Zomburbs is a semi-cooperative deck-building game about suburbanites sometimes working together, sometimes competing with each other, during a zombie apocalypse. Deck-building games have been popular since Dominion established the genre, but new entries like this show that there is still a lot to be done with the mechanic.
For those who aren’t familiar with deck-builders, this paragraph is for you, everyone else may skip ahead. As is typical in a deck-builder, everyone starts with their own private deck of cards, identical to the decks used by the other players. Over the course of the game, you’ll play through those cards again and again, reshuffling as needed, but along the way you’ll remove some of your starting cards, add some powerful new cards, and thus build up the quality of the deck you’re playing.
The main thing that Zomburbs adds to the genre is that you’re going to be building up a lot more permanent structures on the table with your cards. Of course there are still plenty of action-type cards you can buy to put in your deck, but if you buy buildings or personnel, they will immediately go into play behind one of the two walls you start with. Each wall can hold one person and one building, so if you want more, you’ll have to build more walls. And walls are, in turn, built from bits of scrap material of varying quality, which is also a thing you can buy during your turn. Scrap similarly doesn’t go into your deck, but rather sits to the side in its own pile, until you use it to build new walls, make old walls higher, or buy those buildings.
So scrap is kind of a currency. You also generate money by playing cards, which you use to buy most other cards in the game. And then you have an attack currency that you will spend to fight off the zombies that are trying to scale your walls. Finally, any zombies you kill on a turn give you a brains currency that expires at the end of the turn, and that you can spend towards powerful Cure cards. It’s a four-currency deck-building game!
So what about those zombies? Where are they coming from? Well, the round sequence is like this: Starting with the first player, everyone takes their turn, which ends with having to deal with any zombies on their walls. After everyone has had a go, everyone is dealt a number of zombie cards from a separate zombie deck (not to be confused with the loot deck, buildings deck, consumables deck, or piles of Cures or Wounds) equal to one plus the round number (and the game comes with a nice round tracker card), and then the first player passes. So you’ll have a turn to deal with any zombies that show up before they start trying to chew on you.
Zombies occasionally have some game text, but primarily they’re a one-number card. That’s how much fighting currency you have to scrape together to kill them, and also how good they are at climbing over your wall. If your wall has a height of five, and there are a pair of three-zombies climbing it, one of them will overtop it and get discarded, giving you a wound card. If you’ve played deck builders before, you can probably guess that the wound card is negative-point junk that goes into your deck and clutters it up.
So you try to fight off the zombies on your wall, and if you get ahead of things you can even help the other players by killing their zombies. There’s a couple reasons you might do this, other than just benevolent humanitarianism. First, any zombies you kill on someone else’s wall are worth more brain points towards finding a cure. And second, on a turn where you help someone else, you get a free consumable card, which is a one-shot buff that you can save, to the side of your main deck, until you need it.
This brings me to two of my (minor) complaints about the game. The most obvious one here is how the heck are a bunch of suburban commandos, building walls out of scrap wood, finding a cure for a zombie plague, and why would that be an easier thing to do if you killed your neighbors zombies rather than your own? Less obvious, until you’ve played the game a bit, is how are you ever going to find time to help out your opponents?
Say you’re the first player in the round, and there are some zombies on your wall. Well, no one else has had a chance to go yet, and thus no one has helped you. So you look after your own wall. Then player two comes up, and they have the same problem. And so on, around the table. Zomburbs is a fairly tough game. There are two end conditions for the game (at which point, the player with the most victory points in their deck is the winner): Either all the Cure cards run out, or all the Wound cards run out. The latter, in our experience, is the much more likely scenario.
This level of difficulty is probably to be expected in a zombie game.
Last three complaints here, also fairly minor: The rulebook is kind of a mess. But hey, it isn’t like this is a super-complex game. The art and graphic design, though. Icons and text are kind of all over the place. And the pictures on the cards vary between “functional” and… let’s say “unpleasant”. To its credit though, the art does a good job of serving the comedic theme of the game. Finally, towards the end of the game, there’s a bit more calculating and then recalculating the strength of the piles zombies heaped up outside your walls than we’d like. It slows the game down some.
And that’s it! Try as we might, those are all the complaints we could muster. Zomburbs is a legitimately fun and original deck-building game. If deck-builders or zombies are your thing, this will be a solid addition to your gaming collection. Even if they aren’t, this is a good enough game to take a look at.
Very high! Zomburbs has most of the deck cards you can purchase come out of a fairly large main deck, populating a ten-card row that refills at the end of each player’s turn. That style of row is popular in deck-builders for good reason. Add in that, the zombies, consumables, and buildings all have their own separate decks and you’ll see quite a bit of variability. Plus, there are several different interesting strategies to pursue that encourage repeated plays to explore.
If you don’t mind the mediocre art, Zomburbs is an excellent deck-building game with some funny zombies-in-the-suburbs jokes.