Reading Time: 9 minutes
Overview: The zombiepocalypse is upon us, and the streets are no longer safe. We venture out briefly from our safe houses to scavenge for food and weapons, but the horde is growing. In this clever new deck-building game, you decide each turn whether to fight or flee … but if you fail, you’ll be Eaten by Zombies!
Please note: Eaten by Zombies is currently running a Kickstarter campaign, but I received the review set without much time left to play it thoroughly — school’s started and my gaming time is very limited this week. I’ve gotten to play it a couple times only as 2-player games, and I’ve read through all the cards and done some limited scenario-testing on my own, so consider this a semi-informed opinion.
Players: 2 to 4
Ages: 13 and up
Playing Time: 20-40 minutes (expect a bit longer the first time you play)
Retail: $25 (on Kickstarter for the base set plus a promo pack; other reward levels available)
Rating: Two horribly mutilated thumbs up! Although I’ve only scratched the surface of the game so far, I can already tell that it’s a blast to play and has some fascinating differences from other deck-building games.
Who Will Like It? If you like zombies and you like card games, you’ll really enjoy this one. But you pretty much have to be a fan of zombies — if you’re turned off by zombies I don’t think Eaten by Zombies is really going to appeal to you, despite the excellent mechanics.
If you’ve read GeekDad for any length of time you know we like zombies. We even dedicated a week to them last year for Halloween. But just throwing zombies into a game doesn’t automatically make it a great game, particularly if it doesn’t really feel like zombies. Eaten by Zombies does a remarkable job of increasing the tension — at first you meet individual zombies and it’s a cinch to fight them off or run away, but as the game progresses you face larger and larger hordes which weaken you until you’re cowering in a corner, afraid to flip the next card.
Also, the artwork is all made to look like 1950s USA: from the player characters (June the housewife) to the swag items (TV dinner), it’s a zombie-fest set in post-war America. The Kickstarter promo card is a Bomb Shelter. It’s all well-done and the gameplay does a good job of immersing you in the theme.
The game is entirely card-based, and comes with the following:
- 25 Zombie cards (in 5 different levels)
- 4 Player starting decks of 12 cards each
- 25 Swag cards sets of 5 cards each
- 31 Tab dividers
The cards are a nice quality (assuming these are the same as the final production version) and the artwork on them is great. The tab dividers not only have the item names, but also a more in-depth explanation of how to use each card, which can be handy when you need a bit of clarification.
One interesting thing is the way Eaten by Zombies handles the randomization of starting piles. Most deck-builders I’ve played come with a deck of randomizer cards, one for each item in the game: you shuffle this deck, pull out the requisite number, and then find those decks. Then you put the randomizers away. The more expansions you get, the larger the collection of randomizer cards as well. In this one, they just have you pull out one of each of the swag cards, and keep them in a stack with the randomizer divider. Shuffle that, pull out your cards, and then just find the rest of the stack and put it on the card. When the game’s over, leave one of each out and put it back in the randomizer deck. It’s a simple but clever solution that reduces the number of cards, which I’m sure helps with the cost of the game.
My only complaints about the components: there are a few typos on the cards (hopefully there’s still time to fix these before final production), and I felt the rulebook could benefit from some diagrams. For instance, the rules never explicitly say which of the two numbers on the zombie cards are the Level or the Attrition value. You can probably figure it out pretty easily, but a new gamer might be a little confused. Also, if you weren’t familiar with deck-builders, you may not know right away that the circled number on the swag cards is the price, because the rules don’t ever tell you that. Finally, the summary cards don’t include the fact that if you flee or fight unsuccessfully the entire horde dissipates — a detail that may be easy to overlook if you’re not referring to the rulebook during play.
Each player starts with a deck of 12 cards: 5 Heavy Sticks, 5 Hide cards, and 2 Sandwiches. Most of the cards (player cards and swag cards) can be used to Fight (stop sign icon), Flee (yellow crossing icon), or Draw cards (green triangle icon). In the center of the table are stacks of swag cards, including three basic cards: Binoculars (2 Flee), Rifle (2 Fight), and a Good Book (2 Draw). In addition, you include two more piles of swag per player, either chosen at random or from one of the selected sets at the back of the rulebook. The zombie deck is made up of a specific number of zombie cards of various levels, based on the number of players. You shuffle your own player deck and draw a hand of six cards.
On each turn, you reveal a zombie from the pile. Then other players have a chance to add zombies from their hand, with some restrictions. (You won’t have any zombies at first, but as you kill them they go into your deck.)
Once the zombies are revealed, you decide whether you want to fight or flee. You can always play Draw cards, but you may only play Fight or Flee cards that match your decision.
