Whatever your opinion is of Hit Z Road by Martin Wallace, it's easy to miss one of the best things about the game: the overall conceit and subtle world-building in its production work, including all the amazing Easter eggs to be found. You've probably noticed a few, including the unqiue game box art, but I had no idea there were so many gems hiding inside!
After the box and note on the cover of the rules, I further noticed something unusual when I realized that the large round game tokens were poker chip "gem" tokens from Splendor, another Space Cowboys title. An evening later, I've honestly had as much fun finding and researching the Easter eggs as I've had playing the game.
With that little intro, here are the Easter eggs I've noticed and researched with a little bit of Google-fu. I hope you have as much fun reading them as I have discovering them, and since I've surely missed many of them, please chip in below with others that you've found:
Game Component Easter Eggs
The early game setting, as depicted in the 1st deck, is Chicago, Illinois. Two cards show city maps, and one calls out "Archer St.", a presumed reference to Archer Ave near Midway Airport. On the map, you can see an airport where Midway Airport is located in real life.
The 7th season of the TV show, The Walking Dead, has been reported to be filming in Quincy, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago.
The card that shows the fountain references Buckingham Fountain in Chicago. The green shapes in the foreground are scupltures of sea horses.
The mid-game setting, as depicted in the 2nd deck, is the Western United States. Many of scenes have rural or small-town scenes typical of that part of the country.
The late game setting is Los Angeles, as noted in the rulebook. Several cards in the 3rd deck make reference to this location, such as pictures of the beach; palm trees; Hollywood Blvd; the Hollywood sign; a highway traffic jam; Compton; and a female zombie wearing rollerblades (a sterotypical outdoor activity in LA). Another one of the cards shows a horde of zombies surrounding an airliner at an airport, presumably at LAX, the primary airport.
The resource tokens represent bottle caps, which are used as currency in Fallout, a post-apocalyptic interactive game series
All but 1 of the large round tokens are supposed to be labels pasted on Splendor gem tokens, another game from Space Cowboys
The labels on the large round tokens look like medical tape. On the printed sheet on the back of the box inside the shrinkwrap, there is a rendering of the game that shows scissors and what appears to be a roll of medical tape.
Initiative Token Easter Eggs
The #1 initiative token is a loyalty card from "Happy Croc Burger". In real life, Ray Kroc is the man famous for buying a small burger chain and growing it into the most famous franchise in the world: McDonald's
The #3 initiative token is a health insurance card for someone named Arthur W. Vasid. In real life, a U.S. politician named Artur Davis (an anagram of "Vasid") ran to become the first African American governor of Alabama, but failed in his bid after he lost support of black voters because he opposed the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. If you look at the photo on the token, you can notice a strong similarity in the line of the shoulders and suit with Artur Davis's headshot on Wikipedia (though the head and face are clearly different--it actually looks to me like the G-Man from the Half-Life series).
The #4 initiative token is a credit card issued to a Martin Wallace. The label on the upper left of the card is "R666Card", a reference to the previous name of the game, Route 666, before it was changed due to legal issues. The logo on the lower right of the card is the Space Cowboys logo.
Game Box Easter Eggs
The printed sheet inside the shrinkwrap covering the back of the box shows a picture of a building with a sign showing "Route 66", a reference to the original game's name, Route 666. There is a card naming this building "Ambler's Texaco".
The printed sheet inside the shrinkwrap covering the back of the box shows two polaroid photos of the game, but these are diegetic, meaning they are photos taken inside the world of the game. Notice that the components are 3-dimensional, as they would be if the game were actually cobbled together as described by young Martin, the narrator of the frame story. (Also note the use of actual bottlecaps instead of chipboard tokens in these photos, which I think would be awesome promo items!)
On the back of the physical box are the rules for the original game "Hit The Road", which sounds like a pick-up-and-deliver game worthy of Martin Wallace. (I wouldn't be surprised if this comes from a functional but abandoned game design.)
