Classic board game play with a focus on simplicity.
The Zombie genre is perhaps the most improbably popular pop culture phenomenon of my lifetime. If someone had suggested back in the eighties when I was running a zombie campaign using the rules for Chill that the Romero films would spawn scores of imitators in film, television, and comics, I would have thrown dice at your head. There was no way, absolutely none, that flesh eating ghouls roaming through a collapsed society was ever going mainstream. The normals would have none of it. A cult it was, a cult it would remain.
When I’m wrong, I don’t do things halfway. I walk right up to the bell and ring it.
So Walking Dead appears capable of shambling on forever, there are too many zombie films to name, and there are enough zombie apocalypse roleplaying and board games to constitute a small subgenre. Even cheerleaders like this stuff now, a turnaround and irony so total and stunning that it suggests that life itself has a GM–and he’s wasted on laughing gas.
So we have our choices, certainly, when it comes to zombie themed gaming. Lots of em’, really. So is there anything about The Refuge that would set it apart and make it interesting in a way that others are not. Well, actually, yeah. There is.
B&B games studio has taken the zombie theme and delivered a simple, fast moving, old school board game. The kind you can break out with your non-gamer friends and your kids and be playing in five minutes. The objective is simple: make it across the gameboard, find a key, and enter The Refuge without being eaten by zombies. There ample chances to make life more interesting for your fellow players along the way. The box itself is nicely illustrated, and bills itself as being for ages 13+. This is more a concession to the source material than the game’s complexity: the designers have kept the rules at a level comparable to classics like Monopoly that are easily digested and understood by even very young players.
The gameplay is fast and mean. Remember the savage joy of landing on the (now-banished) Revenge tile in life? Sending your victims backwards in Sorry? The exultant joy of a fellow player landing on your most expensive Hotel in Monopoly? Those are old school, politically incorrect gaming thrills of a sort that bring a tear of happiness to my eye. And to that list we can add: spawning a zombie in another player’s space when you know that they haven’t got a gun. Bwahaha!
Works for me!
Now it’s one thing to have a good-playing game. But what about components? What about the musical question what’s in the box?
Sixty zombie pieces. Thirty male, thirty female. Grey plastic. Six character figures in bright primary colors. Each of the character figs is unique, four males and two females. 49 action cards, detailing items and actions. Game board, sized to about what the standard classic boardgame size was, and the rules. With a total of 66 figs to keep track of, packaging is important, and the figs have been given a folding plastic holder to keep them in order when not in use. (Keeping them orderly may be more a job for adults than kids, but it’s nice to have the option!) The cards have a deck protector to hold them and their own little well at the bottom of the box. The game components fit perfectly inside the box–you won’t be worrying over boxing and unboxing this piece.
Zombie apocalypse and family game night may seem like odd bedfellows, but The Refuge does a fine job of being both faithful to the genre and friendly to gamers who may not be old enough for source material. No mean feat.