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Subject: After the Virus - braintastic! rss

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Tomasz Kułaga
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Preface

This is my first ever review of anything in my whole life, so I genuinely hope that it's readable and you fine folks find it enjoyable at least! Please don't bash me too hard!

Also, I suck at giving numerical rankings to things. I just do.

Anyway, let's go!


The box in all its glory! You might have noticed it doesn't sit flush...that's because of my storage solution, don't worry.

So, another zombie game?! Yep, another zombie game! But holy carp, is it something else! It’s THE GAME, the one that made me stop thinking about a review and actually write one!

What is it?

After the Virus is the newest game created by Jacob Fryxelius and published by the Fryxelius family, better known as Fryxgames – yeah, the Terraforming Mars Fryxgames – interest piqued yet? It’s a game for one to three players and let me just point out that it’s an awesome solo game. It is fast to set up, fast to play and fast to tear down, but this does not mean that this is an easy game. It is an EASY TO TEACH game,yes, but it will kick your proverbial butt up and down the street. Technically speaking, this is a cooperative card game, a mash-up of deck building and tableau building, meaning you start with a basic deck of cards which you can upgrade by getting new cards, then you lay them down in front of yourself, to your personal tableau for use later. Also, have I mentioned the game is scenario-driven? No? Well it is. Sixteen scenarios in total!

What does it look like?


Everything you get in the box, bar the deck boxes. These are mine!

Since this is a card game, the main focus is going to be on the cards. The game comes with three decks of forty identical cards and a set of fourteen zombie cards to go with each of them. I’ve read in some places that some people dislike the caricature style of the cards, but I think it fits what they were going for here; because I personally think that Jacob was going for a Planet Terror-esque feel of B zombie movies. No one is trying to go for any ‘naxx 10 serious business’ (kudos to whoever gets this reference). I, for one, do like Planet Terror and Evil Dead so the theme and overall feel are right up my alley.


A few different card types you might encounter.

The anatomy of a card is easy – from the top you’ve got the card’s name, type, picture, effect and a mysterious curved arrow with either a number or a word under it. We’ll get back to that arrow later.


Brainiacs.

The anatomy of a zombie card is even easier! There are 1, 2, 3 and 4-zombie cards and trust me, the latter are not a welcome addition to your deck.


Ruth. 'nuff said.

The game features four playable characters, including Ruth, a granny who owns a pub and a shotgun, which will often be used against her former clients, whose tastes have recently changed from alcohol to grey matter. Fortunately, Ruth is more likely to smear the walls of her beloved pub with their brains, than she is to give them a bite of her own.

The character sheet gives a short bio, the contents of your starter deck and starting card, and your character’s picture with three wound spots and a number track for marking two things: how heroic you are (no. of survivors saved) and how screwed you are (which zombie wave you are currently fighting against).

The wound/zombie/survivor markers are just wooden discs. Nothing special, but they serve their purpose – green for zombies, white for survivors and red for missing limbs.

The last two components found in the box are: a well written manual and the scenario booklet, or rather the scenario leaflet – this is the worst component quality-wise, but it is used the least soooo.. nah, it’s just poor quality, no excuses!

How do you play it?

Obligatory rule explanation part! Two reasons for writing this: firstly, I am a rule geek. I like reading manuals for games I MIGHT own someday. It’s just like reading books to me. Is that strange? Yeah, it is. Oh, well. Secondly, I thought this might be a good thing to write down, since this is going to be the first BGG review for this game. By the way, I am curious as to why. Why is this game not getting more attention? Never mind, on to the rules.

If you are not interested in the rules, skip this part!


If you know deck builders then you get the gist of the game. Start with a weak deck, acquire new cards to make it better and in this case, massacre zombies using your cards. Sounds like a cookie cutter deck builder, you say? Ha, but here comes the twist! Every time you shuffle your discard pile into a new draw pile, you add an increasing number of zombie cards. Each shuffle makes you put in one more zombie card than last time! Nice, very thematic but also terrifying! And it is thematic, in my opinion – it only makes sense that the more time you spend looting the city, rescuing people and shooting your way through the undead, the more of said undead will be drawn to you and your scrumptious brains! So first big plus for all you theme lovers – a nice correlation between theme and mechanics!

