The email arrived with an innocuous ding. An invitation from the Ministry for Disease Control (MDC). An evacuation to a quarantine zone. Two tickets—the spawnlings were still at school and clearly in better care than I could offer. This was Zedtown. It was a “State of Emergency.” And Evil Genius Dad had only one question: Do I bring my own Nerf gun?
When parents at the school gate ask me what I did on the weekend, I often pause before I explain. Not all school parents are enthusiastic about Free Comic Book Day. Nor are they eager to try out a new Kickstarter Tabletop game. But recently when I told people I spent my Saturday previewing Australia’s largest live-action, zombie-themed Nerf war… well, even I was surprised by the crowd it attracted.
For those not in Australia, Zedtown is the Australian pronunciation of “Z-Town.” The scene is set with a mock press release from the “newly-created” Ministry for Disease Control and it’s Minister August Reyn. Following the voracity of the ZTX Virus across the land, the Australian Government has opted to evacuate all major cities. You can join the evacuation… IF you buy a ticket to the Quarantine Zones in either Sydney or Melbourne.
And this is where the fun begins.
For the media/preview event in Sydney, Evil Genius Dad and I were invited to the University of New South Wales (UNSW) to have a taste of what’s on offer. To be honest, I had no idea. And considering how much I suck at point-and-shoot games, I wasn’t expecting to last long. In fact, I was looking forward to being zombified as quickly as possible.
The spirit of Zedtown is essentially one giant game of tag (with high-powered Nerf) in a big open-air urban environment, with the option of missions or kill-counts to help the game along. We all started as survivors with a Nerf gun, yellow bandana, and a QR-coded dog-tag and colored ribbon. During the game, you can log into the Zedtown App and receive updates, missions, and status reports—all connected to your dog-tag. Unfortunately, the iOS app wasn’t available for the preview event, but I have been assured it will be ready for the first big event in Melbourne. EG Dad had a look at the Android version on someone else’s mobile and was suitably impressed with the updates and status reports available.
As the “media group,” we were given a mission: move the “Payload” to our base to recharge. The Payload is a giant battery which will somehow aid us with our evacuation. We were assisted by a small group of scavengers and told to keep an eye out for zombies and other survivor factions with ulterior motives. Read: They wanted to kill us and steal our loot. Typical “first person shooter” style game. Now all I needed was a crazy old dude in a funky hat to tell me a story about the one true savior…
One of the factors boosting this game is the real-life urban environment you have as a venue. We were set-up on campus within UNSW. There were stairwells that funneled into open-air target practice; there were staggered gardens providing hiding spots; there were parked cars to jump out from. I’m not sure exactly what I had expected—maybe some sort of staged settings? But this was so much better. It added a sense of realism and created an atmosphere of anticipation.
To be honest, I think they were taking it easy on us because of the big glowing VIP/MEDIA pass hanging around our necks. Our mission was soon completed and we all pretty much disbanded to go look for zombies. I mean, that is what we are all here for, right? You don’t sign up for Zedtown and think you can just stay hidden somewhere safe and wait out the game. No way. Wear comfy shoes. And load up on carbs the night before.
I lasted 40 minutes. And you know what? I am really proud of that. Incidentally, I was first hit by “friendly fire” (someone sucked at shooting more than me), re-spawned, and was then baited by a zombie not long after. I caught up with the same zombie later in the game and found out I was the first in a streak of easy victims, as seen by his collection of dog-tags.
When tagged by a zombie, the survivor must hand over their dog-tag before heading to the make-up booth. Each of these tags is scanned on the Zedtown app, updating the leaderboard throughout the game. And yes, this leader-board is taken very seriously by zombies. There is something extremely creepy about the soft “clang clang clang” of dog tags around the neck of an approaching zombie… and not knowing exactly where it is coming from!
At this point, I don’t care how much you know it is just a game you willingly signed up for. When you are caught in the fray, it is a full-on sensory experience. EG Dad and I were grossly under-prepared for this event. Zedtown attracts a large number of regulars, returning every year with their personal supply of artillery. Players can bring any unmodified version of a Nerf gun, right up to the faster automatic style versions, rapidly sending zombies back to their spawn points. These guys also had a better idea as to what was going on. The rules are all available online, but you really don’t gain a full understanding of it until you are amongst the chaos.
The upside of being tagged by a zombie is the FX make-up. I have honestly never looked so good. They have an amazing team of specialized make-up artists, as well as a table of DIY features if you are in a rush to return to the game. I opted for a lovely example of the importance to “double-tap.”
And of course, EG Dad showed me up again.
I know there were a bunch of players who only wanted to survive the game, but I found it really enjoyable to be both a survivor and a zombie. That delicious thrill you gain from sneaking up on a survivor and then rushing them as they freak out, shooting darts in a panicky arc over your head.
It’s easy enough to be separated from your original team-mates. Between the adrenaline and the life-expectancy, I had fully intended to have at least one opportunity attacking EG Dad in true zombie style. However, we were both tagged by zombies at the same time and eventually ended up in different positions in a pincer-manoeuvre. While I lost my wingman, I instead gained a whole group of friends elsewhere as we exchanged stories and strategies throughout the Zedtown experience. It was absolutely amazing to meet a bunch of random people, all joining in a friendly RPG with zombies. The perfect end to the game wasn’t zombifying all of these lovely people; it was sitting around the bar afterward, listening to the “war stories” being told between old and new friends alike. Anyone who says zombies aren’t social clearly has never had a Zedtown experience.
Zedtown is everything you could expect from a zombie-themed Nerf war. It really was THAT enjoyable! And coming from the woman who doesn’t run for anything, I loved this!! It was such a full-bodied experience shared with a huge group of people looking to have a fun time.
7 Things You should Know Before You Go To Zedtown
Zedtown kicks off at the Melbourne Showgrounds on June 24, followed by the Sydney Showgrounds on July 8. Both venues have two game sessions each: daytime (12-4pm) and night (7-11pm). Details for tickets and rules can be found on the Zedtown website. I can’t wait to see how the Showgrounds venue compares with the urban layout we had at UNSW.
And if you do happen to survive the zombie apocalypse (in Australia or around the world), share your stories here. This is definitely the type of event that needs to go global.