Sometimes you just don’t have a lot of time to play a complicated game or you don’t want to work hard remembering the rules, or, let’s be honest, you just want a simple game that doesn’t take long and you don’t have to think much.
That’s Steve Jackson Games’ Zombie Dice. It’s quick, it’s simple, it’s easy to carry around and can be played by virtually any reasonable number of people, in theory.
It’s pretty hard to beat this game for simplicity. It comes with 13 dice, a cup and a rulebook. That’s it. The dice come in three colors, green (easy), yellow (medium) and red (hard). The players take the role of zombies, which is quite different from most other games where they’re trying to escape from zombies, and on their turn, they random select three dice from the cup and roll them. There are three symbols, brains, shotgun blasts and footprints. You want brains. You don’t want shotgun blasts. Footprints are neutral. You keep brains and shotgun blasts out of each roll and then re-roll footprints, along with enough new random dice from the cup to bring your roll up to three dice. You keep going as long as you want to push your luck. If you accumulate three shotgun blasts, your turn ends and you get no points. Otherwise, you can choose to quit when the stakes get too high, you count up your brains and add them to your overall score. Whoever gets to 13 brains first wins the game.
Sound simple? It is. It’s also very quick, you can play a reasonable game in 5-10 minutes, depending on how many players you have. Is it fun? Absolutely, especially if everyone gets into the mindset of being zombies. Going around the table again and again moaning “brains!” and playing out the shotgun blasts is a ton of fun That wonderful “push your luck” mechanic is great, except for people who really, really hate random games because this game is all randomness. The more red dice you have in your roll, the more likely you are to come up with a face full of buckshot, the more green dice, the more likely you are to feast on gray matter. You have to decide, based on how many dice you have left over from your last roll, whether you should go again or give up the ghost and keep your points. You don’t know what dice you’ll draw from the cup until after you’re already committed to making that next roll, it could be good, it could be bad, you really never know.
This is a really, really light game, it plays fast and your group can easily play over and over and over, or just insert a game or two between a couple of other games as a palate cleanser. Steve Jackson Games also has Cthulhu Dice which plays the same, it just has a different genre.
They’ve also released an expansion called Zombie Dice 2: Double Feature, which is really two expansions in one. First, there are two dice that feature the Hottie and the Hunk, characters that can give you double-brains or double-shotguns or a die with extra shotguns and extra footprints, making it dangerous and fast, putting a different spin on the game. The second expansion is a Santa Claus die for a variant called Santa Claus Meets The Zombies. In this, Santa’s die adds whole new symbols, such as a helmet and an energy drink. If you add all three dice to the game, bringing the total to 16 dice, you can play to see if Santa Claus can rescue the Hottie and the Hunk.
I think every gamer ought to have a couple of different light games like this available for when you don’t have time to play a long game or you don’t have a lot of people or you’re waiting for something to happen. It’s fast, it’s fun, it’s cheap. What are you waiting for?