Zerg ZombiesMonday, October 19, 2009 16:33
The title is what you get when I try to combine a post about the Starcraft boardgame with a game about zombies. Last week’s in-fashion game at CarcaSean was Starcraft which some of the hardcore regulars played multiple times over the course of the week. I only managed to play once which admittedly isn’t enough to form a good opinion of such a complex game. As its title implies, it’s a boardgame based on Blizzard’s popular video game. As in the original PC version, all three races are represented in the game and there are two rival factions for each race, so that up to two players can choose the same race. Lore-wise, everything is fairly faithful. The two rival factions for the Zerg for example are the Queen of Blades and the Overmind who as any Starcraft fan should know, have little love for one another.
The board for this game is actually made up of interlocking tiles representing star systems that each player takes turns to lay down, which is reminiscent of Twilight Imperium 3. Each system is subdivided into separate areas, each of which offer different resources or conquest points for the player occupying them. The resources, minerals and Vespene gas as in the original game, is spent to purchase technology, build bases and upgrade them and of course build new units. Naturally, the higher tier units can only be purchased once you own the appropriate production building.
All this is straightforward stuff but Starcraft does throw in some odder mechanics. First of all, players issue orders by laying down tokens face down. If multiple orders are issued for a system whether by one or multiple players then the tokens form a stack. The orders are then resolved beginning with orders at the top of the stack and then working down. This means that orders that you intend to be executed last in a round should be placed first during the planning phase. As my wife commented, it’s a sort of topsy-turvy approach that takes some getting used to. Naturally as you can use your own order tokens to delay an opponent’s order from being executed early, it can also lead to some tricksy stuff.
The second odd thing is that instead of an all out fight between two forces, battles in Starcraft are a series of one-on-one match-ups with excess troops being relegated to support. Since the attacker always chooses which units face off against which targets, he has an immense advantage, being able to for example target an Ultralisk with a Battlecruiser. As in the video game, the Ultralisk is a ground only attacker while the Battlecruiser can shoot at both aerial and ground targets. This means that the Battlecruiser can take out the Ultralisk with no risk whatsoever to itself.
I did very badly in our game as I had no idea what to do with the cheap but generally inferior Zerg troops. Chee Wee and Sean later told me that the Zerg are supposed to, well, zerg and expand like mad, which makes sense, but then I wasn’t a very good Zerg player even in the video game. Chee Wee concentrated almost all his resources in a fleet of fully upgraded battlecruisers supported by science vessels to which I had no effective answer.
As the Aldaris faction of the Protoss, Sean played defensively since his special ability was that everyone else needed more conquest points to win while he only needed to draw the game out until two “The End is Nigh” event cards had been drawn. He eventually won this way by convincing Chee Wee to refrain from attacking him for long enough. My wife ironically got second place quite by accident by managing to occupy an area worth 2 conquest points for a long while which Sean was well placed to take over but was reluctant to do since he didn’t need the points to win anyway and didn’t want to be a target.
Overall, while I’d be willing to play this game occasionally, it feels like a lot of work when you could just go back to play the original video game. It’s also extremely fiddly game with lots of little details to consider and the reference sheet detailing the maximum and average combat values of the different unit is an absolute must. My wife doesn’t care much for it which was also her reaction to Twilight Imperium 3. For some reason the war theme turns off, so much so that even though she’s willing to devote considerable amounts of brainpower to figure out strategies for something like Agricola, she’s just too lazy to think through all of the possible choices in a war-themed game.
The other new game that we played was the zombie-themed Last Night on Earth. One of the players present, Aaron, called it the boardgame version of Left 4 Dead, which it pretty much is, except that one player takes control of the zombies. The others control the four heroes who must prevail against the undead threat. There are several different scenarios to play but for our session Sean opted to go with the easiest one in which the heroes must kill 15 zombies within the 15 turn limit.
We had a couple of hiccups as Sean wasn’t terribly familiar with the rules himself, at one point discovering that he was holding and playing cards way above his 4 card hand limit and we had some arguments over how some of the text on the cards were supposed to be interpreted. My character was lucky enough to start off with a pump action shotgun so I got a couple of early kills before my gun went out of ammunition. Chee Wee started with a revolver and while he never ran out of ammunition, he couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with it, continuously making bad die rolls and missing.
The other players had to spend their turns outrunning zombies and scrounging for supplies, most of time coming up with useless junk. The cool thing about the game is that occasionally you’d get combinations of items that yield hilarious results. Aaron’s hero for example managed to get a stick of a dynamic and a lighter to ignite it but then had to throw it in the same space he was occupying because he had two zombies on him and an event card was preventing him from getting away. Chee Wee managed to find a chainsaw which allowed him to swagger around for a while carving zombies up until it got discarded once he lost a fight and was overwhelmed, turning into a zombie hero as he died.
I’m proud to report that with Aaron’s help, I managed to recover my shotgun and in one move run up to the clump of five zombies that had just killed Chee Wee to destroy four of them with one blast to win the game for the humans. Sean tried to argue that I had to roll for an ammunition check for each zombie affected by the blast but we voted him down. I found Last Night on Earth to be a fun game with the right group of people who are able to take it for the light-hearted romp that it is. It’s a rule light with not much to strategize over but that’s countered by how quickly it plays and how easy it is to teach.
My performance as a zombie killer however contrasts starkly with my abysmal performance as a Cylon in our Battlestar Galactica game immediately preceding it. We forgot to take any photos of it and I hope to be able to plan it again soon so I’ll hold off from writing more extensively on it until then.