Overview: If you’ve been paying attention for the past three years, it will come as no surprise that I like board games, and I like zombies, and I’m a sucker for board games about zombies. Well, I mentioned Zpocalypse in my GameStorm write-up, and at the time I was still on the fence about it — I really wanted to like it, but I felt like there were some things that were broken about it. I spoke to Jeff Gracia of GreenBrier Games afterward, and had a great conversation about Zpocalypse, including some of the changes that had already been made in the meantime due to playtesting and some of my own complaints and suggestions.
I’ve since received some updated components and rules, but it doesn’t look like I’ll have time to play the updated version before the Kickstarter campaign ends, so I’ll give you my impressions of the game and hopefully give you enough information to decide if you want to back the game before the deadline, April 22.
Ages: 12 and up
Playing Time: 60 to 180 minutes (there is a short game and a long game)
Retail: $55 on Kickstarter for the game itself; other funding options available with special perks
Rating: Promising — like I said, rules aren’t finalized, but I like that the designer is still responding to feedback and is eager to make changes. That said, it’s hard to give a final rating on a game that is still in flux.
Who Will Like It? If you want a little more of a storytelling element in your zombie-themed board game, you might want to check out Zpocalypse. I can’t say that this will replace Last Night on Earth on my game shelf, but it might earn a spot next to it.
Theme: There are zombies, of course. But there’s also a nuclear wasteland because what was left of the government decided that was the only way to get rid of the zombies. You (and a few other survivors) found a bomb shelter and survived the blasts … but now you’re running out of food, so you gotta come out to scavenge. You find food, some other survivors, and the aforementioned zombies.
The game incorporates a bit of storytelling into it, kind of reminiscent of Arkham Horror, where you draw a card and read a little bit of flavor text before getting to the parts that are just play mechanics. Even the character cards have a little story about them — it’s purely optional, but kind of fun to read them out loud as you add them to your team.
The set I played with was a handmade prototype, so there were stand-in pawns which will be different in the actual game (particularly depending on how much higher the Kickstarter total goes). However, the list of components should be roughly the same:
- 20 board tiles
- 80 build tokens
- 120 cards (items, food, armory, survivors, scavenge, “Something’ Happening!”)
- 20 large goal cards
- 1 point track
- 12 dice (8 red, 4 blue)
- 30 zombie miniatures (10 singles, 20 doubles)
- 4 squad boards
- 4 squad miniatures
- 4 colored point tracker tokens
I will say that the artwork on everything is pretty good and helps set the theme of a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Everything has a sort of grungy, weathered look. Also, the rulebook strikes the right balance of humorous asides and get-to-the-point mechanics — but it does need a good bit of proofreading, so I hope by the final version they lose all the extra apostrophes and misspellings.
Here’s the basic idea, since rules are still subject to change.
You start off in the bunker, which is its own tile, separate from the others. You each have two survivor cards and some amount of food, items, and weapons. The survivors have different abilities, including brains (their ability to find things), melee or ranged weapon skill, speed, armor, and health. You add up health, armor, brains, and skills, and put those on your squad board dials. Your squad’s speed is equal to the slowest member of the pack. Also, the weapons skills are only increased, even if you lose a squad member: the idea is that they teach your squad the relevant skills, which are then passed on to all the others.
The board starts off with one of four “bases,” made up of four of the tiles: a hotel lobby, a supermarket, a restaurant, or a park. What’s neat about the tiles is that they’re double-sided, but with angled notches that slide together. So if you’re using the hotel lobby side of the tiles, you’ll get one side that fits with it — flip them over, and you’ll have a different set of tiles that match. The park is the hardest because it’s all open space, with fewer walls to hide behind and force zombies to re-route.
Each “day” is made up of four phases, and you decide beforehand whether to play two days or four days (or until everyone is dead).
Phase 1: Scavenge
You draw a scavenge card, which has a little story about where you went to scavenge: a bar, a candy store, a police station. You’ll roll a number of dice (equal to your “brains”) and try to get a success (5 or 6). If you succeed, you get more stuff and fewer zombies follow you home. If you fail, you get less stuff and more zombies follow you home. Either way, you’ll also get some survivor cards, and then you’ll have to add one tile to the board with the requisite number of zombies on it. You can get an extra bonus point if you put the tile as close as possible to the entrance to the bunker — but that may come back to bite you later.
Phase 2: Feed and Fortify
After everyone has scavenged, players can trade with each other, swapping survivors, weapons, items, whatever. But the goal is to feed each person you have one food. There is also a lot of radioactive food, which you can use to feed a survivor but also damages you and reduces your life points. Any survivors you can feed get to be used for the rest of the day. Unfed survivors are too weak to work and will go hang out in the bunker.
Then each survivor that was fed can be put to work building fortifications. It costs you a certain number of people (and sometimes some scrap, one of the items) to build certain things. Sandbags, walls, and gates slow down zombies. Traps will capture two zombies, and lookouts give you line of sight over walls for shooting ranged weapons. Also, building fortifications gets you victory points.
Phase 3: Something’s Happening
One player draws a “Something’s Happening” card, which has a little story scenario. Some are better than others, but they’ll tell you specific conditions like how many zombies appear (per tile), how fast each zombie can move, and whether there are any other restrictions you’ll need to follow. For instance, one scenario called “Stale Water” has you all fighting because the water pump is broken — but if you keep fighting over it instead of fixing it, the zombies hear you. So each player has to contribute one scrap, or place an extra zombie in the bunker.