For fighting, you total up all the Fight values on the cards you played, and then use those to start killing off zombies, starting with the closest one (the last one played). The Level of the zombie shows how many Fight points it takes to kill it. Killed zombies go into your discard pile.
If you kill the entire horde facing you, then you get to collect swag — any combination of cards that adds up to your Fight level (plus any Scavenge bonuses you might have). Swag goes into your hand (unlike most deck-builders) but you must have room in your hand, which can only hold a maximum of six cards. If you fail to kill all of the zombies, then you lose cards to Attrition. Each zombie card has a number at the bottom showing its Attrition/Flee value. You lose the number of cards shown on all the zombies that were left alive, either from your hand or from the top of your deck. Lost cards go back into the swag piles (or zombies go back to the zombie deck).
If you flee, you must play a flee value equal to or greater than the total of all the Flee values of the zombies in the horde. You can’t flee from just a couple zombies as with the fighting — it’s all or nothing. Succeed, and you get to scavenge for swag (equal to your Flee value), but you still lose some cards: half of the Attrition value, rounded up. Then the oldest zombie loses interest and is discarded. Fail, and you lose the total Attrition value (but then the entire horde is discarded).
All played cards are discarded, and then you draw back up to 6 cards.
If at any time you are unable to draw more cards (even after reshuffling your discard pile), then you’ve been caught by the zombies and turn into a zombie yourself. But it’s not over! Then you get to try to take down the remaining survivors and hope for a zombie victory.
Each time the zombie pile runs out and the discard pile is reshuffled, you increase the number of zombies flipped by one. So the second time players will reveal two zombies at a time, and the horde gets bigger and bigger until inevitably something happens. If at any time there are not enough zombie cards in the deck to draw (including the discard pile) then the Survivors have killed off enough zombies to win, and the player with the most cards (in their deck, discard, and hand) wins.
If all but one of the players are turned into zombies, then that last survivor wins. If at any point a player can’t flee or fight (because they only have a hand of 6 zombies) then the zombies have overrun everything and the Survivors lose.
One last thing: as a zombie player (which only happens in a 3 or 4 player game), you lose all your swag cards but then you get to wreak some havoc as a zombie. Each turn you get to draw some zombie cards, and use them against other players to increase the horde, or play them into a Zombie Threat Area, forcing Survivors to discard more swag, or prevent them from playing zombies from their hand, or other nasty effects. Since I’ve only gotten to play the 2-player version of the game so far I haven’t seen this gameplay firsthand yet, but it seems pretty brutal and serves to accelerate the game.
I wasn’t sure what to expect of Eaten by Zombies – maybe a zombie-flavored Thunderstone, perhaps, which would have been pretty great as it is. But the mechanics of Eaten by Zombies is actually quite different from most of the other deck-builders I’ve played, which really sets it apart. The fight-or-flee choice isn’t quite the same as the dungeon-or-village choice, because even if you flee successfully you still lose cards. Plus, in most of the other games there are only certain effects that will remove cards from your deck: most of the time you just keep adding to it. This is the first deck-builder I’ve played where your deck may get whittled away to nothing.
Another clever twist is the idea that swag you collect is immediately available — but that you’re limited to what you can carry. If you play cards that let you draw a bunch of cards, you might have a huge Fight or Flee value but no room in your hand for anything more. And the choice of what to buy can be very difficult: do you buy a bunch of cheap cards that you’ll be able to throw away when you have to discard a bunch, or do you buy a more expensive card and risk losing it to the zombies later?
The first time I played the game it was really brutal, particularly when we started getting two and three zombies at a time. Both of us were unable to fight or flee successfully most of the time, which meant we were just bleeding cards every turn. On my second game, I changed up strategies and actually was able to build up a pretty good arsenal — but it got to the point where my hand was starting to fill up with all the zombies I’d killed, an interesting dilemma in itself.
I wish I could tell you what it’s like being a zombie player, because it sounds like a really cool idea (and also fixes the problem of player elimination), but you may have to wait for a future update to that.
In short, though, Eaten by Zombies is a remarkable deck-building game, and if you like zombies then you’re in for an extra-special treat. The $25 pledge to get a set (a little higher for international shipping) is a bargain, and I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. I do hope they can get a few of these typos corrected before the final printing, but even so I know this is a game I’ll want to play a lot more. Just be sure to chip in for your copy by next Monday, September 19. I don’t know what the game will sell for after the campaign is over.
Wired: Zombies and deck-building: two great tastes that taste great together! Excellent artwork and innovative mechanics make for an intense, fast-paced game.
Tired: Fixing the typos and improving the rulebook would make the game just about perfect.
Disclosure: GeekDad received an advance copy of the game for review purposes.