(Crossposted from Lost Hemisphere)
Privateer Press is known for its award-winning tabletop miniatures games and roleplaying supplements. Its products have depth that can resonate with the casual gamer just as strongly as with the hardcore competitive player, and with the hobbyist chained to his painting and modelling station… but sometimes we’re feeling a little whimsical, and sometimes we have younger players around us who may not be quite ready to wrap their heads around Tharn dietary habits, or be able to properly calculate in advance how many focus Terminus is going to have once he’s done his activation. For those times, for when we want to goof around with our pals or be a little silly with our young ones, Privateer maintains the Bodgers. Infernal Contraption, Heap, Scrappers and Bodgermania have made us familiar with the scrappy little team of Gobber McGuyvers and their wacky inventive nature. Do they maintain the flavor when they’ve got a horde of shambling zombies coming at them? Time to find out, with ZOMBIES KEEP OUT!
Zombies Keep Out is the latest release in the Bodgers line, and has the team trying to defend their workshop from an incoming horde of shambling zombies. This would normally put it in the Survival Horror category, but it’s about as horrific as the popular Plants Vs Zombies handheld games, so perhaps Survival Whimsical Comedy needs to become an official category of some sort. Yes, there’s zombies, but the giggle factor is set pretty darn high in Zombies Keep Out.
Cracking open the box you’ll find a surprisingly small game board. Well, not too surprisingly, given the size of the box, but it’s pleasantly compact which will be a boon when bringing the game to a friend’s hose to engage in some shambling shenanigans.
You also get a handy dandy rulebook (which is sensibly laid out and a quick, straightforward read), a card sheet of tokens (barricades, advancement tokens for your gadgets, and bite counters), a pack of cards (which is actually three decks that we’ll get to in a second) and ye olde bag o’ zombies.
The board has three main areas to which you’ll need to pay attention. Across the top of the board is the Workshop. From left to right, this consists of a Cellar, a Window, the Door, another Window, and finally the Balcony. Your intrepid team of gobbers will have a contraption at each of these locations you’re trying to build to help defend the workshop, and each will be protected by a number of barricade tokens.
Next is the yard itself, with the numbered circles. The numbers are there to help you do things in order, but what really matters is the columns, rows, and the little coloured arrows on them. As your zombies make their way through the yard to the workshop, each zombie tries to move towards its optimal target. Yellow Creepers try to creep (hah!) towards the cellar, red Brutes try to batter down the door, and blue Leapers aim for the balcony. Grey Runners aren’t picky, they’ll just shamble forward.
Finally, at the bottom of the board is the pool, where you’ll keep your …. pool… of available zombies … in the zombie pool … I see what you did there, Privateer, and I hope you’re appropriately ashamed of yourselves.
The first set of cards contains fifteen different contraptions your Bodgers are trying to build. Almost all of them are weapons of some sort, and it’s up to your team to try to get them built to fight off the zombies. It’s not as easy as it looks, and I’ll get to why in a minute. Once a contraption is built, players can then activate it as their action for the turn, smiting those undead fiends and sending them back to the… well, the collapsed pool at the other end of the board, if I’m being honest.
To make one’s contraption, one needs parts, and thus each player starts with a hand of five Parts cards. These can be used to advance the assembly of a contraption, defend against a zombie of the specified colour, or if you’re lucky enough to have a board icon in the repair box, to repair a previously damaged barricade. But what of the zombies?
The zombies themselves are all the same model of large headed little undead shambling fiends, they just come in colours to denote how they’d like to break into the workshop. There are more grey Runners than any other type, because let’s face it, everyone’s into running these days, while pole vaulting’s still just not quite as popular. Sorry, Leapers.
The zombies are guided by the Deck of Terrible Things (*thunderclap*). Each card in the deck has three options from which the active player must choose. Some cards aren’t that bad – move two Runners, put a new Brute on the board, just little things. Others are shambling doom for our bodgers – Remove four barricade tokens from a single column. Pick a zombie colour and EVERY OTHER ZOMBIE shambles. Yowch. The deck and how it’s used features heavily in the game through the bite mechanic, and it’s this that I think will appeal to younger (or younger at heart) players the most.
