Note: This preview uses pre-release components and rules. What you see here may be different from the final, published game. This post was a paid preview, you can find out more information here.
I always enjoy a good zombie movie, so Dead Inside piqued my interest when it came through the pipeline. Just a few weeks ago, I was in the Zombie Capital of the World, Pittsburgh, where I attended a zombie convention in nearby Monroeville Mall, the filming location of George Romero’s zombie classic, Dawn of the Dead. So, after braving hordes of undead fans, I figured I’m ready to take on some undead cards.
Dead Inside: Zombie Survival Card Game, launching on July 1 on Kickstarter, is designed by Tom and Bella Hanson. The game supports 2-4 players and takes about 30-45 minutes to play.
In Dead Inside, players are just trying to outlast each other in the zombie apocalypse. They’ll be running from zombies, fighting them off, and even steering herds toward their opponents to try and survive. You either win by being the final player standing or by lasting a full year in the apocalypse, which equates to going through all of the cards in the deck.
Setup is simple: place the deck of cards in the middle of the table and give each player 20 health, 20 food, and 20 water. On your turn, you’ll start by Scavenging, which just means drawing the top card of the deck and seeing what you get. Zombies will go on the table in front of you and constitute the horde you’re now contending with. Each player has their own group of undead to handle and must face it every turn.
You’ll next have to deal with your zombie horde by either running or staying to fight. If you choose to fight, you will attack each zombie individually by rolling 2 dice. If your total die roll meets or exceeds the minimum points (top right of the card) needed to kill the zombie, you’ve eradicated the ghoul. You can draw a card from the deck (the loot pile) on scoring a kill, which might give you some useful equipment.
Weapon cards, such as hand guns or knives, can increase your die results, so it’s quite helpful if you come across any while looting the deck. However, you could just as easily draw another zombie or a negative effect card, so while wiping out zombies is necessary, it’s a bit of a push-your-luck mechanism as you could just end up worse off as a result.
If you’re unable to kill the zombie, it’ll get a chance to return the favor. Roll 2 more dice for the zombie attack and check its card to see what kind of damage you’ll take. Scratches and bites will whittle away your health points, and some zombies even explode on death, dealing AOE damage to you and your neighbors. Smaller opponents like Scramblers are easier to defeat and deal less damage, but if you’re up against a Brute or Ravager, things could get dicey.
You can also choose to run from the zombies by rolling 2 dice and hoping that the result is equal to or higher than the total run points (top left value) of the horde.
Once you’ve fought or run away from all your zombies, you’ve dealt with them for the time being. If you’ve got a ranged weapon, at this point, you can attack any zombies that you’ve not already attacked this turn. Hit or miss, though, these ghouls can’t fight back, unless it’s a Runner, of course.
Now you can move on to using cards from your hand, which is when you’d do things like drink water or use a first aid kit to heal your wounds. Once you’ve done this, you’ll need to discard down to 3 cards, unless you have a backpack to hold more items.
Finally, you lose 1 food and 1 water at the end of each turn and the horrors have been staved off for another day. If any of your three stats reaches 0, you die and lose the game.
But the apocalypse isn’t just about the damage that the walking dead can inflict upon you. Bad things are always lurking around the corner, so you could draw a card that gives you food poisoning or causes you to become infected. These cards cause you to lose additional stat points each turn until you find a card, such as antibiotics, to counteract them. But as most zombie movies and TV series have shown us, the most dangerous foe in the zombie apocalypse isn’t the flesh-eaters. It’s the other humans that are out for themselves and no one else. Players can draw cards that break your legs, keeping you from running from a fight, or give you lacerations, causing you to bleed out over time.
The game progresses this way as players battle one another and the hordes of zombies following them around. When there’s only one survivor left, you have a winner.
There are a lot of zombie games out there, but Dead Inside is very streamlined. It basically consists of a deck of cards that players must brave in order to win. There aren’t a lot of extraneous mechanisms bloating the gameplay as you just draw cards and deal with the zombies in front of you. Sometimes it’s nice to have few rules overhead and just dive into a mob of ghouls with your friends.
Each game is going to play out differently depending on how and when cards come up. You could find yourself dealing with a lot of zombies early on with no weapons and a broken leg, or you might have several turns to build up some supplies before mowing down anything that comes your way. Obviously, as much hinges on top-decking cards, there’s a good deal of luck involved in whether or not you’re able to survive. The same goes for the fact that dice determine your success when fighting zombies or trying to run from them. So, it’s important to go in understanding that this is a feature of the game. But just as frustrating as it might be to barely miss on that headshot attempt, drawing a flask of water off the loot pile right as you’re about to succumb to dehydration is exhilarating. And no one said the zombie apocalypse would easy or fair, right?
As far as strategy goes, your main choice each turn will be whether to fight or run from the zombies in front of you. Without a weapon, and given a relatively small pack of ghouls, I’d generally opt to run. It doesn’t hurt to try and usually requires meeting a much lower value with your die roll. When the horde grows too unwieldy to escape, though, you might want to try and pick off some of the weaker zombies before making a break for it. But a good weapon is ideal for going up against the bigger flesh-eaters, because if you miss, they’re likely to tear a hefty chunk out of you. Finding a ranged weapon is great as it affords you all the benefits of being able to attack without the risk of retaliation.
There’s a good deal of take that in this game, which, as mentioned, feels pretty thematic for a post-apocalyptic hellscape. Sending zombies toward other players might seem like a jerk move, but if they’re armed and handling their horde pretty well, you may just be giving them free loot. Breaking an opponent’s leg or lacerating them so they bleed out, though, is much more malicious. Losing health each round and not being able to come up with the bandages needed to stop the bleeding can outright doom someone. And using the card that lets you steal someone else’s backpack, including their hand of cards filled with weapons and items, is just plain nasty. So be prepared for some good-natured backstabbing, assuming your group can handle the heat.
Dead Inside will appeal most to those who enjoy the zombie theme and want a straightforward survival game with little fluff. The simple rules and variety of zombies, effects, and items should keep the game fast-moving, with events playing out very differently from game to game. Players should keep in mind that chance can help or hinder in this game, and that your fellow survivors are definitely going to stab you in the back when given the chance. But, hey, that’s the zombie apocalypse!
Dead Inside launches on Kickstarter on July 1, so be sure to give it a look to learn more about the campaign and back your copy.