Zombie High School is exactly what it sounds like, a card game about zombies in a high school, and what happens when the drama queen and star quarter-back become lunch. Your goal is to save as many of your fellow classmates as possible, while killing zombies and keeping yourself alive. Have you failed to do that? Well, your not done yet. You are now a zombie and you get to rampage through the school devouring as many people as you can before the game ends.
I was initially excited and hesitant all at the same time about this game. I love zombie themed games, and even the hokey “in a high school” theme was amusing, but the box slated the play time as long as two hours, and that made me take pause. I expect that kind of play time from a board game, but I usually think of card games as being shorter and simpler, something more like a half hour. The cards didn’t look all that complicated, so it must be that the game drags on forever, right?
Instead my group and I had the opposite issue, the game was almost too short, not at all living up to that lofty play time. The reason? It was just too darn hard to stay alive. On each turn a chasing zombie is given an opportunity to take a swipe at you. Take too many hits and you are toast. On each other players turn, they also have the potential to take a swipe at you via a chasing zombie, or they can try to get a zombie to chase after you.
One thing I can certainly brag on in this game is the ease at which combat occurs. Which is a very good thing, considering how often it occurs! Each character has a “brawn stat” and each zombie has a “combat value” (which we liked calling their “chew value” because the symbol next to it was chomping teeth, and all the cards simply refer to the zombies CV). You subtract the chew value from the characters brawn, and then attempt to roll under the remaining number on two six sided dice. If you manage to roll under that value, hurray! You weren’t munched on by a zombie this turn! If you roll higher than this, you must take a wound card.
The wound cards are amusing, but make the game infinitely harder. Not only are you taking a wound that aids you on your way to becoming a zombie, but you also take penalties to your stats. For example, lets say you are the quarter-back and are trying to fight off your ex-girlfriend, the head cheerleader, who is now hungry for your flesh. In the process of attempting to fight her off, you fail your combat roll, and are injured. You draw a wound card, which states that you now have a punctured lung, which then causes your speed (ability to run from zombies), and your brawn to go down. Well… that’s just swell! It’s not like you weren’t having trouble fighting off the zombies before! I mean, that is how you caused your injury in the first place! But now, it’s even harder to stay alive. It’s really a downward spiral.
To us, zombies seem to have it much easier. They can kick back and enjoy the simpler things in life, like eating brains. Sure eating brains aren’t worth quite as many points, but does it matter? It’s sooooo much easier to eat brains then kill zombies or rescue folks, you are almost guaranteed to get some points each turn, unlike in your human state, which can not boast the same. For this reason we have concocted the following strategy: Surrender to your zombie urges, become one of them early, and enjoy brains for as long as it lasts! Unfortunately, this doesn’t make for much of a “game”.
My real suggestion? This game needs to be tweaked slightly in order to make it more balanced. One thing that came to mind, and seems like it would work really well, would be to ignore the penalties on the wound cards, and if you wanted to take that a step further, have each wound point have an “adrenaline” offset that would give you additional brawn. Therefore giving a leg up to the people who are falling behind and are about to become zombies. Sure, this isn’t as realistic. I think we can all agree that if we really had a punctured lung, or a broken leg, it would slow us down and make us easier zombie food, but for the purposes of the game, it would help.
My last major complaint is a real easy fix: Reference cards. This game has no reference cards. This seemed like a major oversight to our gaming group. For the first of many turns we were all referring back to the rules almost continually. The rules are not that complicated, but there are little fiddly details that would be perfect for a reference card. Which stat do you use for attacking? Which stat was used for chasing? Am I trying to roll under or over that value? Simple little things like that which we had to look up over and over again.
I’m a sucker for zombies, and ultimately that is what would be the draw for me to play this game some more. If you skinned this game with a different theme, I think I would be likely to shelve it indefinitely. The mechanics in it are not earth shatteringly new, nor are they balanced according to the boxed instructions. But then, who doesn’t like being the nerd, out smarting the dumb jock zombies, or being the zombie rocker who gets to eat the cheerleader? The ability to laugh at the character stereotypes, while feeding them to ravenous flesh eaters, is the real selling point of this game.
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