Today I got to play a game that I first heard about on the Dice Tower Top Ten Games from 2013. I’m not sure how it happened but the game in question totally slipped under my radar last year. Yet, somehow, it had made it onto the top ten games from 2013 lists for both Tom Vasel and Sam Healey.
The game I’m referring to is called Carnival Zombie. A 1-6 player, co-operative, game set in Venice. The story driving it all is quite interesting; the city was built atop the corpse of a great, long-dead, leviathan which has awoken and is now rising from the lagoon. As the beast slowly rises, the city of Venice crumbles and sinks into the murky water. You play the role of a band of survivors led by a carnival character named Captain Terror. Your task is to either escape Venice, or destroy the heart of the beast and send it back to its watery grave. Being a complete sucker for an intriguing story and a zombie theme, this one drew me in straight away.
The game runs over a series of days, each of which is split into two phases, day and night. Each phase is split into four hours and each of those hours is split into a series of steps. At night there are six steps and during the day there’s only a single step per hour.
The Board – When you open up the game board you’re faced with a series of sections that track virtually any aspect of the game. There’s the stats for the different types of zombies, a whole host of boss characters stats, a day tracker, an hour tracker, health (or stress) trackers, a map of Venice (used during the day phase to move the group around the city), and finally a large central section that represents the area within Venice in which the group have dug-in and need to survive the night. The group are situated in a refuge at the centre of this section, and they must defend themselves until dawn breaks.
As you can see from the images above, the refuge sits at the centre of the board and is surrounded by three concentric rings labelled rings I to III as you move outwards. The refuge is split into four, and each quarter splits rings I to III into two outward cones. Each quarter of the area is called a ditch, and each cone is called a cave. Again, take a look at the image if you don’t get what I mean. I can honestly say that I have no idea why they would call them ditches or caves, but they have so that’s what I’ll use here.
Each night begins with a setup stage, during this stage a series of obstacles or terrain tokens are added to the board and the characters set up the refuge in the very centre. Setting up the refuge involves setting up a series of barricades that act as a temporary shield and positioning the characters within the refuge. Finally, a series of terrain and bosses are added to the board.
Now the first hour of the night begins with the six steps.
- Use items
- Infected appear
- Bosses and infected move
- Characters act
- Bosses and infect attack
- The hour marker advances
Characters can carry items, such as a traps, absinthe or even a cigar. It’s during step one that they can use their items. After this a series of infected (zombies) are added to the board. Three in each cave, placed in zone III. The first time you do this you’ll look at the board and wonder how you’ll ever kill them all… One tip! Don’t spend too long pondering that question, the truth is, you won’t kill them all.
The zombies and the bosses all move inwards along their cave based on the movement attribute of each. After the advance, it’s your time to act. Using a variety of actions, such as special actions, movement within the refuge, melee and shooting you will attempt to defend yourselves. It’s during this step that you really need to be thinking ahead. At the end of the night phase, you will have to leave the area, heading in a direction as determined by the Venice map section of the board. Any zombies or bosses that are left in the caves associated with the direction that you’re heading will automatically hit the group as they leave. This is VERY painful if you’ve not planned ahead.
After the characters act we move to step five and the zombie fiends attack destroying barricades and injuring characters that they can reach.
Finally the hour ends and the hour marker advances. Bring on steps 1 to 6 again and repeat until the end of the dawn hour.
Having survived wave after shuffling wave of zombie death we’re progressing onto the day stage. This stage moves a lot faster than the night because the living dead retreat back into the lagoon and give you a very short break. To start the day, you leave the combat area and take any damage as I mentioned earlier. Then you draw a nightmare card to determine which, if any, areas are flooded, and find out what horrible events take place. Nightmare cards are used for numerous things during the game, random character selection, boss or terrain placement, and even search results.
Now you turn your attention to the map section of the board and move the group towards one of the possible goals. Each move along a route costs an hour of the day, plus any modifiers that can be applied. In theory you could move up to four spaces, but I doubt you’ll survive long if you do. After you’ve moved the group around the map, any day hours left over are used for character actions. Each character gets to perform one day-based action per daylight hour available. Eventually the day ticks over and we’re back to the night, still battered from the night before but ready to fight on.
I mentioned earlier that there’s several ways to beat the game. You can escape by boat, escape via a bridge connected to the mainland, escape via an airship, or if you’re really daring, plant and prime a holy bomb right at the heart of the leviathan! Whatever you choose to do you must reach a specific location on the map and carry out a specific action. When you accomplish this, you trigger one of the games four finales. I’m not going to spoil these by detailing them, but trust me, they’re fun scenarios that are really thematic and full of more challenging action.
OK, so that’s a high level view of the game, but there’s two aspects that I glossed over and left until now. That’s the zombies themselves and an interesting little mechanic that I’ve not seen before. The zombies you place on the board are represented by cubes that you draw from a bag called the abyss. There are also other cubes in there representing survivors (beneficial) and paranoia (not good) but I’m not going to go into any detail on those in this post. As you kill zombies, you take them from the board and then drop the cubes onto a gravestone board at the side of the main board. You can’t just place them on there, you have to drop them. The cubes you drop onto the gravestone have to stay on it. As do any cubes that are already on it. At first this is fine, but as you kill more zombies the pile on the board gets bigger. Eventually you’re going to drop a cube and will either knock other cubes off, or roll off itself. Any cube that touches the table, whether it’s still touching the gravestone board or not, is instantly placed in ring III of the cave from which you just removed the zombies. It’s a nice subtle mechanic that adds a little bit of dexterity to an otherwise “thinky” game.
So to actually give an opinion for this game I want to make it very clear that I really like itI It reminds me of Ghost Stories, Castle Panic and Dead Panic but I have to say that I get a lot more from Carnival Zombie. There’s a lot of theme to this one, helped along by some beautiful artwork, and there’s a constant feeling of dread as each wave pours out to destroy you.
However, despite the fact that I like the game, there were several unforgivable problems with the production values:
- The card stock used for the chits, and the board itself, is very thin. It cheapens what would otherwise be a great game.
- The rulebook is a translation from the original Italian version. Translations are fine, but I would have to question whether this one actually underwent any quality assurance checks. First off, a lot of the rules are badly worded. I’m no copy editor but some of the mistakes were pretty bad. Secondly there’s a line in there that has been translated, but the original Italian is right there next to it. And finally there’s a section for a boss called the Tenor that is still in Italian with absolutely no translation in there at all.
- At first the cubes felt like a cheap cop-out, something I’d like to replace with miniatures to boost the visuals of the horde. However I can see why cubes are used instead of minis, for both the drawing and the dropping mechanics.
As a whole I really rate the game. If you can see past the few quality issues, as I have, then you will really enjoy it. I’ve not seen it in many UK stores, either online or bricks and mortar, but if you can get your hands on a copy then I recommend that you do so soon!
I got mine from: Rules of Play who are very friendly and will put one aside for you. I also believe that they might even post out via Royal Mail if you’re willing to pay the postage cost. Drop them a mail for more details.
Alternatively, as of writing, there’s some available from the BoardGameGuru online store.