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Chris Berger
United States
Round Lake
Illinois
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Zombie State: Diplomacy of the Dead. As soon as I heard the name, I was sure I'd like this game. Is it an election game, I wondered? Can I pick zombie presidents from history and campaign for zombie votes, promising a brain in every pot? Would we simulate the Zombie Lincoln - Zombie Douglas debates? Maybe a retheming of 1960: The Making of the President or Die Macher? That would be awesome.

Or maybe it's not a political game. Maybe it's a game where you play various zombie nations trying to vie for power in a world suffering from a real estate crisis and a brains shortage? You have to try and continue to feed your zombie subjects off the remaining human population without completely killing them off. As a semi-cooperative game, only one nation can come out ahead, but over-hunt the humans and everyone loses. Yeah, that sounds like a game I'd play. I seems like you're missing all kinds of puns and in-jokes that could come from the zombie election game, but that would still be pretty cool.

So when my buddy mentioned to me that he got Zombie State, I was pretty excited. I asked him which of those two games it was. And he said, "no, you play human nations that are getting overrun by zombies." What? Getting overrun by zombies? Trying to eek out survival against an unstoppable horde? That might be cool if it hadn't been done approximately seven million times before. So I went into my first game of Zombie State already disappointed. You have a title that makes it sound like the theme will be really fresh and inventive, but a game that is, themewise, cliche in every possible way.

On to the components - pretty nice actually. The art is somewhat amateurish, but the board is full-color and high-quality. You get a bunch of dice in each player color (second bit of disappointment - you never roll these dice) to mark your population in each territory. You get more round cardboard tokens than you will ever need, in several varieties. We were overrun with zombies this game but didn't even come close to running out - only used maybe 20% of the zombie tokens, if that. There are some nice molded plastic miniatures for your armies (tanks) and raised borders (looks like a border patrol station), cards representing the resources you've harvested, and also event cards that are turned up 3 per turn. Each player has a large player board with almost all the information you could need on it. It's a little overwhelming at first because there is so much stuff on it.

There are basically two currencies that you use for taking actions - one of them is "Freedom Points" (FP), which are action points. And the second is resources (in 4 types - Corn/Food, Wood/Metal, Fuel, and Chemicals). You gain a resource card (RC) each turn for each resource disc you control on the board. Each player starts by controlling 6 resource discs, and those should all last at least 2 or 3 turns unless you get really unlucky with initial zombie placement. If you need more resource cards on a turn, one of the things you can do with your actions is spend 1FP for 1RC. As far as FP, you start with 6, but when you lose the last population point in a territory, the population die goes onto your player board and covers up a spot on the FP track. Once you've covered up 2 spots, you only get 5FP per turn - 3 more and you're down to 4FP. Couple this with the fact that some of those territories contain resources (essentially worth 1FP per turn each), and you can see that there's a downward spiral effect in this game. It's very difficult to recover in any meaningful way.

The other things you can spend your actions on include technologies and military. There are three branches of technology, each with a different focus. It costs 4RC (different types for different techs) and 1FP to attempt to learn a technology, which requires a roll of 7+ on a 12-sided die. So, of course you can expect to roll a 6, which gets you a +3 counter to use on your next attempt, which requires another 4 resources. Which will of course result in you rolling a 3. Twice in this game, I paid 3 times for the same technology, and that is just really frustrating. Now, there are ways to increase your odds - an extra FP gets you +2 to the roll, any other player who already knows that tech gives you +1, and Technology Focus (a Science tech) gives +2 to one roll per turn. But FP are really tight in this game, and it's just as frustrating to spend an extra one for a bonus and roll 12 as it is to not spend it and roll a 3.

