Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Very Special Zombie Post

As a special Halloween treat to my 3 loyal readers, I thought I'd introduce you to a new "Game on the Cheap" known as "One Against the Dead."

Yes, it is a zombie game. Zombies for some reason have become a rather popular theme of late in the pantheon of board game geekery. I'd go about and list them all, but Yehuda went ahead and created a nice list for Halloween that includes not only zombies, but all of your typical Monster Mash characters and genres.

Anyway, with the mad rush towards zombie-ness, I thought it would be fun to see what I could come up with. Most zombie games, from what I can tell, seem to really try and be a zombie movie for some reason. This happens almost to the extent of moderately role-playing, giving player various archetypal abilities, and various goals and such. Additionally, it appears, that usually one player controls the zombies while the others play the heroes; this doesn't seem to make much sense to me. I mean, what kind of artificial intelligence does a zombie need that you can't just program them into the game.

It's not like zombies do some clever velociraptor-from-Jurassic-Park pack hunt strategies or something. Zombies are slower than the living. Zombies go after the closest living brain. And there are a lot of them. That's all you need!

Anyway, "One Against the Dead" is, as the name suggests, a solitaire game. And being that it is a game on the cheap, it doesn't have much fluff in terms of scenarios, characters, special abilities, etc. The winning conditions are simple, get to point B from point A.

It features a fairly unique "health" system, in that doesn't record what typically would be referred to as "taking damage." In most zombie movies, if you have just been nibbled on a bit, that's usually pretty bad news, as you become infected anyway. Having a health score doesn't make much sense in zombie-town, as getting damaged just sort of means that you are putting off the inevitable transformation anyway.

So, instead, we have "strength," which sounds pretty much like the same thing, but it's not. Conceptually, this represents how much will power and energy you have to fight off the dead. As long as you can keep your strength up over the amount of zombies that are attacking you, you are still in the fighting. But once the zombies out-number your strength, you become overwhelmed and cannot resist anymore.

This has a weird little psychological implication. Whereas simply having something drain your life points down to zero, at least you feel like you put up a grand struggle, and went down fighting, ala a crazed Spartan warrior.

Being overwhelmed is different. Sure you might have 7 strength left, but when surrounded by 12 zombies, you are forced to give up. It's a surrender, not a glorious fight-to-the-death story told for the ages. You are just another drowned body who gave up against the rising tide.

And trust me on this, I've been quite surprised at how fast the tide can rise in this game. This in no "oh, look, two zombies are at the door breaking in waiting for a glorious headshot" game. Most of the time, this is a desperate run against a tidal wave, with a lot of crossed fingers as to what cards you draw next.

And while the game is fairly random, it does have some amount of decision making with regards to building the zombie-infested town. This is important, however, as the amount of zombies that become active is a direct result of your card placement when building the town. And while it is by no means a deep game, there are some tactical implications to it: "Do I place this card here, which creates 1 zombie, in the hopes that the next card I draw isn't a worse fit that creates 3 zombies."

The weapons may still be a little bit too powerful, and it may still be too easy to escape to the awaiting helicopter. But I think it's an amusing 15 minute ride nonentheless.

As a side note, if you truly are playing with coins, you will need quite a few of them. Buying a bag of plastic play coins might be a better idea, just make sure that the coins have apparent heads and tails sides to them.

Just click here to go to the Games on the Cheap page. One Against the Dead is on the bottom.

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