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GreenBrier Games
Components from Zpocalypse

Two new horror-themed board games promise to provide thrilling adventure and a host of chills: Zpocalypse, a zombie survival game from GreenBrier Games, and Darkest Night, a cooperative fantasy game from Victory Point Games.

In Zpocalypse, two to four players start out in an underground bunker and prepare to survive a zombie apocalypse. Each player receives two characters to join his squad, and their various stats are combined on an impressive squad board, complete with stat dials. Your squad is as smart as its smartest player, but only as fast as its slowest player. The characters' hit points and armor are all combined.

Each scenario is divided into days, each divided into four phases. During the first phase, players scavenge for supplies, food and weapons. During the second phase, players must make sure their squad's characters are fed and equipped, or risk losing members of the team. Players can also build up fortifications to slow the zombie advance, depending upon materials gained during the scavenge phase. Phase three is known as Something's Happening, in which players draw an event card that contains some nasty surprises. Finally, players engage in a combat phase in which their squads move around the game board and kill legions of the undead as they advance mercilessly toward the bunker entrance.

Players compete to gain the most victory points by killing zombies and building fortifications.

First of all, the components are just phenomenal. Dozens of plastic molds represent the players' squads and the hordes of zombies. The game board is a composite of puzzle pieces that are put together during game play. Various character, equipment, weapon and event cards ensure variation in every game.

Zpocalypse is faced with an important question, however: with zombie board games hitting the shelves like the endless horde of the undead themselves, can it successfully compete? The answer is, yes it can. And then some. While Zpocalypse isn't necessarily the best zombie board game out there, it is undoubtedly near the top. The squad mechanic in this game is really a unique twist, as most other zombie board games allow for only one character per player. And the fortification building is also a lot of fun, making Zpocalypse something of a tower defense game.

The game play can bog down at times, however, and it does take awhile to get to the zombie slaying, which is the heart of any zombie board game. Still, Zpocalypse generally succeeds in creating a creepy, fun and dynamic board game experience.

Depending on the scenario, the game, which contains scary and violent imagery, generally lasts about an hour and a half and is recommended for players 14 years old and up.

In Darkest Night, an evil Necromancer has taken control of a fantasy kingdom and has spread blights and monsters throughout the land. One to four players take on the role of heroes who must defeat the Necromancer in order to save the kingdom and restore peace and justice.

The board offers several locations, including a monastery that offers the only haven from the Necromancer's evil. Players start at the monastery and can return to heal and gain other advantages, though they can accomplish little by camping out there. Other locations include a castle, a mountain, a swamp and deserted ruins. Each has their own characteristics, and players must roll a successful dice number in order to search these locations for items and power cards to help them defeat their enemy.

Each player must start his turn by drawing an event card, which generally contains some challenge to overcome, then he may take an action like move, attack a monster or search a location. Players have two important scales they must always track for their character: grace and secrecy. Grace allows players to restore themselves after a monster deals them an otherwise fatal blow, and secrecy allows players to hide from the Necromancer.

After all players have gone, a darkness track advances, making the Necromancer more powerful. Then the Necromancer moves, searching for heroes with a low secrecy rating before creating more blights and monsters on the board. If the Necromancer becomes too powerful, he can eventually create blights and monsters in the Monastery. As soon as five of these villains appear in that location, the heroes immediately lose.

Darkest Night is Victory Point Games' attempt to compete with larger gaming companies by creating better artwork and components than their previous titles. The components themselves are all cardboard chits, and some that sit on stands. The artwork, however, is really first rate. There is a lack of flavor text here, however, and more of a back story would definitely have been a plus.

Importantly, Darkest Night certainly passes the fun test. There is something about cooperative game play that is a lot of fun, and players must really work together to defeat the Necromancer, who is controlled by the game. This is not an easy thing to do, but who would want to play a cooperative game that was easily won all the time? The same intensity that marks other great cooperative games like Pandemic and Fortune and Glory can be found here, and the horror theme makes for an enjoyable, high stakes game night.

Playable in around two hours, Darkest Night is recommended for players 12 years old and up.

Cody K. Carlson holds a master's degree in history from the University of Utah and currently teaches at Salt Lake Community College. He is also the co-developer of the History Challenge iPhone/iPad apps. Email: ckcarlson76@gmail.com