Then there's military. Military also costs 4RC (2x Corn, 1x Wood, 1x Fuel), and 1FP to recruit. And they are worth as much in combat as a single measily zombie. Since every zombie that is able to feed off your population creates a new zombie, every turn, trading one unit for one zombie is a losing proposition. You can rarely afford to buy more than 1 unit per turn, while the zombies are reproducing at least one per turn, and usually way more. Luckily you can fortify for 1FP (or get defensive mobility) to double your strength. You still need to equal the zombie's force so that you don't lose units (each of your barricaded units can kill 2 zombies, but they can take 1 point of damage without being destroyed... so 3 barricaded tanks can kill 6 zombies and be wiped out themselves, but 3 zombies against 3 barricaded units leaves 3 no-longer-barricaded units and no zombies - much better). Unfortunately, getting bonus strength on an attack is impossible until tier 2 technologies, so any attempt to attack the zombies pretty much fails until then. You can also move your units for 1FP (or 2FP to airlift).

All-in-all, this game is cool, but ultimately frustrating. It's brutal, and it got more brutal as we played and the guy who owns the game remembered (or checked) more rules. Like, zombies that were just born this turn still count as attackers during the zombie attack phase. And, even worse, it turns out that actually doesn't matter at all because you can't build military units in a territory with a zombie in it. So, military units are way too expensive to trade one-for-one, you always trade one-for-one unless you barricade as an action (only on defense), and it's impossible to get a defending unit in a territory that already has zombies. So, once a zombie is in any territory, it's basically lost. Further, even if you're willing to trade one-for-one (5 actions worth of materials), you have to spend another 1FP per unit to actually move them into battle. You can't move an army - if you've got 3 zombies in a territory, it will cost you a combined 18FP worth of actions and materials to kill them. And you just don't get all that many FP or RC in this game. Especially not when you're wasting them on failed technology rolls like I was.

Not that it isn't possible to wall off the zombies - the way the board is designed and because zombies won't move into a territory with 0 population, if you get lucky and get the zombies drawn off into a choke point, you can build a raised border (which cannot be crossed) and be left alone for pretty much the rest of the game (you still have to build up some military and worry about other people leaking zombies into you, but for the most part if your own continent is clear and you've only lost one or two territories, you're in great shape). But it just seems like you need some luck and skill to get into that position, and then there's just a separation where the people who didn't get rid of their zombies quick go into a death spin, and anyone who did just coasts. It seems like the turning point in the game should come late, with some dramatic build-up, rather than on the second turn where you maybe wipe out or trap all the zombies.

Then we come to the issue of player interaction. Basically the only points of contact in the game are through getting a +1 bonus on tech rolls when someone else already owns the tech and through whether or not they redirect their zombies toward you (either intentionally or accidentally). Other than that, you might as well be playing separate games. I refuse to call any game multi-player solitaire if there's any interaction, and there is some in Zombie State, but not a lot. I'm surprised the game isn't officially for 1-5 players - I rated 1 player as the best way to play on the main game page, because really I don't see any reason not to play this solo. It would be easy to do solo with just one continent, but it would also be interesting to have a variant where you play solo as the whole world (without just playing 5 different players' positions).

Overall, I rate Zombie State a 6. Normally this would indicate a decent but not great game that I like but am somewhat ambivalent about. In the case of Zombie State, I am not at all ambivalent, but I just hold two opposed, very strong, opinions about it.

Things I love:
a) The tech tree gives you a bunch of different routes to take, and the ability to research any tier 2's after you get 3 tier 1's is nice - so it's not completely restrained. I wouldn't have to develop 3 military techs before getting tier 2 military, I can develop a bunch of science and then get Special Ops (I think that's what it's called) to go zombie hunting.
b) The rules are pretty elegant. Despite the fact that we didn't get them all explained at the start of the game, by the end I felt like they really made sense and it wasn't very hard to decide what to do on your turn. Now, strategically making the correct decision wasn't nearly so simple, but that's what makes for good games.
c) The mechanic of moving your population dice to your player board to indicate lost territories - very nice. I wish there was something like this for the resources as well, but since there are plenty of extra resource discs, I'm sure you could figure something out.
d) The automated movement of the zombies - very programmed, and very thematic. Mostly intuitive. The only thing that bugs me is that if there's a tie, they move by random die roll. I would prefer if the player moving them (the one whose territory they're in) could choose. Would add little more strategy, and actually a little more player interaction to the game.