Setup


The first available scenario. A cakewalk. Or is it?

First, you pick a scenario. The author recommends playing through them in order, which will give you a story taking you through the zombie outbreak from day one all the way to discovering a cure. It is not necessary to do it, though. Find a mission you really like? Play the hell out of it!

As mentioned before, after picking a character, you take the 40-card deck of cards, take out one card you start the game with and put it in your play area, take out the ones that will form your starter deck, put a number of zombie cards equal to the number of players (or a different amount of zombie cards, like mission 2, where you start with five (sic!) zombie cards in your deck) in there and shuffle it up. Then, take what’s left after this setup, shuffle it up, and put it facedown – this will be called the location deck. So, to summarize, every player’s play area should look similar to this:


Play area set up for Ruth.

From top to bottom you see your location deck, zombie deck (the rest of the zombie cards, face up in ascending order), your draw deck, character sheet and one card in your play area.

Going back to the scenario, you will need to check any additional setup rules, like adding zombie cards to the location deck or maybe having some cards scouted from the start. The last thing a scenario tells you (apart from the winning condition, of course!) is on which zombie wave you start the game. Let me stop right here and say that, usually it’s wave number one, but the last page of the manual says that if you’re finding the game too hard, you can always start on one wave lower than specified in the scenario. And let me tell you, I find myself doing this all the time for now. This game is hard!

Turn structure

Note: all of this applies to every player simultaneously! You draw 5 cards (if you can’t draw five then reshuffle your discard pile, remembering to add zombies!), check to see if you drew any zombie cards. If you did, you play them in front of you. These zombies are going to attack you this turn. The rest of the cards can be used for a variety of purposes and this is where my favorite mechanism as of late comes in – multi-purpose card usage! To understand this better, let me break down the available actions:

- Play a card – blue cards can be added to your tableau, turned 90 degrees to indicate they are unprepared. Red cards are single-use cards – you play it, get its effect and discard it.

- Prepare a card – each card has a preparation cost (sometimes it can be 0). This cost usually means the number (or, less commonly, the type) of cards you need to simply discard in order to turn the card 90 degrees to the left, marking it as prepared and ready for use (so, for example, this can symbolize a fueled car, a loaded weapon or an armed survivor. Let your imagination fly!)

- Use a prepared card – discard or destroy (permanently remove the card from the game) a card in order to receive its effect

- Scout – discard a card in order to reveal the top card of the location deck, making it ready to be retrieved

- Retrieve – discard the number of cards shown in the hand symbol of a scouted card to retrieve it. The retrieved card goes unprepared into your tableau, unless it’s a red card – then it goes straight to your discard pile

- Fighting a zombie – at any moment of your turn you can decide to fight any number of attacking zombies. But why bother if all the zombies are going to attack you at the end of your turn anyway? Well, sometimes you may have a card which lets you negate or heal a wound, so first you will need to receive that wound, right? Right.


Game state after a few rounds. Much more busy, right?

And that’s basically the gist of the game. You can keep taking whichever actions you want, as long as you have cards in your hand or prepared cards in your tableau. What’s more, each player plays their turn simultaneously, so the turns fly by!

As far as cooperation is concerned, the only way you can help each other out is by healing or interacting in any way with zombies. Seems like there isn’t much cooperation, doesn’t it? Quite the contrary! It gives you a multitude of options and strategies. Does everyone fend for themselves, or do I forgo doing anything myself and try to help another player set up a juicy next turn, since we know he’s definitely going to have a Safe House in his next hand with a few survivors ready to go?

What is a Safe House, you ask? It’s the card that most scenarios revolve around! It’s the only card in your deck which lets you actually rescue prepared survivors. And this is where one of the key rules of After the Virus comes in. When you use the Safe House, you choose one of the following:

• The survivor is actually sent to the safe house, thus increasing the number of survivors rescued by your character

• The survivor shares his equipment or expertise with you, which mechanically translates to drawing and retrieving FOR FREE the top card of the location deck. This does not, however, increase the survivor tracker

What’s so special about this? Well, it’s another difficult decision you have to make with each shuffle (only one Safe House card in your deck, remember?). Free cards? Yes, please, with a side of fries, kthx. Ummm, yeah but what if the scenario needs you to actually RESCUE six survivors, for example? Good luck figuring out the balance!

