It is a rare occasion when I learn something from the title of a game. When I first got the zombie themed Pittsburgh 68 into my hands, I was curious as to the meaning of the name.
After some quick internet digging, I found that the title is an homage to the godfather of the horror genre, George Romero. His famous movie Night of the Living Dead was filmed north of Pittsburgh near route 68. There, you’ve learned something today.
Enough about old zombie movies, let’s get back to the game. In Pittsburgh 68, one player will control a zombie horde over a series of rounds, while the other players are just trying to keep their characters alive until the end of the game. Does this game deserve the same esteem as the movie that it gets its title from? Read on to find out.
Pittsburgh 68 is a dice rolling and hand management game for 3-13 players in 30-60 minutes depending on the number of players. In my experience, the game plays best with 4-7 players.
At the start of the game, one player is designated as the Zombie Master and will be in charge of all the zombies at the start of the game. The rest of the players will have a group of survivors in front of them with varying skills for surviving in this zombie filled world.
The game is separated into four reels (rounds) where a set number of cards are placed into a deck. These are meant to represent the different acts of a film. Players will need the luck of the dice on their side. They fight their way through zombie hordes to find weapons and safe houses in order to survive the entire game.
The game does another homage to the Night of the Living Dead by going with black and white for the portraits of characters and zombies on the cards. I find it refreshing that even though the zombies on the cards are clearly the walking dead, they are not so grotesque that it’s distracting.
I also like the light use of color around these images, it really helps the artwork to stand out. The one minor gripe I have about the components is with the tokens used in the game. They are fine quality but they are not double-sided. I would rather see the artwork on both sides and not force me to flip them all over when they are on the table.
How to Play:
Each player will start with a group of up to three survivors at the start of the game. These survivor cards are populated with the typical characters tropes you find in a zombie movie. They will each have different stats for muscle, speed, brains and guts that will help them with different things that come up during the game. The Zombie Master (ZM) takes the remaining cards, shuffles them, and then deals ten cards into the reel pile. The game is separated into four rounds with a differing number of cards in each round. The cards in these decks are a mix of zombies with varying values, items, action, locations and other things that can help the survivors or the ZM.
The players also get a collection of spoints (survivor points) which represent their characters’ vitality and luck at the start of the game. These can be used throughout the game to increase a character’s strength number, increase damage, or counter zombie attacks. The last thing I want to explain before we get into the actions for the player/ZM is the dealt hand. This is a set of three cards that is drawn from the reel deck. This hand is available for each player, even the Zombie Master, on their turn to draw cards. The cards can be used to help their survivors; or the zombie master can use it to collect more zombies to their horde. Enough with the terminology! Let’s get to the things we can do on the player’s turns.
On a player’s turn they can take one of these actions:
- They can introduce another Survivor by turning the character card over.
- A single Survivor removes an item or power card from the Dealt hand and immediately attacks any in-play zombie. The player can only do this for one Survivor and their turn is over.
- Each of the players’ already revealed Survivors can perform a single simple action. They can have their characters attack zombies, take an item or power card, rest and gain 2 spoints, or move into a Sanctuary to take shelter.
One thing that players have to be weary of, is having a dealt hand of three zombie cards on the table. If this happens, all the zombies attack that character. However, it might be worth the risk to gain an important item or shelter card. Attacking a zombie is a simple mechanic of attempting to roll above the zombie’s value to hit and roll another six-sided die to determine damage.
The ZM takes a turn after all the players have taken actions. The ZM can have three groups of zombies down on the table to attack the players. The ZM takes one of the following actions when it is their turn:
- Attack with each zombie or zombie throng on the table. The Zombie Master is attempting to roll below the value of the zombie or the total in the throng.
- Take one Zombie card from the central Dealt Hand then makes a single attack with that zombie or the group of zombies it has been placed on.
- Cover a card on the table with one for the reel pile. These need to be removed before a player can take the item or power play card underneath.
