- Tom LiCanada
Most of you reading this review probably don't have a copy of Zombie Cinema, or know what it is, and that's fine. In the following paragraphs, I will not only tell you what it is, but also show why this game should not only on every zombie enthusiast's shelves, but lovers of roleplaying as well.
WHAT IS IT?
Zombie Cinema by Eero Tuovinen is a not a traditional zombie game. In other zombie games, you and your friends have clear objectives. You look for shotguns, find safehouses, and hope that your character can run fast enough to reach the helipad so you can be spirited away to safety. Winners are those who live. Losers are the ones who get eaten. Zombie Cinema is the only game I know where having your character devoured by shambling cadavers isn't necessary a bad thing. Simply put, the ultimate goal of Zombie Cinema isn't to escape, or to kill the most zombies. It's to make a really cool Zombie movie with your friends. When the concept of "winning" no longer contributes to the enjoyment of the game, then players can be free to weave a truly immersive narrative.
WHAT ARE THE COMPONENTS?
The game comes with 6 different colored d6s, 6 pawns corresponding to the dice, 1 zombie pawn, and a round marker. It also has a pamphlet which contains the rules, 27 Cinema Cards, and a game board. All this is encased in a stylish VHS case reminiscent of those old campy horror movies that you find at a rundown video rental store. Whoever thought of putting their game inside such a cool box is a marketing genius, because it was the uniqueness of the box that first caught my eye. Of course, the box caught my eye, but the game was what drew me in.
HOW IS IT PLAYED?
Firstly, players create their characters. This is done by 27 Cinema Cards, each of which contains traits, occupations, motivations and temperament of your character. The cards are split into 3 distinct colors, each color governing a specific area, and player can pick one of each. Players can have cards such as "Independent Woman, Compassion, A Destination" as a possible combination, or "Lust or Greed, Macho, and Such an Opportunity "at the other extreme. As this is a storytelling game, players can draw as many cards as they want, and players are also able to switch their cards with others. The goal here is to have a diverse cast of characters with divergent goals, backgrounds and morals. This will be addressed later, as it is a very important part of the game.
Players then decide on a location that they would like to play. This is done collaboratively, and everyone can pitch ideas until a suitable one has been chosen. My group has done our university campus, a cruise ship, and GenCon, just as an example.
Characters start in the middle of the board, while zombies start at the bottom. As the game progresses, characters will move up the board, to safety, or move down, closer to the zombie threat. The zombie also moves up the board at certain times, and will become increasingly aggressive as they do so.
After that, it's up to the first player to start the game. He does this by Framing the Scene, in which he describes the setting, the time, as well as any and all secondary characters in the scene.
Once he has done that, the game moves on to Free Narration. This is the part where he gets to describe the thoughts and actions of his character, as well as all secondary characters. He cannot control the other player characters, but he can interact with them either through his own avatar, or through his NPCs. In this aspect, the active player is essentially the GM, with the other players acting as PCs. However, PCs can overrule unanimously anything too crazy or stupid set out by the active player, and can also make suggestions to the setting, or what they would like to see happen or be made available in the game.
Remember the part where I said that having a diverse cast being a major part of the game? Zombie Cinema is not a game where players team up and fight the zombies together, it is a game where players bicker and fight about how to best fight the zombies. Do we stay and fight, or do we run? Should we abandon the invalid, or protect her at all costs? These are the conflicts which arise due to characters which have differing philosophies and motivations. Conflict Resolution occurs whenever two or more players have a disagreement about anything.
For example, let's say a character, Steve, is arguing with Claire, another PC, about whether or not to leave a kid they picked up on their travels. Steve insists that the kid will slow them down, while Claire is adamant in keeping the child. Now, in this party, there are 3 other characters, Thomas, Ash and Charles. Thomas decides that the kid's a jerk, so he allies with Steve. Ash doesn't want to get involved, so he passes. Charles, the character, is also neutral, but his player does not want the kid to die. He decides to support. This means that his character will not be actively involved, but his die will count towards the conflict's resolution. The winner, who is the one with the single highest die, will get to become the narrator. This means that this person will get total control of everything: zombies, NPCs, ever other characters. If anyone is allied with him, then their character will be actively involved in the resolution of the conflict. Supporters will not appear in the scene as an active participant. The narrator can choose to let the issue resolve whichever way he desires. Winners move one space up on the board, which leads closer to escape, and losers move down one on the board, closer to a grisly zombie death. If there is a tie, the conflict is not resolved, and the zombies instead move one up the board. This symbolizes that the zombies come in and interrupt the argument before it is resolved.