Anyway, those are most of the rules. The last two rules are as follows:

• Killing a zombie is different than discarding a zombie. The former lets you put the zombie back into the zombie deck to be drawn with the next reshuffle, while the latter makes the zombie go into YOUR discard pile, which means two things, actually – the zombie deck gets smaller, meaning you are closer to drawing the bigger zombie cards and your next reshuffled deck is going to be more zombiefied.

• There are two restrictions: you can never have more than two prepared weapons (one with a wounded arm) and no more than one prepared vehicle. If you prepare another one above the limit, you need to destroy a different one (removing it from the game)

Do I enjoy it and why?



My storage solution. Each deck box contains a player deck, a zombie deck and the five markers one person needs.

If it’s not apparent from my review so far – I love this game! It’s got everything I would want from a card game: planning my moves based on what I have got left in my deck, executing combos (nothing fancy, but still) and the thrill of the luck of the draw. Let me just add, that I’ve recently been trying out Carl Chudyk’s games and I love his design style – the multi-purpose card use found in all (or most?) of his games is just something that hits me right in the heart!

Ok, back to Jacob Fryxelius! What is so special about After the Virus? If I had to put it in a few words, I’d have to say that this game is like walking on a tightrope. It’s about finding balance, not in one aspect, but two at the same time! This is the game’s shazam! Let me elaborate:

• The balance between rescuing survivors for ‘points’ or cards. Sure, you want to get to the needed number asap, but if you do that, your deck will be as thin as a Terraforming Mars player sheet (sorry Jacob, I love TM but those player sheets are a pet peeve of mine! Love ya!), meaning you will shuffle your deck more often, meaning you will get more and more zombies, meaning… a not-so-quick but oh-so-painful death. So you’re gonna want to bleed those survivors for items? But you’ve got to be careful about being too gung-ho about this as well because by the time you start to actually rescue them, you might be looking at wave 8 or 9 and that’s… not a good spot to be in.

• The thing that’s harder to balance is, in my opinion, the amount of cards in your tableau and the amount of cards in your deck. Sure, it’s great to be prepared for anything by having a lot of cards out, but that means that you’re very likely to draw a full hand of zombies and then immediately have to reshuffle your deck so yeah… insta-death?
So there you have it. This balancing act is the thing that keeps me coming back to the game. It poses a different challenge for my dendrites and synapses every time I sit down to play it and oh boy, do I play it a lot. I rarely sit down to play board games by my lonesome, but this one is just so fast to set up and play that I find myself playing it very, very often! The solo variant works here, and it works great. I love the gambling aspect of ‘hmmmm, I am PRETTY sure I won’t draw five zombie cards in my next hand so instead of preparing the chainsaw that would let me kill six, I’m just gonna scout some cards, seems like a genius idea’ (pyz, last words).

So for a quick summary:

THE GOOD:

• Easy to teach, but offering depth
• Playtime (10-15 minutes for the shorter scenarios, up to an hour for the longer ones)
• The graphic design of the cards, their readability
• 16 different scenarios
• Modifiable difficulty
• Plays well both as a solo and a coop game
• The constant need to balance your deck and tableau

THE BAD (?):

• The wooden markers could be just a few millimeters smaller
• Some people may find the caricature style not appealing – personally I have no problem with it

I would recommend After the Virus to anyone who likes deck builders and doesn’t look for realism in his zombies (granny Ruth wielding a flamethrower in one hand and a chainsaw in the other? Aw hell yeah!) I personally think this is another awesome game from the Fryxelius family and it deserves far more recognition, praise and hype than it’s getting!

Any feedback is much appreciated! I'm thinking about writing more reviews and I would really like to hear if they're any good.
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Kevin B. Smith
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fps_pyz wrote:

PS
How do I make the images bigger in the thread? I suck, I know.

You can quote-reply to see what I did here:


I forget what all the keywords are that you can put there. Maybe small, large, thumb...?
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Tomasz Kułaga
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Thank you so much, Kevin! Now it looks much better!

