Note: A slightly different version of this review was first published on JumpCut Online.
Zombie Kidz Evolution is a sequel to the 2013 board game Zombie Kidz, which I must admit was one that flew under the radar for me.
However, from what I understand of the original game, the basic premise is similar – co-operate with other players to lock all entry points on the board while moving around and taking out zombies – but there’s a big twist this time around. As alluded to in the title, this time the game evolves as you play.
That’s because Zombie Kidz Evolution is a ‘Legacy’-style game. Though this isn’t a new concept to those of us more familiar with more recent board game innovations, it’s worth a bit of background to fill in the knowledge gaps of those readers who haven’t been keeping up with these trends.
The first ‘Legacy’ game was Risk Legacy, published in 2011 by Hasbro. The concept was created by a designer named Rob Daviau – who (according to Wikipedia) apparently came up with the idea of a game that retained permanent changes during play sessions after joking that the characters in Cluedo (or Clue, for my readers across the pond) kept being invited back for dinner despite the murder that would occur every time.
Rather than resetting to the status quo after every game, Legacy games instead add rules, upgrades to player abilities or new, permanent features to the board or other components.
Zombie Kidz Evolution is the first Legacy-style game I’m aware of that’s aimed at younger players. Though, thematically at least, it may seem that zombies are more suited to a more adult experience, in practice – and thanks to some beautifully colourful and appealingly kid-friendly graphic design work – it works just fine.
The game is very straightforward – at least to start with. Rather than trying to defend a cemetery, as in the previous game, in Zombie Kidz Evolution the players are tasked with defending their school from the undead. To win, players must lock each entryway outside the school before the building is overrun by zombies.
At the start of the game, players are in the red room, with a zombie located at each entryway. Turns are simple: first, the active player rolls the zombie die – which adds a zombie into one of the coloured rooms (it’s worth mentioning that the board is double sided, with the ‘Night’ side having easier access to all of the rooms – this is used for two player game sessions).
Next, they can move to an adjacent room (or to an outdoor area if adjacent). Lastly, the player can remove up to two zombies from the space they’re in. If you’re in an entryway space with another player and no zombie, congratulations! You can highly five the other player before locking the gate.
Players can’t enter a space that contains more than three zombies (which can see certain routes around the school blocked off entirely) and if there are no more zombies to place at the start of a player’s turn, the school is considered to have been overrun – and everyone loses.
It seems a little bit too simple at first. You’ll be roaming the school, dispatching zombies in no time – and it does feel as though you can get into a good pattern of moving around and removing zombies if you’re not too unlucky with the dice. Sometimes, at this stage, a game may hinge on a few lucky or unlucky rolls of the zombie die – but a loss is more likely due to players simply not working together effectively enough over the course of the game.
Out of the first five games I played, our team of zombie hunters only lost our first attempt, unfortunately becoming blocked off when two rooms we left to be dealt with were stacked with three zombies each, blocking access to an entryway that we’d yet to lock. The following four games definitely had their tense moments, but – after becoming familiarised with the game – the zombie hunters triumphed even with less than four players involved.
‘But wait – didn’t you mention something about this being an evolving, Legacy-style game?’ I hear you ask. I sure did, attentive reader!
When you reach a numbered circle with an envelope icon, you can open one of the many sealed envelopes that come with the game – and which the rulebook warns you not to open!
After each game, whether you win or lose, you add a brain sticker to the progress chart on the back of the game manual. If you’ve completed one of the many missions listed in the manual – which can be things such as winning a four player game or winning when there’s five or more zombies in a single room, for example – players can add a trophy sticker to the progress chart too (it’s more than likely that you might complete more than one mission in a game, but you can only gain a single trophy per game – so choose wisely!).
This adds a really fun element of anticipation and suprise to the game. I’m not going to spoil what’s inside the envelopes, but they do add extra layers of complexity at a manageable pace – just at the point where you perhaps figure that you’ve got the zombies under control. The good thing is that these extra components and rules are entirely optional if players find that they make the game too difficult or frustrating.
Though it may be a little too simplistic for a group of adults to play, Zombie Kidz Evolution is a fantastic game for kids and families; it keeps itself fresh by evolving the more you play – and younger players especially are likely to get a lot of enjoyment from discovering just what is hidden in those enticingly sealed envelopes. A single game lasts around 10-15 minutes, so it’s manageable even if your young zombie hunters don’t have much of an attention span. Zombie Kidz Evolution is a great implementation of Legacy-style gameplay at a price point, size and level of complexity that makes it absolutely unmissable for parents looking to introduce their kids to the concept of evolving games.
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