Shambling towards the board #1 (The long treck to creating the game Dead Things)

DM Fitzgerald

ZombiesThis was started when I was just starting my board game Dead Things, now that the game is done and out I thought I would I post them to give you an idea on how and what decisions were made and how they eventually played out.

So I was thinking about zombie games, there are some good ones, but most don’t represent the genre as we see it in the movies. So I decided to make a zombie game, but I wanted to correct the errors I saw in the earlier games. Out of this came my game Dead Things.

In starting the project I set a couple of ground rules for myself. Zombie movies have their own logic, trying to put a rule system that didn’t pay close attention to the rules set forth in the movies wasn’t going to be that satisfying. I put together some rules that show up in most of the movies as a guild for creating the game.

Zombie Movie Rules:

Rule 1 Zombies are lucky and you aren’t. If zombies weren’t lucky the average person wouldn’t have too much of a problem dealing with them. But in a zombie movie the zombies get all of the breaks. If you have a locked room to go and hide in, somehow a zombie will have gotten in there first.

Rule 2 Zombies are Toxic Getting bitten by a zombie is a bad idea and usually leads to becoming a zombie. Even a small bite will kill you.

Rule 3 Zombie Movies move fast sure zombies shamble around a lot but zombie movies move fast. You can’t take forever with rules and stuff if you want to replicate zombie movies. The pace of the film (game) need to move fast.

Getting these rules set for myself I figured would help me get the game right. So I began. Originally I wrote the rules stream of consciously in one sitting and I liked that version until I tried to play test it. Didn’t work. So I went back to the old pad of paper and started from scratch. Here’s what I did.

Originally I gave the humans and zombies hit points, but keeping track of them bogged the game down. I figured that each turn a human attacking a zombie got lots of chances to take a zombie down. Usually zombies are no match for a human. Based on this I just made it that 1 hit puts a zombie down.

Weapons and combat The original version of the game had lots of different types of weapons and rate of fires and accuracy numbers. It was the same with zombies attacking the humans. The question was who rolls for the zombies? Do the zombies get bonuses for attacking from behind, should they? This bogged the game down with dice rolls. So I made it really basic, weapons have only range and rate of fire. If the zombie is in range and the human hasn’t exceed their rate of fire then the zombie goes down. Firing a weapon usually ends the humans turn (not counting optional rules).

Once I had taken hit points away from the zombies I had to consider what to do about damage done to the characters. Putting a dice in there for the zombies seemed wrong. My first idea was that zombies would bite and then bite again when their turn came up. This didn’t work because the humans in the play test got surrounded and bitten to death. There needed to be a way around that. I tried putting in an “escape” routine in the rules, but it bogged everything down. So what worked is the idea that any zombie that attacks gets killed by the human after it has bitten. This means that you’re going to need a lot of zombies but it allows for characters taking out huge numbers of zombies, just like in the movies.

Characters still needed something like hit points so that was the next thing to work on. Most of the other games I play have a hit point mechanic….but this is a zombie game and the logic (if you can call it that) is that if you get a bite you die, however there are lots of examples of lucky breaks for the characters in the movies. Renaming hit points Luck Points needed to be more than cosmetic. Having a run of bad luck and going low on Luck Points can make the game boring since you spend all of your time keeping away from trouble. Having the Luck points come back at the end of a turn allows the character to be penalized but still have a chance to get back into the game, if they can stay out of trouble for a turn. Eventually you only got hit points back when you actively  try to get them back.

Next Time we look at the turn order and a step back for the entire system. Want to see how it turned out? You can see it here: David