Back in my school days, I always suspected that chemistry was one of those classes that probably shouldn’t be offered. I mean, how advisable is it to turn a bunch of clumsy, hormone-addled teenagers loose with chemicals and Bunsen burners? Answer: Not very. In Zombies vs. Cheerleaders, a chemistry experiment at the local university has gone awry and turned most of the staff and students into zombies. It’s up to the sole surviving members of the pep squad to save the day. Can they pull it off, using weapons like flaming hairspray and razor blade Frisbees, or will the zombies win the day and eat their brains?
How It Plays
Zombies vs. Cheerleaders is a two-player, asymmetrical card game based on the comic book series of the same name. One player takes the side of the cheerleaders while the other plays the zombies. The goal of the game is to either destroy all of the zombies (cheerleader player) or devour one cheerleader (zombie player).
While there are quite a few specifics to learn as far as special abilities, special actions, and movement, the flow of the game is simple to grasp. It’s a basically a tug of war card game. The zombies are trying to destroy and scale the barricades so they can kill the cheerleaders, and the cheerleaders are trying to defend their positions while killing zombies.
The cards are laid out in a column/row arrangement dictated by the length/complexity of the game you want to play. (There are three game modes ranging from a quick, 15-minute game to a 35-minute expert game.) The cheerleader player constructs the barricade card piles and then places the cheerleader cards face up behind the barricades in any order they desire. The zombie player places his cards face down in columns of six across from the cheerleaders, leaving one row between the barricades and the zombies. The zombie player places the cards in any order he desires, but does not reveal the placement to the cheerleader player.
Each player can perform three actions on each turn. The zombie player goes first and may choose to advance an entire column or row, attack the cheerleaders, or play a special action (gained from destroying certain barricade cards). The cheerleader player may choose to swap the positions of two cheerleaders, move part of or an entire pile of barricade cards, shoot, use Clover or Sandy’s special ability, or play a special action (gained from killing a zombie boss). Turns alternate back and forth, with players taking actions, revealing cards (zombie player), moving cards, and resolving attacks as needed.
Each type of zombie and each cheerleader have their own abilities, weapons, attack range, energy/stamina levels, and strength which are all denoted on their respective cards. While the actions themselves are simple to play, the challenging part of the game is learning how to maximize and combine all of these stats in order to do the most damage to the other side while preserving your own energy and abilities.
The game ends when either the cheerleaders have destroyed all of the zombies, or one zombie is moved on top of a knocked-out cheerleader, effectively killing her. The player who achieves their goal first is the winner.
Rah Rah Fun or Brain Eating Misery?
Zombies vs. Cheerleaders is based on the comic of the same name. The artwork in the game was created by some of the same artists who work on the comic so if you like the art of the books, you’ll appreciate the art in the game. Even if you aren’t a fan of the books you’ll have no trouble playing this game. I’d never heard of the comic before playing the game and everything made sense to me. (At least as much as a game with zombies battling cheerleaders can make sense). There’s nothing here that requires knowledge of the comic books in order to play.
The first thing that immediately struck me about this game (other than the art, which I’ll talk about later) is the fact that it has three game modes. You can choose to play a short, easy 15 minute game, a more challenging 20-25 minute game, or the full blown, 35 minute expert game. The difference is in how you set up the game and how many cards are used. I really appreciate this and wish more games would include options like this. It’s nice not to have to commit to the full game when you’re learning or don’t have a lot of time.
I was also happy to see that this game, which bills itself as asymmetrical, is truly asymmetrical. It makes me leery when I see “asymmetrical” on a game. Some advertise this, but aside from having different names or colors, the factions or sides play exactly the same. Thankfully, each side in Zombies vs. Cheerleaders plays very differently and requires a totally different strategy in order to win. And make no mistake: You will have to carefully think through your strategy in order to win. Zombies vs. Cheerleaders may look fluffy, but it’s got some brain burn in there.
The zombies grossly outnumber the cheerleaders, so you’d think that they would win easily just by overpowering the cheerleaders. But it doesn’t work that way. The cheerleaders have some neat weapons that can take out large chunks of the zombie horde at one time, if played correctly. So having the zombies simply storm the barricades in large numbers usually won’t work. The zombie player needs to think carefully about where to move and when in order to combine the abilities of multiple zombies while staying out of the way of those weapons. Conversely, the cheerleaders can’t just launch all of their attacks at once because attacks cost energy. A cheerleader who runs out of energy is “knocked out” and vulnerable to being eaten by a zombie. So the cheerleader player has to manage those energy levels while carefully considering when and how to best attack. Even if you think you’re playing well, a surprise move by your opponent can throw your plans under the bus.
The game has high replayability because, if you’ve gotten good at playing as one side, switching to the other side will totally invalidate those strategies and force you to rethink everything. And even if you do stick with one side for a while, you’re not going to see everything the game has to offer in your first few plays. It takes a while to figure out how to combine and chain actions, movement, and special abilities to do the most damage. Plus, unless you play with someone who always sets up their side exactly the same every time (and why do you play with this boring person, anyway?), each play will be a little bit different owing to the placement of the zombies and cheerleaders.
Now on to the one negative, at least for me: The theme/artwork. You’re probably either going to love it or hate it. I doubt there’ll be many people who shrug and say, “I don’t love it, but I’ll play it anyway,” as they would with a theme like farming or trains. The zombies are pretty gross and I’m not a fan of blood splattered walls. The cheerleaders are typical teenage-boy-fantasyland with large breasts way out of proportion to their tiny waists. (Thankfully, there isn’t much cleavage or butt cheek showing.) Your enjoyment of the game will likely come down to how much you like the artwork.
Aside from being “love it or hate it,” the art isn’t family friendly, either. Aside from the gore and Barbie-like proportions, there are things like thong slingshots that parents may not be comfortable with. I’d recommend it for an older teenage or adult audience, not little kids.
This solid little game just might be a no-brainer purchase for fans of the comic books. Even if you don’t know the comics I can still recommend this game if you’re looking for an asymmetrical card game, as long as you can tolerate the art/theme. It’s nice to have an option for a true asymmetrical card game that costs less than, say, Android: Netrunner, doesn’t tempt you to blow ever more money on expansions, and which is simple to learn yet offers enough strategy and replayability to stay interesting long term.
iSlaytheDragon.com would like to thank Asmodee/Matagot for providing us with a copy of Zombies vs. Cheerleaders to review.