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Posted on Sep 20, 2011 in Boardgames

A Visit with Z-Man Games

By Charlie Hall

A Visit With Z-Man Games at GenCon 2011. Z-Man has a new owner, new games, and new surprises.

I’ve always seen Z-Man Games, Inc. as a bit of a rebel in the board games industry. They consistently churn out more new titles each year than the heavies like Fantasy Flight, and their catalog is alarmingly diverse. While Z-Man games tend not to have quite as nice a build quality as other publishers, they are consistently among the most daring in their art direction and thorough in their polish. You want to take care of their flimsy boards because the contents of the box are such a treasure. Damaging one piece of the whole would make you feel like you, its caretaker, had let it down.

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My only hope is that Z-Man’s new owners are as careful with this treasure of a company as I am with my copy of Pandemic.

Word leaked out earlier this year at this year’s Origin Games Fair in Columbus that Quebec’s Filosofia Games had dug deep and acquired the Z-Man. I arrived at GenCon in early August and warily circled the Z-Man booth, looking for familiar faces and titles, before I committed to a demo. Luckily I found both, as well as a staff excited about the new owner and energized with the hot new properties added to their stable. From chatting with those present, and demoing the new releases, I’m confident that Z-Man is in good hands.

In the few hours I spent with them on Saturday I demoed one new game, observed another, and got a tip on an expansion due out in 2012.

The Walking Dead
Designers: Keith Tralins and Brian David-Marshall
Price: $39.99
Availability: September 30, 2011

A lot of people were surprised at the quality of AMC’s The Walking Dead TV show. The few that weren’t knew how closely the author of the comics, Robert Kirkman, was in setting the tone for the first few episodes. But as rumors of the show’s troubles (slashed budgets and fired staff) spreads in advance of their 2011 season, take comfort in the fact that this board game is not based on the rocky TV franchise. Z-Man’s board game is licensed from the books and is therefore able to draw heavily from the Kirkman’s original art. So if AMC’s version is canceled, know that you won’t be left with bad memories every time you open the game cupboard.

When you enter a resource space, here a food space denoted by the open tin can, you wake up the zombies on each of the six surrounding spaces. After resolving an encounter to determine if you actually get the resource, flip over a zombie token on your way out to find out how many geeks you’ll be fighting.

From one to six players take the role of the main characters from the comics. Each has a set of attributes, represented by a number of colored d6, and abilities described textually on their character card. Each character is given one “Follower,” selected from the minor characters. These parties then travel around the hexagonal board, attempting to “scout a location” and clear it of zombies. The third location scouted is a “safe haven,” and that party wins the game.


A demo of The Walking Dead.

Just like Kirkman’s books, this is a game about the relationships between survivors, and each player’s party will gain and lose members throughout. As you do, the strength and capabilities of your party will change, causing you to reevaluate how you go about the challenges thrown at you.

Multiple players can even choose to combine their parties. One of the two players takes the lead, allocating the total dice pool of the party, but also taking all the damage caused by the undead scattered throughout the board. The second player can voluntarily elect to take damage, and lend support, but is not required to do so. This can lead to vicious scenarios where strong players link up with weak players, and then use them like cannon fodder to screen their movements through the map.

Food, ammo, and gas must be rationed if you are to survive. Here Andrea leads a party including Allen, and this player rolls five d6 total for keeping both of them fed.

And where this game separates itself from other zombie games is in how you move. Each party can only go so far unaided, and may elect to spend resources like gas to move farther. When you move you leave a trail of awakened zombies behind you, and when you gather resources you awaken even more. This can easily lead to a game of zombie-Light Cycles, as walls of zombies must be broken through to reach the other quadrants of the map.

This is just over 1 round into the game. You can see how the trail of zombies you leave behind begins to cut people off.

This game sold out in the first 30 minutes on Friday at GenCon, so if you see a copy snag it. I myself would love to spend more time with it, but the only copy on the floor was the one dedicated to running demos.

Yggdrasil
Designers: Cedric LeFebvre and Fabrica Rabellino
Price: $54.99
Availability: In Stock

If you loved the video game Too Human you have a serious addiction to Diablo clones and should seek therapy. Once happily ensconced in a padded room, I would encourage you to play Yggdrasil, a cooperative game for one to six players. With luck, this game can help you separate your abusive relationship with PC games from your love of Norse mythology.

The Yggdrasil game board in all its glory. This image courtesy of Z-Man Games, Inc. all rights reserved.

The game board for Yggdrasil looks like a combination of a Salvador Dali painting and a Dixit card. It is the time of Ragnarok, the Norse end-of-days, and the Aesir and the Vanir gods are at war with Evil. The mighty tree Yggdrasil, the scaffold that holds up the nine heavens, is the battlefield. Icy waters, fiery roots, sinewy branches, and a shimmering sky are all smeared with a liquid sheen that makes the board look like a fever dream. Players take the role of Norse gods and must work together to “stop the advancing Evil Forces in Asgard.”

Concept art graces the background of the character cards. The game is characterized by a graphics-first presentation, with few words to clutter the art up, and Norse glyphs representing key game elements. This image courtesy of Z-Man Games, Inc. all rights reserved.

While I didn’t get to spend the time I wanted with this game, it is in my top five to pick up this year and will happily transition my family from Pandemic into something just a little more epic.

Pandemic Expansion On The Way

Not that Pandemic isn’t epic enough already, I had the delight of being shown an early alpha version of the newest expansion to this 2008 classic. Tentatively called Pandemic: In The Lab, players will be tasked with harvesting samples of the virulent red, black, yellow and blue viruses and secreting them off to the CDC in Atlanta. Here you’ll be able to create inoculations against the viruses, small amounts of which you’ll have to strategically employ to slow the spread of contagion. Use too much at the wrong time and you might not have enough stored up when you really need it. Expect additional rules and wrinkles to amp up the difficulty of the game to match this new player power.

Z-Man, ever the clever marketers, may add few more sweeteners to this expansion if they’re able. Look for them to try to include some inoculation ampoules, containing a matching primary-colored liquid, to represent the inoculations on the game board. No word if there will be any more petri dishes though, so your best bet for getting the last expansion Pandemic: On The Brink will be Z-Man’s reprint sometime this summer.

Overall it was a great showing for Z-Man again this year. While all three of these games were very exciting, the best news for me was word that founder Zev Shlasinger will remain at the helm for 2012 as the integration with Filosofia is finalized.

About the Author

By night Charlie Hall is a writer for Gamers With Jobs (www.GamersWithJobs.com). His relevant interests range from pen-and-paper role playing games, to board games and electronic games of all types. By day he is a writer for CDW Government LLC. Follow him on Twitter @TheWanderer14, or send him hate mail at charlie@gamerswithjobs.com. He, his wife, and daughter make their home in far northern Illinois. This summer you can find him crouched over his newly built PC, or prowling the vendor floor at GenCon in Indianapolis digging up new and exciting games to play and stories to write.
 

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