Right now, zombies as a theme for boards games is just like Hansel from Zoolander, is so hot right now. One thing I’m noticing is that they seem to focus on a group of survivors trying to fight through a horde of zombies hell bent on eating their brains. It was a breath of fresh air when I read through the rule book for ApocalypZe. Not only was it a zombie game with no miniatures, I know blasphemy, but it takes place long after the disease engulfed the world into chaos. Players take the roles of leaders of survivor strongholds trying to keep their people alive. But they are not necessarily fighting zombies to keep themselves alive. Instead, they are fighting other groups of survivors for resources to keep their stronghold viable. Will this change of theme make this game a must own or should you let the zombies devour it? Read on.
ApocalypZe is a deck management game for 2-4 players to play in around 60 minutes. In my experience, the game plays best with 2 players.
ApocalypZe is all about surviving after the zombie apocalypse. Each player starts with a stronghold location: a police station, cafe, army base, or a church, and then with a deck of 59 cards. These cards represent your supplies and resources for the game. This deck is filled with survivors, equipment, locations to scour for more resources, and raiders that you can use to attack other players locations. Throughout the game, players will have to consume resources and do everything they can to find resources to add back to their supply. They try to do this while keeping their stronghold intact and they can send raiders to force your opponent to spend resources to defend themselves. If they are unable to consume the necessary resources at the end of their turn, they are knocked out of the game. When only one player is left standing, they are declared the winner.
The only component in this game is the 240+ cards. The cards are nice quality and hold up decently over many plays. I’ll admit I’m not the biggest fan of overly gruesome artwork in my games. I find it more of a distraction then an enhancement to the theme. I didn’t find any of the artwork to be distracting in this game. Sure there were cards with zombies and other PG-13 artwork, but it isn’t so mature that I think it would make anyone feel uncomfortable. My wife, who I thought might have issues with the artwork, had no problem playing the game with me. I do like that the artwork is all in grayscale. This gives the game a feeling of dread that would accompany a full scale apocalypse. Unfortunately, they decided to go with a black border around the cards which, if history is any indicator, will start to be littered with white marks after enough games. This isn’t a deal breaker for the game, but if you want to preserve the cards quality, you will need to put protective sleeves on them. I also like the decision to have the text boxes of each type of card a different color. This makes it very easy to distinguish what the cards can do when they are in your hand.
How to Play:
Each turn will go through 5 easy phases. But, before we dive into how those work we should talk about that deck of cards that you will be managing during the game. Your stronghold card is your home base for the survivors. Each stronghold will have a special ability that you can activate during the game, the survivor capacity, and how many access points and damage it will take if a raider gets through. You will also have a collection of scavenging locations where you can send character cards to look for other survivors and equipment. Once you clear the scavenging locations, you gain more cards back into your deck.
Characters are a large percentage of your deck. There are two types of characters: survivors or raiders. There are four different factions of survivors in the game ranging from soldiers, police, ordinary civilians, or biker gangs. The raiders are a collection of cultists, gangs, or zombies. Each of these cards has a number for their attack, defense, and value. Survivor cards can only be played at your stronghold or scavenging locations while the raider cards are used to attack other player’s locations. There is also a collection of twofold cards that either have both survivor and raider stats on the card and two types of raiders. Players can choose what type of character this card will be when they play it. There are also attachment cards that give survivors better weapons, higher defense, and other special abilities. Wildcards act as game events that can affect the conditions at either your stronghold or scavenging locations. The last type is trump cards which can be played at any time during the game.
Enough with the card talk and on to game play. As I said 300-ish words ago, there are five phases to each players turn. Each player’s stronghold will be placed on the table at the start of the game with the rest of the cards making your draw deck. Each player will start with eight cards and then the first turn can begin.
At the start of your turn; draw cards up to eight cards from the top of your deck.
The first action you take during this turn is decided which of the locations you want to occupy. The options are: survivors at your stronghold, place scavenging locations, or to place raiders at one of your opponent’s locations. You can play as many cards as you want from your hand. If you play a scavenging location you can move any survivors in your stronghold to that location to scavenge in the next phase. Players will take the number of cards in your discard pile equal to the sections value on the card and those will be searched by the survivors in the next phase.
If you have any survivors at a scavenging location without any raiders present you can clear sections. For each survivor at this location you draw a card from the collection that was placed when the card was played. If you draw a survivors card, it can be played at that scavenging location and is a new person to help in the search. Attachment cards can be placed with any survivor at that location giving them a gun, crowbar, or other items to help them fight off raiders. Any other type of card is placed on the discard pile. If you happen to clear all of the cards at this location, all survivors move back to the stronghold. Most scavenging locations will specify that you will gain cards back into your deck when you clear it. If this text is on the card, take the number of cards from the bottom of the discard pile and place them at the bottom of your deck. This is the way to get more cards back into your deck. Doing this is vital to your survival.
