I’m sure you’ve heard the popular saying when trying to outrun a bear, “You don’t have to be faster than the bear, you just have to be faster than the other guy.”
Well, the same could be said for outrunning zombies.
At least that’s what I think every time I play the recently released board game, Hit Z Road.
Because in Hit Z Road, players are taking a road trip across the United States while trying to outlast the zombie attacks along the way. And in order to win, a player has to stay just one step ahead of the other players.
No one ever said it would be easy surviving a zombie apocalypse.
What about you?
If you think taking a road trip during the zombie apocalypse, then Hit Z Road might be just the game for you.
How to play Hit Z Road
In Hit Z Road each player starts with a group of survivors that set out on a trip from Chicago to Los Angeles. Along the way they’ll collect resources, which they’ll use to try to maneuver through some rough paths. If they get at least one of their survivors to L.A. they may have a chance at winning. If not, well, it was nice knowing them.
First I’ll give you a quick rundown of the game play. Then I’ll dive into our thoughts about Hit Z Road.
The set up in Hit Z Road is much easier than getting ready for a family road trip.
Players start with 1 colored lead survivor as well as 4 grey survivors and place the bidding marker of their color on the auction board. They also get 4 of each resource token: ammo, gas, and adrenaline.
The adventure deck is created by shuffling the 3 different level cards and randomly removing 4 cards from each level (without looking at them). The cards are then stacked with the level 3 cards on the bottom, followed by level 2 and level 1. There are slight changes to the adventure deck for a 3 or 2 player game.
It’s now time to hit the road.
The game takes place over 8 rounds, each beginning with the simplest step of all, the planning phase.
The player with the #1 initiative tile draws 8 cards from the adventure deck (6 cards for a 2 or 3 player game) and places them in 4 rows of 2 in the center of the play area.
Once players have seen the 4 different paths to choose from during this leg of the trip they’re ready for the auction.
During the auction phase, players bid for turn order.
They do so by moving their bid marker forward to the spot they’re willing to pay.
In initiative order, on a player’s turn they can move their marker to a space higher than its current space. However, only one marker can be on a space. So a player moving their marker must move it to an open space.
A player can also choose to pass.
If they pass on a turn, it doesn’t stop them from choosing to increase their bid as it comes around to them again.
The auction only ends once all players pass in a row. Then each player pays for their bid using any combination of their resources. (A player can’t bid on a higher amount than they have resources to pay.)
The initiative tiles are then redistributed to match the bid. The player with the highest bid will get the #1 tile and so on down the line.
The encounter phase is where the rubber hits the road.
During this phase, players take turns in initiative order.
On a player’s turn, they must choose one of the remaining paths. A path consists of a pair of cards in a row. The player first has an encounter with the card on the left and then follows to the card on the right.
An encounter resolves in the following order: Scavenge, Event, Fight.
* Scavenge – the player takes the resources indicated in the top left corner of the card.
* Event – the player reads the text at the bottom of the card. If the text is black, it’s resolved immediately. If the text is red, it takes effect during the Fight stage.
* Fight – the player must fight the number of zombies indicated in the zombie hand in the bottom right corner of the card.
In a Fight, the player places the amount of zombies noted in front of them to see what they’re up against. If they’d like, they can make one ranged attack before going to hand-to-hand combat. A ranged attack must be their first roll of the fight.
To do so, they spend gas tokens. Each ammo token spent will allow them to roll 2 black dice. For each bulls-eye result, 1 zombie is killed (all other results are ignored).
If there are still zombies to fight, the player moves into close quarters combat.
For this melee fight, the player rolls as many dice as they have survivors and the results are resolved. If the hand in the bottom right corner is red, the fight is more dangerous. For each red skull above the hand, 1 black combat die is swapped for 1 red die.
* Blank: Nothing happens.
* Bulls-eye: 1 zombie is killed.
* Bulls-eye with lightning: 1 zombie is killed and the player may spend 1 adrenaline token to kill another zombie.
* Lightning: The player may spend 1 adrenaline token to kill 1 zombie.
* Skull with lightning: 1 of the player’s survivors has been bitten and will die unless the player spends 1 adrenaline token to save the survivor. If they choose not to (or can’t) spend an adrenaline token, they must lose one of their survivors.
* Skull on red die: Red die have this additional result possibility. A skull result on the red die means 1 of the player’s survivors is immediately lost.
If there are still zombies remaining, another melee round takes place.
Alternatively, before any melee round a player may choose to run from the fight. To do so, they spend 2 gas tokens. If a player runs away, they don’t claim the card. Instead the card is discarded from play.
If the player manages to kill all the zombies, they take the adventure card and place it face down in front of them. At the end of the game they will score the points listed in the top right of each card they’ve claimed.
