Top critical review
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An ultimately random and unbalanced test of patience
on October 9, 2011
I am a zombie genre fan, preferring the shambling zombies of Romero, and the Walking Dead AMC series. Recently I've been spending a great deal of time, almost nightly, playing board games, as I've become almost entirely home bound due to an illness. When I saw this game, I was sold in seconds. I didn't bother reading up on it, I was sold by concept, and the over all quality that has been given to the Walking Dead series of products. I purchased this the day of release, so reviews were not available. It was a risk, and, to sum it up, a failed risk. I do not recommend this game, and I'll attempt to give a few key points on what they did well, and how they failed.
The art work is fantastic! I liked the quality of pieces as well.
Setup was moderate - I'm used to German style games, such as Agricola and Dominion, so this wasn't too much to ask. The worst part was having to turn over 70 small round zombie pieces so that the number side, that which should randomly dictate how many zombies are in a group, was down. This felt familiar, so I pushed on.
The basic concept is to attempt to find three locations of refuge about the board. During which you pick up fellow survivors to assist, adding some abilities and dice for your rolls. Your rolls require you to take special dice with faces representing "actions", "zombie kills", or a wild symbol, which fills in for one of the two based on the need of the roll. There is also a special cheat dice you can use based on your groups abilities, or use of ammo resource. Conceptually, sounds great. You wonder around the hexagonal map in search of either one of the three resources: ammo, gas, and good, or locations to call home (three for a game victory, if you meet their challenges), you leave a wake of zombie tokens on each hex-space. More on that later. Once you make it to a resource square (usually in one or two turns, no problem there), you draw an event card/challenge card. These cards are my first major problem in the game. To succeed the challenges on them (and gain either a reward or punishment) you have various tasks or requirements to meet. These are SO random, imbalanced, and mostly not fun, that here alone the game looses most of it's promise! Some require you to role your compliment of dice. There are four dice, more on that later. These dice are the accumulation of your main survivor's dice set, and those that your group members add. So, for example, your main character might say "three blue dice" and a team member "add one red and one blue". So you have five dice of various color (and ability). These are used to meet physical challenges, and to kill zombies. Other challenges include having a number of resources, giving a number of resources to other players, sacrificing your resources to punish other players, or many other various requirements and tasks.
The problem is that these tasks vary in reward and punishment extremely. Some, "here is a gas", another "here are three gas". Some "challenges" are as simple as "ask if another player wants to give up two of something, if so, you loose one, else, you get one". This makes very little sense! "Sure, I'd like to loose two of something so you loose just one". Win or loose at the challenge, you get the resources you are challenging for. Locations use the same challenges, which make little sense, "give a player ten gas tanks" and you get a victor. You will find your resources and status in the game fluctuating more than Mario Party.
Sometimes you have to kill one or two zombies, other times eight or nine. Sometimes you have to ask someone to say "I will help you", other times you have they are asked to give up resources to punish you (though they are actually punished more). It's so incredibly unbalanced.
Dice. This is a key point to the game, and a MAJOR busted element. The game has four kinds of dice, each with a different color and set of symbols: red, blue, green, and a special black dice. The first three have a varying set of symbols representing action, action x 2, kill zombie, kill zombie x 2, and wild. The fourth, black dice is used as a sort of cheat, or helper dice, it has zombie kill times 1, 2, and 3 on three of the sides, and blam! times 1, 2, or 3 on the other three sides. Most of the time you spend ammo to roll this, helping in killing zombies your former set doesn't take care of. Each main character has some bonus they give, such as being able to move a little further in a turn (normally three squares), yes all of them have three variations on the red, blue and green dice. A huge balancing issue is that the blue dice is way more powerful than the other two. This was considerably noticeable as the person whose character had three blue dice always always won more challenges, had more resources, and so forth. The blue dice is the only dice with one blank side (ignoring the black dice), the others have two blanks. The blue is also the only dice with a wild symbol that meets action or zombie kill.
About the black dice... Suppose, which happened quite often, especially earlier on in the game, or for the poor soul who got "Otis" in their party (he adds the black dice to every role). The black dice guarantees kills, either adding one to three zombie kills, or one to three "attract" kills. Attract kills require you to place zombie tokens around the persons current board place, which can be (in a hex-grid) up to six places, and they can stack. This results in mountains of zombies all over the board, which give no benefit for being destroyed, so they are most often avoided. The pieces were often bumped into with fingers, thus moved around by accident - more frustrating than anything.
The rules leave several major holes, and feel incomplete. More time will likely produce a fan supplied FAQ or best practice rule set, though, these can't fix the inherent flaws of design.
So this has become a bit of a long review - I've tried to write it several times, but I didn't want it to get even this long. I don't want to sound like I'm coming down on the concept, or some sort of niche element that bugged me, but since this game is the only board game I've bought that ended up in the closet, and will never be touched again, I wanted to caution others. The game feels like a more complicated and tedious version of Flux.
I hope this review helps anyone make an appropriate choice.