Did you enjoy the review by any chance?
 
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Pawel Tonski
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Delicious read my friend. Makes me want to play the game. Keep 'em comming.
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Johan Drubbel
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Well, there you go. You just took a lot of work out of my hands because I was planning a review myself. The wonderful people at fryxgames make wonderful games (if anyone's interested you can read my thoughts about Fleets, The Pleiad Conflict) and this zombie game definitly deserves a lot more attention! So, well done. I couldn't have said it better

If I'm not mistaken, the artwork has been done by Jacobs brother Daniel and I'm glad he didn't go for the classic realistic look. Together with the fact that this is a cardgame, a title WITHOUT the usual 'Z' in it and a Jacob shenanigan he introduced personally to me and my wife, convinced me to grab a copy at Spiel. And I don't regret it for a second ... if you don't count the endless losses against that freaking zombie army. Still struggling to beat scenario 2A by the way cry

The only thing that bothered me was the track on the playerboards. It's made out of squares and you have to use round markers. That's a no-no in my book but also completely negligible.

Again, job well done!
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Terence Burnett
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Just to say I loved your review, you touched on everything that makes the game great.

It would be nice if the mission set up rules were printed on cards too.
Ideal to add to a deck box and take away with you for solo play.
 
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paulo camacho

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great review!

can you help me something? how do you play it: let's say you had one card left in your hand, you MUST play ALL the cards from your hand on a turn or, once you get rid of a zombie, you could draw back to 5 cards (in this case draw 4 cards).

thanks!
 
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Jacob Fryxelius
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krmchl wrote:
great review!

can you help me something? how do you play it: let's say you had one card left in your hand, you MUST play ALL the cards from your hand on a turn or, once you get rid of a zombie, you could draw back to 5 cards (in this case draw 4 cards).

thanks!

No,
All zombies and all cards in hand for all players must be gone before you can together start the next turn. You may not save cards in hand for next turn, so if you have any leftovers, you can use them to scout. There may be things you want to do at that stage before finishing the turn (for example using Medkit), so players must agree to proceed to the next turn.

... And by the way, great review! Thanks a lot!

Cheers!
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Tomasz Kułaga
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Spagetti69 wrote:
Just to say I loved your review, you touched on everything that makes the game great.

It would be nice if the mission set up rules were printed on cards too.
Ideal to add to a deck box and take away with you for solo play.


I'm really happy you liked it, cheers!

Oh yeah I haven't thought of that, but you are right, that would be awesome. The way I got around it is that I just take a deckbox with me and I have two photos of the scenario sheet on my phone, so no problem.

Slowmow wrote:
Thank you for the excellent review!

Just picked up a copy! Did you play the multiplayer at all? Specifically wondering how the 2 player will work... I mostly play alone, but I hope to get my wife in on this one.


It works great with 2 players. As I touched upon in the review, the cooperation is miniscule (you can affect the other player's zombies, wounds and sometimes the discard pile) but it's enough to provide you with additional decisions you have to make during the game. Also, it gets a bit harder, since you start with more zombies in your decks...

Fryxen wrote:

... And by the way, great review! Thanks a lot!
Cheers!


Thank you so much Jacob, your appreciation means a lot! I love all your games so far, keep them coming please!
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Miroslav Babic
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I swear I saw your post somewhere that said that as opposed to other deck building games, here you can keep cards as a safety net? Maybe I misread you but it's boggling my mind.

Tomasz - great review and love for the game - I share it! Only started playing it yesterday, was after getting it since February - onto my next point.

This game is incredibly tough to find/get - I struggle to understand why - as opposed to Teraforming Mars which is sold almost at every corner, sometimes I have the feeling you can get that in TESCO

With After the virus - such a clever game and such a favourite theme of mine - I'm sure it tickles a lot of people's fancies - but the question is - why has it been so hard to get hands on the copy of this game?

Jacob - great games (own both and love them) - keep them coming
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Miroslav Babic
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Totally agree that this game should be getting lots more hype and recognition, future scenarios etc etc
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Dim Kom
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I fully agree with you and your nice review. This is an awesome game and I fully enjoy playing it. One of my 2-3 best solos.
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