Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Quick Review - Zombifection - Kickstarter Preview

Designer: Gabriel Rosswell
Publisher: Franki Frank
Quick Review - Zombifection - Kickstarter Preview

Zombie games are all the rage.  If you love zombie games you've got plenty to choose from.  If you're sick of zombies you might aw well get over it because there's no end in sight.  Zombies are fascinating, and a generally easy theme to try to turn into a board game.  There's the relentless onslaught of the oncoming horde of mindless enemies while you have to collect resources and fight for survival.  In all the games that have used zombies as a theme there are a handful that have really done it well, some that are horrible, and a ton that are somewhere in the middle.

When I was contacted by Franki Frank and asked to review his new zombie game, Zombifection (which should hit Kickstarter this summer), I was hesitant at first.  Was it going to be like all the other zombie games out there?  So I took a look at the rules and realized that this wasn't going to be your typical zombie game.  Zombifection is a combination survival and social deduction game in the vein of Bang! or One Night Ultimate Werewolf, but with its own twists.  Is it enough to survive in the hordes of zombie games?  Or will it be devoured with the masses?  Read on to find out.

Zombifection is a social deduction and survival game for 3-12 players that plays in a series of rounds.  You can play for just one round if you like, but ideally the game should be played for at least three rounds since points are cumulative and grow from round to round.  Thus a loss in the last round is more damaging than a loss in the first round and a win is more rewarding in later rounds.  Each round takes 5-20 minutes depending on the number of players, types of players, and in-game circumstances. Zombifection is recommended for ages 8+, although I was able to play with a few other adults and kids aged 6-13 without any issues.  If they're fine with the zombie theme there's nothing gory or mature about the rest of the game, and the mechanics are simple enough, however the social deduction aspect may be lost on younger players.
Getting ready to spread the zombie virus.
In Zombifection there are four roles: Survivor, Killer (optional), Patient Zero, and Infected.  At the beginning of the game each player will receive a role other than Infected (players only become Infected if they are killed).  Each player will also take on the role of a character that has a name, amount of vitality they have, and a special ability.  Roles are secret, but characters are public.  Players also each get one vitality token for each vitality space on their character card, two Patient Zero Blood tokens, and four cards.  The cards have a variety of items, actions, and events that can be played.
The survivors, the killer, and patient zero must all be brothers...
You can tell the killer is evil because of the eye patch (now he needs a goatee).
The goal of the players is pretty simple.  In each round, survivors try to survive and kill both the Killer and Patient Zero.  The Killer tries to survive and kill other survivors and Patient Zero last; this is an optional role in the game.  Patient Zero tries to survive and kill the other survivors.  Once a player is killed they become Infected and then their goal is to help Patient Zero survive.  At the end of the round (which happens when Patient Zero is either killed or the last to survive) all of the Patient Zero Blood tokens that were distributed at the beginning of the round are passed around, depending on each players' status and role at the end of the round.  I'll go into this a little more later.
All of the game components, plus 12 cubes that I provided.  These will be meeples
provided with the retail game and are used to track score.
A player's turn is divided into four phases.  These generally go pretty quickly, and turns move around the table at a decent pace.

Phase 1 - Judgement Phase
If an event had been played earlier in the game there may be a Judgement Phase to each player's turn, until that event is replaced by another event.  If the event card says so, at the beginning of a player's turn they must draw and discard the top card from the main deck.  Each card has one of four symbols at the bottom of the card.  Depending on the symbol the event card will describe what happens.  This usually takes the form of receiving damage (losing a vitality token) or not.  The Judgement Phase doesn't always happen, only when certain events are in play.

Phase 2 - Recharge Phase
In the Recharge Phase the player simply draws two additional cards from the deck.

Phase 3 - Playing Phase
This is the core of a player's turn.  During the Playing Phase a player can use any cards they have in their hands.  There are three main types of cards: Events, Actions, and Items.  And there are three different types of Item cards: Weapons, Armor, and Other Equipment.

Events can be played to replace an event that was played earlier in the game.  Events put restrictions on every other player.  These could be things like poisonous gas that will do damage to players, to events that cause damage if players do not make an attack in a round.

