Last month at TotalCon, I had the opportunity to play Zpocalypse with some of the game’s creators. The game – which won the Best Indie Game award at the con – is a zombie-apocalypse survival game, where players struggle to find food, gather supplies and weapons, and fend off the undead horde.
Each player controls a squad of survivors. Individual survivors are represented by cards including name and bio (some tragic, some humorous), stats, and special abilities. These stats are combined on a player’s squad sheet to give a squad’s overall health, smarts, and weapons skill. The game’s board is made up of several double-sided and interlocking pieces depicting scene of an ever-changing urban wasteland. Survivors begin in a bunker or fallout shelter and from there must venture out into the ruined city. A single game represents several days, with each day having several phases, and each day more deadly than the last. Phase 1 is Scavenging. Using a special deck of cards, players will look for food, supplies, arms, or more survivors. They will also add new tiles to the board, and new zombies. Phase 2 is Feed and Fortify. Now players must feed all their survivors. Any survivor that is not fed must return to the bunker. After eating, survivors can build barracks and traps that will slow the zombies and thin the undead ranks. This is also the phase to trade equipment with other players. The next phase is called Something Happens! and here players draw from another specialized deck to discover what new calamity the day has in store for them. This card also revels how many new zombies appear to threaten the survivors. Finally, as each day fades to night, it is time for phase 4: Combat. Here the players take turns moving their squad, searching for better weapons, healing their survivors, and killing zombies. The zombies too, move during this phase, shambling toward the nearest survivor or closing in on those cowering in the bunker. Combat continues until either all the survivors or all the zombies are dead(er). If the humans have survived to see another day, it dawns with phase 1.
I was only able to play a short game with one other player; still, I think I got a good sense of what Zpocalypse can do. The different phases give the game a rising tension, culminating in the relentless Combat Phase. The ability to build traps and barricades offers real tactical options. The Something Happens! phase keeps the game from becoming predictable. Goal cards give each player a secret ways to earn Victory Points, such as avoiding radiation or acquiring a certain item. The Victory Points themselves allow – in the midst of a very cooperative game – for a winner and a loser. Another nice feature was the ability of survivors to improve their skills as the game went on. Thus, even as the zombie multiply, the survivors became better at dispatching them. The game is complex and it may take several games to really grasp the rules, but there are certainly more complex rule sets out there, and it’s the detailed rules that give the game it nuances.
The physical game is a beautiful thing – with 6 different card decks, evocative city tiles, and finely crafted zombie and survivor miniatures – especially considering that I saw only a prototype of the game. I was amazed both at the Z-team’s talents and at the potential of decent software and the personal printer.
Like the undead, zombie games are everywhere. With Last Night of Earth, Zombies!!!, and even Munchkin Zombies, is there any room for Zpocalypse? Happily, the answer is yes. Though the field is crowded, Zpocalypse does something new: while Zombies!!! is “beer & pretzels” mayhem; Munchkin Zombie is, well, Munchkin; and Last Night on Earth is frantic and immediate horror; Zpocalypse is building tension, planning, and strategy. With its trap-building, food-gathering, and improving skills, Zpocalypse models the long-term survivalist strain of zombie fiction like The Walking Dead and 28 Days Later.
Zpocalypse is clearly a labor of love. That is apparent not only in the game itself, but in the fine folks had GreenBrier Games. This is a group of gamers who decided they could “do this”. And they did. And you can help. Zpocalypse is currently having a Kickstart. Kickstarter – for those, like myself, who are late to the party – is a website were anyone can patronize projects of all kinds. For a pledge of $1 or more, you can help this game rise up and feast! But there is more than goodwill and bragging rights to be won: GreenBrier Games is offering up swag for your support. A $10 pledge wins you a set of custom Zpocalypse dice, while $75 gets you a copy of the game with signed artwork. At $1,000 GreenBrier members will hand-deliver the game to you and teach you to play. For $100,000 I assume they nuked your city and release a corpse-animating pathogen for you entertainment.
The bombs haven’t fallen. The dead haven’t risen up. We’re safe. For now. But the zpocalypse is coming. Prepare yourself.