Note: This preview uses pre-release components and rules. What you see here may be different from the final, published game.
Before playing Dawn of the Zeds: Third Edition, I pretty much avowed myself away from having any interest in playing or owning a Zombie-themed game. I had played Dawn of the Zeds 2.0 long ago, but that game experience did not stick to my ribs as I would have hoped. When I was offered the chance to preview this version of Dawn of the Zeds, I was hesitant, but said to myself “It’s time to test the waters again”. Let’s see if I sank or swam.
Dawn of the Zeds: Third Edition in currently on Kickstarter and is a game for 1-4 players that takes around 90 minutes to play. Obviously, additional time will be needed for “learning” games. This game handles all player counts since no matter how many players are playing, 4 hero characters are selected to take on the Zeds. This game inherently supports solo play.
In Hermann Luttmann’s Dawn of the Zeds: Third Edition by Victory Point Games, players cooperate as a team to control hero characters as well as other hero-supporting units (heroic civilians, special civilians, regular civilians, V.I.P. survivors, etc.) who are tasked to defend Farmingdale from the Zed hordes. Players can take regular actions (Player Actions) and/or trigger special abilities (Character Actions) during play. Players are encouraged to move around the map-board looking for ammo and supplies, and find various ways to eliminate or slow down the oncoming Zeds. Players win the game if they can keep the Zeds from entering the town center when the last event card is played.
How to Play
First off I have to admit I have only ventured onto the tip of the iceberg by playing the Basic Level plus “Level 1: Outbreak!” of Dawn of the Zeds: Third Edition. There are several more levels that can be added to gameplay which include more hero characters, event and fate cards, and supporting game components. One of the stretch goals that has been reached includes a Player vs. Player variant called the “Versus Mode” where a player can take on the role of the anti-heroes or what I would call “Zed-helpers”. There is also going to be a “No Brains Mode” to play with non-gamers and kids.
Here is the sequence of play:
Begin the turn by flipping over the top event card. The event card will guide how the turn phases will be conducted.
Start the turn phases in sequence as shown on the event card.
- Phase 1 – 4R Phase which is skipped in Basic and Level 1, but it is where Raiders, Rangers, Refugees, and Rescuers (get it… 4R… ha ha) are moved and then may interact with the hero units and the Zeds.
- Phase 2 – Infection Phase where it is determined if an infection outbreak occurs. (Not good for the heroes!)
- Phase 3 – Eat Phase where supplies may be consumed. If not enough supplies exist when they need to be consumed, the hero characters suffer.
- Phase 4 – Zeds Phase where additional Zeds may be placed on the board tracks, then move and if hero units are encountered, conduct brain-eating operations.
- Phase 5 – Action Phase where the players decide what player and character actions they should take this turn for the heroes and hero units. These actions can be conducted in any order.
- Phase 6 – Housekeeping phase where the current event card is discarded and any spent action markers are flipped over.
The turns continue until either a Zed enters the Town Center causing the players to lose the game or the last Event card has been put into play and the heroes have survived the Zed assault and win the game.
Before playing my first game I read through the Basic Game Rulebook and then I looked at what additional complexity and variety Level 1 could bring to the game. In my opinion, unless you truly want to experience the watered-down version of the game, skip the Basic Level and start at Level 1. Level 1 gets you jump started into the majority of the phased sequence of play. Level 1 adds the Infection Phase which brings more tension into the game as the player(s) must control the infection level or suffer the consequences of an outbreak occurring. Level 1 also adds the Eat Phase which affects the amount of supplies the player(s) have at their disposal. Additionally, Level 1 adds “Healing” which brings the hospital and the management of its “patients” into play. Can you say “I want to live!” and “How’s my EKG”? All three of these additional rules are easy to implement and manage and are explained very well in the “Level Up” rules booklet.
The “Level Up” rules booklet is a new addition to Dawn of the Zeds: Third Edition and it allows the player(s) to become comfortable with a level of play and then learn a new set of rules from the preceding level in order to expand their game experience. I can see where this leveling-up system will add greatly to the variability to the game as additional characters, and fate and event cards are added to ramp-up each level. Even during setup for the Basic Game and Level 1, characters, fate, and event cards are removed from play, so these will change from game-to-game.
