Love it or hate it, the Zombie theme is one of the most common in the board game world, and it seems like every month a new Zombie game is announced. But with so many titles, each new game has to bring something new to the table or risk simply getting lost in the shuffle.
Zombie Tower 3D has already been released in Japan, but a new kickstarter aims to bring a new English edition to the US Market. Does it stand out from the moaning crowd, or is it just another mindless walking corpse soon to be beheaded by a new champion?
[Ed. Note: This is a preview of a game seeking funding on kickstarter. The edition played is currently available in Japan, while the kickstarter seeks to produce an accessible new version for release in the US and across the world.]
How It Plays
Zombie Tower 3D is a semi-cooperative game which, as you might guess from the title, features a prominent three-dimensional tower. Players are tasked with surviving the zombie onslaught and collecting a number of supplies so that the whole team survives; however, one player will truly rise above the rest by completing their personal objectives to score points. Whoever has the most points at the end of the game wins, unless a player dies, in which case nobody wins.
Each player has their own section of the tower, literally walled off from the other players. You can’t see what anyone else is doing or what they’re dealing with, or help them directly.
On your turn, you have a few action points to spend on moving, attacking, and searching for items. You can share items with other players (more on that in a sec). You can also pick up and drop off survivors for free. After the actions of all players, the zombies move and attack. Zombies attack survivors first, converting them into more zombies, then the players, doing damage. If any player runs out of health, they die, and everyone loses.
Finally, new zombies and survivors are added to the board.
I mentioned that players were walled off, but they could also share items. The walls have little slots in them, so for an action you can place an item in that slot so that it sticks into the next player’s play area. Any item placed on one of those slots can be picked up for free by either player if they’re in the correct room.
When players search, they draw from a deck corresponding to the floor of the tower they’re currently on. Many cards are useful items, such as weapons or antidotes, but there are also “danger” cards that can result in collapsed floors, deadly fires, and surprise Zombie arrivals.
When players achieve the necessary conditions for victory, the game ends and players total up their points for their minor objectives, along with any survivors they have, to see who wins. If any player dies or twelve rounds pass, the game ends in a loss for everyone.
Run Zombies Run!
I was pleasantly surprised by Zombie Tower 3D after playing it. From the rules alone, it was hard to tell how interesting it would actually be, and whether or not the 3D tower was just a gimmick that made the game look cooler than it actually was.
Well, the tower is somewhat gimmicky, but it actually does create a more unique gameplay experience. After all, the divisions between players serve a purpose – to keep things hidden, so that no one knows if you really need that handgun to take on a deadly horde of zombies, or if you’re just trying to get your hands on it to score more points. Travelling between the levels adds a fun thematic aspect to the game as well.
What makes it work is that the rules are very simple, but it exists in a very confined system. It’s easy enough to run from zombies, but they quickly pile up and you soon realize how hard it is to get away from them. You only have twelve rooms total to work with, and when two large hordes of zombies have you surrounded, well… it suddenly feels very, very cramped.
The neat thing is, you can use your environment to your best advantage. Deadly fire erupting beneath you? Lure a horde of zombies into it to take care of the major problem that is a horde of zombies. Handheld weapons are actually pretty scarce here, so you’ll probably have to use fires and cave-ins to your advantage if you want to survive. Speaking of survivors, while collecting and saving survivors nets you extra points at the end of the game, you will be forced to strategically utilized those survivors to draw zombies away from you, in many cases sacrificing their lives to protect your own. It’s a little gruesome if you over think it, so… don’t over think it.
Since equipment is so rare, and it’s not always easy to get the zombies to fall in line (and into pits of fire), the game quickly stacks up against you. It may seem completely manageable at first, but soon you’ll be thinking through every path and every possible usage of your items – not to mention begging for more weapons and ammo from your fellow players – to make it through. Fortunately, the game doesn’t take cheap shots. It adds one or two zombies and survivors each round, so you never get an impossibly large sum of zombies dropped on your head, at least not without a chance to react. Every card that can result in collapsed rooms, fires, and additional zombies is marked “danger!” on the back, so you know not to draw such cards as your last action. You will be forced to draw them eventually, because you need to get through the decks to find the important cards, but it just gives you chance to plan around future dangers. You can make sure to move to the best possible room for a cave-in or fire to start, or just let the player with the safest section of the building add a few more dangers so the other players don’t have to.
This system allows for plenty of strategizing, even as you’re playing a game that represents frantically running around an abandoned building trying to survive a hoard of zombies. You can plot your moves ahead of time, try to remember where zombies showed up last, draw zombies this way and that, and pass useful items (without giving up what you need, personally). The fact that you are blind to what the other players are facing (and they are blind to you) forces everyone to communicate in order to ensure that everyone survives.
You also have plenty of situations where you must decide if you’re willing to pass an item you need for a minor objective so that someone else can survive the game. If they die, you lose anyway, right? But, maybe their situation isn’t as bad as they say, and they’re just trying to get their OWN hands on an objective item. Maybe they don’t really need it and they can get by. Tough choice, because you really don’t know.
It can be a bit strange to be totally segmented away from everyone else, with only minor direct influence on what happens (no riding in on a white horse to save the next guy or gal over to bring the game back from the brink of failure), but it is a game, and it works. It also neatly avoids what some people call the “alpha player” problem, where one player directs everyone else. It’s pretty hard to direct people when you have no idea what they’re actually facing.
On the other hand, the segmentation puts the survival of the group at the mercy of the weakest player. If someone makes dumb, terrible decisions that gets them trapped or killed, the game just ends, and there is very little you can do about it. People have to plan ahead and ask for the items they really need long before they actually need them. Otherwise they might not be able to get to the item you just passed through the wall, or they might not be able to move out of the way of a group of zombies that will eat away at their life points.
Also worth mentioning, luck has some effect on the outcome of the game. With planning, communication, and experience, you can probably survive almost any way the cards get shuffled, but it will certainly be easier for you if the vaccines are near the top of their decks rather than the bottom. There’s also a bit of luck in completing your minor missions – if you happen to draw exactly what you need (and maybe even extra copies that you can pass off to help your friends survive), it’s going to be a lot easier to complete your minor missions than if you’re begging your allies to give you a shotgun because you can’t seem to draw one. At least all players draw from the same deck, so luck can do its fickle dance one way or the other.
The tower is pretty cool, and it makes it fun to pass items along. It doesn’t really make sense, but it’s certainly unique, and the board will certainly turn heads if you play it in any kind of public space. I like that there are many spaces built in for cards to be placed – even for the search decks, there are spaces at the very top of the tower for everyone to easily access. It makes the board functional and aesthetically interesting. It’s a little bit flimsy, with nothing but gravity holding certain pieces together making it susceptible to errant taps, but it does hold together. One thing you definitely need to consider is lighting – you need a well-lit room or you’ll have to strain to see into the shadows of your corner of the building. I guess it maybe adds a little atmosphere, but sometimes you want to see the pile of zombie tokens clearly as you try to calculate just what you need to do to survive it.
If you’re not into Zombies, Zombie Tower 3D probably isn’t going to change your mind. But it does provide a unique experience, with simple rules in a confined space that makes for an interesting challenge. Using the sparse collection of items and the hazards of a slowly-collapsing tower to fend off hordes of zombies will make you feel creative and awesome, and the challenge keeps you on your toes without resorting to cheap tricks. The tower itself makes for a great setpiece, and while it’s a little unsteady, it does stay standing. I highly recommend you check out this game, which is now on Kickstarter.
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