Yesterday we looked at the mechanic of Simultaneous Action Selection and today we will follow that up with the game Zombie House. While the theme of zombies is one I have seen done more than almost anything aside from farming the european countryside and trading in the mediterranean this is a game well worth a look. (Note: This review will be looking at ‘Zombie House – Beta’ there is another version available on Game Crafter without the beta tag that plays the same but has slightly different components.)
Designers: Mars Needs Games
EPT: 30-60 minutes
Zombie House is an independently designed game produced via Print on Demand through The Game Crafter. Being an independent game there are noticeable aspects that can be nagged on such as a lower art quality and simpler components; but the game’s design and mechanics set it above many mainstream games sharing the same theme. Before I jump into the review of the game lets look at how it works.
Players are all barricaded in a house and are either humans attempting to kill the zombies or they are the zombies seeking a snack; a snack made of the other players. The game starts with each player placing their human meeple on the play area then deciding by low roll who becomes the first zombie. The game ends when either the human’s have all been eliminated by death or conversion or the zombies have all been eliminated.
Play takes place with players running about a 2 story house frantically making split second decisions. The game models the split second decision making process with a clever use of hexagonal cards (in the non-beta version the cards have been changed to standard rectangle cards). Each card has multiple actions players can perform; they choose one action on three of their cards and order them in how they want the actions to resolve. The topmost card is resolved first; each player simultaneously moving, searching, attacking, dodging, biting, etc. Once the all actions have been performed the next card resolves likewise. Once all actions have been performed players take the cards back and again select three more actions. This repeats until the game ends with the human’s or the zombie’s survival.
The game focuses around the use of d20s; when players find guns they roll a d20 to determine how much ammo their gun holds; it is possible your pistol you found in the cupboard is fully loaded or has only 1 shot left. When combating players roll d20s with the highest roll winning. The outcome of the combat depends on the weapons being used and whether the combatants are humans or zombies. Due to poor planning it is entirely possible that two humans planning on attacking a zombie will end up attacking each other.
Players can dampen the effect of the rush by adding hesitation actions which let them think through things a tad more than they would otherwise and look about their surroundings. A player attacking after hesitating can thus choose not to attack while if someone charges into a room then attacks they are stuck attacking whoever is there; be it human, zombie, or just their own shadow.
Once successfully bitten by a zombie a human replaces their human pawn with a zombie pawn as they join the undead horde; the only way a human can thus die is if they are killed by a fatal attack from another human. Zombies can only die in the same manner of fatal attacks; thus greatly lowering the chances and commonality of player elimination.
The game’s flavor, however, is where it shines. Players can openly discuss their plans at the table but they must do so audibly so the zombies can here; after all if you are in a house yelling to your buddy downstairs that you are going to hide in the shower in hopes of finding a shotgun the zombies in the other room would hear you. The game also states that surviving may not always be the end goal; a player may have been eliminated but if they have the best story to tell they may be the true winner. Zombie house is a game that is just made to be fun. It is a coopetitive game in which teams change, roles vary, mistakes happen and no one can guess what will happen next.
When I first opened the box I was worried. I enjoy zombies as much as the next guy but the ratio of good zombie games to zombie games is low; most are mediocre games with a pasted on theme going for nothing more than a quick buck. When I saw the art and components my worries were not lessened but rather increased. I was still excited to try the game but I was worried my excitement would only make me like the game that much less; a standard case of too high expectations.
The rules were also slightly difficult to interpret at first glance. Once we were all set and ready we dove in hoping for the best while expecting the worst. The game went on a bit longer than expected as the humans played the role of evasion; seeking to avoid confrontation rather than face it due to a severe lack of finding weapons. Our next game was a bit more aggressive as the humans went out with one player holding a fatal weapon. Then we got ready to film. The video will be embedded below; feel free to watch that before reading on as it will be a spoiler…
Possibly the fastest game in Zombie House history. on the first turn to humans managed to get weapons; both starting near the zombie they wanted to be ready. They both expected the zombie to enter the same room and thus were ready to attack; the zombie, shockingly clever, waited in the hall. An axe wielding man burst through the door from the bathroom ready to kill the undead beast while his friend who had hesitated before raised his pistol. Our pistol wielding hero saw it was his friend and lowered the gun; his friend, however, hadn’t paused to check who was before him and lowered the axe with all his might; killing his friend. Shocked by what he had done but still aware of the danger without the man dropped his axe to take up the pistol; turning in time to see a zombie entering the room. Palms sweating and heart racing he raised the gun and squeezed the trigger just as the zombie leapt at him… you’ll have to watch the video to see what happened.
We played another game in the same sitting before moving onto the next game for the day. Not long after we played again with another group. Of all the game crafter games I have played Zombie House has easily seen the most table time.
The game paces fantastically as the use of simultaneous action selection keeps everyone active and involved. the balance between skill and luck is equally well done as players are rewarded extra die for making the proper presumptions as to how to act increasing their chances of having the high roll. I even felt the game finally lived up to the zombie theme; you are forced to make quick decisions based on presumption and can not secretly collude with your fellow humans. Each game left the group with a good experience and a good story. Not all players play games hoping for a story but as one who does I appreciated it greatly. The mechanics of the hexagonal cards, however were the part that I loved the most; easily setting the game on my to play again shelf. The game’s downfall, however, is in the art and components. As sad as it is many in the hobby view shinier as better; I am guilty of this myself, and this game is lacking in the shine department so I must often preface teaching the game with stating, “This is a game that deserves better art.”
The game comes out as a 6.5/10 but if kickstarted and given a good polish I think it could sky rocket to the top of my thematic games list.
Visuals – .5 // 2
Skill/Luck – .75 // 1
Pacing – 1.5 // 2
Theme/Immersion – 1.75 // 2
Mechanics – .5 // 1
Fun Factor 1.5 // 2
If you like zombies and you are looking for a truly thrilling zombie game that uses simultaneous action selection very creatively I highly recommend checking out Zombie House.
Visit us again tomorrow while we take a look at another worker placement game; Bremerhaven. Until then you can find us on social media;