Teaching Time: 15 mins
Playing Time: 30-45 mins
Setup Time: 2 mins
Value For Money: Mid
Recommended: Not as a solo game.
Solo Play Review
I wasn’t a huge fan of Tiny Epic Galaxies but thought I’d give Zombies a run and when I opened the box and flicked through the components, I was very hopeful and even excited. Sadly, I’d be lying if I said that excitement remained for very long.
I’ll start with the good, particularly the contents of that box. The Tiny Epic games do cost quite a bit for the size of the box but I challenge anyone to be disappointed by what you get for that price. In this case there are the Gamelyn ITEMeeples, for those not familiar these are oversized meeples that you can slot little plastic versions of the game upgrades into, for added fun in this version they can then climb into a little meeple police car or motorbike and yes, having a little meeple armed with a crossbow and a chainsaw in a police car driving around a mall killing zombies is as amusing as it sounds. My wife for one finds them endlessly delightful. All the components are smart and well made from the little thriller styled meeple zombies to the double-sided location cards that extend re-playability and the double-sided character cards that double as character zombies to alter the game’s difficulty for more replay.
Solo gameplay involves laying out locations of a zombie infested mall and setting out some survivors. Players then select two meeples and characters who have individual powers and randomly select a third player card to be the zombie leader, altering the abilities of the zombies. A set of objectives are randomly generated each game and players win by completing all three objectives before 24 search cards are dealt out or the zombies break into a central mall safe space too many times which occurs if zombies are allowed to build up excessively. Player meeples move through the mall rolling dice to kill zombies and completing objectives if the right store locations (consisting of three rooms each) are cleared of zombies and they can pick up the right objective markers. The game AI consists of placing extra zombies into pairs of randomly determined locations based on player locations.
Set-up and gameplay flow fairly smoothly once the process has been gone through a few times, though the first set up can be confusing, taking rather longer than might be expected. The first big issue in solo play occurs during playthrough though, and that’s a very genuine lack of challenge. In Epic Galaxies I was disappointed that after several losses the same basic tactic could be applied at every level of difficulty to win. In Epic Zombies I didn’t even have those first loses, I won my first game, then played on the highest difficulty and won that. I played a few games trying to set out the most difficult combination of missions and zombie abilities and frankly couldn’t find a combination where I didn’t walk through the game without any real difficulty. This comes from a few places, firstly the game ‘AI’ works by players revealing search cards and placing zombies depending on location symbols on those cards, more are placed if the symbol matches the player’s location, meaning that a relatively small amount of forward planning makes it easy to direct the placement of the fires that need to be put out. Secondly, the normal difficultly level involves placing two survivors (essentially ‘lives’ that can be lost if the central barricade is breached), with the difficulty being upped by removing survivors. This is an issue because it sets a quickly reached upper ceiling to difficulty since zero is the fewest number of survivors to be placed and any other attempts to modulate difficulty upwards become ad-hoc and player generated.
The lack of difficulty wouldn’t be such a problem if the game had a bit more narrative feel or variety. This might be a difference of perspective (and showing my age) since when I think of zombies in a mall I think of Dawn of the Dead, claustrophobic and dangerous, whereas this game feels more like a version of Dead Rising, free-wheeling and powerful. The mall is too large and player movement too easy (necessary actually, players are forced to move each turn for no immediately obvious reason and can move away from zombies with no sort of test) to generate any sense of claustrophobia and players driving through the mall while heavily armed is much more a power fantasy than anything likely to invoke a true sense of dread or fear. As such it feels like it’s trying to be more Zombiecide than Dead of Winter, now clearly freewheeling zombie killing in a mall is a popular tabletop choice but at this scale I find tension more effective than power trips. That is to say, if I’m being a bad ass zombie killer then I want to be driving over zombies in my cop car, slicing heads off with a chainsaw stuck to the hood before climbing on the roof and cackling insanely while cutting the shambling dead down with twin AK 47s. In Tiny Epic Zombies you’re pushing it to string together four or five kills before you have to slog across open ground to get your kill on again, at which point you’re more likely to conclude the zombies over there are no real threat and pop into the courtyard for a muffin and a nap. Its rare to notch up enough kills to feel like a bad ass and even rarer to take enough hits to really feel under threat. This might be less of an issue in multi-player because in the end I don’t feel the same kind of power trip raging around slaughtering a slightly dim-witted cardboard opponent that I might well feel if the zombies were being driven by a friend. The missions don’t feel particularly narrative either, mostly boiling down to wiping out the zombies before performing a pick-up and deliver, or just pick-up sometimes. As such the possibility of variety from ten missions ends up feeling like several different versions of the same steps.
I’ve not played the game on multi-player yet and, to be fair it looks like a much better bet on that mode, but while the game has a spirit that I want to like so I’ll be giving it as many chances as I can, this is a solo review. As a solo game I really can’t honestly recommend this game, I feel like it has very little challenge to it and I didn’t walk away with a sense of interesting stories well told. As an added extra to a multi-player game the solo mode is about acceptable, but as a straight solo mode game this is a very weak experience.