Actions are cards that have various effects on the game.  They can cause you to draw extra cards, steal cards from opponents, look at roles, and a ton more.  Sometimes these can be game changers and most are OK, but there are a few that have devastatingly bad effects, like missing an entire turn or having to discard your entire hand.  I definitely think these need a bit more balancing before the game is ready for prime time.  Action cards also include Energy cards, which are required to Attack or use Weapons.
That quarantine card is brutal.  It makes a player lose a turn (in a game where turns are scarce),
and there are several of them in the deck.
Items are the various gear that players can use throughout the game.
- Armor can be used to avoid damage in various instances.  There are two types of damage that can be inflicted throughout the game: Physical (like weapons fire) and Poison (gasses or infections) damage.  Both cause a player to lose a vitality token, but some armor protects against physical damage and some protects against poison damage.  Armor can be equipped to your character, but you can only have one Armor equipped at a time.
I'm not sure why you can't equip both a gas mask and kevlar armor,
or why you can't use the antibody with any other armor, but rules be rules...
 - Weapons allow you to do physical damage to other players, but generally require Energy to use.  They can be equipped to your character though, and used when you have Energy available.  You are allowed to equip two weapons at a time.
That sniper rifle is brutal, although from the rules it's unclear if it does a total of 5 damage, 3 damage, or 2 damage...
5 damage seems excessive since it's enough to take out an opponent in one shot, but I guess sniper rifles are like that...
 - Other Equipment lets you do other stuff.  You can equip as much Other Equipment as you like.  Sometimes you must discard the Other Equipment to use it, sometimes it works in conjunction with other items, etc.  Other Equipment includes things like med kits, vehicles, etc.
After you equip Zombie Camouflage you are required to take a shower...
The Playing Phase is also the phase where you can attack your opponents.  To attack opponents you must discard an Energy card.  Discarding an Energy Card on its own does 1 damage to an opponent, but if you have a Weapon equipped you can do more damage, sometimes enough to kill another player in one shot if you have enough Energy.  You can only attack with Energy once per turn, but there are some Actions and Items that let you attack again without using Energy.  Also the Rifle and the Thomas character allow an additional Energy attack each turn.
Energy is used to attack and to power weapons.  It's not clear from the rules, but the publisher explained that energy does one damage on its own and when it's powering a weapon the attack gets the bonus energy of the weapon added. 
When you Attack another player they lose one vitality token for each damage inflicted.  If a player runs out of vitality tokens (and has no means to heal) they are killed and become Infected, unless  they were Patient Zero, in which case the round ends immediately.  If the player to become Infected is the last Survivor then Patient Zero wins the round and the round ends immediately also.  Otherwise, the round continues.

Phase 4 - Discard Phase
In the Discard Phase players simply discard down to six cards if they have more in their hand.  Then it's on to the next player's turn.
At the end of each round scoring takes place.
The Round End:
Everything up to this point is pretty straight forward.  The rules in the prototype I received are written in very broken English (the publisher is from Indonesia), but I was able to understand most of it.  I got a few clarifications from the publisher (e.g. when an event is played, does it affect the current player or start with the next player - it affects the current player, too).  I do have a few issues with some of the details of these four phases, like what incentive a player has to play an event if it's going to affect him right away, too, but these are  minor in the overall gameplay.  Where the game gets very confusing is in the end of round scoring.

At the end of the round players take the Patient Zero Blood tokens they have and pass them to other players, depending on how the round ended and what role each player was.  Blood collected is cumulative during each round (each player gains two additional tokens at the beginning of each round, so the amount of points available in each round keeps increasing).

- If Patient Zero won the round he gets all the tokens from the last infected player.
- If Patient Zero was killed, the player that killed Patient Zero takes all of Patient Zero's tokens, plus all the tokens from all Infected players.  Other Survivors gain one token, I'm assuming from the main supply, but that's not clear.
- The Killer is a little different.  The rulebook says that if the Killer kills a Survivor he gets to take two tokens from the Survivor he killed immediately.  And if the Killer kills Patient Zero he gets the same reward as if a Survivor killed Patient Zero (all Patient Zero's token and all the Infected's tokens).
- Infected players can't gain any blood, however if Patient Zero is killed all the Infected players will lose any blood they've collected in the game so far.  So they want to keep Patient Zero alive so they don't lose their collected tokens.

