Game Review: Zombie Dice—A Fine Way to Pass Five Minutes

Zombie Dice could be the quintessential example of a “filler” game. Far too short to be a serious undertaking in its own right, Zombie Dice nevertheless manages to squeeze some fun and humor out of a fairly straightforward press-your-luck style dice game.

Is there strategy and depth? Not really. Is there vast replayability? No. Would you invite friends over to try this game out? Maybe. But certainly you’d need other things planned. But does that necessarily make it a bad game? No. Zombie Dice made a bit of a splash at the time of its release last year. But the positive sentiment wore down pretty quickly. Still, if you know what you are getting into, Zombie Dice can be an enjoyable way to kill a few minutes.

Check out the full review after the cut.

The Basics. The player is a zombie looking for brains to nom. Zombie Dice comes with a cup and thirteen dice in green (little girls and the elderly), yellow (the average zombie outbreak survivor), and red (ex -special forces) with green being the most common and red the rarest. You dip your hand into the cup and select three at random. Then you roll them. Simple.

You are hoping that delicious, delicious brains pop up. Those count as your points. Green dice have three brains on them, yellow dice two, and red dice but one. You want to avoid shotgun blasts. Green have only one, yellow two, and red three. Each die also has little feet meaning that your prey is on the move. Once you roll, you put brains to the left and shotgun blasts to the right.

You can call it quits after any roll and “bank” your brains. First to thirteen brains ends the game. Or, you can roll again. If you do, you take any dice that turned up feet on your last roll and then pick more out of the cup until you have three. Repeat as necessary. But if you accumulate three shotgun blasts, your turn is over and you don’t get to have any of the brains you had rolled (but you still keep those from prior turns).

More brains, less lead

The Feel. It feels like a completely random dice game. Well, maybe not completely random. You do know the relative probability that a red die will turn up a brain compared to a green die. Also, you know how many of each color are in the cup. So if you have grabbed most of the greens, you may want to stand and keep your brains since only more risky reds and yellows remain. But, if you’ve lucked out and rolled a few red brains, you may want to keep going since you know that it’s more likely that you’ll pull green dice now.

Despite its simplicity, Zombie Dice can still create some fun moments of tension. When one person hits thirteen brains, the other players who have yet to have their final turn get a chance. If they can beat the amount, then they are the winners. So often there is a mad dash at the end to see whether the fates will smile on them.

The game takes only about five minutes or so to play, depending on the number of players. A two-player game goes quickly, but anything above about five players will tend to drag. It’s just too long before the dice get back around to you and watching the other players is only entertaining for a short while.

Still, the game proves itself to be an enjoyable filler. That final player going to be a few minutes late to game night? Zombie Dice will do. Have a really long game and need something to keep you occupied while the analysis paralysis prone players think their play through? Zombie Dice. It also works well as a line game. It’s portable, easy to play, easy to teach, and you can pick it up quickly once the event begins and the line starts moving.

As long as you realize you’re getting a quick filler that will be brought out as the need arises—and not a standard game that everyone will gather and play as a main event—then you could do a lot worse than Zombie Dice.

A solid bottom would have been nice

Components: 3.5 of 5. The dice themselves are top notch. Black background with nice colors, they have a nice heft to them and are easy to roll and manipulate. The rules are clear and the artwork is evocative. However, the dice cup does not have a secure bottom. Just as the top comes off, so does the bottom which requires the player to keep one hand there when they shake the cup. New players can sometimes forget and one shake too many causes the bottom to fall and the game suddenly becomes the find-thirteen-dice game.

Strategy/Luck Balance: 2 of 5. Zombie Dice is largely an exercise in luck. You pick dice blindly and then roll them. Fate has more to do with victory than any individual decision. However, in some situations, the player has partial information which can guide their thinking. How many bad vs. good dice are left? What are the odds that I’ll pick the good ones? It’s not much, but it’s there.

Mechanics: 1.5 or 4. Most people will see this as a 4. While a little too simple to be a great filler, the game works well with no unnecessary fiddly rules or exceptions. It’s easy to understand and most people have a vague sense of the odds behind any of their actions. The 1.5, however, comes from any math majors out there who want to calculate the statistical probabilities. One acquaintance created a spreadsheet where he could look at the dice out so far, compare it to the amount of shotgun blasts standing, and pick to go ahead or not based on the best statistical probability. While possible, if you do so you are just reducing the game to its basest components and essentially become an automaton AI player.

Replayability: 1.5 of 5. Zombie Dice gets old pretty fast. I’ve never played more than two or three times in a single setting before needing to do something else. Still, it does fit a certain niche and comes out anytime there is a need for a very quick game to pass the time while we wait on something else. Other fillers may be too long or otherwise undesirable. Zombie Dice has its purpose.

Spite: 0 of 5. None? A Steve Jackson Games game? I know. I was surprised, and a little scared, too. There’s simply no way to take brains away from other players or do anything other than yell “Shotguns!” as they roll the dice.

Whachu need? I got yellows, greens, reds...

Overall: 1.5 of 5. The score reflects the enjoyment you can expect to have if you take this off the shelf and gather round to play. Considerably less than most other gaming activities. But, that’s just because Zombie Dice isn’t really meant to be enjoyed that way. There are times you need just a little something to keep you reasonably entertained for a short while. That’s where Zombie Dice comes in. It’s an effective, but very specialized weapon of fun.

There are 2 comments.

  1. Conor Conor said on May 30, 2011 at 6:46 am

    I think I would’ve scored this based on its purpose, “filler/line game”, instead of slamming it for not being Dominion.

  2. GeekInsight GeekInsight said on May 30, 2011 at 6:33 pm

    I don’t think Dominion is the be-all, end-all of gaming, so I’m not sure how it being “not Dominion” is a bad thing.

    And, I’d hardly say that I slammed the game. I think I’m pretty clear that Zombie Dice is fun, albeit in some very limited circumstances.

    But the “Overall” score is based on the amount of fun you can expect to have when you take down the game from the shelf and grab some friends to play. Zombie Dice is entertaining only under the best of circumstances.

    If I rated every game as “based on its purpose” they would all get a five. Every game is great sometimes. Heck, I could give tic tac toe a five based on those times when all you have is a pen, a paper, and a six year old. Sure it has a purpose, but that doesn’t make it a great game overall.

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