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Disclaimer: We received an advance copy of the game for the review.
Our opinions are entirely our own.
I've mentioned how I am a fan of cooperative games. I've also mentioned that I am a fan of anime. So Zombie Tower 3D already appealed to me long before I even opened the box. And really, it just gets better from there.
The game is published by Cosaic, and it launched in Japan initially.
Now, Cosaic is bringing the game to the U.S. with a Kickstarter project, and if zombies and/or cooperative games are your thing, it's definitely worth backing the project, which launches today!
The character artwork is very much inspired by anime, but there's a grim grittiness in the game that you'd expect from a zombie-themed anything. The whole game's design is quite novel, but the mechanics are familiar enough that it's easy to learn.
The premise is simple: Zombies have spawned. You and your fellow players are trapped in a building with both zombies and survivors, and you need to escape. To do that, you need to collect items — vaccines, as well as flares or a communication device and battery — and then make your way to the pickup point before the zombies turn you into a snack. Along the way, you collect survivors and kill zombies.
As the name implies, Zombie Tower has a 3-dimensional play space. Despite being a co-op game, the building is actually sectioned off so that each player has no idea what the others' play space looks like. Communication is key to both surviving and winning. But you may want to hold some information back, too!
First, I like the board's design. It's easy to assemble because everything slides into slots. Everything is numbered and there are two options based on the total number of players. It's also quite sturdy for being cardboard — we poked at it a few times and frankly the only issue we ever had was letting cards sit in an opening, which is entirely a matter of balance, not of component quality. It never felt like the tower might fall over if you accidentally shifted the board or brushed something.
I love that you're blind to the other players' movements, too. It's a great way to keep one player from taking over and telling everyone what to do, which is always a risk with co-op games. If you talk about your situation, you can get suggestions, but ultimately it's up to you to spot threats and figure out how to outmaneuver the zombies.
The rest of the pieces are high quality, too. The zombie and survivor markers are made from sturdy stuff, and they pop out of their original packaging cleanly and neatly. The character markers are made the same, with plastic bases.
The cards are well made and not particularly flimsy or low quality, so as long as you treat them properly they shouldn't get too scuffed up or ratty.
The artwork for Zombie Tower 3D is nothing truly breath-taking, but it's very well done. It definitely has the zombie-movie vibe, with a sterile gray facility and graffiti-like numbering for each room. The board the building rests on is clearly a devastated landscape.
The survivor character tokens are small, but the artwork is still clear. The tokens are reversible, too. Single zombies are on the opposite side of survivors. The larger tokens symbolize 3 and 6 zombies (useful when a horde of 10 zombies amasses in a room).
The only drawback I see is that you need to be careful about which side you set the tokens on and make sure they don't accidentally flip in the shuffle. But I appreciate the economical design, because there are a good number of tokens.
Zombie Tower is designed for 2-4 players. We play-tested it with 3 people, which seems to be a good number. The board is actually different for 3 and 4 players because of the 3-D design, but it's just a matter of switching out a couple of pieces.
The game plays in stages. Each player has a dedicated character card, which includes a special ability. You can also keep the tokens for any survivors you collect on the character card. In addition, you start the game with one item and 3 mini objective cards (we'll come back to these).
At the start of each round is the "emergence" phase, when zombies and survivors magically appear in rooms. Which room is determined by the flip of a card. So occasionally some poor survivor might spawn in a room with 2 or 3 or even 6 zombies. Which means by the end of the round they'll probably end up being a zombie, too.
Then, the players take their turns. On your turn, you have 3 actions to spend — you can move one space over, move up a flight of stairs, search a room for items, use an item, or "rest" to heal yourself. You can also pick up survivors (which doesn't require spending an action).
While I know it's usually every girl for herself in a zombie apocalypse, trust me — it's a good idea to pick up survivors when you can, because they make great shields. Yup, you heard that right. This game has human shields. But don't be too cavalier about using them, because survivors can help you win the game.
Something else Cosaic has included that is both clever and helpful is a little stop sign. A different person starts each round, and so to keep track, you hand the stop sign to the first player. It's a good reminder to move the zombies each turn as well.
Searching is important. It's the only way you'll find the items you need to escape. But certain cards in the decks are marked as "Danger!" — meaning they reveal a fire hazard, a cave-in, or even a random zombie rushing toward you out of nowhere. I like that you can see which cards are dangers before you draw them. I also like that both the fire hazard and the cave-in are effective for containing and/or killing zombies even while they're an inconvenience to you.
There are also little slits in the wall of the building. These can be used to pass items from one player to the next. You’ll probably need them, since each player has to have a vaccine to escape.
At the end of the round, the zombies move — toward you or toward survivors, depending on the circumstance. The good news is they can't navigate stairs, so they're trapped on whatever floor they spawned on. But then they attack, turning any survivors in the room into more zombies and dealing you damage.
Despite this being a cooperative game, there's only one winner in Zombie Tower 3D. Assuming you don't fall victim to the zombies, the winner is the person with the most victory points. You can get victory points by completing the goals on your mini objective cards (such as ending the game with a first aid kit in hand). You also get 1 victory point per survivor you've collected, so use your human shields wisely, folks.
Setting up the game for the first time isn't a terrible ordeal, but it'll definitely take longer initially than it will with subsequent games. And play time will vary too. Excluding setup times, our first game lasted almost two hours. The second time we played, the game lasted about a half hour.
Part of that was because we understood what we were doing better the second time around, but a good part of it was also luck. The drawing of cards and the spontaneous spawning of zombies randomize game play quite well. In one game you might have very few zombies to deal with; in another you might find yourself chased by giant hordes on all floors. If you're lucky, you'll find a weapon. I wasn't so fortunate, so I did a lot of running about. That randomization element gives Zombie Tower 3D a really high replay factor for me.
I also like that you have the option to use survivors as shields. This is a zombie apocalypse, folks. Survival isn't going to be pretty, and you're going to have to make tough choices. I feel like this gives you an extra measure of protection that can keep the game from feeling too overwhelming. It also ties into the theme beautifully.
Ultimately, Zombie Tower 3D is so. much. fun. The game is made with high-quality components, and the design is an interesting one. I love that it's built in a solution to one of the biggest problems in co-op games: a single person trying to dominate gameplay. I love that there's a decent amount of complexity to the game play without it being overwhelming. It's got a high level of replayability, but it's easy enough for anyone to learn, even if they're not an experienced gamer. So it's safe to say that Zombie Tower 3D is We the Meeple Approved.
You can back the Kickstarter here. And you really, really should.