Considering Dawn of the Zeds: Third Edition is a cooperative-style game, I expected that I and the other players would be tactically challenged to prevent the Zeds from overtaking Farmingdale and the gameplay would be very thematic. In that regard, Dawn of the Zeds: Third Edition certainly did not disappoint me. I very much enjoyed the stress brought on by the Zeds phase, Infection phase, Fate cards, and the Zed movement and placement pressure mechanisms. The theme and tension became palpable as we progressed through the event cards as we attempted to survive the Zed onslaught.
It is nice that the event cards display what the phase sequence is and any special actions that occur during any of the phases. In my mind this makes gameplay easy to follow and flow very smoothly. The iterative nature of the phase sequence helps players learn the rules very quickly and in my experience, only minimally needing to reference back to the rule booklets for a refresher or two.
The fate cards and the “BRAINS!”-marked event cards are brilliant. When they come into play, they add to the thematic nature of this game and bring unexpected changes to gameplay, either good or bad. Their effects can be game changers and often put the players back on their toes giving them more decisions to make, not that they didn’t have enough decisions to make already.
I like humor and this game does not take itself too seriously. It presents gameplay effects and the characters abilities and traits in a tongue-and-cheek manner. So even if the players are being bashed about by the Zeds, they can laugh it off by quoting the humorous text on the cards or by making fun of their heroes.
The heroes units feel very different from each other. I like that each hero has special abilities. Each ability can be played at least once using the hero’s character action token. Players really need to cooperate together in order effectively meld “regular” actions and “special” actions considering they may get a very limited number of actions during a turn.
I like that character damage is tracked on the unit token. Adding damage tokens until the character token is flipped to its reduced strength side, or until eliminated, makes it very easy to see what the current strength of any hero or Zed unit at any time. At first I thought this mechanism would be fiddly, but that isn’t the case.
Here’s a list of what else I found heightened my gameplay experience:
- Hospital saving rolls can keep a hero unit in play even though it must be healed enough to be discharged in order to become an effective contributor to the survival of the hero units.
- The event actions, supplies, ammo, and infection level are easily tracked in one location on the game board.
- All locations on the game board are well-marked and it’s easy to distinguish their location type. This aids in determining their effect during gameplay.
- The player aids are well-designed and formatted.
I really enjoyed my experience playing Dawn of the Zeds: Third Edition, but I have some nit-picky criticisms to voice.
I thought it was strange that all of the character units lay flat on the game board, but the disease spreader is a standee. It seems to be out-of-place. The standee’s character art and strength designation are difficult to make out when viewing it from overhead.
Playing solo with only 1 player action token pushes the player to control a hero character that does not have a character token. I guess playing solo is compensated by not having either the Zeds movement pressure or the Zeds placement pressure come into play, but having only 1 player action token seems very limiting when trying to defeat the Zeds. A solo player’s turn is over sooner than I liked. It would be nice if VPG would offer a recommended start set of heroes to play that have the greatest potential to provide the fullest Basic Level or Level 1 gameplay experience.
There are almost no dice roll manipulation mechanisms built into the game with a few exceptions. Through all of the dice-rolling actions I felt that I had no control over them. (i.e. foraging, hospital saves, supply checks, infection checks, etc.). At least some sort of re-roll or dice modifier mechanism would be nice to have at the player’s disposal coupled with the basic heroes’ abilities.
I found the basic hero characters to have very weak strength and do not do well with hand-to hand combat situations. I almost always tried to stay away from that type of combat with the Zeds. I would have preferred to have a “brute” in the basic set of player heroes to order to melee better. Maybe an idea for the expansion?
The text on the locations on the game board at times can become obscured by unit pieces making it tough to know what the location it is or if it has any terrain shift ability. I often had to move the unit pieces to the side of the location in order to see what a locations was. I know it would be difficult to make the game board any larger, but maybe adding a boxed area separated from the text to place unit pieces in could alleviate this. Just a thought.
I happily swam through my plays of Dawn of the Zeds: Third Edition. Now I want to explore Level 2 after our last near defeat by those darn Zeds. Based on what I’ve seen so far in the preview copy of the game and what VPG has in store from its Kickstarter project, I believe any fans of cooperative games will enjoy their play-through of Dawn of the Zeds: Third Edition time and time again.
If you’d like to become a backer, pledges start at $65 the full game and stretch goals. Dawn of the Zeds 3rd Edition is scheduled to be in backers hands November of 2015 and you have until Saturday, July 18th to become a backer. Head over today and check it out.
As always, we don’t post ratings for preview copies as the components and rules may change from the final game. Check back with us after the game is produced for a full review.