GenCon was supposed to be the release date of City of Horror, the new semi-cooperative game from REPOS. However, due to some issues with the components, it was felt better not to sell the games as there was a high risk of having warped boards inside. Apparently the initial shipment had been done in a rush in order to have them airlifted to Indianapolis – but this led to some condensation inside the shrink wrapped games. Lucky for me, the warped boards did not prevent me from getting a look at the game and playing it a few times since then.
City of Horror
Designer: Nicolas Normandon
Times played: 3 with preview copy provided by REPOS
Theme: surviving a zombie attack
Main Mechanics: cooperative play, players voting each other out, negotiation, back-stabbing
In the City of Horror, players take on the role of a number of different characters, each with a special ability, and each trying to survive four hours (four turns) until the cavalry can come to save them from the zombie horde. The city is represented by a number of different areas – water tower, bank, church, hospital, crossroads, armory – that can be inhabited by both characters as well as zombies. [Thus far, we have only played the basic setup – so I will describe that game here.]
In the setup phase, each player is given some characters, and these are placed randomly in the different areas of the city. They all start on the “rested” side. Then, one of the setup cards for the start of the game (0:00) is drawn, and zombies are placed on the spots marked on the card. You also randomly choose one setup card for each time in the game (1:00, 2:00, 3:00 and 4:00) – these will be used at the start of each of the four rounds in the game. Finally, each player gets a hand of Action cards – each of which offer some special one-time ability.
So, over the four rounds of the game, you’re trying to keep your characters alive. Each of them is worth victory points if they are alive at the end. In addition, they are worth more if they make it to the end of the game in the “rested” state. When rested, characters are worth 3 to 5 points. In the non-rested side, they are worth 2 or 3. There is a catch here though, for each surviving character, you need to have a syringe of antidote for them. If you don’t have the antidote, they don’t score any points. Additionally, if you have any food tokens are worth 0 to 2 points. Finally if you have any extra antidotes, they are each worth one point.
OK, so how do you play the game… Each turn is split into 6 phases. I’ll briefly explain the phases:
1) Observation – anyone who has a character at the Water Tower is allowed to look at the top card of the Zombie setup deck. This is valuable information that will come into play in the next 2 phases.
2) Movement card selection – now each player chooses a movement card – all players have a set of 6 movement cards: water tower, hospital, church, armory, crossroads, bank. These are secretly and simultaneously chosen, and then revealed when all players have chosen.
3) Zombie Invasion – the top card of the Zombie setup deck is flipped over, and zombies are placed in the specified areas. Additionally, action cards and antidotes are also dropped into play. Additionally, starting with the 2:00 card, the Invasion cards also give instructions for zombies to move from one area to another. While moving or placing zombies, it’s important to note that each location is limited to 8 zombies.
4) Character Movement – starting with the start player, each player has to move one of their characters to the location shown on their chosen movement card. Each location has a limited number of spaces for characters – if there is no free space, your character moves to the crossroads instead.
5) Resolve the locations – starting with Location 1 (these numbers are printed on the central crossroads tile) and going in numerical order, each location is resolved. First, each player who has a character at that location can use that location’s special ability. For instance, at the Church, you can discard an Action card from your hand to flip one of your characters back to the rested side. At the Hospital, you can discard an Action card to take an antidote token from the reserve. At the Crossroads, you can discard an Action card to draw a Food token.
Once all players have had a chance to use the location’s special action, then you see if the zombies attack at that location. Before that decision is made, all players (even those not at that location) have the opportunity to play Action cards, use the special abilities of their Characters, and/or make alliances.
Action cards have varied abilities – some kill zombies, some give VPs, some give you the power to vote twice, some move Zombies from one location to another, some allow you to change your movement card…
If you use the special ability of one of your characters, it must be on the Rested side, and then it is flipped over after using the ability. Examples include the Housewife who kills 2 zombies in her current location, the Rocker who can move a zombie from the Rocker’s current location to any other location, and the Sushi chef who can draw an Action card as his special ability.
Once all players have played the Action cards that they want and taken all the special actions they want, then you see if there is a zombie attack at the location. Each location has a formula that determines if the zombies attack or not. At the bank, an attack happens if there are 3 or more zombies in the space. In the hospital, the zombies attack if there are more zombies there than characters. Each time the Zombies attack, one character at that location will die. The zombies are fairly suggestible though, and the characters that are there vote to decide who dies. Each character at that location gets a vote, and the one that gets the most votes is sacrificed to the zombies. It is removed from the game and will not score its owner any points. If there is a tie, the First player breaks ties.
Finally, after the zombie attack (which, again, may not even happen), there is a vote to distribute any Action cards or antidotes that are at that space. Again, each character at that space gets a vote. For the items, what the players are really voting for a player to distribute the stuff. Whoever wins the votes gets to choose one item (antidote or card) of their choice, and then he must distribute the remaining items to the other players – even those not present at the location. Each player in the game can only get one item at most. Players can form alliances or offer future actions to get in on the deal. If there is a tie, no one gets anything. That’s what you get for being selfish and not making a deal.
6) change first player – the player who was the last to lose a character in the current turn becomes first player for the next round. If no one died, First player moves one position clockwise.
This continues for four rounds. At the end of the fourth round, the army arrives with helicopters and rescues everyone who is left standing. Well, almost… Each character left has to discard an antidote to be saved. Those that don’t have antidotes die immediately. Then, scores are tallied up as mentioned above.
So how does the game play? In our group, fairly quickly, and usually against Luke. :) The voting mechanic always seems to backfire on Luke. I’m not sure if he’s just not popular, or maybe he wins too many of the games that don’t involve voting… But, let’s just say that it is usually a good bet that Luke’s character is going to die if there is a vote.
City of Horror is a wide-open, semi-chaotic game. There are a lot of things which you really can’t plan for (or at least plan well for), and because of that, I feel it is more of an experience game. As long as you realize what sort of game it’s going to be when you start it, you should be OK regardless of the end result. It’s a lot of fun watching how all the Action cards and character special abilities can turn the game on its head, but because of all of these possible disruptions, it’s pretty hard to get any long-term strategic plan to come to fruition.
The Action cards seem balanced – none of the actions seems too strong nor too weak, they all seem to have a good effect IF they are played at the right time. There is definitely luck involved in drawing Action cards because they might not match up to your current situation, but in a pinch, the Action cards can be discarded at certain locations to get other things.
Also, though I opened the comments about the game with the downside of voting – that a player can easily get ganged up on – the multiple votes each round do lead to an interesting bit of negotiation throughout the course of the game. For instance, I might be talked into helping someone out the Water Tower – the first location – even if I don’t have a character there because I’m already looking ahead and I know that I will need help at a later location. Though our group would probably never need it, I can see where some more talkative groups might need to set a timer on discussions because the open-ended nature of discussion could go on forever!
The artwork in the game is fantastic – done by Miguel Coimbra. It is all very thematic, and helps reinforce the theme. My boards actually did not have much of the feared warping, and they easily flattened out under the weight of a few of my medical textbooks. I am certain that the games sold at SPIEL this October will be top quality. Just look for the Belgians in sombreros, and you’ll know that you’re in the right place!
Opinions from other Opinionated Gamers:
I am not a fan of negotiation games, and the zombie theme doesn’t do much for me either, but since I’ve heard a lot of good buzz about this game, I decided to give it a try. After 3 plays (all basic setup), I must admit that I really enjoy the game. I agree with Dale that it is more of an experience game than ones I usually play. However, you can (try to) put yourself in a situation to have leverage in negotiations. Sometimes you have to be useful to other players (help them avoid zombie attacks), and other times you may have to concentrate your characters in one area, as the threat of your characters winning the vote outright may inspire at least one other player to help towards fending off the zombies. It’s very difficult (if not impossible) to keep all your characters alive until the end of the game, so choosing who and when to sacrifice is key as well. I like the characters and their special abilities – the blonde screams and attracts an additional zombie to her location each time (she could be gagged to stop the annoying screaming but is then worth fewer points at the end of the game); no one listens to grandpa so he has no vote; grandma moves slowly on her walker so she can only be moved once per game, etc. I can see expansion possibilities with new characters and new areas (the board is modular). We did not encounter any of the lengthy negotiation issue that Dale fears (I too can see that being a problem in some groups), but it is kind of interesting to see how different players react to desperate situations – whether to be logical and focus on damage control, or to go rouge and take as many others down with you as possible.
I am working on pulling together a live-action version of City of Horror as a special Halloween event at this year’s Sasquatch Boardgame Festival. I am looking forward to it.