• Designer: Martin Wallace
• Publisher: Space Cowboys
• Players: 1 – 4
• Ages: 12 and Up
• Time: 30 to 60 Minutes
• Times Played: > 5
Hit Z Road is a Zombie-themed horror board game about a road trip from Chicago to Los Angeles. You’ll earn resources as you cross the country, but you need to be careful in spending them, as they are necessary to survive the hordes of undead Zombies you encounter along the way.
Hit Z Road made its debut at Gen Con 2016, and it was one of my favorite games of the convention. Don’t let the theme and emphasis on dice rolling fool you: there are some strong elements of a Martin Wallace-style Eurogame here.
And the theming of the game is excellent. The idea is that Hit Z Road was made by a kid named Martin who survived the zombie apocalypse. He made the game to commemorate his own trip across the country. The game “components” are made from repurposed game parts from other games and household objects. That’s why the box looks like an old game with new information scrawled across it. Some of the in-game cards are repurposed Ticket to Ride and Dixit cards, and other game components are made from bottle caps or even old keys.
Each player takes the lead survivor of their color, four additional survivors, and four each of the three resources: Adrenaline, Ammo, and Gas.
The game is played over eight rounds. To win, you need to have at least one survivor make it all the way to the West Coast by lasting all eight rounds; among those players that do, the player with the most points wins. The game gets progressively more challenging each round: the first two rounds are with the relatively easy Level I card, then there are three rounds with the moderately-challenging Level II cards, and the final three rounds are with the difficult Level III cards.
Each round begins with the “planning phase” in which 8 cards are drawn from the deck and placed face-up on the table in four rows of two cards each. These represent the four “paths” that players can go down.
Players examine the paths, then an auction begins. Players take turns bidding resources — the very resources they need to escape the zombies — in order to determine the order in which they choose a path past the zombie horde. The following auction rules apply:
• If choosing to bid, a player must move his marker to a space higher than his current space.
• He may pass, but he can bid later, provided the other players have not also all passed.
• Other than the “0” space, only one player can be on a given space.
• When all players pass in a row, the auction ends.
• Players then get a “initiative” (i.e. turn order marker) based on their results. If several players are still on “0,” their turn order carries from the previous round.
The auction is critical: with four players, there are four available paths. Each path has a varying number of resources that a player receives, a number of zombies to defeat, and/or a number of victory points to gain. The first player naturally gets top choice, which usually gives them an easier path (or, at a minimum, a path with more victory points or resources). The last player will get whatever is leftover (i.e. the hardest path or path with the fewest rewards).
The paths each have two cards, which are resolved in order from left to right. The top left is the “scavenge,” or the resources a player gets. Then, if there is text on the card, that event happens. Finally, there is a fight in which a player must defeat all of the zombies on the card. (Some cards also give tokens, which can affect future cards.)
When players begins to fight zombies, they can first spend bullets to do a ranged attack, rolling two dice per bullet token used. The crosshairs equals a hit, and that many zombies are removed. The rest of the combat comes down to melee or escaping. For melee, players roll equal to the number of characters left on their team. Hits with the crosshairs symbol kills zombies, but the zombies can also kill the player’s characters with skulls, unless a player spends adrenaline to avoid it. (Some cards require that one or more red horde dice be rolled, and these have skulls that can’t be cancelled by spending adrenaline.) A player can escape by spending two gas tokens, but this isn’t always the best route since the player doesn’t get the card, which sometimes have victory points.
If a player gets hit during melee and doesn’t have the adrenaline to spend — or doesn’t want to spend it — he loses one of his survivors. But this is devastating, since that player will roll fewer dice on future melee battles.
Players can be — and frequently are — eliminated from the game. If this happens, one of the keys is put beside the bottom row of cards in the next round. Players must spend two extra resources to go down this path. If two players are eliminated, two keys — one requiring two resources, the other requiring four — are put out on the bottom two rows.
If more than one player survives, the points will be tallied to determine the winner. Players add up the points from their cards, plus they hand out the “epilogue” cards, which are worth three points each. The epilogue cards go to the player with (1) the most adrenaline, (2) the most ammo, (3) the most gas, and (4) the most survivors.
The winner is the player that made it to Los Angeles with the most points. If nobody made it to Los Angeles, there is no winner.
My thoughts on the game…
Martin Wallace came out with two games at Gen Con 2016: Via Nebula and Hit Z Road. Both are excellent, and they show of the breadth of Wallace’s game-design genius. I didn’t expect to like Hit Z Road more than Via Nebula, but I think I do. Hit Z Road is a simple-but-effective resource management game with a clever and unique use of the Zombie theme.
At first blush, this isn’t a game I’d expect myself to like. I disdain the use of the zombie theme in games — candidly, I don’t get the entire zombie craze — but it works well in this case, and this feels like a Zombie-themed road trip. Making the game from repurposed household objects and components from other games was brilliant, and everybody I show the box to exclaims how cool of an idea that was. I’m also not normally a fan of dice rolling, but it also works nicely in Hit Z Road.
Don’t let the theme and emphasis on dice rolling fool you: there are some strong elements of a Wallace-style Eurogame here. The auction is essential: it can be nice to snag the best path (either due to a low zombie count or good resources), but at what cost? Overbidding in the auction can be fatal, and while Hit Z Road is simple to learn, it can be unforgiving to poor resource management. This is a great introduction to Wallace’s emphasis on careful planning.
The game is best with four players: it makes the auction more interesting, and it is fun when somebody must go down each of those four paths. At that player count the game takes about 45 minutes. Sure, Hit Z Road has player elimination, but for such a short and simple game, I don’t see that as much of a problem.
The game is tense. I haven’t had a game yet where everybody survived to the West Coast, and we taunt each other around the table about who will be the first to die. It seems, at least based on my plays, that somebody is going to be eliminated. You need to know when to conserve resource and know when to spend them, and while Hit Z Road is easy to learn, it takes a couple of games to find the right balance. And a little luck on the dice rolls also helps.
Overall, I think Hit Z Road is one of the better Gen Con 2016 titles, and I’m glad I picked up a copy. This game has a little bit of something for everybody: a cool theme, the tension that only dice can provide, and clever resource management. This has been a big hit with my game group, and if you’re a fan of Martin Wallace, I think you’ll enjoy what he’s done with a lighter game.
Great review, I think you nailed perfectly. We have played a half dozen times and dice only came in to play 2 times, for 2 separate people in 2 different games. They had some particularly bad rolls against a late hoard or large pack and lost 3 or 4 dudes on one turn. Other than that though, it has come down to playing the auction and resource management every time for everyone else. Plays for us in around 45 minutes with hardly any setup time, love it.
Excellent write up.