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Dawn of the Zeds (Third edition)» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Zed's dead, baby. Or is it the other way around? rss

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frank gallagher
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tulsa
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For all the buzz about this game, and the 30 odd videos, there is surprisingly little in terms of an actual review. So, here is my very first review here on BGG.

Let’s get right to it. I really like playing this game. Now, to like playing a game is a little different than just liking a game. I really like Robinson Crusoe; it’s a brilliant design. But for me, the game can drag at times, be something of a slog. On the other hand, I like playing Splendor, but it’s not a game I care much about—it doesn’t engage my imagination. Dawn of the Zeds 3 catches me both ways.

My taste runs to games that are a little on the heavy side, but I don’t have a lot of time to game. (It’s a conundrum). So I don’t like games that require repeated reference to the rule book or involve lots of bookkeeping. But though I like playing Euros with a group, a solo game has to have some complexity and a stronger ‘pull’ thematically to keep me interested. DoZ combines a wargame feel (lots of combat) with resource management (you keep track of “supplies” and ammunition) along with an interesting array of actions. The actions are all very distinct, well differentiated, and intuitive in their effect. You can move, shoot, forage, research, heal, or build, and you will be doing all of these in a typical game. The Hero characters add additional complexity, as each hero has multiple special abilities, sometimes involving bonuses to the standard actions and sometimes creating brand new abilities. Heroic civilians and Fate cards (at least the favorable ones) offer even more possibilities. It can start to feel a little overwhelming for the newbie, when every action matters and you need to balance immediate needs with long term planning, and there’s never enough time or resources to do everything you need to do. If you’re playing to win, the game is anything but easy.

But that’s alright. Because in this zombie apocalypse, losing can be just as much fun as winning. A ‘good’ loss, with a heroic last stand that is only overcome by overwhelming odds, feels very satisfying. You come out with an eventful story of blood and sacrifice, and more determined than ever to do better next time. (Except that ‘next time’ is always different. The challenges and advantages are completely different every game, but more on that later). There’s an ‘Alamo’ quality to a good loss that makes you want to immediately try again.

Also alleviating the issue of too much choice, the game has gone the extra mile and more to make referencing special cases as easy as possible. There are reference cards for every Hero and every special civilian. You simply lay them out in front of you when the unit enters the game and everything you need to know is right at hand. There are even reference cards for the ‘non-special’ units; it’s all a lot easier than looking through a rulebook.

About the rulebooks. All the descriptions of the game mention the five rulebooks. That’s misleading. It implies a level of complexity that simply is not reflected in the game. Unless you’ve only played games on the lighter end of the spectrum, I’d start out playing at Level 1 (one step up from Basic Game). You’re really only on training wheels until you get to this level, and if you’re an experienced gamer you don’t need to waste time on the dumbed down version. And don’t spend more than a couple of games at Level One before you move up at least to Level Two, where the game really starts to come alive. It shouldn’t be long before you don’t need the “Basic”, “Level Up”, or “A To Z” rulebooks except in the rarest of instances. The player aid and the reference cards handle everything, and if you need some clarification on a particular special unit, the “Farmingdale Dossier” makes that a simple lookup. It’s the cards and the Dossier that really make the documentation in this game something out of the ordinary.

The 5th and final rulebook is the Setup and Epilogue Book. This describes setting up the various levels of the game, and you’ll want to read the first couple of pages thoroughly to make sure you’re getting everything right. Though what follows—pages of different setups based on the Level you’re playing and length of game—can look a little intimidating, once you get the hang of how it works, this is one of the best aspects of the game. There is infinite replay value here. Ignoring the Basic game and Level 1 (because they’re essentially just tutorials), there are 18 different solo or coop setups (there are also 11 “Versus” scenarios, but I’m focusing on solo play here). Each setup can be played 4 ways, since each can be played with 1-4 players, or alternatively, played solo with 1-4 Player Action counters. These varying setups are best thought of not as difficulty levels, but as ways to customize your gaming experience. Right now, I’m playing with all the rules including the tunnel, and all the cards, which technically is level 5. But I’m using the level 4 “Standard Solo” card setup because it’s a little easier; it has a couple of fewer cards, and the fewer cards the better your chances. I’m playing it “Solo Coop”, with one extra player action counter, as if there were two players. I like the extra action it gives me each card, and since it’s only a single extra counter, the Zed pressure events—when they come up—are fast and simple to implement. It’s the perfect sweet spot for me, and I’d recommend you try it, at least after you get comfortable with all the rules. I’m guessing it takes me a little over 2 hours to finish a game (I’m a slow player generally), but I don’t really know as I never think to time myself, I’m too engrossed in playing.

That of course doesn’t begin to cover the replay aspect of DoZ. There are just over 19,000 unique combinations of starting heroes and heroic civilians. That’s right, 19,000. I think it’s safe to say you’ll never play the same combination twice. And each combination will affect your strategy in significant ways, before you ever draw an Event card or roll a die.

Some Forum posters have questioned whether a 3rd Edition was necessary. Well, full disclosure, I was a playtester for the 2nd Edition, and I really enjoyed playing that version. For a while. As I got better, the game stopped being tense and exciting. Oh, I still lost a lot, but I could usually keep most of tracks well in hand, or even clear, for most of the game. Heal actions seemed pretty useless, and there was too much fiddlyness in the movement of both Zeds and humans. After a while, my concentration, and interest, would drop. Some of my losses felt like A.I. ‘cheats’ inserted to make up for the effectiveness of ‘perfect’ strategies.