Things I hate:
a) First and foremost, the game is frustrating. It's brutal and you feel completely beat down, and once you get in a bad position, there is no way to recover, other than maybe walling off Australia and spending the rest of your days getting 1 Corn and 1FP per turn, hoping to somehow wait out the zombie apocalypse and fight off any outbreaks.
b) On the frustrating front - random die rolls for research. This has been covered a lot in this other review, and I mostly agree with what he says (other than the 2 rating), so I won't go over it any more.
c) More frustration - it seems literally impossible to take back a territory once it has zombies in it, until you get to tier 2 military tech. Your armies are so incredibly weak in this game - they need to be fortified to be at all useful, and for some reason I can have 6 population in a territory and just one zombie, but I can't recruit any of these people into the military. Once you get a zombie, the military suddenly ceases to exist there. And don't even bother trying to invade.
d) The theme. Not that it's terrible, but when the title indicates a really awesome theme and then the actual theme of the game is much less awesome and completely cliche... that's disappointing.
(edit: can't believe I forgot e) Almost complete lack of player interaction, yet we have to wait for each others' turns, resulting in a lot of unnecessary downtime.)
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Matt Vollick
Canada
St. Thomas
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At first I thought the game would be incredibly fun. How could it not? You're defending your continent against overwhelming Zombies, herding them onto your Neighbours and developing technology to destroy them sounds like insane fun.

The reality is that it's sort of like a Euro with how the Zombies move between regions and the abstracted military units and then it crushes you with the Ameritrash randomness of the die rolls for Tech and Zombie outbreaks. That is its greatest flaw.

Make it full Ameritrash: Giant board, specific military units, special locations and let me immerse myself in the theme or make it a true Euro and create some weird formula for where outbreaks happen.



 
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Ocean Druen
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Buffalo Grove
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Chris, I think you are being kind with this one. The game fails where you are successful against the zombie hordes (unlikely), or are just failing. There was never a feeling of hanging on, developing your defenses, then striking. Also you are right the game is not cooperative at all, you may as well be playing five mini games together.

the random die roll issue can be solved by just making the +3 chit (tile ) an automatic success the second time.
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Chris Berger
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DarkTori wrote:
Chris, I think you are being kind with this one. The game fails where you are successful against the zombie hordes (unlikely), or are just failing. There was never a feeling of hanging on, developing your defenses, then striking. Also you are right the game is not cooperative at all, you may as well be playing five mini games together.


I dunno, there's a lot to like in the game, I think. I think there are probably some variant rules either already out there or waiting to be born that will really help out and make this game fun.

Also, I don't think it's supposed to be cooperative. I think it's supposed to be competitive. But honestly, it failed more at being competitive than it did at being a co-op. Since we couldn't really affect each other, there didn't seem much point in competing - it really did feel more like "playing against the game" as a co-op. I think it would be best as 1-player...

Quote:
the random die roll issue can be solved by just making the +3 chit (tile ) an automatic success the second time.


Token.

Actually, I think I would prefer replacing the d12 with 2d6, and I think that would actually fix it a lot (and possibly also make the +3 an auto-succeed, since hitting that 1/12 chance to roll 3 or less on 2d6 would be even worse). And the other issue I forgot to mention I hate is that if you roll an outbreak in a region without people, you keep rolling until you get one with people (or 3 lucky rolls in which case you stop). I mean, come ON! It's already brutal. An outbreak in an area without military already means I lose that territory (unless I've gotten up to Special Ops) - why not give me a damn break for once? zombie
 
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Mike Loftus
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Henrietta
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I dunno, there's a lot to like in the game, I think. I think there are probably some variant rules either already out there or waiting to be born that will really help out and make this game fun.

These?

http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/596794/official-variants

 
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