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Subject: Hit Z Road! ~ Deranged Review. rss

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~Deranged Review~

Hello! Welcome to this Deranged Review.

I like zombies. In general. I like'm in movies, I like'm in boardgames, and I like'm falling to bits as I empty gun after gun into the horde. I liked taking them apart with a katana, I liked taking them apart with a chainsaw, I liked taking them apart with a bazooka. I like'm on a train. I like'm on a plane (#1).

I could easily add another paragraph of things I like that contain zombies (#2), but the main point is I like'm. Particularly the Romero-movies, where the zombies are only the cause of the society-wide breakdown, but the focus is on said breakdown; so stories that kind of go around the menace and on to what happens with the people in such a situation (#3).

This game does exactly that - it focuses on the people, and the zombie hordes are only there as dressing. It is the hazard to be overcome, but the focus is on the road trip that follows.

I also tend to like Martin Wallace's designs. I love Brass: Lancashire, although I seldom get it to the table. I liked Steam, although I made some bad calls during my first game and the second game hasn't happened yet. So a Wallace zombie game? My interest was piqued.

Thankfully the FLGS-owner had procured a test copy, so we went for a ride.

I'll be giving grades on several aspects of the game, such as discussed here.
For ART, I look at the big picture, and how that picture looks. EASE covers ease of play and learning curve, FLEXIBILITY covers the amount of free will you have and is therefore linked to replayability. FUN might be deceptive, as it's a gut thang, but I'll try and specify in the text, and COMPONENTS should be self-explanatory. I'll not say a lot about rules and specifics - you can find those out for yourself.

The Game Itself: Zombie road trip!
Bid for turn order, choose path of least resistance, survive, win!

Bonus feature! wrote:

-In short, you start with four of each type of token (Gas, Ammo and Adrenaline). You shuffle each of the three stacks of cards, remove 4 per stack, and put them in order.

Then, you place the top eight cards in a 2 by 4 grid, to create four paths of two cards each. Bid for picking order, then pay as many tokens as you've bid (your choice which).

The cards have token symbols on the left; you get these immediately. Then there's possibly an event, and then there might be zombies. If you make it past the cards, you take them and put them in front of you.

When encountering zombies, you have some options. First, you can shoot at them once, rolling 2 dice per Ammo token you hand in, and any kills mean fewer zombies later. Afterwards, you can high-tail it out of there by paying two Gas tokens. If you remain, you roll dice equal to the number of survivors you have left (5, at the beginning). Kills mean fewer zombies, skulls mean you can pay 1 Adrenaline token to save someone. A lightning bolt means you may spend an Adrenaline token for one extra kill, and the "hit + bolt" means one kill plus one extra kill if you pay for it with Adrenaline. IF you roll a blank, nothing happens. Roll until either all zombies or survivors are gone.

Red zombies ("hordes") mean you get to use the red dice, which have no blank space. In it's place, these have an insta-kill skull; you can't regenerate/save a survivor from that.

Once everyone has failed/succeeded, continue with round two. And so on, until there's one man standing, or we reach the beach at LA, in which case we count up points and see who's had the most exciting journey.

So, that should paint enough of a picture, ruleswise .

-Ho. Lee. Crap.

The game is "pieced together" from bits and pieces found after the end, like a scrapbook of the Apocalypse. The turn-order cards are uneven in size, as they're just cards with a large number written on'm; #1 is on a burger chain coupon, #2 is on a nametag, #3 on some sort of ID, and #4 on a credit card (made out to M. Wallace). The counters are bottlecaps. Some of the route-cards have card-suits on'm; and even the tears and scratchings are different per card/cap heart.

The illustrations on the cards are very well done as well, they really mesh well with what is mechanically happening and are just all-round amazing.

-At a weight of 1.8, this is hardly the most inscrutable of Wallace-games. The auction-machanic is easy to understand, and there's not all that much difficulty in the (surprisingly short!) rulebook (#5).

But don't let that fool you; there are still decisions to be made, and those can have repercussions later. Not nearly as severe as Steam, but resources are still tight, and frivolous spending gets you killed later on.

All in all, it's a rather approachable game that can still bite you in the ass.

-Auctioneering is by definition dependend on what others do, and as such is more or less equal in depth/complexity ratio to bluffing. There's better or worse options, which depend on your plan and available resources and those of others. Choices are always meaningful, and there's seldom one course of action that is clearly the best choice.

Well, there often is a path that is clearly the best, and one or two you really do not want. But resources are scarce... And when there's no more room in Hell, and your tank is empty, you'd better be lucky.

There's relatively little interference in other player's plans (#4), but you can easily hatedraft a path that'd award someone else a lot of points or maliciously outbid someone.

-The game is really tense; the bidding mechanic does a lot of work on that regard, but even beyond that there's the question of having enough gas/ammo/adrenaline left to make it through the ordeal. The game is far less punishing than Brass, Steam or T&E, but choices do might have consequences later on. Overbid now and run out of precious adrenaline later. Pick up the scope or frantically avoid the path where you need it. Pay with gas and lose survivors on the few occasions when you need to cover a long stretch. So, yes, choices matter, but you are -partially- in control. Until the dice take over.

Dice? Yes, dice. The rattlin' bones add another layer of tension to this game.

