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Subject: First Impression Review rss

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Gordon Watson
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A few people may be looking at ‘Carnival Zombie’ and thinking ‘is this just a half-baked amateur fan project with some half decent art but an under-developed game with mish-mash mechanics that barely work’? – I know I was. The ‘Snakes on a Plane’ type vibe to it’s title doesn’t really help much either. But, ‘zombies’ and Venice - the former still a theme waiting for a great game, and the latter a setting that would be hard not to produce something that at least looked good, combined to intrigue me.

gulp I dithered though, 50 Euros was a lot for a wild punt – but then they posted the rules on line and they looked reasonable, and, at over 30 pages, it obviously wasn’t just a shallow, half-hearted theme mash-up effort – it actually looked like it had some depth, yet without the excesses of combat modifier complexity. But, even after Essen, no one was talking about it and no one in the UK had it in stock – then I remembered Philibertnet in France, who I had ordered from a couple of times before, and they did have it and at a reasonable price, even to the UK, and so I crumbled.

Having now received the game and played it through once (it will be twice very soon) I am very pleased with my decision. Obviously only one play is nowhere near enough for a proper review as any thoughts on longevity and replayability of the game, for example, can only be speculation at this point. However, I felt that a ‘first impressions’ review would be worthwhile in this case because, even with my limited experience with Carnival Zombie, I wanted to at least reassure those undead Venetian fans who are dithering, like I was, about whether or not this is a ‘legitimate’/proper game, that it is and is worth a bit more buzz and attention than it has received so far. Of course Tom Vassel’s video review, which was posted after I had to make my mind up, will undoubtedly help on that score more than this review will.



Overview

The player(s) leads a bunch of carnivale clad heroes (see above) in a desperate bid to escape from a near doomed and sinking Venice, that is being infested by zombies and the awakening of an undead Leviathan on which the city is built. Three turns of desperate (co-op) night-time siege combat, where the heroes have to use their abilities to hold back the ‘infected’ and their diabolical bosses, on a tactical map, are interspersed by daylight turns where the sinking city must be navigated in search of escape, whilst trying to recover and re-equip as best as possible from the previous night’s combat. Should the heroes survive all that, they face a final tactical round where they flee the city by boat/bridge/balloon or attempt the even more desperate challenge of killing the Leviathan.
The introductory text in the rule book may not be the most convincing at introducing the back story to the game but the game itself pursues it’s theme with great conviction and success.



Components -

- The artwork (box, board, cards & counters) would seem to divide opinion, but I think it is stylishly macabre, evoking the theme and tone of the game excellently. Others seem to find it a bit grim or too 'gritty' which I don’t really follow - I mean who wants ‘Disneyfied’ friendly zombies? they are after all the undead. zombiezombie

- The cardboard used for the tiles is not the thickest but it is OK, and the printing is a little on the glossy side for my taste but still very good.

- The cards are a smooth finish, rather than linen, but are OK thickness wise and well printed with a good matt finish (I don’t like shiny sticky cards) - you may want to sleeve the Nightmare deck, which sees several shuffles per game.

- The cubes, representing the ‘infected’ (zombie foot soldiers of various calibre) and some miscellaneous game features, are...well, cubes. The neutral coloured cubes (barricades) are a little hard to distinguish from the white cubes (Incubus - dog zombies) so I will probably pimp my copy by swapping out the barricade cubes for something better. Wooden cones and cylinders stand in for the individual bosses (see below) and they do the job (reinforced by having the images of the bosses they represent printed on the board) but miniatures would have been nice. Due to the dead-pile and draw-bag mechanics, cubes would have to be used for the ‘infected’, so minis would not have been a functional option for them.



- The heroes are represented by card cut-outs in stands and the art for these is, as it is throughout, very good, but they are a little large for the Refuge spaces they mainly occupy in the game – I would have been tempted to go with coloured wooden meeples, although again, mini’s would have been great.

- The rulebook is a glossy production with lots of examples. The rules are pretty straight forward and logically presented, but the English translation could have done with a final proof-read by someone with English as a first language, and there are also a couple of bits of residual Italian text accidently left-over, with one paste up paragraph needed from the latest .pdf of the rule book. Overall, not bad though (I’m waiting on one clarification as to a possible error in one of the examples), and I was up and running playing the game inside an hour.

- The board is a 4-piece folding one and though, like the tiles, it’s not of the thickest card I have seen, it is still more than serviceable and does lie excellently flat, no hints of bowing off the table or warping.

Rating


Gameplay (I’m not going to rehash the rules – the rulebook is available on-line for that)

- The main guts of the game are the night turns (there are 3 nights composed of 4 rounds each) where the 6 heroes defend a central barricaded ‘Refuge’ from the zombie hordes (controlled by the game) on a tactical map. The tactical map has some variety between nights by the placing of different obstacles and fortifications, depending on the area the group occupies on the strategic map.

- The main player decisions revolve around how best to use the 1 or 2 character actions (move, fire weapons, hand-to-hand assault) plus special action per hero, to kill and repel the zombies. This is very puzzle like, due to the completely deterministic nature of the combat mechanics – this is good and bad: ‘good’ because there is no luck, but ‘bad’ in that it reduces the tension you get with dice or some other variable based combat resolution. It is though a very good, thematically engaging, puzzle and so far I like it. Having only played solo, I am interested how this will feel with 2 or 3 players involved – particularly using the optional rule to limit communications between the players during the night phases.

