, all players start off in the center of town. The aim is to fan out in groups and fight your way through the never ending horde of zombies as you go, your ultimate goal being to reach the helipad tile, wipe out all the zombies and get the hell out of there. Or you can win by being the first hero to kill 25 zombies. It really isn't complex. The game although being competitive insofar as there is an ultimate winner, and there can only be one as it were, you do need to work together with your fellow gamers. No one can mathematically go off on their own on a sortie of zombie slaying and death and hope to win. So there are normally uneasy alliances that are formed, as well as the unwelcome hangers on who parasite off of a good alliances and let them spend their limited ammo tokens and take the brunt of the zombie hordes attack, and then these cheeky buggers strike for the finishing line on their own.

The event cards are a simple and fun way to add another dimension to the game.

It's these uneasy tensions at the heart of the game that make it work so well. The mechanics aren't complex, and because of that you don't have to sit there figuring out how best to tackle the randomly spawning map and the zombie horde that comes along with it. Nope you can work on building a rapport with your fellow gamers and then screw them over mercilessly when the time is right. But showing your hand too early could spell disaster, and showing it too late will allow your sometime erstwhile allies to get the drop on you. The zombies provide a mere backdrop to a game of diplomacy where everyone is out to stab each other in the back to win the prize... and I love it. You roll a D6 to see how far your little character can move, and combat is simply rolling a D6 to determine if you can kill the zombie in the same square as you. On a 4, 5 or 6 they're dead, anything lower and you'll have to use precious ammo tokens to up the result to a 4 or more, or lose a life token. You can choose to keep going and risk dying, and if you do die you'll be transported back to the start of the town again and your zombie score will be halved. There are also event cards that add a bit of spice to proceedings as well.

When you build the city with these tiles it'll take up more space than you expect. You need a big playing area.

Such a simple game, with such a simple goal, yet it remains deceptively tactical. Personally we've found we rarely make it to the helipad and escape, as normally somebody wins by making it to 25 zombie kills before then. But every now and then the helipad turns up early enough to turn the game into a bun fight. It's a great laugh, although I'd suggest upping the zombie kill count to 30 or 35. What you get in the core game box is enough to keep most gamers happy for a long time, it really is. Unless you are playing zombies!!! three or four times a month you won't really need to have any of the expansion packs, but if you want them they are there. My personal favourites being Zombies 2, which introduces a military base to the mix, which includes the harder zombie marines and jeeps, as well as other weapon types. Genius. My other favourites being Zombies!!! 4, which changes the mission to being about collecting the pages of the book of the dead, zombies!!! 6, which introduces subways and sewers to the mix and Zombies!!! 8 Jailbreak, which breaks with the randomly generate on the fly map for one where you know what you have to face to escape. Although the map is still generated randomly.

More of those event cards. There's a good zombie horror feel to them.

So while there's enough to keep fans of zombie slaying happy in the core box for months to come, there are plenty of cool expansions that mix things up. That increase the size and scope of the game, without ever making it too complex. I've had fans of Zombies!!! tell me the game is a way of life, and I can understand why groups of gamers buy every expansion there is and have a dedicated gaming night set aside for their zombie slaying adventures. It's that sort of simple game, with all the add-ons thrown in for good measure that although easy to just sit and play, will offer very different games every time you sit down to play it. For me, it can be a bit too abstract and 'remote' at times, almost like the difference between playing an RTS and an FPS. Zombies!!! is definitely closer to the RTS side of things as you feel like you're zoomed out looking at a Google Earth image, where as games like Zombicide and Last Night on Earth feel much 'closer' to the zombie slaying action, and have a bit more depth to the rules and are more to my personal tastes. But Zombies!!! remains a really good fun game, that I'm more than happy to come back to time and time again.

Certain special tiles will allow you to replenish your ammo and health.

