Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de



Nicolas Normandon


No. of Players:
2 - 6

G@mebox Star



Zombies and all kinds of horror have a long tradition with Hollywood, but ever since the release of Robert Kirkman's comic book series "The Walking Dead" a Zombie-revival has begun which does not even stop in the world of boardgames. In the last years we have seen the one or other title going for this genre, and today Nicolas Normandon has found allies in Cedrick Caumont and Thomas Provoost from REPOS PRODUCTION. However, as could be expected from this unusual publisher, the game City of Horror does not focus on a highly strategic conflict simulation, but instead we see the first known model of a ZOMBIE-democracy!!!

Well, the general situation is known from many a movie. A small American town full of typical inhabitants is threatened to be overrun by Zombies, and the frightened citizens want to stay alive until the army comes to rescue them. Translated to the playing terms of City of Horror this means that each player assumes control of a number of characters which are randomly spread out over the six different locations of the city, and it is each player's goal to keep his characters alive until army helicopters arrive by the end of the fourth turn to rescue all living characters - provided they have been vaccinated with an antidote. So, the mission is clear: get antidotes and stay alive!

During setup all players have received a random choice of characters, and in addition the players have received a hand of Action cards which were either randomly drawn or drafted - depending on the variant preferred by the players. The gameboard is placed on the table, with the Crossroads location placed in the middle and the other five locations (Water Tower, Church, Hospital, Armoury, Bank) spread around the Crossroads. All player characters have been randomly assigned to one location, with the specialty that no player has more than one character at each location at the beginning of the game. Apart from placing some cards and tokens at hand, the setup finishes with the arrival of the first group of Zombies. For this reason an Invasion card is drawn, and Zombies are placed outside each location as shown on this card.

This brings us to the beginning of the first round, and each round is started with a check whether one or more players have characters at the Water Tower. If this should be the case, these players are allowed to have a look at the topmost hidden card of the deck of Invasion cards. Thus, these players will get a clue what will happen later during this round, and they may try to use this information to their advantage in the upcoming movement phase.

In the movement phase each player secretly chooses a Movement card depicting one of the six locations on the gameboard, and later in the round the players must try to move one of their characters to the chosen location. Only one movement is allowed for each player each round, and when all players have chosen their cards they will reveal them simultaneously.

However, before the characters move the Zombies will make their appearance, and so the topmost Invasion card from the deck will be revealed in the following phase. The Invasion cards show a few changes which must be retraced on the gameboard, and so some Zombies will move from one location to another, new Zombies will arrive, and the government will airdrop some supplies like antidotes and new Action cards. All of these changes have to be set into effect as shown on the card, with the exception that no location may receive more than eight Zombies. If movement or the placement of new Zombies would result in a placement exceeding eight, no more Zombies will be moved or added at that specific location.

Now comes the movement phase, and in this phase each player must try to move one of his characters to the location depicted on his chosen Movement card. All movements are enacted following the player order of the running round, and the following of this order may lead to the fact that a location may already be filled up to its maximum capacity. Just like the maximum of Zombies outside each location, the locations themselves only can house a fixed number of characters, and a character who cannot enter a location has no chance but to stop at the central Crossroads. Unfortunately any character standing here is much more exposed to all those wandering Zombies…

But now let's have a look at the resolution of each location. This is the central part of the game, and now the locations will be dealt with step-by-step in ascending order. A location begins with each player with at least one present character being allowed to use the special ability of the location, and so a player may use the Hospital to exchange one of his Action cards for an antidote, the Church to re-activate one of his exhausted characters, the Armoury to discard an Action card to draw a new one etc.. Once all players have used the location's abilities they will need to check for a Zombie attack. If the number of Zombies outside the location exceeds a location-specific critical value, the Zombies will attack and kill one of the characters in the building, but this effect can be prevented of the players succeed in reducing the number of Zombies so that their total does not exceed the location's critical value anymore.

