Overview: Zombie Ninja Pirates is a bizarre little card game in which you try to become zombies, ninjas, pirates and mad scientists while collecting objects that will award you points. It’s published by Gozer Games, a small game company that recently completed a successful Kickstarter campaign for their next game, Vampires, Werewolves, Witches, and Fairies. Also, they have a chinchilla as a mascot, who makes an appearance in the Kickstarter video.
Players: 2 to 6 players
Ages: 13 and up (although you could probably start a little younger)
Playing Time: 20-30 minutes
Rating: “Arrrrrr” for “Ridiculous.”
Who Will Like It? Players looking for a quick, funny game with lots of humor involving zombies, ninjas, pirates and mad scientists. Let’s face it: you can probably tell from the title whether or not this is your sort of thing.
Gozer Game’s motto is that games should be “funny as well as fun,” and Zombie Ninja Pirates certainly fits the bill. Combining these four different (and often conflicting) types allows for a lot of funny references: each card has a little flavor text at the bottom, often a quote from a movie or just an amusing line. Some items can provide points for one type but deduct points for another type, causing conflicts—for instance, Patience is +3 points for Ninjas, but -3 points for Zombies. If you happen to be a Ninja Zombie, then it cancels out and is worth nothing.
The game consists of 108 cards, pretty standard quality. It comes in a mercifully small tuckbox which you can fit in your pocket. The artwork for the cards is done by three artists: Neko Pilarcik provides the art for most of the Object and Action cards, Harvey Ehrlich did the artwork for the four types, and Bobby Henderson is responsible for the image of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (and, incidentally, the idea of the FSM as well). While there’s a lot of humor in the artwork, I couldn’t help but feel that it was also a little amateur. Still, the graphics are really just for flavor and don’t affect the gameplay itself.
The game is fairly simple: shuffle all the cards (Types, Objects and Actions) into one deck, deal out five to each player and then shuffle the “End Game” card into the bottom third of the deck. On each turn, you do the following:
- Play an Action or Object from your hand (required)
- Use an Object from the table in front of you (optional)
- Discard up to 2 cards (optional)
- Draw back up to five cards
If you can’t or don’t want to play an Action or Object from your hand in Step 1, then you discard your entire hand and draw five new cards.
To become a Type (such as a Zombie) you need to have either an Action or Object card which allows you to become one. For example, a Bite card can turn you into a Zombie—as long as you also have the Zombie card in your hand. Objects are played on the table in front of you and their worth is dependent on what Types you currently are. Some objects can be played (and discarded) for additional effects—the Sword can be used to steal an object if you’re a ninja.
Of course, it wouldn’t be any fun if you couldn’t mess with other players, right? There are various cards which allow you to steal or discard objects, and there are Actions that will let you remove somebody’s Type. Monologuing, for instance, removes the Mad Scientist Type. There are also Internal Conflict cards which force somebody to choose between, say, a Ninja and a Pirate.
When the “End Game” card turns up, then each player gets one more turn, and then you add up the points in front of you. Type cards are worth five points each (you can only have one of each type) and Objects are worth their face value (generally, between -3 and +3 points).
As I mentioned before, the game is quite silly and can be a lot of fun, but there are also some frustrations with it. The objects associated with the four types are clever and it’s a lot of fun to see the combinations. Part of the strategy, I realized after a few games, is deciding which types to go for—at first I tried to just get all four types, since that’s worth 20 points. However, I quickly realized that this puts you at risk for Internal Conflicts and often cancels out many of the object cards. But if you focus on one type alone, it can get you into trouble as well: in one game, one player had eight objects that would give points to a Ninja … but she was a Zombie.
There’s one card in the deck called the Reset Button which allows you to shuffle the discard and place it back on top of the deck, extending the game. The first time I played I didn’t realize that the Reset Button doesn’t get shuffled back in (the rules aren’t specific). It meant that unless the player with the Reset Button was ahead, the game never ended. Even so, if the Reset Button turns up late in the game, it can cause a few groans as you have to go through most of the deck again.
The other major problem is simply that it’s hard to ensure a good distribution of the Type cards, which are crucial to getting points. If you get a bunch of Pirate-related Object cards including the ones that allow you to become a Pirate but never draw the Pirate Type card, then you’re just out of luck. I haven’t tried it yet, but we’ve considered just pulling the Type cards out of the deck, and allowing anyone to use them as soon as they have the appropriate card. It would make it a lot easier to gain a Type, but it would probably lead to less frustration about simple bad luck.
Still, the game is short enough that even if you’re not doing well it’s probably not going to be unbearable. It’s definitely heavy on luck and is more of a filler game than a game night main course. If you like some combination of the four types and are looking for a light, silly game, Zombie Ninja Pirates may be for you.
Wired: A very funny concept and great interactions between the various types. Flavor text from “The Incredibles” and “Dr. Horrible” win extra geek points.
Tired: Bad luck can prevent you from scoring any points; artwork is so-so; Reset Button is a bad idea.
Disclosure: Gozer Games provided a review copy of this game.