City of Zombies: Review

If Plants v. Zombies was a math game, Fairway’s pretty sure that his kids would be doing college-level differential equations. But alas, it’s not. Enter City of Zombies: The Board Game.  Marching zombie hoards are threatening your zombie-fighting, kid heroes. Their only weapon: math.  Find out if Fairway solved this one.

City of Zombies is a one- to six-player, cooperative, dice-rolling game by ThinkNoodle Games that challenges players to use math to stop an advancing zombie hoard.  We also got a copy of the expansion Times Square.

Initial Impressions ^

  1. The art and characters and components of this game are very engaging. The heroes and zombies are all very expressive. The board is well-illustrated. This game has top-notch art.
  2. The advancing zombies attempting to reach a set of survivors feels a lot like Plants v. Zombies.
  3. The basic game is easy to learn and teach: roll dice, figure out how to combine your die rolls to eliminate zombies, rinse, and repeat.
  4. The game is a hit with my kids.

Game Play ^

City of Zombies is a cooperative game.  The object of the game is to help survivors last long enough for a rescue plane to arrive and take them to safety.  The rescue plane is essentially a round tracker and lets you control both the length and, in some respects, the difficulty of the game.

Over the course of each round, zombie cards are added to a gigantic game board.  Each zombie card has a value and a hunger — the card includes some other helpful information and some feature elements usable in alternative play modes.  For so long as these zombies remain on the board, they will advance one space toward the bottom of the board until they reach the barricade. Once there, zombies will start “eating” survivors.

To stop the zombies, each player will take a turn rolling dice. The players then can eliminate by figuring out a math problem that will let the player equal one or more of the zombies’ values. As a bonus, players can also power up a single die roll by multiplying it by itself. The three dice can be split up among as many zombies as the player wants. The only requirement is that you assign all the dice.

Worth mentioning, interspersed in the zombie deck are event cards. These tend to cause additional zombies to spawn, but occasionally (as is the case with the rapid decay card) will remove zombies from the board (yay!).

City of Zombies does a nice job of scaling using the zombies.  Younger, or less math experienced, players can start with rounds where the combinations of dice are simpler: just use addition or subtraction. The game introduces higher valued zombies (and negatives) as the players advance.

The game doesn’t have any automatic “rerolls” but does include a random set of heroes. These heroes all players to invoke a special power that will refresh after every fifth round.  The powers including things like rerolling, flipping dice, duplicating dice, etc.

The game continues until players make it through the last round. The players score is equal to the number of survivors left.

Briefly, Times Square is an “expansion” of City of Zombies. The game also includes some interesting new game play modes. One of those modes sets a set of zombie cards out in a 3×3 tableau. Players roll the dice (which also includes a 12-sided die) and attempt to target the zombies in the tableau. If you’re unable to assign all of your dice, a new zombie is added to one of the locations. You win if all the zombies are destroyed.

On the green ^

This is an example of an “educational” game that puts game first and builds the educational concept into the fun part of the game. It has so many things going for it.

Art.  Even though this is a zombie game, the art is mostly bright, light and fun.  But even though it’s bright, there’s definitely an edge and grittiness to it.  My kids (5 and 8) both viewed it positively and fun. The art is well used throughout the game and is consistent. Fantastic job.

Overall production.  Even beyond the art, the game is very well-produced. The boards and dice and components are all nice.

Theme.  This isn’t your traditional zombie game, but it definitely pulls it off. For fans of mobile games like Plants v. Zombies, the zombie theme here is implemented in much the same way.

Simple, intuitive, and scalable.  If there are three words to describe the game play they’re: simple, intuitive, and scalable.  The basics are easily taught. This is great for a teacher or someone looking to offer students, children or other players a quick diversion and don’t have a lot of “teaching” time.

The game itself is pretty intuitive too in that players “get” how the game plays and what they need to do. This means there aren’t a ton of arcane rules.

And, finally, the designers did a good job with a math game offering a lot of scaling of the difficulty. Simpler versions scaffold players into more complex zombies. This was also very well done.

At some of the higher levels, the game can get pretty challenging if you have younger players in the mix.  But, having those more difficult rules apply only to the older kids works just as well. That’s really great for playing this game with kids of different skills.

Replay. The scaling, differential game modes, and the appeal to math-minded parents and teachers will likely make sure this game is replayed. I think teachers and parents will find lots of opportunities to play this game. I think it’s fair to say, though, that outside teachers, the game isn’t won’t have a ton of staying power: once your through the math-learning phase the game is aimed at, you’re likely to find other tower-defense games that offer a little something more.

Core education concept. There’s no doubt: this is a math game. It’s unabashed about it. There’s no escaping it. Yet, it’s so integrally linked to the fun parts of the game, it’s actually quite enjoyable. In some ways, the game is a welcome spin on that time-honored math game, 24 in which players trying to figure out how to make the numbers on the card 24. This is a well-conceived and well-executed educational game.

Diversity.  Worth mentioning, but there’s a huge cast of characters in this game. The artists and designers were very thoughtful about including a wide range of both zombies and heroes. Nicely done.

Where it comes up short ^

It’s hard to find too much fault in a game that lives-up-to and in many ways exceeds its billing.

On the green ^

City of Zombies and its expansion Times Square are two fantastic additions to any collection of educational games. This would be very high on the list of games I’d recommend to teachers and parents to have. The game combines family-friendly art with the appeal and feel of video games like Plants v. Zombies. While the game is unabashed about its mathiness, it is a baked into a fun and interesting game experience. For what it is, this game is top notch.

City of Zombies is in the hole for a Birdie. ^


Fairway was provided a copy of City of Zombies and Times Square in order to review the game. He was not otherwise compensated for this piece.




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