Adventure Card Easter Eggs
The cards are supposed to be photos taken by a schoolboy, Martin, pasted onto old, found playing cards. We know this because the cards with poker symbols are showing through behind some of the photos that were torn on their corners. The blur effect seen on many of the cards is presumably from the shallow depth-of-field of the lens on the fictional camera being used to take the photos.
The idea of documenting a journey through a zombie-infested world via photo/video is very similar to the final credit sequences of both movie remakes of Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead. It's also appropriate for the conceit of the game, a road trip across the Western United States.
One card scene shows a character, Aaron, sitting on the steps of an RV. This would seem to be a reference to the character of Dale from the TV show, The Walking Dead. The name Aaron, is also the name of a character on the show.
The character of Tim shown on several cards has a strong resemblance to the teenaged Carl in The Walking Dead.
One of the cards appears to show the outside of a prison, also a reference to The Walking Dead.
One of the cards shows the exterior of a church that looks similar to the church in the 5th season of The Walking Dead.
One of the cards shows The Executor, presumably a reference to the trope of using buses as mobile fortresses, as seen in the movies Dawn of the Dead and Land of the Dead
One of the cards shows a horde of zombies overrunning a housing development that looks very similar to the Alexandria from The Walking Dead. Note the message, "S.O.S.", painted on the roof of one of the houses in the background.
One of the cards shows a woman pointing to a star on Hollywood Blvd. The name on the star is George A. Romero, the creator of the modern zombie genre.
One of the cards shows a flare used to distract/attract zombies, a likely reference to a similar scene in the movie Land of the Dead in which fireworks are used for the same purpose.
One of the cards shows a pickup truck with a bumper sticker with the Space Cowboys logo on the tailgate.
One of the cards shows a zombie horde in an urban setting from the top of a building. A gun can be seen propped against the ledge on the left. The entire scene is reminiscent of the final setting of downtown Atlanta in the first season of The Walking Dead.
The crossbow as seen on one of the cards is the favorite weapon of Daryl Dixon, a character on The Walking Dead.
One of the cards shows an escape from a pack of wild dogs. It's a photo taken through the rear window of a car speeding away--notice the lines of the embedded heating element in the rear windshield, as well as the reflection of the Texaco logo in the lower left.
Epilogue Card Easter Eggs
The back of one of the epilogue cards shows the logo of the CIA, another reference to the MKUltra program note elsewhere here and the work of Donald Ewen Cameron.
One of the epilogue cards shows two girls taking a selfie on a boat with a burning city behind them. Presumably they are making their way to San Nicolas Island as shown on the map on page 9 of the rulebook. Using a boat to get to an island refuge could be a reference to the movie Dawn of the Dead, which contained a similar epilogue which is shown through "found video" played during the final credit sequence of the film.
One of the epilogue cards shows a gangbanger and another man sitting on the gun barrel of a tank. This could be a reference to both the final show of the 1st season of The Walking Dead, which contained a tank as a signficant plot element, as well as a reference to The Walking Dead episode, "Vatos", in which a group of gangbangers proved to be a major obstacle for Rick's group.
Another of the epilogue cards shows a woman taking a selfie next to a pool with zombies on the lawn behind her. "Zombies On Your Lawn" is the earwig of a theme song from the game "Plants vs. Zombies" by composer Laura Shigihara.
Rulebook Easter Eggs
Many of the references in the page backgrounds of the rulebook are related to the field of medicine, particularly psychiatry and neurology.
Many U.S. government documents and forms appear in the backgrounds of the rulebook, including: schematics for a fighter jet, letterhead from the U.S. Department of Health and a reference to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), what appears to be a tax form, a traffic citation, and others that are not readily identifiable.
On the first page of the rulebook, there is a Wikipedia link for the article on David Ewen Cameron, a psychiatrist "criticized for his administration, without informed consent, of disproportionately intense electroshock therapy and experimental drugs, including LSD, which rendered some patients permanently comatose. Some of this work took place in the context of the Project MKUltra mind control program." Do a Google search on this guy and you'll find liberal references to the CIA, brainwashing, and psychological torture techniques.