Best thing? You are actually building a narrative, and the cards have many amazing details that bring the journey alive. Between the mechanics and the dice, there's plenty of fun to be had with and around the game.

-After raving about the components earlier, all I have to add is that the physical quality is really good.

I wonder if the Collector's Edition will come with an actual creditcard and real bottlecaps. Wait a minute...

AMAZING components.
Mr. Wallace.

Choices can come back to haunt you in unforseen ways.

End result:
Oh wow, ever since spotting the box I've been excited about this!

My enthousiasm was slightly dampened as I got devoured by a horde of zombies, but ey; if you can't stand the bite, get out of the fight! My spirits were immediately lifted by the description in the rulebook: once you run out of survivors, you lose. Hand in your cards and put'm in the box, and go drink some coffee (#6).

Hit Z Road, formerly known as Route 666, is just a wonderful game. The unfolding narrative due to the three stacks of cards is just gripping - although it's not the main reason to try this. The amount of care that has been put into the components is breathtaking - still not he reason. A well done zombie game? Yes, definitely, but not the reason. No, it strikes the perfect balance where choices matter but bad ones won't actually cost you the game immediately. People seem to be able to differ in opinion about which of any given paths is best, which is also a very good sign in my book.

It's a choose-your-own-adventure boardgame about a zombie roadtrip. It has surprisingly low-profile zombies, so that even for those who're bored by them by now might enjoy it. By the same token, the essential Wallace-ness shines through in the core of the game, but it's far more accessible then anything else of his I've played, so people who dislike Wallace-games should not be too afraid of it, either.

As usual, please give your opinion in the comments .

Oh, by the way, I am Deranged. I like to have fun with (and around) boardgames, and have played many of them over the years. I've been furniture in my FLGS for years ^^. I tend to like old games; well, I tend to like good games, most of which have been around for bit ^^. I've written some 84 reviews as of yet, which you can access here, and a handful of random topics discussed here. If you want me to write a review for you or recommend me a game, there's this neat little envelop near my avatar!


#1: Somewhere, Zombie-Dr Seuss is spinning in his shallow grave.
#2: And quite a lenghty one, too!
#3: I do enjoy the Dawn of the Dead remake, it's an excellent zombie flick that hits all the right notes. I prefer the old Dawn of the Dead, as it is a well-done satire - with zombies. Let's not discuss the follow-up Day of the Dead, that remake was an abomination.
#4: Only logical; if you were close enough to interfere in each other's journey, you'd travel together.
#5: No matter how hard you try, you can't kill even a small-sized hedgehog with it. It has pictures, too!
#6: Which was fortunate, as I did not want to stand up earlier.

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Joseph Propati
United States
San Diego
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Nice to hear this about a zombie game.

Have you played solo yet and if so, how did it play and how did you like it?

I'm wondering about the whole bid system for solo play or if it even uses it.

This would be the only way I would play this and haven't heard much about the solo game play yet.

Excellent review by the way; great job!
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Randy Espinoza
United States
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Could you expand a bit on the replayability of the game?

I feel like this will be a lot of fun to play the first time, when everybody gets to "discover" the possible paths and the effects of the tokens in the story. But how about subsequent plays? Is the sense of discovery gone, and if so how much does it affect the game? Will it feel "samey" and turn into a simple but less fun bidding and luck mitigation game?
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@Joseph: I've played with four both times. The box says 2-4 players, but rules for soloplay are apparently included, but I didn't read them. A short summary of what I picked up:

Others wrote:
You make three paths; the top one fully closed, but you get two resources if you pick it; the middle one half-closed; the bottom one fully open, but it'll cost you two resources to enter. Continue until dead or done. No bidding involved!

I've read people be underwhelmed by the solo game, as they picked the closed one every time and "steam-rolled" it - so I guess the 2 resources bonus is to big. In any case, there's a solomode, I haven't tried it yet, but that's how it works and what people have said in the forums. If solo is really the only way you'll play it, try to get your hands on a copy beforehand, or try it in Essen or somewhere similar.

@Randy: Yes, I can!

I have no doubt this will become less fresh with every play, but there's precious few games that can do that. The components are real eye-catchers, so the fear of "chrome" is real.

Have no fear! While the initial excitement will wear off eventually, there's still a good game there. The paths get formed by two cards each, so the value of a path is formed by two halves. Some cards give, punish or reward some of the big tokens, and you're never sure if the second half of that chain occurs - and if you will even want it when it comes.

Besides, nobody (except the winner) in our games even made it out to LA; and if you do, there's bonusses for people with the most of each kind of token and survivors. That means being even more stingy with your ammo, as each reward is worth 3 points. The points you gain on the cards, the numbers on the top-right, might never even be useful...

So there are plenty of moving parts to this game. The game itself is not easy to beat, and factor in your co-players and there's enough there to keep you coming back. In short, this might not get out every week, but it's certainly not a game that will only come out on Halloween.

Oh, I forgot! Every time someone dies, the bottom lanes gets more expensive, to make it even more difficult.First person to die? Bottom lane costs 2 resources extra. Second person to die? Bottom lane costs 4 extra, next-lowest lane costs 2 extra. Third person to die? Well you've got a winner!
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