Gaming Unplugged: Zombiegeddon

August 17, 2009

Reiner Knizia: famed designer of timeless games of strategy including Tigris & Euphrates, Ra, and Blue Moon City, among many others. Twilight Creations, Inc.: publishers of fun — if generally lower-quality — games that often feature a zombie theme, particularly Zombies!!! and its various expansions. Zombigeddon: the unlikely intersection of the previous two entities.

Zombiegeddon pits you and your opponent(s) in a scramble for supplies just before Armageddon. 112 “pre-bomb” disks are randomly distributed to the empty hexes on the board; these represent food, provisions, weapons, barricades, sewer entrances, and even a few “enemy” humans. Your four pawns begin at four white “pre-bomb” shelters spaced around the board and you receive four “supply tokens” to deliver to other shelters.

On your turn, you get two actions/moves. You can either move one pawn twice or two different pawns once each; alternately, you may also remove one of your pawns from the board (because it can’t move anywhere else). You can only move a pawn onto an un-occupied space containing a disk, with the exception of manholes and shelters (which can hold more than one pawn) or if you use both actions to move past an opponent’s pawn. An action can be spent to move a pawn from one manhole disk to any other manhole disk, and no pawn can move on to a barricade disk. When you move your pawn off an unoccupied (non-manhole) disk, you add it to your collection face-down, unless it is a weapon (which are kept face-up until used). You cannot move on to an “enemy” disk unless you discard a previously-earned weapon disk. Moving a pawn into one of the red “post-bomb” shelters allows you to deliver one of your supply tokens.

Eventually, it will become apparent that only one player can “claim” certain disks. Once all remaining disks can be “claimed” in this manner, the “pre-bomb” round ends and those disks are collected by their respective players with the unclaimed disks being discarded. Then the 88 “post-bomb” disks, which include a fair amount of “enemy” zombies, are distributed to the remaining empty spaces (manholes and barricades don’t leave the board), and then you place one pawn in each shelter to which you delivered a supply token (the remaining pawns are lost — plan ahead!). Round two then proceeds pretty much the same way as round one, with supply tokens delivered back to “pre-bomb” shelters earning five additional points each at the end of the game.

Once round two has ended, usually after less than an hour of play, scores are totaled. Food and enemy tokens are worth their printed value; provision tokens, which come in four different “flavors” (two pre-bomb, two post-bomb) are worth points based on how many of each type you’ve collected. The highest score wins, with no tiebreaker provided; I’ve yet to need one thus far, but my last game was literally decided by a single point.

Zombiegeddon features classic Knizia strategic gameplay; other than the distribution of the disks, there is no randomness and all information is (initially) public, creating a game of “perfect information”. However, the presentation of the game is slightly less than perfect. The artwork, while detailed, is initially confusing as the disks all look very similar at a casual glance. Representatives of Twilight Creations, Inc. have stated that if they issue a second printing of the game, they will correct this problem by “ringing” the disks to better distinguish them. Still, most players will learn which disks are which within their fist play or two, so it isn’t exactly a game-breaking problem.

What may be a game-breaking problem for some is the fact that this really isn’t much of a “zombie” game. If ever a game could be justifiably accused of having a “pasted-on theme”, Zombiegeddon is that game. While the “zombie apocalypse” theme does work within the mechanics of the game, it’s really not necessary and doesn’t actually add much as you are never in any danger from the zombies — you simply can’t enter their disks if you lack a weapon disk. But at the end of the day (or world, as the case may be), while a good theme can sometimes enhance an otherwise mediocre game, a game with rock-solid mechanics can get by with just about any theme the publishers want without being dinged too hard, and Zombiegeddon‘s mechanics are as solid as any other Knizia design. It’s an unusual title to have sitting on your shelf next to your other Eurogames, to be sure, but once it’s on the table the strategy takes over and that’s when real games shine.