The reel will continue until the last card of the reel pile is turned. All the cards are collected and the next reel is dealt. If a player loses all of their characters, they will turn into a zombie player and be able to help the zombie master win the game. This will continue for four rounds. If the players manage to make it to the end, they survive this horror flick and win the game.
Pittsburgh 68’s game play is meant to be like a classic zombie movie and it manages to accomplish that quite well. The different number of cards in each reel/round goes a long way in doing this. The first being the shortest one where players are introducing the characters and then being at full strength, disposing of the zombies with some ease. As they progress and the reels get longer, the game becomes much more difficult to survive. This eventually leads to a point of desperation by a character that you might see in a movie. This is emphasized by the three zombie card rule I discussed above. Players will have to make a decision if it is worth the risk, much like in a survival horror movie.
With the games I played, we wove a nice story into the game play with the unique weapons and other cards in the deck. My favorite cards in the deck are easily the plot device and power play cards. These add some unique situations that require rolls versus your character’s stats or giving them special powers to use that round. These cards break up the game’s normal game play. My only gripe is that there are only a few of these in the deck, and in the case of the plot device cards are removed from the game once they are played. I feel that there could be even more of these types of cards that could be included in the game to add more variety.
I like how the reels make the game go through the acts of a zombie movie, but I don’t like the set-up method. The issue is that you take cards from the entire deck to make up each reel. For each round after, you do the same with all cards that haven’t been thrown out of the game. This leads to games that are very uneven in terms of difficulty and flow. I played a game in which the first reel, we had extremely high value zombies show up and the players lost many hit points due to unlucky dice rolls. This has the potential to ruin the game for both the players and the Zombie Master. I wish the game would have come with sets of cards to be used in each round of the game. Not all the cards would be used, but this would allow for some structure and normality to each of the reels. The current design does not lead to a consistent game experience for the player.
Despite that inconsistency, Pittsburgh 68 keeps the game play for both the survivors and the zombie master enjoyable. It is very easy to teach to new players on the survivor side their possible actions, but it’s a little more tedious for the zombie master to make sure things run smoothly. I enjoy the game from both the zombie master and player side for about two, maybe three, reels and then admittedly the game starts to drag.
Unfortunately, the game play gets repetitive as you get later in the game. More than likely by the third and fourth reel, you have already seen some of the plot device or sanctuary cards that inject some variety. This leaves you with weapons and zombies in the deck, turning your decision into a simple one: take a weapon or attack. While I enjoy rolling dice, I like to have a little more decision to make than which group of zombies I want to attack with my characters.
Pittsburgh 68 does some creative things with both character and player elimination. When a character dies instead of being discarded from the game, they are thrown into the reel discard pile and could appear later in the game. This provides a fun story element, as you see one of you former survivors as someone you now have to destroy. When a player has lost all of their characters to the zombie plague, they turn into another zombie master who attacks when it is their turn. I like how it can turn players from being on one side of the conflict to the other and changes their goals, it’s an effective way to keep players engaged throughout the game.
Pittsburgh 68 is a game that I feel is a few changes away from being great. It does a great job with interweaving the theme and story into the game play. Pittsburgh 68 provides a great way to keep players and characters involved after they have been eliminated from the game.
The game play falls short of being a game I want to play immediately after I finish playing. This game could be great by making simple changes to how the reels are set-up and adding additional scenario cards. Pittsburgh 68 falls into an ok category for me. It is a game that I would play again, but not something I’m going to reach for on a consistent basis.
If you’d like to pick up a copy of Pittsburgh 68, you can get it for about $16.
Final Score: 2.5 Stars – A game that manages to generate the feel like the different acts of an old school zombie flick, however the game overall falls short of being a classic.
• Using reels allows for the game to have the same flow as a movie
• Allows for players that were eliminated to stay involved
• Game enjoyment can vary greatly due to the random nature of how reels are set up
• Lack of difficult decisions for the players
• Not enough unique scenario cards to add variety