Once a scene has been fully explored (essentially, out of fights to start or interesting things to do) the active player cuts the scene. The next player is now the active player, and is his turn to set a scene. This could be hours or days after the last scene, and in a completely new place, building on the decisions set in the previous scenes. (Last scene ends with players deciding to head to a military base. The next scene could be the military base itself, or a scene where it shows the journey of going to the military base, or whatever comes to mind.)
I love the way Zombie Cinema handles dead characters. When a player loses their character, they still get to frame the scene, have free narration by controlling NPCs and so on, but now he also gets to start conflicts using the zombies. In other games, when you die, you effectively stop having fun. Even in D&D, where resurrection is possible, you're still waiting in the sidelines until someone raises your body, which could take hours, or even not possible until next session. Being able to participate even in the case of character death means several things: firstly, players can afford to have their characters killed, either for the sake of the group, or making a dramatic scene where the jackass of the group gets their comeuppance. By controlling the zombies, they can now force characters to work together instead of against each other as well.
WHY IS IT FUN?
My last session was one that I felt really captured the spirit of the Zombie Cinema. The session begins at the Vancouver Zombie Walk, an annual event which attracts thousands of costumers to act as shambling abominations. Billy is a retired cop with a limp leg. He's a volunteer at the event, decked out in his old uniform, which he decorated copiously with fake blood for the occasion. At his side is his trained monkey Baboo, and his son Jimmy who take care of the kind old man. A real cop who is named Louie is his partner, who eyes the crowd with clear disdain. On the same street, a man in a fancy business suit named Gordon sits in a limousine, cursing at the crowds. He has in one hand a Blackberry, and another on the thigh of his secretary, Jenny. If he doesn't make it through the crowd in the next 10 minutes, he's going to be late. He eyes Jenny lustfully as he continues his frantic calls to his clients. At the end of the street stands Anna, a disheveled old woman with a crazed gleam in her eyes. She screams at the crowd, hair wiry and dirty, waving a sign which reads "2012 Doom is Nigh All Sinners Repent The Aztecs were Right". As expected, nobody pays much attention to her as they continue their undead shambling. Billy frowns, and approaches Anna. She looks like trouble, and it'd be better to calm her down, or remove her if necessary. Billy tries to be diplomatic, but fails, and instead calls on a series of derogatory epitaphs which does not phase Billy in the slightest.
Larry, meanwhile, makes his way to the limousine. Seeing that Gordon is a black man, Larry decides to pull him out and starts making ridiculous demands. Billy, seeing this, immediately limps to Larry, telling him to back down. Larry shouts some racial slurs at Gordon, who seems shocked and angry at this treatment. Billy, who turned his back to Anna, did not expect when she brought her sign repeatedly on his old head, shouting and screaming about the end of the world. Larry pulls out his gun, and Gordon, fearing for his life, starts to wrestle with Larry for the firearm. Billy manages to slug Anna in the face, cuffs her, then helps Larry to subdue Gordon, cuffing him as well. Gordon screams for an attorney, while Larry jeers in his face and throws both him and Anna into the back of the cop car. Billy berates Larry for his insensitive and brutal methods. They turn on the sirens, hoping to clear the way so that they can process the two, and the crowd parts at the sight of the noise, all except a crowd of about 30 who remained in the center of the road. Who, as one, turn slowly at the sight of the cop car. All those in the car can't help but remark on the authenticity of their costume. Then suddenly, the small crowd rushes towards the cop car, their bodies surrounding the car and hurling their arms at the windows. Everyone screams, and Louie points his pistol at the crowd, yelling at them to back down. Billy, who's at the wheel, orders Louie to stand down, to which Louie responds by unloading two shots through the side window. This did not slow them down. Three of the creatures break through the passenger side window and drag Louie yelling and screaming out of the car, who now fires shots wildly into the crowd. The rest of the crowd then starts to gather around and tear into Louie, his screams now of true horror. Billy makes a choice to abandon his partner, and slams his foot into the pedal, leaving Louie behind. The crowd seems more interested in Louie than in the car, and do not follow.
