This is, oddly enough, a game I have been flirting with for a while. I say flirting because it kept showing up in the background, teasingly, without me getting a good chance to commit to it for a long time. My first experience was at a con, I saw some print art for the game hanging at a booth, I was intrigued, but didn’t have time to stop. At a completely different con some time later, I saw a guy giving a demo of the game, and had a chance to sit in. However, I think he was in a hurry, because I didn’t really get a demo so much as a two minute explanation of the game. Later when this arrived on my doorstep to review, I tried the solitaire mode, because I was alone for the weekend. I was very unimpressed but saw other potential. A couple weeks later I got to sit down with two other friends and play a three player game, but I could still tell it wasn’t quite playing how it felt it should. After over a year of chasing this game around, I managed to get a group of six to commit to it and I saw the game for all it was, finally.
So what is this elusive game? Zombie in my Pocket. It’s a small game that takes less than a half hour to play, and leads you and some friends through a house on the night of the zombie apocalypse, in an effort to track down and bury a cursed totem, and put a stop to the apocalypse before it is too late. Yes the theme is silly, and yes it monopolizes on the already trendy zombie apocalypse, but the game isn’t complete fluff. Instead this is a “screw your friends” game, that allows the players some interesting choices on each turn.
Each turn, one player is the leader and gets to make a decision for the group. You can either explore a new room, cower and heal, use a rooms special ability, or “find” an object in the room. It’s the leaders choice. Exploring rooms works much in the same way as Carcasonne, allowing the leader to place one new card face up on the board adjacent to your current position, and move the party onto it. Cowering and healing wastes some time, but it allows everyone in your party to regain one point of health. The special room abilities vary greatly and are printed on each card for ease. However, you are required to spend an extra turn in that room to do that effect. Despite all of this, the real crux of the game is the event cards.
Each time you enter a new room you must flip over the top card of the event deck and face what is there. Sometimes it’s a blessing that heals you, or it could be an item that you can pick up, but more often than not, it’s a zombie. Actually that’s not accurate, it’s not a zombie, it’s usually a horde of zombies. This is what leads to the “screw your team” game play. Every time there is combat, each player has a choice to make: fight or flee. If everyone in the group flees, everyone loses one health. But, if at least one person stays to fight, then the fleeing people each gain one health. All of the poor suckers who decided to be noble and fight have to divide all the damage among them, which can be tragic and lead to player death. Why would you want to kill off the other players? Because there can be only one! The game is won by the player who remains alive and has the most hit points. Thus it can be very beneficial to get your fellow players killed off. However, those other players come in handy for helping you kill zombies. Decisions… decisions….
The first game I played of this, I back stabbed my fellow team mates pretty early on. It was an act of treachery that they didn’t let me live down very easily. I took a ribbing for it the rest of the evening. In the next game of this that we played, that old grudge was still holding on, and thus I got slammed pretty hard when I trusted them and decided to fight. I was dead within the first five turns. But given that this is a fast moving game (with an average play time of 15 minutes), I didn’t have long to wait before the game was over. It was also rather amusing to watch my friends tear themselves apart.
The game has one mechanic that I found to be inspired: Time. In addition to merely trying to survive, you and your friends must accomplish your goal of burying the totem within a given number of turns. The game starts at “9pm” and your task must be completed before midnight. Why? Because soon as the clock strikes midnight, the apocalypse can not be stopped. Yes, this is silly, but it also keeps the game in it’s rightful place: a filler game. By limiting the number of turns, you insure that cautious players don’t drag this out into an hour long ordeal. So how does time progress? Every turn you flip over an event card. It’s a pretty small deck of cards. Once you have run out of cards in that deck, you shuffle them and move the clock forward to the next hour. The time mechanic is also inspired because time is referenced on the event cards. This allows for different affects to occur at different times of the night.
This is a nice little filler game. It has just enough mechanics to keep it interesting, but not so many that it takes forever to teach. The small packaging size also lends itself well to travel. The only major downside is that unless you have five or six willing friends, you are not going to get a very satisfying game. Which is what happened to me my first two attempts. And forget about playing this as a solitaire game (which it claims that this game will support), that had to be a designers sick and twisted joke. But if you intend to play this with a large number of friends, I think you are in for a good time. Just remember that back stabbing is all in good fun!
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