The first page of the rulebook has a list including "polychaete worms". A species of such worms, known as "zombie worms", was discovered in 2005 off the coast of Sweden.
Bubo maximus, or Eurasian eagle-owl, is referenced in the list on page 1 of the rulebook. Possibly a vector of infection, especially in connection to the "dead lizards" also referenced there?
Saponins, referenced in the list on the first page of the rulebook, are used a vaccine adjutants "to stimulate both the Th1 immune response and the production of cytotoxic T-lymphocytes (CTLs) against exogenous antigens make them ideal for use in subunit vaccines and vaccines directed against intracellular pathogens", aka zombie germs.
A medicine, Clozapine, is referenced several times in the backgrounds of the rulebook. It was the first atypical antipsychotic medication, and is mainly used to treat schizophrenia.
The structural formula on page 1 of the rulebook includes in part the formula for lysergic acid diethylamide, otherwise known as LSD. In addition to recreational uses, LSD is controversial for its use in psychiatric research in the latter 20th century, including by Dr. Donal Ewen Cameron. The formula looks like a combined form of two molecules of LSD, presumably an extremely potent fictional derivative of LSD.
The prescription written for Space Cowboys on page 1 contains instructions for 4mg (double the strength of a normal dosage) of Detrusitol, a drug used to treat urinary incontinence. Detrusitol is in a class of drugs called antimuscarinic antagonists, which are used to block or modify the activity of the peripheral nervous system.
The prescription address on page 1 indicates it is from a hospital in Hackensack, New Jersey. Hackensack University Medical Center is the 4th largest hospital in the U.S. in terms of admissions.
The clipping on page 2 of the rulebook appears to be a redacted report containing information on MKUtra, the CIA's mind control program from the 1950s. Legible terms include "MKULT(RA)", "project", "1954", "field", "(pre)lude", "Division", "phila(nthropic)", "(s)tudy", "$790.00", "swar(m)?".
On page 5, the newspaper heading "Was it suicide?" and the related text suggest an investigation to determine if a prominent individual died by suicide or was murdered, presumably in relation to a government coverup of a secret program.
On page 6, there is a link to a "movie" posted on tudou.com, the Chinese analog of YouTube. The movie, Maafa 21, is a propaganda piece made by Mark Crutcher, a radical anti-abortionist and opponent of Planned Parenthood who is credited with the strategy of finding information about abortion providers in order to harass them out of business. The movie discusses an alleged conspiracy, "Planned Parenthood's 150-year-old goal of exterminating the black population, who they viewed as inferior to whites. It discusses how they could not find a surefire way of destroying the blacks until abortion came along. Currently, abortion is the #1 killer of blacks in America."
At the top of page 9 of the rulebook is a diagram of the pufferfish (Japanese "fugu"), which secretes a poison known as tetrodotoxin, or so-called "zombie poison". The use of tetrodotoxin has been suggested as an ingredient in Haitian Vodou preparations, used to turn people into "zombies", and was the subject of Wes Craven's 1988 movie The Serpent And The Rainbow. "Tetrodotoxines" is also included in the list on page 1 of the rulebook.
Page 9 shows a map of the waters south of Los Angeles, centered on San Nicolas Island. San Nicolas Island is uninhabited except for a sparsely populated military base. Between 1957 and 1973, and in 2004 and 2010, U.S. military research rockets were launched from San Nicolas Island.
There are three polaroid pictures of what appear to be people dressed up as zombies, two of which occur in London and Madrid, in 2015 and 2013 respectively. The one from London has scrawled across the top, "Not funny!", presumably as an editorial on people pretending to be zombies when in fact, "real" zombies were known to exist.
