Run Fight or Die

ZOMG! Zombies Invade Gen Con

Tabletop Games
David Short's Safe House
David Short teaches us his fast-paced cooperative drafting game, Safe House, at Gen Con 2014. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Consider this one an honorable mention—Safe House isn’t available yet and isn’t on Kickstarter, but designer David Short (also the guy behind Yardmaster Express, Bomb Squad, Cypher, and some others) had a prototype at Gen Con and I got to try it out.

Safe House is a cooperative real-time drafting game that plays in under five minutes. I don’t know the exact player count but I believe we played with six people when I tried it. The goal of the game is to get all the survivors to the safe house before time runs out.

What’s really fascinating about the game is that the cards, which represent walls of a house, are double-sided. Each card is either a wall, a window or a door, with the same feature on the other side. However, some cards have either survivors or zombies on one side. When you hold your cards up, you’re looking at the interior of your “house.” The other side, the one that all the other players can see, is the outside.

Everyone starts with a hand of cards, and then the rest of the stack is placed in the center, sort of the town square. One player is in charge of drawing cards from there—and then passing cards along the chain of players, all the way to the last player, who can put cards into the safe house. But when somebody passes you a card, they play it face-down from their hand, and you pick it up and flip it over into your hand.

So there’s a lot of passing information back and forth so that you don’t bring a zombie into your house. If you ever have a zombie inside the house with survivors, they get discarded back into the town square. You can use doors to turn a card around, letting a survivor in or kicking a zombie out, and a lot of the game is about making those choices so that the survivor can get all the way down the chain to the safe house.

When I played at Gen Con the game was still being tweaked, but it had some interesting elements to it that I’ve seen in action in some of Short’s other game designs. Yardmaster Express and Cypher both use a drafting mechanic, and Bomb Squad uses cards that face away from the player and a real-time element. The double-sided cards and flipping mechanic was new, though.

I don’t know when (or if) Safe House will be published, but it was a fun experience and one I’d definitely try again.

So, there’s just a few of the zombie games present at Gen Con this year. I know I’ve missed a few: I still haven’t managed to play Zombicide, and I saw but didn’t get to play Dead of Winter or Zombie Island. Maybe down the road. How about you? Any favorite zombie games that I should check out, or do you feel zombies have jumped the shark? (Oooooh, zombie sharks…)

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