Zombies!!! - Boardtalk Empire

Welcome back to Boardtalk Empire, the blog in which I rant about how great board games are. You see, I review video games, but sometimes it's the job of a nerd to evalgelise about stuff they think is cool. And the sweet, effervescent tactile angst that accompanies board games is just too beautiful to not talk about week after week.

This week, we're going to take a look at Zombies!!!, which is a game about the global financial crisis. Clearly. It's a game that puts you squarely into the unknown, although it does throw you a few choice bones of know-ability straight off the bat: there are zombies everywhere, you've survived a zombie apocalypse, and at some point you'll need to get to the chopper.

Zombies!!! does something fairly unique: it utilises a fog of war. Fog of War is a term loosely coined by Carl von Clausewitz, and refers to areas of uncertainty in a battlefield. Nowadays, it's primarily used by players of Starcraft II to refer to unexplored areas of the map which, until trammeled, remain shrouded in a literal fog. This basically means that in a FOW enabled game (be it video of board), exploration becomes a survival mechanic. But thankfully, unlike in the John Carpenter film and the actual real-life burg of Sleepy Twimps, the fog cannot eat you. As far as I know.

The game opens on the town square, a single tile upon which all starting players (between two and six) are placed. From there, exploration occurs; each player begins to move off in whatever direction they wish (and yes, they can team up). But can't they just stand still, you might ask? No. No, they cannot, not if they want to get to the helipad and win the game. You see, each time a player moves off one tile and into another, or indeed takes their turn, a tile is drawn from a shuffled deck and placed by the player who drew it. It's like being a city planner! With, you know. Less zombies.

This means players could end up walking down a street upon which a gun shop filled with zombies and previous ammo is placed. They could find themselves in a dead end, hemmed in and totally screwed. They could even arrive at the entrance to a hospital, brimming with much needed medical supplies. But somewhere beyond the halfway point in the deck, the helipad will be drawn.  At this point, you could find yourself on the opposite side of town, with twenty lumbering zombies between you and freedom. 

There is another way to win Zombies!!!, however: kill twenty five zombies. This is no mean feat: to kill a zombie, you have to enter the same square as it, expend invaluable ammunition, and then (hopefully) win a dice roll. It's not all moving, fighting and exploring, though; there are event cards, which you draw during your turn and use as items or powers. For example, 'The Keys Are Still In It' card shows car keys in the ignition of a car, with a pallid zombified hand clutching them pathetically. The card itself allows you to move ahead in an insane burst of speed, which could make the dash to the helipad (or to safety) that much easier. There are also almost ten expansions for Zombies!!! which add new decks of event cards, exploding the game into a decidedly chaotic and complex beast.

But what of the zombies themselves? Well, after each player moves, they roll a die. They're then forced to place that many zombies on the streets of whatever horrible town the game is set in. When we played, one of us was essentially the king of zombies. Fine, let's be honest, I was the king of zombies. And whilst I didn't get to place my undead minions, once they appeared I was allowed to move each one a single step in any direction each turn. There's something harrowing and hilarious about letting players have a degree of choice as to just how and when they're going to get screwed, although to be fair, I did find myself rooting for the survivors somewhat.

Also, there are extra weapons that you can pick up. These typically have more stopping power or spread, but very limited ammunition. After several rounds of scavenging, scheming and desperately fending off tiny plastic zombies, you really will begin to feel that either (a) you're in a George Romero movie, or (b) you're wasting your time and you hate the game. That's the thing about Zombies!!!. It strikes an odd halfway point between a frantic party game, and an hour-long slog through fictional adversity, which is really more the purview of your more dedicated board game nerd. In that respect, it falls down somewhat, but otherwise it's a compellingly tasty experience. 

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