One of my favourite films of all time is George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. This iconic, classic, horror film was more than just a gore fest, it had some poignant messages and some great tension. In recent years the zombie ‘craze’ so to speak has taken over TV, films, and the hobby industry. There’s so many board games being made every year, and in my anecdotal opinion there’s two themes that get a lot of treatment: Zombies and Cthulhu. Often times these can feel pasted on or low-effort, but every so often games with these themes knock it out of the park. So when a game comes along that does justice to the genre, it speaks to me on an extra level.
One of my favourite games is Dead of Winter, which is technically a zombie game, but feels like it is more about the characters and managing resources than your typical Zombie game. Recently we played Victory Point Games’ Dawn of the Zeds, which was anything but that. Yes you have to manage resources, etc., yes you have characters that have to work together, but make no mistake, this game is about fighting off waves and waves of zombies in bloody and brutal combat. And it’s fantastic fun.
Publisher: Victory Point Games
Designer: Hermann Luttman
Time: 90 mins.
Dawn of the Zeds is a very versatile game from the States of Siege series, in that it can be played fully co-op, competative, or solo. There’s also 6 or 7 game modes (difficulties) within that, so you can taylor the game to what you want it to be. Would you like an easier, relaxed, and trashy B-Movie zombie slaughter? Or would you like a soul-crushingly difficult, dread filled horror film, where your favourite characters are the first ones to fall?
You pick characters and some NPCs to play with, after selecting a difficulty level, then construct the event deck that will run you through the course of the game. You can also adjust the length of the game (which in turn adds to the difficulty again) by including more cards in the event deck.
Depending on the game level selected you’ll then play through the deck one card at a time, going through a series of game phases, triggering zombie placement and movement, attacks, and other random (usually awful) events. The game turns have a great structure to them, and are simple and cleanly laid out. Once you’ve played two turns you’ll know exactly how to play the game without picking up the rulebook. Each player gets one, and only one action, then the players have a collective number of event actions ranging from 1-4, but mostly 1 or 2, as dictated by the event card. With these meager actions the players have to cobble together some kind of defense against the waves of oncoming zombie hoards attacking Farmingdale from all sides.
As the zombies start flooding in in droves they’ll quickly overrun the outlying villages and attack the civilians. The game gives incentives (end game scoring) for protecting them, because they’re pretty much fodder when fighting alone. As you can see above, most times you’ll end up with at least a few in the cemetery, but as the game scales the body count will escalate very quickly.
If you can outlast the event deck you’ll win the game, and then you count up your score of surviving units and supplies and ammo and then cross reference the epilogues book for a blurb describing how well you won.
We played the Third Edition deluxe version, and this game is of the highest quality. It’s a real shame that the footage of the unboxing video was lost, but I can assure you these are some of the best components I’ve seen in a euro style game. The counters are very thick and chunky, and have that textured linen finish usually only found on cards, which these cards have also.
The map is double sided, the player aids are excellent, being both clear, concise, as well as colour coded for difficulty level. If you’re playing just the ‘Outbreak!’ level you just pay attention to all of the parts that have blue boxes next to them. This makes the game manageable and easy to follow for newer players. All in all the only bad thing in the box was the little standees for the two disease spreader units, but with some glue and an exacto knife those are now right as rain.
This is the main appeal of this game for me. You can either treat is seriously, or tongue-in-cheek, you can play it super easy or super hard, you can roleplay a ton, or not at all, you can play co-op, or competitive. The decks have cards removed so no game will look the same, and whilst the board is static the deck that moves everything on the board is wildly variable. There are many things in this game we haven’t even got to yet, like conducting research in order to build superweapons, there’s also rogure groups and anti heroes that will try to sabtage your efforts. Each of these things making the game harder, and harder – but ultimately more deep, rich, and tension filled.
I really like the way that the Zeds move in this game. In Zulus on the Ramparts – another States of Siege game, it’s possible to get overrun very quickly by some bad card draws which move one unit five times. In Dawn of the Zeds the zombies move ploddingly, purposefully and powerfully. They form long lines of unending zombies that you will never see an end to, which is very thematic, and also brings a crushing tension. You make some amazing moves and employ some great strategy with a bit of luck to defeat a tough Zed unit: then more take it’s place.
The combat system is clean and clear, which is nice and all of the extras are fairly intuitive. Some of the characters are better than others, so make sure you read them carefully when you start playing. We also really found the CRTs easy to use and loved when a character received a column shift for their ability or simply from the terrain they were defending in.
This is a 5/5 for strategy, and let me qualify that by saying that this isn’t Empire of the Sun or some other hefty wargame with deep complex strategies and tactics. But like all of the games in this series you have a lot to do, and very few resources, and even fewer actions with which to accomplish them. The game provides you, with a level of nail biting tension, as you try to stave off the oncoming hoards. The actions are so tight you’ll very often find yourselves deciding whether or not to shoot zombies, or to scrounge for extra ammo to shoot them later, and in doing so allow them to encroach ever closer to the town center. You’ll have to work together in order to make it through this game, and I love that about a co-op. You have to agree to allocate resources and precious actions to another player when you feel like you could do something else with them. So many great decisions.
Final Thoughts: 18/20
I love this game. It’s a great implementation of an overdone theme, and the production is top quality. There’s just SO much game in this box without getting bogged down with a ton of miniatures which seem to be all the rage right now. There’s almost every trope you can think of from every Zombie B-movie in here, so gear up and enjoy the ride. The game is well worth the entry price simply from the replay value alone, let alone the great component quality as well. On top of that the guys over at Victory Point Games are really good at supporting their games, and are happy to answer any and all questions. I’d like to give a shout out to Alan Emerich, and the designer Hermann Luttman for putting together a fantastic game. Look for an interview soon discussing an upcoming expansion.