There are a couple of vintage comic pages in the background of two pages of the rulebook. While one appears to be an mail-order advertisement for gags and magic tricks (common in older comics), the other shows bright blue and red colors consistent with a superhero costume. Superheroes may also be considered, or considered inspiration for, supersoldiers in a variety of media. Supersoldiers are often depicted as undergoing psychological and other biological conditioning, which could be consistent with the creation of a bioweapon or bioagent linked to the accidental genesis of the zombie infection.
The solo score sheet on the back of the rulebook references characters from the TV show, The Walking Dead. Father Gabriel was introduced in Season 5 of the show and was notable as a coward. Daryl is a fan-favorite character and considered to be the consummate badass survivor. Note also the references to Martin and Croc (noted above). (My bet is that Angela is the name of Martin Wallace's wife or daughter.)
The back of one of the epilogue cards looks like a ticket to a "North American 1910 Open Tour". Aside from the association of trains and Mr. Wallace, what is the significance of this?
One of the other epilogue cards has a Roman numeral, "IV". What game is that from?
On one of the 3rd deck cards, there is a zombie with a T-shirt with an octopus logo on it emerging from a camera store. What does the logo mean?
On one of the 3rd deck cards, there is a zombie coming out of a doorway wearing what looks like a black concert T-shirt. Who is the band/group on the shirt? Also, is there any significance to the posters in the background?
On the #4 initiative token (the credit card), what does the tiny "1906" on the front of the card reference? Also, is there any significance to the expiration date on the front or the CCV number on the back? Finally, is that actually Martin's signature on the back?
Allow me a little bit of editorializing before finishing up this post: In 2016, we're currently in an upswing of fashion where designers and publishers are trying to imbue their games with storytelling in order to deepen the emotional resonance of what is, in essence, playable math. Unfortunately, perhaps because of the limitations of the medium or because most game designers are not master storytellers, much of that storytelling seldom reaches beyond reliable but tired tropes, even cliche.
The failings of the current trend are why Mr. Martin and team's effort here is so groundbreaking. There is legitimately more depth in the details outlined above than in other games that purport to make storytelling a first-class feature of the experience, to the point that finding and decoding these details is itself a metagame. I am deeply impressed that Mr. Wallace and his team have the supreme confidence and courage to downplay such storytelling richness in order to let it subconsciously infuse the experience. It's brilliant in my opinion, and kudos to the entire team.
Michael Van Biesbrouck
Great research. Missing references:
* train tickets: Ticket to Ride
* IV is in the style of 7 Wonders
Asmodee owns Space Cowboys and publishes all these games (some of them indirectly). I assume that the CIA card back is from another of their games.
Did you read the rules for Hit the Road? That is a terrible, terrible game. The tie rules were probably an intentional reference to Martin Wallace games.
Correct, that CIA back is likely a reference to FFG's "CIA versus KGB".
Michael Van Biesbrouck
You're right. This was the game that came to mind, but I didn't realize that the second edition had different artwork. (I have the first edition and the Star Wars reimplementation.)
I'm impressed !
Great research and a truly interesting post !!
Congrats and thanks indeed.
- Last edited Sun Sep 25, 2016 9:30 am (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Sun Sep 25, 2016 9:29 am
Rio De Janeiro
I don't get why they put an age IV 7 wonders card when there are only 3. The dixit and ticket to ride cards seem to be exactly the same as their respective games
There is legitimately more depth in the details outlined above than in other games that purport to make storytelling a first-class feature of the experience, to the point that finding and decoding these details is itself a metagame. I am deeply impressed that Mr. Wallace and his team have the supreme confidence and courage to downplay such storytelling richness in order to let it subconsciously infuse the experience. It's brilliant in my opinion, and kudos to the entire team.
Totally agree. The art design is FABULOUS! Kudos to the production design team!
The card backs are not identical. There are different patterns of stains.
On one of the 3rd deck cards, there is a zombie with a T-shirt with an octopus logo on it emerging from a camera store. What does the logo mean?
That's the symbol of Hydra, from Marvel comics. Also, I believe that's a game store.