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Reviews - Zombie Dice
by Lee Valentine

Zombie Dice packageZombie Dice
Published by Steve Jackson Games (2010)
Designed by Steve Jackson
Contents: 13 dice, dice cup, rules sheet
2 or more players


This game is featured in the OgreCave Christmas Gift Guide 2010.

Steve Jackson Games just released a new "press your luck" dice game called Zombie Dice. I originally saw this game earlier this year at PAX East in Boston, MA (see my PAX East convention report for my impressions of the show). At a price of $13.13, the game comes with 13 custom six-sided dice and a dice cup. The latter is used both during the game and for storage.

The dice feature icons rather than pips or numbers. There are three kinds of icons on the faces of the dice: brains, shotgun blasts, and footsteps ("Runners"). You play the roll of a brain-eating zombie chasing down 13 potential victims. Each turn, you put the dice into the dice cup that is provided with the game and give the cup a shake, then pull out three random dice and roll them.

After each toss, you set aside all brains and shotgun blasts rolled. Each brain icon rolled is one potential point that you could score this turn so long as you collect those points before you take too much shotgun damage. You can stop rolling at any time and score one point for every brain rolled this turn. Shotgun blasts rolled represent armed victims who have defended themselves and injured you with a shotgun. If you roll a cumulative total of three shotgun blasts during your turn then your turn ends immediately and you lose all points that you might have accumulated that turn from rolling brain icons (though you keep points scored during earlier turns). After each roll of three dice you decide whether you will end your turn and bank the brain points you've scored. If you do, you add those points to your total score for the game, put the dice back in the cup, and you pass the cup to the next player. If you decide to press your luck, you'll roll three dice again. Runners represent the victims who narrowly escaped you last time, but who are still within reach if you can catch them before they find a shotgun. If you rolled any "Runners" on your previous roll and you decide to press your luck, then you must re-roll all those Runners, plus enough new dice drawn randomly from the cup to bring the total number of dice that you are rolling up to three.

The goal is to get to 13 points of brains eaten. Once a player ends his turn with 13 or more points, the remaining players after him in the turn order get one last turn. At that point, the player with the highest number of points is declared the winner.

Zombie Dice dieZombie Dice introduced something new to me in the "press your luck" genre: not all the dice are the same. Among the game's 13 dice there are six green dice, four yellow dice, and three red dice. Each die has two "Runners" faces. Green dice also have three brains and one shotgun. Yellow dice have two brains and two shotguns. Red dice, the most dangerous, have one brain icon and three shotguns. Since you always re-roll all your Runners, and since your brains and shotguns represent dice set aside, you can guesstimate how dangerous your next roll might be. For example, if you rolled two red brains, one red shotgun, one yellow brain, and you have two green Runners to re-roll, then your next roll will probably be relatively safe for you.

The game has better decision points than a dice game like LCR. The scoring, however, is easier to memorize than it would be for Yahtzee or Farkle. Since there's nominally no upper limit to the number of players (other than your patience for downtime between your chance to roll the dice), Zombie Dice is ideally suited to parties.

Components and Packaging
Zombie Dice componentsThe game comes complete with an attractive dice cup decorated with zombie art by Alex Fernandez. The construction of the cup is almost identical to a nice container for frozen, concentrated orange juice but with a glossy, full-color label and removable lid. The dice cup is sturdy and portable, but it is handled regularly and roughly, so the art on the outside will pick up some scuffs pretty quickly, particularly at the mouth of the cup. The bottom of the container is also removable, and this might pose a potential problem if the bottom of the cup falls out causing the 13 dice that you are shaking to cascade to the floor. That hasn't happened to me yet – I have seen the container bottom becoming a bit loose occasionally during play, but it usually holds firm.

The dice are simple and well-made, featuring nice, clear icons. The rules are on a small two-sided rules sheet, which folds up to be tucked into the cup for storage, though I doubt you'll ever need it again after playing the game even once.

I thought the components were great overall for the price, but the game came without an internal means of scorekeeping. Presumably you can either write down your scores or memorize them. Ideally the game should have come with some game stones to keep track of scores visually, and indeed the folks at the SJG booth at PAX East were using a combination of Munchkin-themed coins and game stones for scoring during demos.

While heavily luck-based, there are some tense decision points during each of your turns (assuming that you don't get three shotgun blasts on your first roll). You need to be greedy to win, but zombies who are too greedy for brains will generally meet their untimely end each turn at the wrong end of a shotgun or three. Zombie Dice is fast and well-suited toward party crowds of gamers and non-gamers alike. The game generates a lot of laughter and trash talking, which is great for a party environment. The rules can be explained quickly so you can get right into playing. Games are short (often 10-15 minutes), allowing people to join or drop out quickly between games. Unfortunately, the luck heavy aspects of the game will limit the replay value of the game for serious gamers, but for kids and non-gamers at parties this is a really clever little "press your luck" game. It's also suitable as a quick filler game when you are waiting for the rest of your gaming group to show up. Given the nature of the game, it's probably easily adapted to a gambling game (with side bets like craps) or a drinking game if you are so inclined.

Even if you were turned off by the SJG game Cthulhu Dice (see the OgreCave review here), Zombie Dice is worth a second look. Zombie Dice has a little bit more meat on its bones and uses a different rules set than Cthulhu Dice. The zombie theme is lightly pasted on though, so this is not a must buy for serious zombophile gamers. However, if you are looking for a light game that you might play now and again instead of a game that you put into regular rotation with your gaming group, then the price is right on this one. I wouldn't be surprised if someone finds a way to use these dice in an RPG or war game or even for skill checks in board games like Arkham Horror.

For Retailers
The game is sold with eight games to each POP display. The POP display is attractive, and is constructed like an oversized CCG game display. However, each individual game unit also comes with a hang hole suitable for display on a wall instead. Each game has a clear plastic blister pack showing the dice cup and one each of the green, yellow, and red dice, to give customers an instant idea of what they are purchasing. If lighter SJG games or dice games sell well for you, then this is a no brainer (pun intended), the game might have sold more copies as an October release. I am not sure that there is enough replay value in this game for this to become an evergreen product in your store, but the price is right for an impulse buy. So this is probably worth carrying, particularly if you display it close to the cash register. I actually suspect that if you have a bunch of casual gamers in your store then this will sell better for you because of the mass market nature of the gameplay. If, however, you have mostly hardcore gamer geeks as your customer base, then the B+ salability rating I gave below probably won't apply to you. This demos fast, even by the cash register, and since the game is short, you can easily have in-store demos made up of full-length games to promote sales.


Lee's ratings:

Overall: B (weighted down by lack of depth in gameplay)
Appearance: B+ (great Alex Fernandez art on the dice cup, and nice iconography on the dice)
Components: B+ (nice dice, but no score pad, mini poker chips, or game stones provided to keep score)
Packaging: B+ (the dice cup is awesome for storage and looks great, but appears that it will sustain wear quickly during actual gameplay)
Rules Clarity: A
Gameplay: B (as a light filler or party game), but potentially lower for consumers looking for a meatier game with more replay value
Retailer Salability: B+ (if SJG games or mass market dice games sell well for you, otherwise lower)


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