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Subject: Night of the Zombie Fog rss

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Keith M. Sandler
United States
Marlboro
Massachusetts
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SR: 1/12/13

In honour of the heavy "zombie fog" shrouding the region yesterday, we set up to play our first game of City of Horror, one of my new acquisitions. The surviving humans were Erin, Rick, Alex, myself, and Maranda. Rick having been most recently in the hospital, we decided he was closest to “zombie-like” and gave him First Player and Zombie Leader. It being our first time with this title (though I had played its precursor, Mall of Horror, back when it first came out), there was quite a bit of explanation at the start of the game, but after quite a while of that, we got underway.

As I remember it, here were our characters:

Rick: Geek, Secret Agent, Teen
Alex: Businesswoman, Granny, Guard & Rex
Keith: Grandpa, Rasta, Student
Maranda: Blonde, Rocker, Housewife
Erin: Priest, Little Boy, Little Girl

We played with Side A of all locations, and the order was Water Tower, Armory, Bank, Church, Hospital, Crossroads.

We started off with a bit of a misplay, as I misread the rule on initial placement. Instead of each of us placing characters all at once, we went around the table placing one at a time in counter-clockwise order. We also played the basic rules for Action Card distribution. Next time I will introduce the expert rules, as they seem to add a bit of strategy and control without adding much complexity.

As the starting characters were placed, locations filled up quickly, and a good number of our characters ended up in the street. Luckily, we were able to move all of them into safety before the first zombie attacks. By the end of the first round, I had my Old Man and Rasta in the Church with the Old Lady and the Housewife. The Secret Agent, controlled by Rick, I believe started in the Bank. My Student hung out in the Armory with the Little Boy and Little Girl. The Blonde moved over to the Bank early on to the others’ dismay--her screams additional zombies to her location--and she would remain there for the rest of the game.

I can’t remember all the details, but, I will say that despite a lot of talk and negotiations, there weren't any character deaths in the first two rounds of the game. Deal-making, action cards, and character abilities kept the zombies at bay the whole time. It quickly seemed like Rick and Maranda had an edge in their negotiations, as they seemed willing to trade zombie destruction via cards and abilities for votes to be distributor of the air-dropped supplies. Erin did her best to keep her head down and just play her own game, and she did end up being voted distributor several times, not needing to vote for another player until turn 3.

We retro-d an “almost mis-play” early on, after we discovered that the First Player and Zombie Leader markers were not linked and moved under very different circumstances. We still ended up with two major misplays based on these two items, and I think they would have had a major impact on the game.

First, I had overlooked the fact that the First Player marker moves to the player on the left at the end of each turn that no characters are eaten. Yeah, pretty big. Also, I didn’t see that the Zombie Leader marker needs to move every time a character in the Crossroads is eaten. Again, big.

The First Player issue would have solved a huge problem I had in the mid-game. I used my Student’s ability to take the First Player token while in the Armory, forcing Rick to kill zombies outside lest he be eaten. The problem was, since I was then First Player, it was quite difficult for me to move characters into the desirable buildings, as they were already full. I did my best to time this out so I could get the Student into the Hospital, and I was successful there, but it was quite tricky being First Player for so long-- I had to make sure I knew that another character was going to be eaten or somehow move away. I honestly don’t remember quite how I pulled it off. What back-fired on me a turn later, was my trying to move my Rasta into the Bank, which I knew, due to his ability, would be much more defensible than the other areas. Erin also wanted the last spot in the Bank, and Maranda quickly pointed out that she could use the Priest’s "admonishing" ability to cancel my movement. No, mon! The Rasta ended up back in the Church.

Meanwhile, Alex and Maranda were engaged in some power struggles and negotiations in some locations over what would happen in the Crossroads once the zombies attacked, as the two of them were most likely to be on the chopping block. Maranda volunteered to get sent to the street with Alex once Rick blew up the Armory and keep the Zombie Leader on her colour. Keeping with her ultimate do-gooder bad-ass role of the game, Maranda took it upon herself to single-handedly destroy all of the Zombies in the Crossroads, a feat which saved herself and also made it much easier for Alex later on.

I protested Rick’s decision to destroy the Armory instead of the Water Tower, as I was anxious to see Maranda’s Rocker take a tumble. There was also a major power struggle in the last turn over the Bank. Now that many of our characters were stuck in the Crossroads and most of us, even the one’s in the Bank, were out of action cards, it became a quick bribe-fest for Rick to move the Zombie Leader marker. Alex bribed him with a dose of vaccine to move the marker away from his colour, and I provided extra incentive with another syringe of the stuff (no longer needed as my Rasta got eaten in the church) to put it on Erin’s colour instead of mine. Luckily, Erin missed this and blamed Rick more than me for the placement.

Meanwhile, in the Hospital, I thought I was sitting pretty, as I still had the First Player marker; it should have given me the extra vote needed to secure my Student's safety and start a bidding war between Erin and Rick over which kid to toss to the zombies. (The Student was apparently babysitting the Little Girl and the Teen.) Unfortunately, Rick used a Hideout Card, and Erin used the Little Girl’s special ability. The zombies burst into the Hospital, and my Student became zombie take-out. This was a great cinematic image for me, and at this point, the game really seemed to shine, as the pacing worked out perfectly. The first few turns weren't so tense, and the zombie threat wasn't as bad as it could have been due to our use of supplies and "playing nice," but once things got hairy, the death toll started to pile up, making the threat more real and the negotiations much tenser.

The Rocker was pulled down from the Water Tower near the end, as well, adding another nice thematic image to the game play. (I still wish we had blown up that tower, though. I had "All Along the Watchtower" queue'd up on my iPhone and everything... Oh, well. Next time!)

The game drew to a close with most of our characters in the Crossroads (including the Granny who had earlier thrown away her walker only to be stranded in the city streets and the Grampa, who apparently was looking for some old-timer action... or someone to listen to his rambling tales of yesteryear). At the very end, after realizing he could not achieve a victory, Rick decided to play kingmaker in order to spite Erin and Maranda, who he believed (rightly) were in the lead. After his numerous previous dealings with Alex, he considered him more of an ally with a chance to win (I was completely out of the running at this point, with just my Grandpa left), so Rick gave Alex all of his food and syringes, giving him the points he needed to win.

The final score:

Erin: 11
Maranda: 11
Keith: 6
Rick: 0
Alex: 14

My initial reaction to Rick’s move was negative, but after reflection, I can see it as a fun ending to a very cinematic zombie movie, one character sacrificing himself to let others get away. As I type this up, I’m liking this game even more. The “scene” with my Student getting betrayed by her companions in the Hospital seems like something right out of a zombie flick.

Most of the group liked the game overall, though Erin wasn’t a fan of the negotiation. There were definitely some key learnings that will affect the next play. I think that future plays will be much more cutthroat, and we have all learned now of the value of Action Cards and the Hospital location. Another thing that some players had an “ah-ha” moment with early in was the shortness of the game. Realizing that there are only 4 game turns makes each action much more significant.

I, for one, look forward to playing this one again. It’s very thematic, it’s different from a lot of our usual fare, and it supports a nice range of player counts. I think the play time will be cut down significantly next game, now that the learning curve has been surmounted. I’m also looking forward to checking out the different character combinations, the alternate sides of the locations, and just more zombie fun!

-kMs

P.S. Found one more mis-play. We messed up the scoring a little bit, not discarding the "used" antidotes before tallying the final score. I think that would lower everyone's score somewhat proportionally, Rick's end-move still giving Alex enough of an edge to win.

EDIT: added some mechanics and flavour

EDIT: Added post-script after finding scoring error.
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