Saturday, April 19, 2008


Horror movies were a consistent part of my childhood and adolescence, due in large part to my father. His interest in all things horror and sci-fi heavily shaped my cultural predispositions. There were high points, like witnessing the lycanthrope transformation in The Howling (1981) as an 8-year old; and there were low points, like seeing Poltergeist (1982) in the movie theater and having nightmares about TV's for a month. Suffice to say, my dad took me to everything and now I'm fairly desensitized to anything the horror genre can think up. Don't get me wrong - I am still capable of "the cringe." Aili and I recently watched the sub-standard I am Legend and I definitely experienced a palpable fear when his damn dog chased the vampire-zombie-gutterpunks into the abandoned crackhouse. But there's one category of horror movie that I've never found particularly frightening, even if it is ripe for post-modern analysis: the zombie flick.

The slow, lumbering zombies of Romero's early classic Night of the Living Dead seemed pathetic, especially in comparison to the cannibalistic humanoids of C.H.U.D., the unseen tentacled flesh-eaters of The Boogens, or even the killer bees of the The Swarm. The zombies of The Return of the Living Dead were endearing, those of Dawn of the Dead, merely voracious. Recent attempts to make zombies more threatening by giving them speed (28 Days Later) or even intelligence (Land of the Dead) flirt with violating core criteria of zombie-ism in the interest of reinvention. Ultimately, the danger of zombies boils down to the following:

  1. They are difficult to kill. You either need to chop them into pieces, burn them, or blow their head off with a shotgun. The D&D ruleset offers a 2d10/round bonus in damage caused to zombies from fire-based attacks. Ahem... Need I say more?
  2. There are lots of them. Unlike vampires or werewolves (notwithstanding Blade or Underworld interpretations), they depend upon a horde mechanic for full effectiveness.
  3. Zombie-ism is contagious. This contributes to #2, in a exponential, Malthusian population explosion. More to the point, there is the distinct possibility of becoming that which disgusts you (physically and morally).
  4. They want to eat your brains. This is the modernist way of saying that they want to eat your soul, which should be frightening, but affects an atheist with nothing but a dry sense of fatalism.
So if we all can agree that even though zombies aren't particularly frightening, they're damn entertaining and certainly worthy of pseudo-intellectual analysis, how can we satisfy our own deep, existential craving for zombism? Here's one option...

Zombies!!! is a cheaply made but highly entertaining boardgame in which you play a "shotgun guy" attempting to escape from a zombie-infested town. It's definitely a beer-&-pretzels game, without any complex rules or deep strategic choices. I've never tried it with more than 2 players, but I'm certain that with the right group of 4-6 zombie-lovers, this game could be a hit in your household.

The base game comes with a set of tiles that make up the layout of the town. This includes locations like "The Town Square," "Police Station" and "Florist Shop." Each time you play, the tiles are laid out differently, making for a infinite variety in maps. Furthermore, there are a number of fun expansion sets to the Zombies!!! universe which build on this core concept. I've only broken down to purchase the Mall Walkers collection, which allows you to create Dawn of the Dead-esque scenarios.

There is also a deck of cards included, which feature some truly hilarious situations and events common to the zombie genre. Each player has a hand of these cards that they can play to either improve their own situation in the game (e.g. add a weapon) or make life miserable for an opponent. Here are some of my favorites:

The artwork is surprisingly good, although a bit repetitive. I really dig the idea of skateboarding on the back of a zombie. They're so stupid.

I'm hesitant to lay out the actual rules of Zombies!!! for you, since I consider the greatest strength of the game to be its modifiability. The published rules are there only as a guideline - the authors of the game actively encourage you to come up with your own unique house-rules, scenarios, and campaigns. Once I fully embraced this notion, I realized that I could come up with a playable solitaire version of Zombies!!! I mean, after all, zombie movement and attacks are pretty deterministic. I didn't need the presence of another player to "move all zombies 1 square towards you". Fighting zombies is as simple as rolling a die, but again, you can come up with any number of modifying variables that you want.

The game comes with a healthy number of plastic zombie figurines, both male and female, and you can purchase a bag of zombie-dogs separately if you're into the whole Resident Evil thing. There are also health counters and bullets, that can improve your chances of killing zombies in combat. The printed mission goal of the ruleset is to keep fighting through the town until you find the Helipad, at which point you can use the helicopter to escape and win the game. But like I said, you can come up with any victory conditions you want.

Here's a pic of a solitaire game I played in which I successfully found the helicopter after being beaten down to a single health point. Finding the fire-ax relatively early on really helped me out.

It's a fairly quick play. Solitaire and 2-player games take about 30-60 minutes. Aili played with me once and found it amusing. Zombies!!! costs a little more than I'd like for the amount of gameplay you actually get out of it. But as long as you know what you're getting into, it's a pleasant diversion. This is not a complex wargame. This is not an RPG. This, much like zombie films it celebrates, is a simple, gratuitous bloodfest with a kill or be killed philosophy. If that appeals to you at all, give it a try. As a final selling point: Twilight Creations, the makers of Zombies!!!, are releasing another expansion set next month. It's called "Carnival of the Damned" and features zombie-clowns. Hell yes.

1 comment:

  1. One of the greatest things about Zombies!!! is that you can make up your own expansion rules on the fly. Lends itself really well to both customization and as a drinking game.