Friday 29 January 2016

Cardboard - Zombie Tower 3D (Kickstarter preview)

Bad news, I'm afraid - a mysterious object has fallen from outer space, triggering zombie outbreaks throughout the world! You and your friends are trapped in a zombie-filled tower and have been completely cut off from each other as it begins to collapse. You can still talk to each other, but you can't see what everyone is doing and can only pass items through little gaps in the rubble. The situation isn't looking too positive! Oh, and more zombies are appearing all the time. And I forgot to mention the survivors that need saving. And you all need to escape...

Zombie Tower 3D Kickstarter preview | Random Nerdery

Japanese based publishing company Cosaic LLC are expanding to the US and have sent me their latest game, Zombie Tower 3D, to try out. Originally released last year in Japan, they're planning on launching the game internationally with a Kickstarter campaign in February.

Zombie Tower 3D a semi-cooperative game for three or four players where you need to work together to survive the zombie infestation while searching the building particular items needed for escape. You can only see your section of the board, so a lot of communication between players is needed to figure out the best way forward for the group. You can help each other out by passing item cards through slots in certain parts of the wall which can then be collected by the player on the other side.

In an already crowded genre it's easy to think 'uh oh, another zombie game!' but this one makes an impression with its clever 3D board. I had a great time turning this...

Zombie Tower 3D components

...into this:

Zombie Tower 3D - tower setup

It looks awesome when it's set up - definitely a talking point for any gaming table!

Everyone gets to choose a character standee from the cute manga-style selection.

Zombie Tower 3D - character standees

They also get a handy character sheet with a description of the character's special power, a life point tracker, and an area to keep rescued survivors who turn into victory points at the end of the game.

Zombie Tower 3D - character sheets

To win the game you need to find the right items to fulfill one of two possible sets of win conditions and then get everyone to a particular numbered space on their section of the board to escape. If anyone dies, you lose straight away. The 'semi' co-operative element comes in the form of a victory points system - while you do win or lose as a group, you also count up points at the end to determine an overall winner. You're given objective cards at the beginning of the game such as 'finish the game with bullets in your possession' for additional points, encouraging you to hoard items instead of sharing with the team.

The rules are fairly light and easy to pick up; the game takes place in rounds made up of four phases. In the emergence phase more zombies and survivors appear in the tower, their number and placement determined by a set of twelve cards forming the 'emergence deck'. Then the action phase takes place, with each player taking it in turn to complete a selections of actions using their three action points.

Actions costing one point include moving, searching, resting (to regain health) and using an item (such as a shotgun). Searching is important as this is how you find the items you need to win the game, which are mainly stashed on the middle floor of the tower. You can also find helpful items like barricades, fire extinguishers, weapons and ammunition.

There are also some actions you can do for free: saving a survivor, releasing a survivor or handing over/picking up an item through the wall cracks. If you're desperate for another action you can take a point of damage to get one extra action point.

Zombie Tower 3D - life tracker

It took us a little while to figure out why you'd want to release a survivor, as they count as victory points at the end of the game. Then we worked out that we could use them as bait (so cruel!) in the next phase: zombie movement! If there are zombies on the same floor as a character they will all move a space towards them, unless there are survivors on the floor. In that case, they move towards the survivors instead of you, opening up a whole world of helpful (if super mean) tactics to keep you alive.

If you end up in a room with zombies, you're horribly attacked and lose one point of health for each zombie in the room. This is *really* challenging as the zombies tend to build up fast and characters only have 3-4 hit points. Once you've been beaten up by the zombies there's then a short end-of-round phase to clean up ready for the next turn.

Zombie Tower 3D - zombie and survivor tokens

You have twelve of these rounds to escape the tower before everything collapses and you lose the game. If one of the win conditions is met before this (and no one has died!) then everyone escapes and the group wins. Victory points can then be counted up to determine the overall winner.

We had great fun with this game, playing three games in a row in one evening because of the 'maybe next time we'll win' feeling that it generated. It never felt like we were far from winning but at the same time provided a really tough challenge.

There's lots of strategy to think about, from using unfortunate survivors as human shields to working out how you can lure zombies into a burning room to clear a horde between you and the exit. Some of the cards you get when searching are clearly marked 'DANGER!!' on the back to indicate something bad will happen when this card turns, so you have to discuss who's in the best position to take the hit. It's a lot deeper a game than I gave it credit for looking at the box, so I'm glad we got to give it a try!

I think with a bit of practice we'd get out of the tower alive. You can vary the difficulty of the game via the number of starting zombies on the board, so we tried bumping down to easy mode after our first two defeats. I'm not sure our issue was really with the number of zombies on the board though - it was more a case of getting used to the tactics we needed and making sure we planned and communicated better. It took a little while to start truly working together, making sure we were passing the right items and talking through what situation we were in with enough time for other people to help.

Zombie Tower 3D - passing items through walls

Figuring out the best ways to herd zombies together and avoid them is important, as killing them with weapons is really difficult. Ammunition is scarce because you can only get it by searching and when you do find some the card is single use, so you're always looking for more.

We didn't really get to explore the semi co-operative element as we had to fully work together to have even a hope of winning, so holding items back for individual advantage wasn't really an option. Maybe after a few more practices we could start to think a bit more selfishly, but for now I think concentrating on winning is key!

As far as the components go I love the manga artwork and the board is really cleverly put together, with parts included for both three- and four-player versions of the tower. I was a bit worried that everything would be constantly falling down as we tried to play, but it was actually sturdier than it looks once I'd put everything together properly. You do still have to be careful about knocking things, though, especially with the search cards all perched on the top of the tower. Perhaps it could do with some way of the tower clipping to the base game board to help keep things in place.

Zombie Tower 3D - top down view

If you'd like to have a look at the Kickstarter I'll put a link up on here once it goes live [Update: here's the link!]. The publishers have lots of plans for stretch goals including new weapons, rules for different zombie types and component upgrades, so it will be interesting to see how it goes.

NB: I understand that there's potential to review some of the rules and components, so what I've described in this review may end up being a little bit different to the final Kickstarter product!