The problem with this method of points distribution is that it doesn't work with the theme of the game.  The object of the game is for the survivors to kill Patient Zero and collect his blood so that the government can come up with a cure for the zombie virus.  Thematically you'd think it would be best for the survivors to try to work together to keep as many survivors alive as possible, but there is absolutely no incentive for survivors to work together.  There is a reward for killing Patient Zero, and that's great, but you get a bigger reward if more Survivors have been killed and Infected.  So the best strategy for the Survivors is to kill everyone else and then kill Patient Zero last.  And for the Killer, the first time the Killer kills another player, his role must be revealed if he wants to take the two tokens from his victim.  So the Killer is actually incentivized by not killing other players lest his role be revealed and he become a target.  The only roles with a clear objective are Patient Zero and the Infected.
Why wouldn't Andrea, Carl, and Carol work together to survive?  They don't have to worry about the killer, because
as soon as he kills someone he'll have to reveal his role in order to claim his blood reward, and then he's an easy target.
But instead they're out to kill each other so that they have a chance at getting more blood at the end of the round.
Another bit about the scoring that is a little unusual is that each round players score points for the blood they have collected.  Then at the beginning of the next round the players get two more blood tokens and another round commences, but now the winner of the last round has quite a bit of blood at stake.  This makes them more of a target for the other Survivors, however the new Patient Zero will want to keep that winner alive until the very end so that he can take all of the previous winner's tokens.  Each round the stakes get higher because two additional tokens are added per player (plus any bonus blood Infected players win if Patient Zero wins a round).  Players never lose points between rounds (there's a score tracker to keep track of points), but the potential rewards increase drastically each round.  I talked to the developer about this a bit and the reasoning behind it is so that even if a player loses in the first two rounds, they're not out of the game for the last round.  I suppose that makes sense, but at the same time it lessens the importance of winning in earlier rounds.  I'm not sure it makes enough difference in the overall gameplay, although it is interesting to keep increasing the stakes each round.  It means that winning the first round and then just surviving the last two isn't as good as surviving the first two rounds (or possibly even losing the first two rounds) and then winning the third, and I'm not convinced that much of an imbalance is a good thing.  So while I do like the idea of the stakes increasing with each round, I'm not sure it works well, especially with the current method of distributing rewards.

Other Stuff:
There are a few other things with Zombifection that I have to address, beyond the gameplay itself.  Keeping in mind that this is still a prototype, I do have big issues with the both the rulebook and the artwork.

The English in the rulebook is absolutely atrocious.  Whoever wrote the rulebook has a very poor grasp of the English language.  It is filled with grammatical errors, incorrect word usage, awkward phrasing, and a ton of other mistakes that make it both obvious it wasn't written by someone fluent in English and very difficult to understand.  Even the orientation of the rulebook is awkward - it opens on the left side and has the first page on the back.  The version of the rules that I received with my prototype game are much clearer than the first version that I read online, but they still take a LOT of concentration to make sense of.  One of the things that Zombifection really needs to do with any Kickstarter funds is hire a professional rules writer.  Regardless of if the gameplay and scoring methods get revised and cleaned up at all, the game is virtually unplayable by simply reading the rule book.
What the Judgement Phase text actually means is, if there is an Event in play that requires you to complete a Judgement,
draw the top card from the deck and look at its symbol to determine the results of the event.  Then discard the card and
proceed with Phase 2.

Second is the artwork.  The graphic design on the cards is very nice, but the characters, actions, events, and roles artwork is pretty awful.  The roles cards, except for the Infected, all show a clipart symbol of a male head and shoulders.  The only differentiation between Patient Zero, Survivors and the Killer is an eyepatch on the Killer and a half of Patient Zero's face is blotchy (my sons say he looks like Two Face).  The iconography on the role cards could be a lot better, although I guess it's tolerable.  But the character artwork on the character cards is really bad.  The graphic design is so crisp and bold, yet the character art is amateurish, faded, and awkward.  The same goes for all of the other artwork that features people (or zombies).  I really hope that this is placeholder artwork that will be updated prior to the Kickstarter.  (On a side note, many of the characters seem to be very similar to characters from a well known TV show about zombies...)
Awkward artwork, and what's this disclaimer saying the cards are only valid for Zombifection?  That's a little odd... 
The only thing more awkward than the character art is the card art...
Final Thoughts:
I'm very torn with Zombifection.  On the one hand it's a different take on zombie games.  It's not your typical game about trying to survive the onslaught of zombie hordes.  This is much more like Bang! than Dead of Winter or Last Night on Earth.  But the confusing scoring methods and anti-thematic goals are really tough to look past, even if the game did have better artwork and more clearly written rules.  So, unfortunately I can't recommend Zombifection at this time, although I do feel it has potential.  There's something good here, it just needs to be cleaned up and refined a bit.  So maybe the game will get a bit of a makeover (it doesn't really need much) before it launches on Kickstarter.  If it does I'll be sure to update this review to reflect any changes.  In the meantime, I've written up my own slightly modified rules that I want to give a try.
That air cannon is evil.  Since you only draw two cards per turn and can have a hand limit of six, one shot can
basically set you back three turns, and you'll be lucky to get three turns in a round.

Preliminary Rating: 5.5/10
This review is of a prototype game.  Components and rules are not final and are subject to change.

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GJJG Game Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends.  Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some are print and play versions of games.  Where applicable I will indicate if games have been played with kids or adults or a mix (Family Play).  I won't go into extensive detail about how to play the game (there are plenty of other sources for that information and I'll occasionally link to those other sources), but I will give my impressions of the game and how my friends and family reacted to the game.  Quick Reviews will only get a single rating of 1-10 (low-high) based on my first impressions of the game during my first few times playing.  Hopefully I'll get more chances to play the game and will be able to give it a full review soon.

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