17th Dec2018

‘Zombies, Run!’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

zombies-run-box

Zombies, Run!, was originally a hugely popular app that is still used to “gamify” the activities of walkers, joggers and other sporting types on a daily basis. The premise of the original game was simple – take the concept of a pace runner, but make the pacer into a zombie horde. Add objectives and global scoreboards and you have a winning recipe for one of the most popular fitness apps available. Whilst zombies make an excellent theme for both running apps and board games alike, the last thing I was expecting was for the makers of the original app to release a board game and contrary to what I had first assumed, it didn’t require me to do burpees in my living room.

Zombies, Run! The Board Game is actually largely card and app driven at the outset, although a number of relatively minor legacy and secret features are also included in the box including a map of Abel Township (where the game is set) and a few other interesting thematic elements. The game is played in real time by a cooperative team of players who will use cards to create a matching sequence as they escape from increasing numbers of zombies that are presented to them by an app. In between each of the running sections, the app delivers story content via spoken audio that is generally of a decent quality.

There’s quite a bit of it too, with perhaps ten plus hours of content to work through and the possibility of additional replay value as the result of decisions that might affect the story. I would imagine that players who really enjoy the experience, or who want to share it among different groups of friends will have a lot of value from Zombies, Run! The Board Game. As it stands, I also played a fair bit of it solo and I was surprised by how engaging it is when playing alone – the game introduces features of teamwork and chaos when played cooperatively, but as a solo experience it’s a more intense puzzle thanks to the fact that human brains can only focus on so many different things at once.

Mechanically, the placement of zombies and cards is relatively straightforward, which makes for fluid gameplay. In a nutshell, the game will be setup with cards A, B, C, D and E laid out on the table. As the app instructs zombies to be played, they will usually arrive at location A, which indicates that they are distant. When the app advises that zombies will advance, all zombies progress closer to location E, which is wherever the players are. If the zombies reach the players, then there’s a mechanism for taking wounds that clearly disadvantages the players and characters can even die – although respawing is allowed here, so there’s no player elimination. Beneath each location the players will see various plan cards, and it’s those which they’ll use to escape with.

I really enjoyed the escaping part of Zombies, Run! The Board Game, thanks to how fast and fluid it is. Each zombie must be defeated with a certain kind of action (thinking, talking etc) and by a certain number of cards. Each card has an embossed symbol and a colour on each side, which shows how it can be put into play and when it will interact with other cards. A chain of cards must match in order for the plan to succeed, so depending on the number of players, everyone will either be working together or separating off to focus on dealing with different zombie threats. As the cards are used up, they’ll be replenished, but the game gets harder and harder as each scenario rolls on. The more you rest (and replenish cards) the more likely it is that zombies will catch up with you.

Another feature that I enjoyed was the inclusion of sealed envelopes and puzzles that exist either on the map or within the content of the envelopes (which I’m not going to spoil.) There are things like sets of notes to pour over and link to areas on the map, or places that you might have visited earlier. Most of these things add a bit of unexpected complexity to the game and the puzzles can be reasonably tough, which encourages some excellent team play. Zombies, Run! The Board Game does keep up the pressure though and as a result there are some sequences where it will allow the party to progress, despite having failed to do what needed to be done – to this day I don’t know how that affects the way progress is delivered, but that’s just another reason to replay the game.

Given its length, Zombies, Run! The Board Game is best played with a consistent group, however since it is purely cooperative and thanks to some neat features that allow saving after any run, it’s easy to pick up and put down. There’s no reason why a player would take major offence about having someone else stand in for them during a game, except that of course they would miss out on some of the story beats. It’s also interesting that the game considers saving to be a bit of an unusual benefit during a zombie apocalypse, since it forces the party to put someone on watch.

I didn’t experience any issues with the way that the app and physical components integrate and unusually, I really felt that both delivered a worthwhile addition. I have seen some app driven games where the app felt very periphery, whilst similarly I know of a couple now that are so app dependent that they feel more like video games. Zombies, Run! The Board Game uses everything at its disposal to great effect, including injecting the same kind of pace into a tabletop experience that the running app always gave when jogging down the high street. It is so unique that it can occasionally confuse or confound, but once you are familiar with all the mechanics, I think most people will really enjoy it.

**** 4/5

Zombies, Run! The Board Game is out now. Order your from zombiesrungames.com

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