After reading the card, you add one tile per player as close to the bunker entrance as possible, and then place the appropriate number of zombies (according to the card) anywhere on each tile.
Phase 4: Combat
Everyone gets two actions, and then the zombies get a turn. The Combat phase continues until there are no more zombies or all the survivors are killed off.
Your actions can be used to:
- Search for items, food, or armory (in certain locations)
- Heal by using first aid kits
You can also trade with adjacent players or reload guns (using ammo cards) without spending actions.
The zombies move toward the bunker unless there is a player within 4 spaces in line of sight. If they’re adjacent to a player, they attack.
The combat rules have changed a little bit from the version I played, which was pretty tough: for one, in most weapons you had to roll a 6 to kill a zombie unless you had enough weapons skills to get to level 5, “Trained.” And then you had to roll a 5 or 6. So if you were wandering around with only one weapon and you weren’t trained yet, chances are you weren’t going to kill a lot of zombies. They’ve actually adjusted the weapons to make most of them kill on 5 or 6 on “untrained,” and then added additional special abilities to differentiate the weapons (which before were largely very similar). Stabby weapons can be used through junk walls; some weapons allow for dual-wielding; some melee weapons have “knockdown” if you fail to kill a zombie, and then you can stomp on it before it stands up.
When zombies attack, you roll a number of die to defend, first, trying to hold them back. Any zombies that aren’t successfully held back then attack, dealing the amount of damage according to a certain number of dice. You first subtract the amount of armor you have, and then lose the difference in life points. If the zombies get a double 6, then one of your survivors was bitten and you immediately lose that person and add a zombie — and you then have to dial down your life points equal to the amount of life that survivor had.
At the end of combat phase, then everyone returns to the bunker, and you start with the Scavenge phase again.
A couple other details: each player gets a “Daily Goal” card at the beginning of the day. These were another feature that have been heavily revamped, but the idea is that you have a particular goal that can give you extra bonuses (points or other abilities), plus a challenge that is quite difficult but can get you even more points. For example, the “Hoarder” goal (in its current incarnation) has the goal of successfully scavenging in one place. If you do, you get five victory points. The challenge is to scavenge successfully in two locations, which lets you pick a card from any discard pile at the end of the day.
When we played at GameStorm, it was with the old version of Daily Goal cards, which had bonuses if you succeeded and penalties if you failed — so you could find yourself losing victory points at the end of the day, and it was really rough. Right now this seems like a big improvement, though only playing will reveal if the goals and rewards are well-balanced.
Finally, the victory point track has one other feature: every five victory points, you’ll get one or two skill points which you can spend to increase your melee or ranged weapons skills. The idea is to get to level 5 and level 10, the thresholds for getting better results with weapons.
After the predetermined number of days (or when all survivors are killed off), the player with the most victory points wins.
From talking with Gracia and reading over the new cards and amended rules, I can tell that they’ve definitely fixed a couple of the issues we ran into during GameStorm. For instance, when the zombies get into the bunker they turn all of the survivors hanging out (the ones that weren’t fed) into zombies, and then they stay there. Well, in one game we played we let one get in there, he made two more zombies, and then we just left them in there while we went “shopping” in the search items spots. And since there was no time limit, we basically went through the whole armory deck, picking out what we wanted. In the new rules, there are two differences: first, if the zombies eat up all the survivors in the bunker, they come back out and start heading for the nearest player, at a faster speed. Also, search locations are limited in the number of times you can search them, so you can exhaust them (marked with a token). The “Something’s Happening” cards have also been adjusted: the number of zombies and the speed of the zombies scales up each day. So Day 2 is always easiest, and Day 4 is hardest.
Like I said, I haven’t gotten to play with the new changes, but I’m impressed with the new cards. I think overall it looks much more balanced and playable. I really did like the squad board, the modular board, and the different phases of each day — but in my plays it felt like it was unbalanced and very luck-dependent, and you could get a bad draw and then be stuck for the rest of the game. Now it feels like you have a fighting chance even with a bad card draw or die roll, and you’re not totally stuck. There’s a good amount of morbid humor in the game, and I like the various characters. There’s even a dog, Princess, who can’t carry things but can attack zombies.
I think what really got me about Zpocalypse, though, was Gracia’s willingness to spend an hour talking me through changes they’d already made, and really listening to feedback I gave him about what didn’t work for us. A game designer who’s ready to tweak and adjust and rewrite is much more likely to end up with a great game than the one who says, “Nah. I like it the way it is; you can go play something else.” I do prefer backing games that are complete (at least rules-wise) but Kickstarter is kind of the wild west: some people just set out on their journey, trusting that they’ll get to their goal eventually and make changes along the way.
As you can see from their Kickstarter page, clearly there are a lot of people who are excited about it, even without having played it. They’ve already raised over $100,000 over their original $15,000 goal, so the game’s definitely going to print. The only question now is whether they’ll hit their stretch goals for fancy miniatures. If you’ve got the money to spend, you can even get yourself into the game as a survivor!
Wired: Massive zombie-slaying board game with lots of bits and storytelling elements.
Tired: Rules still subject to change, so it’s a little bit of a gamble.
Disclosure: GeekDad received a prototype copy of this game for review purposes.