If you have any raiders at any of your opponent’s location combat begins. First, you will look at the locations access points to determine how many groups of raiders you can attack the location with. Once you have grouped your attackers, the defending player groups their survivors in any configuration they want to combat your attack, with each one being its own engagement. Each engagement compares their attacks to defense total to the other group. For each number the attack is over the defense value counts as a casualty. Players will need to assign wounds to characters and if that total is higher than the character’s value, they are moved to the discard pile. If they take wounds and do not reach the cards value number they are moved to the bottom of the players draw deck. If there is a group of raiders that has no survivors defending an access point they will attack the stronghold directly. For each card in that group, it will cause the owner of that stronghold to consume resources equal to the damage number on the card. Raiders will remain in their groups after combat is over if they have not sustained any wounds.
The last phase forces you to consume one resource for each survivor at your stronghold. This can be done in a few ways. They can take the top card of their deck and move it to the discard pile, or move two cards from their hand to the discard pile to count as consuming one resource. The last way is to move a survivor from your stronghold to the discard pile to consume resources equal to the survivor’s value.
If a player is unable to do this, they are out of the game. Once there is only one player standing the game is over.
When I first looked at ApocalypZe, I was intrigued mostly by the theme. What I liked about it was that it seems very real. Some zombie games feel more like the movie Zombieland, where a group of random characters fight their way through hordes of zombies. That isn’t the case here. Instead you have to make difficult decisions on where to play each turn. I can imagine having to make similar decisions if I was held up in a location trying to survive in this new world. Do I risk weakening my stronghold to send out people out to look for resources in different locations? These types of decisions don’t happen a lot in zombie games and the designers did a great job connecting theme and game play.
Overall, the game play is not overly complex. I admit it took me and my wife a few rounds to fully understand what was going on but after that it was smooth sailing. Each turn takes very little time to complete even if you have both used all of the five phases of a turn. I like some of the smart design choices in the game. The one I like the most is using your deck as your total resources in the game. This eliminates any needless tokens or scoring track and makes you focus on that deck to see how well you are doing. I started feeling uneasy as I saw my deck get smaller and smaller. Throughout the game you have to go out and get resources back into your deck. You will eat through cards quicker than you think as you place more cards into your stronghold. The other smart choice is having the duel survivor and raider cards in the deck. Not only do these cards give you more choices to make during your turn, but they also keep the deck size down to a reasonable number. I’m glad the deck is only fifty-nine cards deep. It allows for the game to be easily played in a relatively short amount of time.
The game isn’t perfect though. One of the major issues I have with the game is the lack of deck manipulation you can do at the start of your turn. There are some special abilities on hero, raider, and location cards that allow you to retrieve certain cards from your deck, but besides that you are stuck with how the cards are dealt. This can leave you in situations where everything in your hand is the exact opposite of what you need. I have had situations where my stronghold is being attacked by raiders and I had no options with the cards in my hand. I admit that this an issue with most deck based games, but it can be extremely crippling. In the case above, I had to spend fifteen cards to deal with the damage dealt to my stronghold and that was over half of the cards I had left. This can turn a game ugly very quickly. I wish there was rule that allowed you to put some cards in the discard pile and get new cards into your hand at the start of your turn. You would be burning resources to do so, but you might get the type of card you need in that redraw. Luckily, this doesn’t happen often because of the multipurpose cards in the deck.
Despite that situation above that cause my wife to win the game, I had an enjoyable time with this game. Each turn you have to make a crucial decision on what location to play cards at. When you get a nice mix of cards in your hand you want to play cards everywhere. This does get a little frustrating at times when you have multiple fires to put out, but I feel it leads you to make decisions each turn on where you want to prioritize your actions. A game that makes you weigh all your options each turn, which for me is always a good thing.
I feel that this game plays best as a two player game. When you get to three or four players it becomes difficult to keep the pressure on a player by yourself. This forces players to work together to force a player out and it feels less natural in this setting. Plus, with player elimination, a player could be stuck waiting for the game to end for a while if they are out quickly. As you go down in player count the game becomes more streamlined and better to play in my opinion.
The last thing I want to mention is how well balanced and varied the deck are in the game. Each deck has a nice mix of different civilians with different abilities and strengths. The rest of the card types in the starting decks have some crossover, but there is enough variety to make each deck feel unique. There is also a group of extra cards that you can swap with other cards to give the game even more variety to the game. The designers have even put together a forty-five card deck guidelines on their website. This allows for games to be even quicker, about thirty minutes, than the standard deck size and is a good way to introduce new players to the game.
I admit that when I first saw that the theme for ApocalypZe was about zombies, I wasn’t excited. The theme is just overdone and I hope running out of steam. That being said, I’m so glad I decided to give this game a try. It’s nice to see a zombie game like ApocalypZe doing something different. I was completely surprised by this game and how much fun it is to play. This game makes you feel that you are in survival mode in a desolate world rather than about fighting through hordes of zombies. The game play complements this unique theme quite well with difficult decision making for you each turn. This isn’t a game to introduce new gamers to the deck building/management mechanic (see Dominion), however if you need something that is a little more interactive and a great game to play with two players, ApocalypZe is a game to consider for your collection.
If you are interested in getting a copy for yourself, it’s about $30
Final Score: 4 Stars – A very solidly designed deck management game that is a breath of fresh air to the zombie theme.
• Not just another zombie game
• Interesting decisions to make each turn
• Unique use of cards as resources
• Doesn’t play as well with higher player counts
• No deck manipulation at start of turn