Here the meaty part begins, since all players are allowed to play Action cards from their hand and to use character specific special abilities to change the situation at this location. The choice of available action cards is manifold, so that cards with guns or a chainsaw allow a direct reduction of the number of Zombies lurking outside this specific location, whereas the Little Cat will distract the Zombies and draw them towards a different, randomly chosen location. Likewise, each character in the game possesses his own special ability, and once again these abilities can be used to change the situation at hand.

However, the effects which can be reached by special abilities and Action cards are not limited to the direct resolution of a specific location, but instead many cards and abilities also may be used during different times during the game. So, the Priest has the possibility to cancel a movement which was just made, the Thief can steal a random Action card from another player, the Student can take the first player token, or the Businessman can discard an Action card from his hand to get any other card from the discard pile. Both Action cards and character abilities have in common that they can be used only once. Action cards then must be discarded, whereas a character is flipped to his "exhausted" side. Apart from losing his special ability an exhausted character also will be worth less victory points by the end of the game, but first the character needs to survive at all before this effect can come to bear.

But let's return to the resolution of the locations. If, after all cards and abilities have been used, the number of Zombies as the current location still exceeds the critical value, the characters at this location will be attacked. However, the victim of this attack will not be found by any combat-simulation procedure, but instead the players get to vote! Each player now gets one vote for each of his characters present at this location, and simultaneously each player chooses and points at a player whom he wants to loose a character. Before a vote the players are allowed (and encouraged) to discuss this awful situation, and - of course - a lot of promises will be given, temporary alliances will be made, and sometimes even a bribe of an antidote or an Action card may come in handy. However, in the end it comes down to the vote, and the player loosing the vote must remove one of his present characters from the game. If there is a draw, the player with the first player token gets to decide, and - once again - bribes and promises may be given.

As can be seen, survival in City of Horror greatly depends on a player's negotiation skills, and this is not just restricted to the Zombie attack vote because, after the unfortunate victim has been found, the players get a second vote to see who will be allowed to share out the antidotes or Action cards which were airdropped to this location. Now the winner of the vote will be the one to decide who gets what, but with the restriction that each player only can get a maximum of one item during each sharing. All excess items will be left in the building for the next rounds.

After all buildings have been dealt with, the round ends with a change of the first player token to the player who has last lost a character. Then the new round begins, and the game will end after the fourth and final round when all surviving characters have a chance to be rescued by the arriving helicopters. Characters will be rescued regardless of their current location, provided their player can pay one antidote for each character to be rescued. Antidotes could be obtained from the Hospital, by some Action cards and by winning airdropped supplies in a sharing vote, and all characters lucky enough to escape the Zombie onslaught now will count their inherent value of victory points. However, if the character is exhausted because his special ability has been used, the yield of victory points will be slightly lower. Some final points then are awarded for players possessing excess antidotes and food packages, and then the best survival specialist will have won the game!

City of Horror is an outright nasty game with lots of possibilities to annoy and betray fellow players. As indicated earlier, the game depends greatly on a player's negotiation and bargaining skills, because only a player who deals successful with the voting process has a chance to win the game. Thus, the game cannot be recommended to silent types who like to plot and just move tokens, but instead it needs a group of fellow-minded, talkative players who want to take up the challenge and bargain their way out of this City of Horror. Tonight, the composition of our group was simply splendid, with everybody bartering like their lives depended on this. We had lot's of hilarious situations, and so we kept on laughing for approximately 90 minutes until the game was over!

The situation on the gameboard can change rapidly if some Action cards and character abilities are used in a sequence, and so the game is strongly dominated by a focusing on short time goals. Of course the players will keep an eye on getting antidotes in the long run, but all antidotes in the city will be worthless for a player who loses his last character. So, the resolution of each location brings its own interesting dilemma, forcing the players to evaluate their position and the possibilities open to them through cards and character abilities.

If the right group of players can be found, the entertainment value of City of Horror can be incredibly high. Here the game reminds a bit of Cash'n Guns, the first game brought to the SPIEL by REPOS PRODUCTION back in the year 2005. City of Horror offers more playing depth due to the use of different locations, item cards and special abilities, but in the end the voting for the next player to become a victim generates as much tension as the aiming of the polystyrene guns in the older game. Enter the City of Horror if you dare!

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Copyright © 2012 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany