Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The Zed Deck: a one deck zombie experience

I got interested in the Zed Deck when I started looking into games that you just play in your hands with no table or any other surface. It’s a solitaire game about scavenging for supplies in a zombie apocalypse while trying not to die horribly. 

It’s a print and play, consisting of a deck of fifty-four cards. That puts it out of the realm of the micro games I usually craft but it still isn’t a super hard build. In the interests of saving ink, I did make the no-art version (but I may eventually make a version with art)

Here’s the basic idea of the game. Every card shows an event, values in run and fight and a piece of equipment. Each turn, you flip over a card and try to resolve the event. Most give you a test in either or run or fight. You then choose to flip over one to three cards to get a fight or run value. Beat the test, get some supplies and maybe a piece of equipment. Fail and lose some health. Get through the deck, you survive and you get to measure how well you survived by the number of supplies you scavenged.

I’ve played the game both using a table and keeping all the cards in my hands. It’s not hard to play just in my hands, holding the one piece of equipment I’m allowed to carry sideways and putting discarded cards facing the other way in the back of the deck. It would be even easier if I hadn’t laminated the cards so they’re slippery :D I’ve used dice to track my health and supplies but I’ve also just kept track of them in my head, which isn’t hard in a five minute game.

On a whole, I like the Zed Deck. It isn’t perfect but the mechanics hold up. I would say the biggest issue is that health is so much more valuable than supplies. The tension of the game is trying not to burn through the deck too quickly so you can find supplies but you still win if you don’t die. Maybe if there was just a target number to count as a minimum win, like Micro Rome. As it is, if I’m getting low on health, I will burn through the deck to stay alive.

I understand folks have worked on variations to address that issue and I’m planning on looking into them. I feel like the Zed Deck is just a few tweaks from being a a game I’d play a lot more.

One thing that really works for me is the theme. I’m not a big zombie guy but the deck ends up telling a story. Even without art, the names and natures of events, along with the flavor text, really succeeds at invoking the tropes of the zombie genre. The theme successfully makes the Zed Deck engaging.

The chief virtues of the Zed Deck is the theme and the table-free Play. Which is enough that I know it will see periodic play for me but it won’t become a game I’m playing every week. Palm Island is currently my gold standard for table-free gaming and the Zed Deck can’t compete. However, I really wonder what I would have thought if I’d found it when it came out in 2011.

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