- Tension is however generated by the under-siege feeling created by the surrounding hordes closing in, the crumbling barricades and the increasing ‘stress’ (damage) the heroes start to take from forced additional actions and hits. The bosses have interesting abilities that also ramps up the challenge of the ‘puzzle’ when they are on the board. Hero’s being inflicted with paranoia and the need to try and save survivors, adds to the interest, as do the item cards with which you can equip your heroes with. The latter are very useful but require sacrifices during the day segment to get hold of – however they can be game savers.

- Also, the dead-pile casualty mechanic, a ‘Jack-Straws’ in reverse, type dexterity activity, that sounds a little lame in the rule-book, but which works quite well in practice, adds a certain amount of angst and tension as the undead body-count rises. Basically you drop all the casualty cubes you have inflicted during that action onto a cardboard gravestone (you can drop them from whatever height you want) with any that fall off causing hero paranoia and the zombies coming back to life….err, well obviously not to ‘life’ as such, but you know what I mean.

- The day-time strategic movement and recovery/equip segment of the game is less developed – I could have taken there being slightly more to this part of the game but the designers clearly intended to focus the game on the night time combat, seeing that as the main ‘fun’ where zombies are concerned. Given the limited amount of time and moves that you can perform, there aren’t that many choices for the day segment – at best you are deciding whether to push on moving for an extra hour or taking an extra recovery/equip action. You also have to just about decide which game ending you are going to go for from the start as there is just not enough movement turns available to head for one then change to another. A bit more flexibility here would have been nice.

- If you make it through three nights of combat and successfully manage to move quickly enough across Venice you will be faced with one of four ‘Finales’. These have similar elements to the normal night turns but are essentially different little sub-games – I have only played the boat escape one so far and it was quite enjoyable. Obviously the four posiible finishes represents good replay-ability for the game. About a third of the rulebook is devoted to describing the Finales in case you were worried about the rulebook length. You don’t need to read the full rulebook to get underway with the main game, and you can largely leave the Finales sections until you reach that segment of the game – although knowing a little of what you are aiming for is obviously useful, but you certainly don’t need to know the detailed mechanics until you come to them.

- There are 3 difficulty settings the game can be set up for and it will also play harder multi-player than solo. The difficulty level is tweaked simply by there being more bosses, the higher the level of difficulty, and by needing to travel further across the strategic map – the Easy level also starts you off with some items for the heroes.

Rating:


Overall

- The game moves along at a good rate and engages with the theme very well. It presents lots of player puzzle decisions and it looks like it will throw up a decent variety of problem situations and solutions on different plays, due to the different bosses, events and items.

- Long term I’m not sure that it’s a game that will stand frequent, repeated plays over an extended period, but it certainly looks good for a an initial rash of plays and then being pulled out a for a few spins a year.

- I liked it quite a bit and am looking forward to playing it again – back to the barricades ‘Captain Terror’.

zombiezombiezombiezombie

(minor edit to tidy up punctuation/wording + add art)
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Rich Dodgin
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Nice review - you've confirmed what I'd hoped about this game

I ordered myself a copy of this from a store in Germany a few days ago and am now eagerly waiting for it to turn up sometime later this week !
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Rich Dodgin
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My copy turned up today laugh

I'm really impressed with the quality of the components. I have a feeling I am going to *love* playing this - the whole look and feel of the game is fantastic.
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Gordon Watson
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Am hoping I might get a multi-player game of this in this evening - if I do will be using the 'Combat Focus' optional rule and I'm thinking of adopting the following approach:-

Before each player/character decides on his actions the player controlling each non-incapacitated character is allowed to state one of the following (the deciding player can of course choose to do whatever):-

- "Under Control" - don't need any help.
- "Need Support" - get your arse over here and shoot or hit something!
- "Medic" - I need the doc to heal me, or will do shortly.
- "Support left"/"Support Right"/"Support Rear" - move to indicated refuge space and do what you can - available to 'Capt Terror' only, and even then only if he did not spend an extra action this turn.

Rich - I see you have also picked up Navajo Wars, have you had a chance to try it out yet? I ordered it from Philibertnet at the same time I ordered Carnival Zombie. Great minds etc..
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Rich Dodgin
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I've not had much free time recently so only played one game of Navajo Wars - but my initial impression is that it's gonna be a great game with a lot of depth.
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Andy Cowen
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Thanks for the review.

"zombies...still a theme waiting for a great game"


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Gordon Watson
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'Dawn of the Zeds' is from the 'States of Siege' line of games and although I have a couple ('Zulus' and 'Tell the Emperor'), and enjoy playing them occasionally, they lack a little depth and thematic detail in their mechanics to be described as 'great'.
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-=::) Dante (::=-
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KEW GARDENS
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domus_ludorum wrote:
they lack a little depth and thematic detail in their mechanics to be described as 'great'.


With a current rating of 8+ it would seem many do feel it's worthy of that label but I'll liberally edit your original sentiment to suit my own personal thoughts…

Zombies are a theme still waiting for a truly great competitive multiplayer game.

Considering the endless parade of titles with this theme released in the last decade it's certainly telling that not a single one has shambled it's way into the top 100.

For all it's pervasiveness I'd say it's safe to say that we're still awaiting the definitive Zombie hit against which all others will one day be judged.

Run, Fight, or Die! looks promising but even with Launius' pedigree attached I suspect it's heavy dice chucking nature will keep it from the top 100 even if it's a huge commercial success.

Returning to the subject at hand though, thank you very much for the insights Gordon! Definitely adding this to my watch list and look forward to hearing more reviews as this game circulates a bit more widely.
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