From then on, the story only gets better. Anna and Gordon manage to lose their cuffs. Anna steals Billy's gun and demands that they meet her psychic friend to find out what's going on. The psychic is located at Stanley Park, and what results is a very tense escape from the zombie-infested woods in the dark. We lose Jimmy, who was shot by Gordon in order to save Billy. This results in some interesting character conflict. The group makes their way to the harbor, where a large group of survivors, close to 100, stand looking at a ferry that is dead in the water. They quickly find out that they were all routed here, and that the ferry was heading towards the harbour when it suddenly stopped. The lights are on, but nobody is willing to make the trip to find out what's wrong. The group get onto a boat, which they use to paddle to the ferry, promising to come back for the rest of the survivors. During the trip, zombies pop out of the water, and Gordon had to shoot Bimbo the monkey to keep Billy safe. This results in Billy losing everyone he's ever loved, and dangerous words were exchanged. On the boat, they find that the ferry was dead in the water because zombies have taken it over. They appear to be led by a new, more powerful zombie, which appears to made entirely out of flesh and teeth. The group escapes to the lifeboats, but Gordon remains behind, cutting at the ropes and shooting out the bottom of the boat. Billy and Anna sink beneath the waters. Gordon faces this new zombie who throws a tooth-filled tentacle at him. It latches onto his leg, and Gordon is forced to amputate his foot with a rusty saw in order to avoid infection. The new zombie just stands there, seemingly enjoying the spectacle. Gordon crawls away. He suddenly sees two pairs of dripping wet shoes before his eyes. Looking up, he sees Billy and Anna, now zombies, with twisted smiles on their faces. His eyes widen, and the scene fades to black.
IS IT FOR ME?
Here's the rub: this game NEEDS creative/outgoing people for it to work. You need roleplayers, storytellers, actors, writers, or public speakers in your group or this game just will not fly. This is one of the most intimidating games I've had to convince people to play, not because the rules are hard or confusing, but some people just cannot convince themselves to step out of their comfort zone, or have convinced themselves that they are not creative people. They would say, "Oh, but I'm not creative", or "I just don't have any good ideas." It can be a bit disheartening at first, but trust me, when you get the right mix of people together, this game is pure MAGIC. There's nothing quite like weaving a narrative with your friends, and the twists and turns of this game are only limited by your group's imagination. And trust me, you and your friends have more creative juices stored in your heads than you think. Try it out with your friends, and some of the narration and surprises made up by your group will surprise you. In conclusion, if you like zombies, telling stories, and having crazy amounts of fun, then this game is a must-have for you. Hopefully this review has given you a better idea of the game, and I hope you do give this game a try!
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- Keith LeonardUnited States
Excellent review! This is the first I have heard of this one. It seems like a very cool game and I feeled compelled to look into further. Only a few people in my gaming group would like this type of game, but zombies are always nice bait to bring them in!
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- Ethan Van VorstUnited States
- I have to say you make the game sound intriguing. Nicely done review!
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- mylesUnited States
Oklahoma100 geek gold and this is all I get? :p
- It sounds like a loose framework. Is there any reason other genres of horror or survival wouldn't fit or does it herd you into the zombie genre only? I.E. why not something more lovecraft inspired, if you so desired? Either way, it sounds interesting with a creative group. Wish I had a group like that.
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- Tom LiCanada
Here are some Zombie Cinema variants, straight from the publisher's website:
You can see that 2 variants are offered, Heist Cinema and Mythos Cinema.
In Heist Cinema the player characters are all crooks out for a score to make their careers. Usually police, other criminals, betraying girlfriends or such prevent the crime from ultimately paying off, but sometimes, just sometimes the crook is the one who walks off with the gold. Movies like Italian Job, Ocean’s Eleven and the indomitable Reservoir Dogs are the inspiration here.
In Mythos Cinema the player characters are well-bred dilettantes, desperate lower class occultists, semi-mad cultists, the occasional police or other characters well suited to the stories of the good ol’ H. P. Lovecraft, Gent. There is no strong movie tradition behind this board, which makes it rather exciting - the players have to figure out for themselves what a demented brew results from mixing Cthulhu Mythos with Zombie Cinema! My personal inspiration for this is the excellent Acts of Evil by Paul Czege, a game about power-mad cultists competing for the ultimate occult power through time and space.
But really, you can modify the game to be of any genre.
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