Sidebar: The Biting…
Some cards require players to take a bite token. The first has only a mildeffect on gameplay, but a rather amusing one on the game player. One bite, and you can’t trade cards with other players and you have to slur your speech. Okay, not so bad, and mildly amusing.
Two bites and you can no longer tinker – you can’t help build contraptions – and you have to grumble and devolve your speech into being near unintelligible.
Three bites and I’m sorry, the zombie rot’s in your brain. You can no longer clearly reason which of the three options on a Terrible Things card you would like to use. Instead, you must choose – 1, 2 or 3 – before flipping over the card to see what it is. Also, no more talking for you. You can only groan and moan and use hand gestures to indicate to the other players what’s going on.
Four bites and your goose is cooked. You don’t get to take actions any more, and instead must play a second Terrible Things card every turn. Also, you must now constantly moan and groan, as you suffer the existential dread of being a zombie. You are still part of the game, but unless your crew has a means of removing bite tokens, you’re lost to them.
The game is pretty darn quick to pick up, with turns taking mere moments. First, you draw a Terrible Things card and enact whichever Terrible Thing is happening this turn. This is usually more zombies clambering out of the pool, or undead monstrosities shambling towards your workshop in an effort to tear down your barricades and eat all of your tuna sandwiches.
Then, your bodger gets to do one of five things:
Tinker – Discard a Parts card to advance a token on a contraption one spot closer to completion. Each contraption needs 8 components before it’s ready to unleash.
Scrounge – Draw 2 cards. Should be noted, there’s no automatic Parts card draw – you need to make a conscious effort to have things available to you.
Defend – Discard a card to remove a zombie from the board (and put it back in the pool). The cards generally specify two zombie types you can choose from.
Repair – Some cards (not all) have barricade icons in the repair section on the bottom right of the card. You can discard to put that many barricade tokens on a column of your choice.
Push the Button – If you’ve completed any contraptions, you can trigger one of them to do whatever it does. Most equate to the destruction of multiple zombies, though there’s a few other tools in there, including one way to remove Bite tokens if you can build it in time.
Turns happen fast – Zombies do terrible things, Bodgers take one of the five actions, and then it’s on to the next player.
The zombies start coming thick and fast, and will happily shove each other forward if there’s too many in one spot. If they can manage to tear down all the barricades on a single column location, then the contraption being built there is destroyed. They’re in the walls! If they destroy three locations, then the workshop is lost and you can say goodbye to your spot on the debate team, unless the topic is Classical moaning techniques of the 13th Century. The zombies also win if your team takes too many bites.
Conversely, if your bodger team can successfully complete three contraptions, then those zombies are doomed. Fire up your Zombiphage Cannon, trigger the Boomflinger, and while you’re at it, send Dave to the Robotodoc to get that bite patched up, will you? Three contraptions built and you’ve won the game.
Now that you’ve read all that I’ll direct you to Privateer’s tutorial video here - Link! – in which you can watch Will Schick slowly turn into a Creeper.
… Huh. I just got that. Oh, you cheeky Privateer video editing scallywags…
Thoughts on the game?
In case it’s not obvious, this is a game for a younger audience. Like much of the Bodgers line, entry into the game is kept simple and straightforward. This is not to say that there isn’t strategy and depth to figuring the game out – Lord knows our test gaming had us being overrun in short order and left us struggling to keep the shambling undead at bay – but if you’re in the mood for something lighthearted and whimsical while at the same time loaded with hordes of brain-craving zombies, then you can do a lot worse than Zombies Keep Out. As a parent with a young son who has decided that zombies are his favourite monster thanks to Minecraft and Plants Vs Zombies, I can safely put Zombies Keep Out onto the board game shelf for family game night… and of course, knowing that it’s a potential gateway for him to start playing other Privateer games when he gets older is just a bonus. Just wait til he’s ready for Level 7…
One last thing – if you do happen to be a Bodgers fan, the game comes with a bonus card for Bodgermania, Heap, and Infernal Contraption. Just a little extra thrown in, because reasons.