Of course, if a player doesn’t survive until the end of the game, the cards they’ve gained won’t matter at all.
Because if a player loses all of their survivors, they’re eliminated from the game. And in subsequent rounds, the path options available to the remaining players will change slightly.
A game of Hit Z Road can end in a few different ways.
If only 1 player has at least 1 survivor at the end of an Encounter phase, that player wins the game.
If all players have no survivors at the end of an Encounter phase, nobody wins.
If more than one player survives 8 rounds, these players total up their points from the adventure cards they’ve collected. They can also score bonus points. There are 4 bonus categories and the player with the most in each category will score 3 bonus points in that category. For example, the surviving player with the most ammo will get 3 points. If there is a tie in a category, no one gets the bonus points.
The player with the most points wins the game!
What I enjoy about Hit Z Road
I enjoy playing board games of varying lengths. Sometimes I’m in the mood for a more strategic, long game. And at other times, it’s a lot of fun to just pull out a light game to play.
Hit Z Road falls squarely in the lighter game category.
The set up is very quick and turns fly by. And while there are a number of decisions to be made throughout the game, they don’t take long.
Perhaps the toughest decisions to make are those involving resources.
First of all, you’ll have to choose how many resources to spend during the auction. This can be tricky because getting the #1 initiative tile will mean you get to pick the easiest path during the encounter phase. So you’ll be drawn to outbidding others for that privilege.
Sometimes it’s worth it. But it may get costly.
On the flip side, having resource tokens may save your survivors during zombie fights. So it can also be good to hold back on your bids.
In addition, resources become less plentiful in later rounds of the game when the zombie count increases. So getting a lot of resources early can really pay off.
Yet even with that planning, things may go awry with the dice rolling.
You may manage to get a good stock of resource token only to fall prey to bad dice rolls – requiring you to spend those valued tokens sooner than planned.
And it’s this balance of risk and reward on a light scale that brings enjoyment to the game.
What I don’t enjoy about Hit Z Road
While I’ve had fun playing Hit Z Road with different groups, there a still couple elements of Hit Z Road I don’t like.
The first is the artwork.
While I actually like the retro style of art chosen, I really don’t like a number of the cards in the game because of their disturbing depictions.
I know this will be a point of personal preference, but for me it strikes out. I’m okay with the zombie theme. And the little zombie meeples are fantastically cute. But I much prefer the theme to be abstracted on the cards.
There are plenty of cards that do have abstract art of devastation or people on a road trip. But unfortunately, there are also many that don’t stay in that realm.
While this first gripe may fall in the ‘personal preference’ camp, my second gripe is about the game play itself.
I guess this goes back to the thought of “you just have to outrun the others”, but I’ve found that once you get behind in Hit Z Road, you’re pretty much toast.
If you get the last pick in the first couple rounds, you’re most likely not going to get as many resources as the other players and will more than likely fight more zombies. Fighting more zombies will also most likely lead to spending more resources to stay alive.
This in turn leads to the early leading players having more resources to spend on higher bids.
Also, once you start losing survivors you’ll be rolling less dice during your fights as well.
The rich get richer and the poor get eaten.
While I realize there are other factors that play into it – such as which cards come out to create the random paths and the lucky (or unlucky) dice rolls – there’s still an overall downward spiral if you’re behind near the start without a way to get back in contention.
I know that may be a perfect fit for the theme of the game; I just don’t like the increasing disparity it causes along the way.
Can the whole family enjoy Hit Z Road?
As you can see, Hit Z Road is a light game that’s easy to pick up and play. It also has a very good balance of strategy and luck.
I know it’s promoted as a fun family game and my new buddies at Tantrum House (who I played the game with at Gen Con) also say it’s a great game for the whole family. However, I can’t give it the same endorsement.
I know our youngest child is now a teenager, but I can’t imagine pulling this out to play with younger kids. Our neighbors and friends still have kids in the younger age range and I can’t imagine playing it with them. For starters, I wouldn’t want them to be disturbed seeing some of the card images.
And second, when playing with young kids, I don’t like playing games with player elimination or games when once you’re behind you’re toast. I’ve seen too much heartbreak in this regard.
Knowing that, I’ll let you make the call about Hit Z Road for your family.
How does Hit Z Road score on our “Let’s Play Again” game meter?
Hit Z Road board gameI’ve played Hit Z Road with different groups the last couple months and have had a fun experience every time.
Yet, I don’t find myself with the urge to play it over and over. I can see myself pulling it out as a fun game around Halloween time, but probably not getting to the table more often.
That being said, I know the people I’ve played it with have loved it more than I. And it seems they also tend to like the zombie theme more than I do as well.
If you’re a zombie fan, Hit Z Road may be right up your alley (or in this case; right along your route).
Thanks Asmodee for the review copy of Hit Z Road!
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