Proof that adding exclamation marks doesn’t make things better.
The original board game of Zombies!!! was a very divisive title. On the one hand, everyone loves the hungry undead, and the game somehow managed to cram a hundred tiny plastic braineaters into one cheap box. On the other hand, it got criticised for a lack of strategy and excessive playtime. Now it’s finally shambled onto iOS.
The goal of the game is to fight your way through hordes of the titular monsters to the helipad, with the winner being the first player to reach safety, or to kill 25 walking corpses. In the standard rules, you draw a new tile each turn and add it to the growing city. Everyone has a hand of cards which either buff themselves or stymie other players, many of which can only be played on certain tiles.
It’s not a complex game to learn, and there’s a decent tutorial to get you started, whereupon you’ll quickly realise why the board game attracted considerable opprobrium. Most things are dice based: how far you move, how many zombies move, whether you win in combat. The tile draw is also random so you won’t actually know where the helipad is until some lucky player draws it and places it next door to their current position to set up a win. It’s a big crapshoot, with added zombies.
Then the competent and mean AI players will start playing cards on you, causing you to skip turns or lose weapons, and slowing the game down further. At some point you’ll probably die and discover that the game doesn’t actually end: you just restart at the beginning and have to fight your way through the streets all over again.
These sorts of games can be fun if they’re quick-fire and full of excitement. The board game wasn’t: after drawing a tile, you had to rummage in the box for the relevant number of zombie figures and health or ammunition tokens. Then you’d ponderously roll a dice and move that many zombies one space. Other players had nothing to do but sit and pick their nails during your turn. It was pretty awful.
But the developer, Babaroga, clearly realised this and used many of the opportunities of an iOS port to streamline the game. Things like the tile draw and piece placement are now automated, as you’d expect. But they also added a handy “automate” button for brain-dead decisions in the game like zombie movement. Then there’s a useful fast forward button to quickly spool through AI turns. With all that overhead taken out of the game, it might actually be quite entertaining.
So it’s rather a surprise that they chose to add in annoying movement and combat animations to slow things down again. The game looks good, with nice three-dimensional graphics, a suitably goofy cartoon art style, and matching soundtrack. But the animations rapidly become annoying. You can skip them with a screen tap, but this isn’t mentioned in the app and still isn’t fast enough. It’s mystifying as to why there isn’t an option to turn this off.
But traded off against the time saved by automation, the app just scrapes by fast enough to be playable and surprisingly fun. In addition to the standard game rules there are some other variants, all of which improve the experience. One has a pre-built town, removing the advantage handed to the player who draws the helipad. Another is a survival mode where you play solo and try to kill as many zombies as you can before they chow down on your unfortunate self.
There’s no asynchronous play mode here, but that matters a lot less than it does in most other board games. What little fun there was in playing Zombies!!! face to face came from making chainsaw noises and gloating over other people’s misfortunes: remote play would be pointless. This app is all about gleefully blowing away the undead and rolling with the punches. A quick look at the in-game achievements and colossal list of stats that it tracks for your amusement should confirm that.
Essentially, the source material for Zombies!!! was simply never good enough to deliver a truly compelling mobile experience. But the developers have largely done a solid job of cutting out the considerable creases in the board game and leaving the best bits for you to enjoy. An update to speed up the game experience and add more of the game’s many expansions and variants could make this one to watch in the board game conversion genre.