So yeah, scoring the gameplay has been quite difficult for me. On the one had it's so simple it probably qualifies for some form of Government subsidy grant. But, it really is a lot of fun to play. You can take it seriously and form fragile alliance that are bound to fall apart, or you can just play it for laughs, without really having to think too much. Its simplicity is what allows it to fulfill these many roles, but it is also a bit of a downfall for the core game, insofar as there's really not much to be learned about tactics and subtle nuanced play after about 3 or 4 games. But, it doesn't seem to matter. Because, despite the fact that in many respects I've seen all the core boxed set has to offer over and over again, it still remains a lot of fun to whip out zombies!!! with your mates and just have a blast. There are no scenarios to speak of, no need to set up special mission decks. No weapon loadouts to work out, and no arguments about which character everyone wants to be. You just take the box down off of the shelf and get on with playing the game, and that's all there is to it, and there's something really appealing and liberating about that if you ask me.

Nobody wants to be Mr Pink... luckily no one has to be!
Detail 6.5 out of 10

Yeah, the game doesn't really have many details to speak of. The miniatures, if you can call them that, aren't massively detailed sculpts. They are in effect 3D chits and tokens, in rubbery PVC form. But given their scale and function they don't really need to be anything more. The Player miniatures / glorified 3D chits aren't much better, well actually they're probably a little worse as there's even less variation, although they do come in 6 different glorious colours. The rules come printed on an uncomplicated folded sheet of A4 paper, this really is budget gaming, but budget gaming at it's best. Sure the components aren't very good, in many respects they're crap. But they don't need to be all that good as it's not really the point of zombies to have miniatures sculpted by Thomas David or Juan Navarro. The idea is to put bucketloads of zombies down on a map made of city block tiles and represent a desperate fight for survival against hordes of zombies in a city gone to hell after Z-day (trust me it is coming). those city tiles as well, while not being printed on the best quality card are actually covered in some quite characterful looking cityscape artwork, and when it's all laid out properly it genuinely does look quite impressive, especially if you've included some of the many expansion that are available for the game. Although this does mean the play area can get very large.

This is your lot. Two types of zombie, and you'll lump it.
Quality 5.5 out of 10

OK when you see the price you'll be paying for this delightful little product, and yes I do mean it is delightful, no sarcasm implied, you'll understand that really you ought to cut it some slack on the old quality score. OK, so it won't ever challenge the quality of likes Fantasy Flight Games or Asmodee products, but it won't trouble your bank balance either in the same way. But, the card components will inevitably get dog-eared after repeated play. They're not the best gaming pieces I've seen, but they aren't the worst either. The print quality on the cards actually isn't bad at all, and actually the games tiles look pretty detailed and are quite evocative, and there's no blurring, runs or bleeding in the printing. You'll be able to see what everything is. It's just how flimsy everything is, the game tiles are actually no thicker in card stock than game cards. This present you with two problems, firstly and obviously they aren't as hardy as you'd like and will damage if you aren't careful. Secondly it means that they're lightweight and can be disturbed mid-game by the merest of knocks, blu-tac or some similar none branded variety of sticky stuff will be your best friend here. Finally those miniatures... they aren't great. I guess they don't have to be, but for someone who likes collecting miniatures they're not right up my street.

Event cards can save your life or...

Price 10 out of 10

Wherever you find this game it'll no doubt be priced at under £17. If you find it anywhere for more than that figure they're scalping you. You can walk into many local games stores and I'm sure you'll find it sitting there on the shelves for about £15.50, I did, and at these sorts of prices it is a no brainer. If you'll forgive the zombie themed pun, but it really is. It's a pocket money purchase that will give your friends or family hours, nay years of simple uncomplicated zombie killing gaming pleasure. I'd put it on the shelf with Cluedo and Monopoly as opposed to Mansions of Madness and Twilight Imperium, but it's great to have a bit of variety not only in the games, but the level those games are pitched at too. Not everything needs to be insanely complex, plus it makes a great travel game for when you're on holiday.