All of that has been fixed. Healing is now a part of every game I play. Being able to stack two human pieces in the same space makes player movement much easier and less ‘gamey.’ The tunnel connections with topside are now built into the cards instead of requiring constant, time-consuming checks. Certain events that you could always count on happening (and thus unrealistically plan ahead for) are no longer certain, given that only a fraction of possible events happen in any one game. I might humbly mention that these were all problems I pointed out during the playtesting of the 2nd Ed. I might also add that these issues got solved through simplifying and streamlining the processes, not by laying on additional exceptions and addenda.

The pressure never lets up in the 3rd Edition. The Zeds press in continually and are a much more dangerous foe than in the previous version, even as the number of cards used per game has decreased (thus decreasing play time). The end result is a game that constantly forces difficult decisions and always threatens to overwhelm you. Every action counts, the tension doesn’t let up, your choices are varied and meaningful, and every game gives you a different set of tools to meet the challenge. Plus, you can customize that challenge in myriad ways, of which I’ve barely scratched the surface in this review. For me, this is the perfect solitaire game. Push through the learning curve and I think you’ll find a fast, challenging, and engrossing solo gaming experience. Currently, and I’m thinking permanently, this is my favorite game.

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Mark O'Reilly
United Kingdom
Chester
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Your going to cost me money Frank
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Christopher Dong
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An excellent review in structure, content, description, and analysis.
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Alan Emrich
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I just taught ZEDS 3 to our new intern here at Victory Point Games, Mike Xu (great guy; he's going places in the game industry, you can tell). He really needed to understand the game so we could get him to help us alpha test the expansion kit (new Heroes, Villains, Heroic Civilians, Event and Fate cards to greatly remove predictability -- especially for END cards, about 20 new SuperZeds we're testing -- wow!, plus a couple new systems for the Trains and Rumors).

Well, as people clocked out they went by the game table, picked up a PLAYER ACTION marker and just joined right in! A buncha new players, getting loud and rowdy, moaning that they were going to lose on the next Event card for sure (they made it all the way to the END card, but lost in its execution -- so close!!).

I think you're right that we incorporated all of those suggestions from 2nd edition well. That was the departure point as we hammered away on this third edition and, like you, I think everyone here contributed a great deal of themselves in our effort to pull this off; and it looks like we have succeeded.

That was an amazing review, sir. Many thanks!

Alan Emrich
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David Boeren
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Marietta
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The expansion sounds awesome, can't wait to hear more about it when you're ready to reveal it.
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YM C
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Well Mr. Alan, shut up and take my money, again!
By the way, the expansion shall be in KS mode, right?
 
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Paul Round
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Nice review. Have been looking into this as I somehow missed the kickstarter and your comments have definitely pushed me into picking this up once it hits retail over here.
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Alan Emrich
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Quote:
By the way, the expansion shall be in KS mode, right?

I'm pretty sure it will be. We're currently phasing out print-on-demand over the next year, so this will be printed by the same people who did ZEDS 3, I believe...

Will it KICKSTART? Maybe; that might be a good place to reprint the base game, too, come to think of it. Hmmm... something we should think about.

Best,

Alan Emrich
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Alan Emrich wrote:
I'm pretty sure it will be. We're currently phasing out print-on-demand over the next year, so this will be printed by the same people who did ZEDS 3, I believe...

Again, count me in!

Alan Emrich wrote:
Will it KICKSTART? Maybe; that might be a good place to reprint the base game, too, come to think of it. Hmmm... something we should think about.

Don't should, you must!
By the way, and no offense, I think, financially, VPG may not be able to multi-handle several KS projects at the same tight time in near future, so I guess VPG games availability may starts to become slow / limited... To be honest, I love to see more games from VPG, and I've had this addict since few years ago when I heard about VPG. I saw several new games being playtested on FB there, with interesting photos and so on. So now, since the official game availability is slow, is it possible to have crude PNP for us to quench our thirst?
Sorry if that's rude to demand that way modest
Just a thought, no offense.
 
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Lazareth Minnelli
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Great review Frank. Those months playtesting 2nd Ed were great fun for me as well, a lasting happy memory.

I've not had time to play this 3rd Ed yet (just welcomed our first baby into the world) and your review certainly has me looking forward to my first playthrough even more.
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Chris Milis
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zanti_misfit wrote:
Great review Frank. Those months playtesting 2nd Ed were great fun for me as well, a lasting happy memory.

I've not had time to play this 3rd Ed yet (just welcomed our first baby into the world) and your review certainly has me looking forward to my first playthrough even more.


Hey Lazareth,

Congratulations to you and your wife! Enjoy every moment and keep some foam ear plugs handy for when your little bundle of joy is worse than a super zed zombie hoard!

My two little monkeys (5 &3) love playing Zeds with me. They really get into it or is that me? Lol.

Frank, I totally agree with your review. I'm in the closing stages of a 4 player (solo) apocalypse level game and what a ride it is. I get misty when I look over to the cemetery and see the epic heros that have fallen and the battles they had all in the name of Farmingdales defence!

For anyone a bit anxious to move up levels with this game, just throw yourselves in. The books are great along with some fantastic videos of the game. Eventually you'll get the rules (60% of the time I get them right, all the time!)

Some possible additions for any future expansions, someone recommended these dice and they really do make the game allot more fun to play. http://boardgamegeekstore.com/products/zpocalypse-deluxe-dic...[thread=Recommend dice replacements][/thread]

And the inclusion of more action markers as ultimately you have the assistance of more heroic civillians and more markers would be a great help.

What a fantastic game!!! Thanks very much!

Regards to all,

Chris

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