Grave Business – awesome theme, but one-dimensional.

Grave Business is a game about necromancer entrepreneurs  who use zombies as their labor force.  It’s an awesomely funny premise, and I really wanted to like this game.  Can you sense the “but”?

In Grave Business you and your army of zombies wander out into the graveyard, vying to be the ones to dig up valuable treasures and useful corpse bits.  Your opponents have their own zombies with the same ideas.  How do you determine which zombie gets the goodies? By who has the most brains.  Each zombie token has a number of brains listed on one side, as well as a number of bones which are used for tie breakers.

This is a look at the graveyard. Each of the squares contains a treasure (yellow) or body part (red). Notice the zombies on the edges of the board. Each zombie matches the players color.

Each round the graveyard is full of goodies and players take turns placing their zombies (face down so you can not see the number of brains) on the outside edges of the graveyard board or on particular spaces on the graveyard.  These zombies attempt to dig up all the goodies in their space, row or column.  In addition to placing your zombies on the board, you can also send them at other people in an effort to be annoying.

Sending your zombies at the other players can take one of two different forms.  You can attack their zombies in order to get them off the board for this round, or outright kill them if they have taken a significant amount of damage already.  You can also steal treasure and body parts from their lab and vault.

Attacking is a very simple process.  First, you declare that you are attacking.  Then you flip over the zombie you are attacking, showing how many brains and the name of the zombie.  Then your opponent flips over a body part from a pile of body parts associated with that zombie.  If they flip over a normal body part, their zombie takes damage and is removed from the board.

Stealing is also a very simple process.  If you have a zombie on one of your opponents’ lab or vault spaces at the end of the round you get to take one of their tiles at random.  Their only recourse for this is to attack your invading zombie in an effort to remove them.  Otherwise, you are guaranteed to  get something for your hard work.

This is a look at a player board.  The gravestone represents each of the zombies that you can control.  Each player stacks the body parts associated with their zombie on the headstone associated with that zombie.

This is a look at a player board. The gravestone represents each of the zombies that you can control. Each player shuffles and stacks the body parts associated with their zombie on the headstone associated with that zombie.

At the end of each round you can use the body parts you gathered to make new zombies.  Each body part has a number associated with it.  You can make new zombies by using parts totaling at least as much as the number on the headstone on your player board.

Which that brings me to a very important topic: winning.  The player with the most points, both on the body parts and treasures, that still exists in your lab and vault (pieces used to make zombies don’t count) is the winner.  You can also win if you have dug up all of the “master zombie” pieces, but this really seemed like an afterthought in the game, and never really became much of an issue in any of the games I played.

Ok, so that “But”.  Ya know, the one mentioned at the top of this article.  This game is pretty one dimensional in regards to strategy.  The player who has the most zombies wins.  Almost always.   There is very little reason to save your body parts for victory points, as having more zombies is a huge advantage and the points associated with body parts is lower than the points associated with treasure.  Why is this such a big advantage?  Primarily because of the way that attacking works.

When you attack, the defender loses roughly 90% of the time.  So if you have more zombies than your opponent, it’s an easy strategy to see.  Wait until they have placed their zombies.  With your extras, beat up their zombies, and place any remaining extras on the spots you want.  Done.  Simple.  Fool proof.  The only way to fight this strategy is by equally throwing all of your body parts towards the creation of zombies, and if your opponents manage to get any sort of lead over you, kiss your game goodbye because catching up is nearly impossible.

Rubber shelf matting.  Its a life saver for gamers with warped boards.

Rubber shelf matting. It's a life saver for gamers with warped boards.

Lastly, a little bit of praise and scolding in regards to the components.  The artwork is fun.  It’s cute and grotesque and I can appreciate that.  Kudos to Chuck Whelon for making a really nice looking game.  However, the boards left something to be desired.  They were on the thin side, with the result being that when we opened the shrink wrap the boards were already slightly warped, which caused them to not lay perfectly flat.  This was a bit annoying because the boards would spin with ease.  We fixed that with a little bit of rubber shelf matting. I highly would recommend investing in a roll of this for games with similar annoying issues.

As I said, I really wanted to like this game, because I love the theme.   How awesome and wacky is a group of competitive necromancers who are entrepreneurs?  Exactly.  You know you love that theme.  Just admit it to yourself right now.  I just wish it would have been executed a little differently, because this isn’t one I can see us excitedly breaking out again.

This entry was posted by The_Null_Entry on Wednesday, January 11th, 2012 at 8:22 am and is filed under Board Game Reviews, Resource Management Games . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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