Surviving the undead leaves a lasting impression.
‘Legacy’ games have been one of the hottest developments in board gaming in the last few years. These are games which change as you play, adding or discarding components or rules to change the way the game plays over consecutive sessions. Zombie Kidz takes this concept and tailors it for a family age range, aimed at ages six and up.
The core of Zombie Kidz is classic tower-defence. It’s a co-operative game in which each player controls a school kid, armed for defence with water pistols, toy ‘laser swords’, and the like. Meanwhile, the teachers — now turned undead — invade the school. The players must work together to seal the four school gates by getting to each yard and applying a padlock token. Meanwhile, zombies spawn at the beginning of each player’s turn, according to a die roll which indicates in which coloured room the next zombie appears. On their turn, players can enter a room and clear it of zombies, as long as there are only one or two. Once a room contains three zombies it cannot be entered, and the players will lose if the supply of zombie tokens ever runs out.
This is where the legacy element comes into its own, as your first few plays of Zombie Kidz feel very basic. The simple balance of keeping zombie numbers down while trying to coordinate at a gate in pairs is interesting, but it definitely feels bare. However, with each game (or video game-style ‘achievement’ listed in the manual) you are rewarded with stickers to apply to a progress chart on the back of the manual. At certain numbered milestones, you’ll open one of a series of sealed envelopes supplied in the box. Each envelope contains new components, new rules, and even new achievements which relate to the new elements.
Zombie Kidz successfully sidesteps the problem which hobbles most legacy games
Having played the game a fair bit, I can give you an insight into the contents of the envelopes. Spoiler-free, of course, because discovering the new elements is a huge part of the fun! Each of the playable characters will gain a unique power to help manage the horde, while at the same time the threat increases. The zombies also get power-ups from time to time, moving beyond their initial static spawning.
It’s an incredibly clever design. My six-year-old loves the envelopes and sometimes wants to continue playing the game until we reach the next milestone, and with it, the next envelope. Unsurprising, since the contents are all thoroughly exciting.
Once you’ve opened a few envelopes, it’s a much more advanced game. My daughter and I have so far made it to envelope six and it’s fair to say that the number of options now available each turn have made the game a significant puzzle for her. She’s learning to strategise and spot potential areas of risk much more than any of the other games in our collection. There are times when there are almost too many options for her at this point, but one of the nice things about Zombie Kidz is that it is possible to play without some of the upgraded powers or rules if it feels overwhelming.
It’s also great to have a ‘real’ game which can be played with adults and kids alike
Importantly, the basic start with evolving rules becomes its own tutorial, allowing players to learn each aspect of the game thoroughly before adding a new one. It also serves as an interesting design exemplar of how modifying a single small rule can have great repercussions on the flow of the game. The complexity only ever comes from added nuances, never overwhelming with rules or too many components.
It’s also great to have a ‘real’ game which can be played with adults and kids alike. Okay, it isn’t so demanding that adults might seek it out for a challenge without children involved, but it’s great to have a game which feels like we’re all playing at a similar level rather than the grown-ups humouring the basic challenge of a classic kids’ educational game.
Zombie Kidz successfully sidesteps the problem which hobbles most legacy games, in that it can be played with any number of players, at any time. The usual obstacle to enjoying legacy games is getting the same people together on a regular basis to complete the campaign. Zombie Kidz suffers no such requirements as each game is standalone and character progress is related to the available roles in the box, not tied to a player.
Production-wise, it’s a beautifully designed game. The art is reminiscent of the very modern kids’ TV animation style and every component feels high quality. The board is double-sided, with a ‘day’ design for three to four players and a ‘night’ side, which has a slightly re-balanced layout, for two players.
Overall, it’s hard to do anything other than give Zombie Kidz the highest possible recommendation, if you have younger gamers in your house. It’s attractive, accessible, thematic, an evolving challenge, and — as a bonus — is likely to cost you well under £20. I can’t wait to open the rest of the envelopes with my daughter and see what new challenges await.
Zombie Kidz Evolution is published by Scorpion Masque, RRP £19.99.