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



Nicolas Schlewitz &
Guillaume Lemery


No. of Players:
1 - 4

G@mebox Star



Once again the world has been hit by a Zombie-plague, but this time it is all the adults who have turned into mindless monsters. A group of 15-year old teenagers has to survive the outbreak, and they have to fight their way through a series of 15 missions - each with a duration of 15 minutes - until they finally will face the Alpha Zombie.

A boardgame with a time limit? Yes, it seems that authors Nicolas Schlewitz and Guillaume Lemery have been quite fond of QUEEN GAMES' Escape, a release from 2012 in which all players have to play simultaneously in order to leave a collapsing temple within a time limit of 10 minutes. In both games the passing of the time is simulated by a soundtrack with background sounds, and in Zombie 15' this soundtrack features zombie growls at regular intervals, signaling the players that a new Zombie card is revealed and new Zombies will be placed on the board. So, the inevitable question is whether we have a mere Escape clone here, or if Zombie 15' features enough originality to stand on its own right. After all, QUEEN GAMES will by joining the Zombie-hype with its own Escape - Zombie City at this SPIEL, and players might be tempted to go for the re-themed original unless Zombie 15' can prove that it is the more attractive alternative.

Like any of the other Zombie-games, Zombie 15' comes with a modular gameboard of tiles showing streets and buildings, and each mission briefing will show how these tiles need to be arranged for the current mission. Some Zombies will be placed on the tiles once the board is set up, with their number increasing in later missions in order to increase the general difficulty level. In addition, some tokens representing keys and equipment might be placed on the board as well, but in general the setup can be completed rather quick, giving the players time to decide who wants to play which character. The game comes with 8 different characters, and all of them have their own starting equipment and special attributes.

With everything set up and characters chosen, the game can begin, and unlike Escape-type games the players now will play in turns to move their characters and act on the gameboard. Each player character has a limit of four available actions, and these may be spent to move between tiles (street zones) or in/out houses, to pick up or drop objects, to use and object, to fight or - if lying on the ground - to get up. The players are advised to announce each action clearly in order to allow the others to keep track of the number of spent actions, and when the active player wants to end his turn he has to announce this as well so that the next player can carry on. This clear distinction between the player turns is necessary due to the Zombie-grows from the soundtrack, since new Zombies always will be placed on the street zone of the active player's current tile.

Most of the items available in the game are weapons which can be used to kill the number of Zombies indicated on the weapon card, but unfortunately all weapons have a limited number of uses, and when they have been used up they can only be used to fend off some Zombies remaining on the player's zone once his turn is over. So, the players constantly will be on the lookout to find new weapons, and these may be found by drawing Search-cards in a house. Here one of the big restraints in Zombie 15' falls into place, since the deck of search cards only may be searched once. There is an option for a careful search which allows other players to take cards not taken by the searching player, but during the course of the game more and more equipment will be removed from the game. So, a searching player has to be careful to leave some useful items for his fellows, otherwise he might end up with a stack of weapons he cannot carry whilst the others go empty-handed. In addition, the searching action always bears a risk that a Zombie may appear, since the deck of Search cards also features cards with wandering Zombies.

As might be guessed, fighting Zombies is constant business for our group of teenagers, especially since the characters only can leave zones which do not contain any Zombies. So, fighting actions may be used to kill a number of Zombies associated with the weapon used, and these Zombies just go back to the common stockpile without any rolling of dice or other luck-dependent decision making. However, what happens if a player ends his turn in a zone with still some Zombies present? In this case he will have to check whether he can keep the Zombies at bay, using the fend-off value of his strongest weapon. If this is not sufficient, the character will lose a life point and falls to the ground, costing him one action to get up again during his following turn. Due to the rule that a zone containing Zombies cannot be left, it becomes clear that this character now is in serious trouble, especially if he does not have a weapon for killing zombies anymore. In this case other players will need to help, killing zombies and increasing the combined ability to fend off remaining Zombies. Sometimes help may be needed faster than expected, since most combat actions will make some noise and require the players to place additional Zombies into a special reservoir called the "Horde box". Some cards in the stack of Zombie-cards show a Horde-symbol, and when such a card is drawn upon a growl from the soundtrack the contents of the box will emptied into the active player's zone!

Zombie 15' actually features a quite nice combination of individual player actions and teamplay, giving each player the possibility to play his own turn but at the same time allowing the other players to help directly (through joint combat) or on the level of logistics. So, one of the active player's neighbors should watch out for any mistakes made by the active player, whereas the other neighbor should make all placements of new Zombies. This is rather helpful to keep the game flowing and to allows the active player to focus on his own actions. In a way, I think that this action sequence is preferable to the chaotic simultaneous dice rolling of all players in Escape-type games, and it enables a slightly increased tactical gameplay since the non-active players usually get time to take a breath and think about the general situation on the board.

Another very nice feature of Zombie 15' is its mission-spanning coherence, giving the players the possibility to play all 15 missions as a large campaign. The authors cleverly use this campaign-mode for a stepwise introduction of the full rules during the first four missions, and in addition the players also are allowed to collect special tokens with a search-value. Between missions these tokens may be spent to purchase additional equipment from a deck of special items, ranging from helpful pets like a dog or a cat to armor, food, a defibrillator or some dynamite. These special items may be used during the following mission, and in addition the player also may opt to keep his normal items from the last mission at their current ammo levels. All this creates a nice story arc for the players, increasing the playing atmosphere and challenging them to play several missions during one gaming session.

QUEEN GAMES' Escape must be granted the honors of being the earlier and thus more innovative game, but for me Zombie 15' has overtaken the whole Escape-series on almost any ground. The graphics and components are better, gameplay from mission to mission is coherent and the turn-based player action allows more room for tactical play. All this will not induce me to get rid of my copy of Escape because the game still will be useful when all players feel the need for a short interlude of absolute mayhem, but owning Zombie 15' certainly will prevent me from obtaining Escape Zombie City. A first examination of the rules and components revealed at Kickstarter makes Zombie 15' the better choice for me - an assessment which is strengthened by QUEEN GAMES' history of re-theming old gaming concepts in order to sell the same idea several times.

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Copyright & copy; 2014 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany