Run Fight or Die

ZOMG! Zombies Invade Gen Con

Tabletop Games
Student Bodies - Curt Covert
Curt Cover of Smirk and Dagger Games shows off Student Bodies at Gen Con. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Here’s the setting of Student Bodies: you’re in high school (and not part of the popular crowd, either) and your chemistry teacher somehow managed to create the zombie virus… and you’ve all been bitten. Fortunately for you, he also made an antidote before he succumbed. All you have to do is get down the hallway to the lab room, drink the antidote, and get out. Simple, right? Oh, except for those other people trying to do the same thing.

At a glance: Student Bodies is for 2 to 4 players (with a 5th player variant), ages 14 and up, takes about 90 minutes to play, and retails for $54.99. It is not a cooperative game. While the artwork does have some cartoony elements, it can also get pretty gruesome, so I’d say you’d want to stick with teens and up unless your kids are already numb to horror. It should be available in stores very soon.

Student Bodies contents
Student Bodies has a lot of cardboard bits and cards. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu


Student Bodies comes in a pretty big box, and is definitely the biggest game from Smirk & Dagger, which tends to publish smaller games. (They’re partnered with Angry Duck Games for this title.) There are a slew of components, though I think they could have fit into a smaller box except for the game board itself, which is three feet wide when unfolded.

  • 1 large tri-fold game board (15″ x 36″)
  • 82 Main Deck cards
  • 23 Item cards
  • 40 Zombie cards
  • 14 Hallway Set Up cards
  • 8 Lab Set Up cards
  • 7 Exit Set Up cards
  • 5 double-sided Character sheets
  • 30 Stamina tokens
  • 30 Health/Wound tokens
  • 18 Zombie tokens with stands
  • 5 Player tokens with stands
  • 5 Smart Zombie Player tokens
  • 1 custom die
  • 5 Dead Player tokens
  • 20 Corpse tokens
  • 2 Locker/Spawn tokens
  • 18 double-sided Obstacle tokens
  • 3 Bocce Ball tokens
  • 3 Lunchbox tokens
  • 2 Door tokens with stands
  • 13 Flask tokens

The components are all cardboard punchouts and cards, and are mostly nice quality. There are colored plastic stands for the player tokens, and black stands for all the zombies and the two doors. One thing I wish they’d included is five extra stands for the player zombie tokens—if you turn into a zombie, you have to pull your character out and put in the zombie version, and the stands are tight enough that it can scratch or tear the cardboard when you’re inserting them.

The custom die is screenprinted instead of engraved, so it may end up wearing more easily. And for some reason the game calls the glass lab vessels “beakers” even though they’re quite clearly Erlenmeyer flasks.

The artwork on the pieces and the cards is pretty good; kind of a graphic novel look to it that fits the game’s theme well.

Student Bodies
Emily and Dodge aren’t too happy about the oncoming horde of zombies, led by Ms. Olga, the former lunch lady. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

How to play

A PDF of the rulebook is available here.

The goal of the game is to be first to get to the lab, find an antidote, and then get back out the exit. If you die before you get the antidote, you turn into a Smart Zombie and then your goal is to kill all the other players.

To set up the board, you’ll draw cards for the lab, hallway, and exit. The lab and exit cards are simply placed on the board, with four zombies reserved for each area—these will only be revealed when somebody opens the door.

Student Bodies setup
Cards drawn randomly determine how the board is set up each game. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The hallway uses two cards side by side. You place obstacles, zombies, and corpses as indicated on the cards. Some setups will use the large cardboard overlays that block off spawn points with extra lockers, or open up a triple spawn point instead.

Student Bodies Setup
All set up and ready for the students. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

For the flasks in the lab, you’ll include one antidote per player, then mix up the rest of the tokens and add more until you have a total of six. These will be mixed up and used during the lab setup. The corpse tokens are also turned face-down and mixed up, ready to use.

The students will start at the end of the hallway near the exit. Each player gets a player board, five health tokens, stamina token, one random item, and a hand of cards from the deck (default hand size is 5, but there are items that adjust this).

Student Bodies zombie cards
You’ll use a selection of zombie cards to build the Zombie Deck. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The zombie deck will always have 21 cards, but the mix will vary depending on the number of players and difficulty level. You’ll use all the Base cards (marked “B”) and then a combination of the 1, 2, and 3 cards, then shuffle those all together.

Each player’s turn has these four steps:

  1. Ready Items: active player readies all of their items, if any.
  2. Zombie Actions: draw a card from the zombie deck and resolve it.
  3. Player Actions: spend stamina to move and play cards.
  4. Cleanup: Active player may discard cards; all players draw back up to hand size.
Student Bodies Carl
Carl has only one wound and a few items to use.

Your character can have one weapon readied and up to three items total. Any additional items you acquire will be stored in your backpack and are inaccessible, but you can swap things out during your Ready Items phase.

The Zombie Actions tend to have two types of actions: give all zombies actions, or spawn a new zombie and give it an action. There are also some special cases where zombies may ignore obstacles, or players have to discard cards, and so on.

Zombies have a priority list that governs how they behave: they’ll stand up if knocked down, attack an adjacent player if there is one, or move toward the nearest player if they’re too far away. When they attack, you roll the die to see if it’s a miss, a bite, or a knock down, and then you may use cards to defend if you’re able. If you’re already knocked down, the zombie doesn’t roll the die and instead just bites you—again, you can use cards to defend. If you can’t defend a bite, then you take a wound.

Student Bodies cards
Some cards from the main deck. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

During your player actions phase, you can spend stamina to move, and moving onto obstacles costs 2 stamina. Any time you enter a space next to a zombie, it gets a chance to attack you. (And, I should mention, any time you enter a space next to another player, they might get a chance to attack you too, if they have the right cards.)

You may also spend stamina to play cards from your hand, or use items you have ready. Some items just get used (and you rotate them to indicate that); some have to be discarded to use, and some require stamina. Cards with a red edge can only be used on your turn. Cards with a blue edge are reactions or fast actions and can be played on anyone’s turn as long as the “trigger” happens.

Once you’ve spent all your stamina (or don’t choose to do anything else), you may discard any number of cards from your hand. Then everyone draws back up to their hand sizes, you reset your stamina, and it’s the next player’s turn.

When somebody reaches the lab doors, they can open them for free, at which point you reveal the setup card and place flasks, zombies, corpses, and obstacles as shown. The same thing happens when somebody has found an antidote and gets to the exit doors.

Student Bodies characters
Each character also has a zombie version. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

If you end a move on a corpse token, you may search it for free—sometimes you’ll get an item, sometimes you’ll get nothing, and sometimes you’ll get a bite. (Hey, you’re searching a body during a zombie infestation. What did you expect?) If you end your turn on a flask token, you may drink it for free by flipping it over. Some will give you extra stamina or health; some will poison you or knock you down; some are antidotes. Once you’ve found the antidote, you can’t drink any more flasks.

If you run out of health, you die. If you’d already found the antidote, congratulations! You won’t turn into a zombie. But that means you’re really and truly dead, out of the game, and other players can come loot your corpse. Otherwise, you turn into a Smart Zombie—you flip your character card over, discard your hand, and you’ll come back to life as a zombie.

Playing as a zombie has a few differences: you won’t flip a zombie card on your turn, and you get to choose where to go rather than following the priority list of the regular zombies. You may spend stamina to attack people, and of course the other zombies won’t attack you. You can also spend one stamina to swap places with an adjacent zombie, which is really handy for moving through a big horde. You can’t use items, but you can still use action cards (including the special zombie text at the bottoms of some of the cards).

If you manage to die again as a smart zombie, then you’re really dead for good. Otherwise, you can win (jointly with other smart zombies) if you manage to kill all the humans before anyone escapes.

The game ends when either a living student gets the antidote and makes it to the exit, or if all the students have died.

Student Bodies
Looks like Kenny escaped! Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The Verdict

Yes, Student Bodies is another zombie board game, but there are a few differences that make it not quite your average zombie game. For one, this one’s set in a high school, and you don’t get to use things like chainsaws and shotguns. Instead, you’ve got things like crutches and fire extinguishers and a football helmet to fight against the unending tide of the undead.

The other piece is that it’s not cooperative. That’s not entirely unique, but many zombie games go for the cooperative element—not here. Smirk & Dagger’s motto is “games are a lot more fun when you can stab a friend in the back” and that’s exactly what happens here. Any reference to “enemy” on a card can be used to mean a zombie or another player. See that guy zipping past you on his skateboard? Maybe you should clothesline him so he doesn’t reach the lab before you do.

The downside is the player elimination. Granted, often if you die you get to come back as a zombie, which some players will prefer. But if you die after you’ve had the antidote, you’re just eliminated—thematically it makes sense, but in-game it may seem unfair that you don’t get a second chance. (On the other hand, if you’ve had the antidote, then you might be ahead.) Likewise if you get killed as a zombie—it’s game over, no extra lives. Depending on how soon that happens, you may find yourself sitting and watching for a while. That’s always the issue with games that involve player elimination: it raises the stakes, which can be great for building tension about your actions, but it can exclude people for half the game.

Student Bodies
Planning out my turn… Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

I do like the types of moves and cards, and the humor that in the game. The card that lets you steal an item from an adjacent player is called “Yoink!” There’s a good variety in the cards, but your hand limit means that sometimes you’ll be heavy on attacks and sometimes on defense, but there will always be times when you don’t have what you really want.

The zombies do pile up. There are only 18 zombies total, but we quickly got to the point where we couldn’t spawn any more because they were all on the board already, and if that happens then you know there’s a huge mob of them somewhere. Even though they move slowly, if you get surrounded by a few then there’s a good chance you’ll get knocked down and bitten a lot before you have time to recover.

On top of that, whatever zombies you don’t kill on your way to the lab will be waiting for you when you come back out. That’s actually a pretty interesting feature: the zombies only spawn in the hallway and exit area, not in the lab. So while you’re in there looking for the antidote, the hallway is filling up with more zombies that you’ll have to fight through to get to the exit. While it’s doesn’t completely level the playing field, it does give people a chance to catch up if they’re behind. (Plus they can always take a swing at you as you’re coming out of the lab.)

The game does have randomized setups each time, but the overall scenario doesn’t change. I do think I like more variability in general, but there are, of course, plenty of other games that also have the same premise each time you play them. I do like the idea that the lab and exit area are unknowns until you open the door—that gives a bit of surprise to them.

Overall, Student Bodies is fairly entertaining with the right crowd. It’s definitely for players who don’t mind being spiteful in-game (and, I hope, have the maturity not to carry that beyond the end of the game). Because you can tweak the difficulty level of the deck, you can make survival extremely challenging. While I don’t think it completely rewrites the zombie genre—if you’re tired of zombies this probably won’t change your mind—it’s worth checking out if you like the theme.

Disclosure: GeekDad received a review copy of Student Bodies.

Page 3: Zombie 15′ from Iello Games.

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