Review: Zombie! Run For Your Lives – And Keep Running
In Zombie! Run for Your Lives! each player is a surivor of the zombie apocalypse trying to outrun the undead. The best way to outrun them is to sick them on your opponents. After all, if they are busy eating your neighbor, you can use those precious moments to escape. But is this game worth a sit down, or like the title, should you run?
The Basics. Zombie! is actually a fairly simple game. There are two kinds of cards: helpful items and vile zombies. Each card has one of ten different symbols on it. There are three of each symbol with equal numbers of good items and bad zombies. The goal is to collect five different good symbols in front of you. But if you ever get five bad symbols, you die and become a zombie.
Each turn the player draws one card and plays one card. They are also allowed to play a second card if they use that second card to give a good item to someone else or a bad zombie to themselves. If you have a good item with a symbol (say the bat with its skull symbol) and someone plays the headless zombie on you (also with a skull symbol), then both the bat and the zombie are discarded, and vice versa. You can get rid of zombies played on you by putting down the matching good item.
If a player becomes a zombie, they discard their hand. They aren’t eliminated from the game, though. Instead, they draw one card and simply give it to the player of their choice.
The Feel. At first glance, the game is an amazingly dull and lengthy exercise. If everyone is playing for themselves, Zombie! drags on forever. The play time seems to increase exponentially with the number of players. If I get to four good items, then every other player is going to try to poison me with zombies. This game has a huge “crush the leader” problem. Plus, if even one player decides to become a Captain Chaos and just shoot evil zombies to other players, the game gets really old really fast.
The problem is that the rulebook doesn’t give any hint that the game should be played another way. Or, maybe I should say, it gives almost no hint that there is anything more to the game. The rulebook only mentions, in a matter of fact way, the “special rule” that allows you to play zombies on yourself (which I haven’t ever found a reason to do) or a good card on another player. Without expressly saying so, this “special rule” is to allow the emergence of alliances. However, nothing else in the rulebook even hints that the game should be played this way. And if it isn’t, Zombie! is a real snore.
If everyone has this understanding in advance, the game quickly becomes about solidifying alliances and a little give and take by the players. With no direction from the rules, my group played this a little like Intrigue; any deal at all can be made (short of actually trading cards), but there is absolutely nothing to bind any deal. Even a pinky swear has no value when the zombie hordes approach.
This lead to a fun element of back stabbing, broken promises, arguing, and accusing other players of doing too much to help their supposed allies win. After all, only one player can win the game. Alliance or no, eventually you must separate yourself from the “dead weight” of your friends.
Does this play style turn the game into an awesome fun-filled negotiation game? Eh, not really. It’s certainly better when played this way. And goes from a tired game filled with tedium to an interactive and interesting affair. But this also pigeon-holes it into a very specific type of game. If you don’t like to beg and plead for your opponents to play particular cards, then this game will definitely not appeal to you.
Components: 3 of 5. The game consists solely of a single deck of cards. They are about the size of standard playing cards and easy to shuffle, which I appreciate. The thickness isn’t the greatest, but it isn’t so thin that seriously worry about damaging the cards either. A serviceable, if uninspiring showing. The card art is pretty fun, though, and looking through the various zombies can be entertaining.
Strategy/Luck Balance: 3 of 5. At the beginning of the game, this is all about your alliances and who you can convince to play good things for you, so it’s more about tactics and negotiation. But, if you get close to winning, it clearly reverts back to luck. Even your ally will betray you if you are going to win. So you have to hope that no one else has a zombie that will eliminate one of your good weapons, and that all of them together won’t fill you up with zombies and turn you into the undead.
Mechanics: 3 of 5. On one level, the game works well mechanically. It’s a simple set collection and set avoidance game. Easy peasy. But on another level, those mechanics don’t immediately translate into an interesting game. In fact, the rulebook’s failure to discuss negotiation is absolutely tragic. Without it, the mechanics create a boring experience that make the players hate games. With negotiation, it gets better, but the final round before someone wins is still a pain.
Replayability: 1.5 of 5. Of course, shuffling the deck gives you new cards to play and a theoretical different experience, but the game as a whole is identical every time it hits the table. And, even incorporating negotiation, it has it’s weaknesses. It’s just not something that merits repeated plays. In fact, after playing it a few times, I’m quite content to seek out other fare. Even if I wanted to negotiate, I’d much rather seek out Intrigue or Genoa.
Spite: 5 of 5. Spite is very high in this game. Even without negotiation and backstabbing, this game is all about filling up the other players with zombies and tearing down what they have built. In fact, there is even one type of zombie without a symbol. Once placed, there is no way to remove it. That can be a devastating blow at times. Be prepared for some serious attacking.
Overall: 2 of 5. Zombie! is certainly playable and may be enjoyed more by kids than adults. But ultimately it has enough weaknesses (especially the late game) that the game is very mediocre. Perhaps slightly below. I got far more enjoyment from the art than I did the game. If you really like negotiation, and don’t mind the slog at the end (which is reminiscent of a bad Munchkin ending), then Zombie! might be something to check out. Otherwise, there is no shame in running from this game.
(A special thanks to Right Games for providing a review copy of Zombie!)