...or cost an opponent theirs!
Overall 9 out of 10

This overall score does look utterly bizarre when you see the constituent scores that make it up doesn't it? Zombies!!! isn't the worlds most complex game, in fact it is the perfect antidote to our ever increasingly complex games. I've plonked this game down in front of young children who instantly get the joy of blasting the heads off of the living dead... I'm not sure what such experiences will do to impressionable young minds in the long run, but short-term they seem to love it. That surely has to be all that counts, right? I mean sure the game tiles aren't the greatest product ever produced, the 'miniatures' if you are brave enough to call them that, are less than mediocre, and you could arguably fit the rules onto the back of a fag packet. But, it's just so much fun to play, and given how cheap the game is you can't really grumble in any way shape or form about what you get in the box. I've spent £70, £80 and even £100 on board games in the past hat haven't given me as much fun and pleasure as this game. Surely if you are a zombie fan there just simply has to room for a copy of Zombies!!! on your gaming shelf. Plus with all those expansions I mentioned it's quite easy to tailor the experience to what you want from a zombie game. Peace out!


  1. Funnily enough I didn't really like Zombies!!! for some reason (I suspect playing with too many expansions for a first run and wanting something deeper), but Humans!!! was pretty awesome out of the box with marginal changes.

    1. If you play from the off with too many expansions you are absolutely right, the game can drag and just not live up to what it can be. Personally I don't think you should ever play it with more than two of the expansions. And Zombies!!! 8 Jailbreak is best played as a stand alone product.

      I actually considered reviewing Humans!!! instead, but I couldn't find a copy of it in time and as I already had Zombies!!! I thought I'd go with that. But you are right Humans is a right hoot. :)

  2. I love this game - one of the best multi-player, stab-you-budddy-in-the-back game which anyone can play. I had 4 adults and my son (10yr at the time) play and while the 'grown-ups' were so busy betraying one another, guess who snuck through to get to the chopper...

    I agree- fantastic as an occaisional game, or one of those 'lets play as many different games in a day' style events.

    1. Agreed, it's a game you can just get down off of the shelf and play. It's less complex in terms of rules than things like Monopoly and Cluedo. Nope it's never going to do if you want that in-depth rule laden beast of a game, BUT if you want a quick blast with a zombie them I don't think there's much better.

  3. Great review; sold.

    I just ordered a copy :)

    It looks like the perfect "gateway game" for some friends of mine. Then I can ease them into Zombicide and the like....

    1. it can be a good gateway product. I reckon it's probably one of the best games I've brought for cost to fun ratio. Well worth it.

  4. I have never played it!!! Everytime I see it it's an add-on not the starter and I never order things. If I order them I have to buy them when they turn up....

    1. Some of the add-ons can actually be played as standalone games.

  5. I love this game. I got 1, 2 and 3, and a friend has Humans! for a "human vs Zombies" 12 player mayhem.

    The only thing i hate about zombies are the life and ammo tokens. so small and difficult to pick from tiles, i bought cheap small plastic "gems", in red and blue.

    1. Is 3 the Shopping Mall add-on? If you play with enough add-ons you can build ridiculously large games. I personally don't like it when the games grow too large. As for the tokens, yeah sometimes they can be a pain, but we've learned to live with them, although the gem idea isn't a bad one.

  6. Our gaming group initially loved Zombies! but we eventually got burnt out on it. Once the helipad appears any player attempting to make a dash for it will inevitably get dogpiled with a bunch of penalty cards from the other players. This turns the endgame into a slow repetitive grind.

    Also the movement rules can be very frustrating if you're unlucky with your D6 roll to move. We incorporated a house rule I read where you roll a D6 and add your current life tokens for your movement.

    1. The movement rules are a bit random, however we had a house rule of rolling 2D6 and picking which one you wanted, obviously it's normally the higher number.

      The other thing I'd ask is how many of you played how many hours of games with Zombies!!! I'd then ask how much did it cost, and what was the cost per hour, per gamer? I'd bet you'd find it wasn't very much at all. I worked out that during this review It worked out at 15p per hour per gamer. If your group got that into it I'd bet it was even lower for you. So seriously, it was probably money well spent. Even if ultimately the game is flawed.

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