Published on April 2nd, 2015 | by Justified Croak0
Card of the Dead – Review
Card of the Dead
Average play time per game: 15 minutes
Suitable for ages: 10+
Number of players: 2-5
So apparently zombies are still a thing; I thought they’d died a death (officially beginning the pun count). Apparently game designer Motohiro Nakamura refuses to let zombies rest in peace so we have yet another zombie themed game shambling in to our local games stores. For me, Zombie games peaked with “zombies” and “last night on earth” but a friend of mine was frothing about this one recently so I thought it might be worth getting my teeth in to.
In Card of the Dead players represent survivors in a generic American town attempting to, well, not die. On their turn Survivors will draw and play cards, attempting to get themselves further from danger whilst getting their opponents closer to it. Points are awarded for being the last man standing or acquiring enough movement points to escape. Play occurs over three rounds at the end of which the player with the most points is of course, the winner. A no-brainer really.
Card types explained:
Zombie cards: cards with green titles are zombie cards. Through the game these will amass in hordes before unlucky players and should be avoided where possible.
Action cards: cards with yellow titles are action cards and generally represent actions you can take to stay alive. Their effects are described in the text box whilst the number in the top right corner represents movement points. More on that later.
Event cards: cards with blue titles are event cards. Event cards represent badness. You do not want to be hit with event cards.
All cards are shuffled in to a single deck and placed within reach of all survivors.
Each survivor draws 10 cards from the deck
From the 10 drawn cards each survivor chooses up to 3 action cards (each worth no more than one movement point each) returning the rest to the deck
Shuffle the deck again and place back on the table
First player is designated by who last went to a shopping mall.
Each turn begins with the survivor drawing a card from the top of the deck. Dependant of the card type several things may happen.
If a zombie card is drawn then it must be placed in front of the survivor face up. The zombie is now chasing you trying to eat your brain because that is its nature. This is bad.
If an action card is drawn then that card goes in to the survivor’s hand. This is vastly preferable to being chased.
If an event card is drawn then the instructions in the text box are immediately followed. Very rarely will you enjoy this experience.
Once a card has been drawn and revealed the survivor now has the opportunity to play an action card. There are two ways of using action cards.
A survivor may declare he is using an action card for its movement points. If this is the case, that survivor places the action card in their play space, ignoring the text box. The card then adds its movement value to the players movement total as long as it remains before the player.
Action cards may also be used for their effect. If this is the case, the survivor follows the effects of the text on the card and the card is usually discarded. For example the “hide” card allows you to give one of your zombies to another player whilst the “chainsaw” lets you dice up two zombie cards (side note: why is there always a chainsaw? They are heavy, prone to malfunction and have very limited fuel capacity. I’d go crowbar. Multi-purpose, durable, easily acquired and no fuel required).
If at any time a survivor has X amount of zombies chasing them they are surrounded (X varies; with 2 survivors playing it’s 5, with 3-4 survivors it’s 4 and with 5 survivors it’s 3). Surrounded players cannot play action cards for movement, instead they must fight back their hoard a little before being able to move again.
Worse yet, if a surrounded, a survivor’s stinky entourage grows further, then the zombies get their grub on and the survivor is removed from the round. The zombie total to be eaten varies again, given the number of survivors, but to be eaten always takes 2 more zombies than it takes to be surrounded.
The round ends in one of three scenarios. If only one survivor is left alive then play ends and this survivor is awarded 5 points. Alternatively if a survivor reaches X number of movement points (again designated by survivor numbers where 2 survivors is 7 movement points, 3-4 is 6 movement points and 5 is 5 movement points) they receive 5 points. In this scenario all other players not eaten receive points equal to their current movement.
Play may also end if there are no more cards to be drawn from the deck, in which case each player not eaten gains a number of points equal to their current movement points. It is worth noting however, I’ve played this game for a fair bit now and this has never come up. Good luck holding of an entire deck of the dead.
When scoring is complete the deck is shuffled and survivors return to game set-up. Three rounds are usually played before the game ends.
I reviewed this game on the advisement of a friend. A friend who has been dear to me for some time now but if the dead ever do rise then I’ve made a mental note to hamstring him in the event of us being chased by zombies. This game did nothing for me and I am disappointed in him. Here’s why:
Firstly the box states the game is playable with 2 players. This is false. There is a serious balance issue with the zombie cards. Each game felt like a race to get two zombies in front of your opponent, if you can accomplish this, which is fairly straight forward, you’re home free. Your opponent kind of has to use action cards just to keep themselves alive, taking the focus off of you allowing for a sprint to victory whilst player 2 is buried alive under zombies. Also with two players a lot rides on the starting hand, if you get a good one, and your opponent a worse one then you’re almost assured to get ahead and with just two, catching up can be harder than coffin nails. The game works better with 3 or more as this spreads the balance a little but the box insists 2 can play. This feels like an overstatement.
Secondly, the game can feel a little dead on its feet. Simply put there isn’t a lot to do. With only one card draw per turn and more zombie type cards than any other in the deck it’s easy to burn your actions real quick thus emptying your hand. With an empty hand you’ll find yourself more often than not, drawing a zombie, sighing heavily then passing on to the next player. Maybe a few more action cards with a little bit more variety could solve this one, but as it stands your find yourself just not doing anything from turn to turn.
In a quest to find a silver lining I took this to play with some younger relatives just above the recommended age on the box. They seemed to enjoy it a fair bit more than I could. The cartoonish artwork on the cards, whilst repetitive, got a big thumbs up from them and they seemed to revel trying to shiv me at every opportunity.
It’s fair to say I’m a little jaded these days, zombies are just like kittens to me, people sticker them on to an unfinished or sub par product knowing it will sell anyway because BRAINSSSS! What’s equally feasible is that I’m being snobby, expecting a little too much from a zombie themed, quick play card game possibly targeted at a younger audience than myself. Yet the fact remains, I couldn’t get it to play well; there was always the lingering balance issue which becomes apparent the longer you play it. If you have your unbeating heart set on Card of the Dead then it may still suit as a filler game played briefly once in a while but if I’m stuck in a government run emergency shelter the I really hope some one brings Fluxx, Cards Against Humanity or Infernal Contraption. As far as I am concerned Card of the Dead can stay dead.