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Zombie in My Pocket - Game Review

Fighting zombies while awaiting an inevitable betrayal

About.com Rating 2 Star Rating

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Zombie in My Pocket

Zombie in My Pocket

Image courtesy of Cambridge Games Factory

This semi-cooperative game has players fighting off zombie hordes while exploring a house and searching for the cursed totem. Players all fight the zombies together, until your friend stabs you in the back.

Vital Stats

Players: 1 to 8
Time: 20 to 30 Minutes
Designer: Jeremiah Lee
Publisher: Cambridge Games Factory

Components: Cursed totem and leader cards and stands, time gem, player pawn, reference card, 4 fuel chips, 9 event cards, 8 each of fight cards, flee cards, life dice, item cards, indoors tiles, outdoors tiles. Nothing particularly high quality, but as this was originally a print-and-play game, these components are technically an upgrade from the original.

Gameplay Summary

Each player is given a fight card, a flee card, and a life die. Starting life varies based on how many players are in the game -- 3 life for a 4-player game. The indoor and outdoor decks are shuffled separately. Time is set to 9 p.m., a starting leader is chosen, and the player pawn is placed on the foyer.

On your turn as the leader, you have three options:
1) Explore: You move the player pawn off an open edge of your current tile, flipping over a new tile if none is there. Once you enter the new tile, resolve an event.
2) Cower: All players gain one life. The top card of the event deck is discarded but not resolved.
3) Use a tile's special ability.

If there are no cards left to draw from the event deck, the time advances an hour, and the deck is reshuffled. If the time reaches midnight, everyone loses.

Events may be a blessing, curse, or item, but are usually zombies. Fighting zombies is the meat of the game. Each player secretly chooses the fight card or flee card, and all cards are revealed simultanously. Every player fighting adds 1 to the team power total, in addition to any weapon bonuses. The team power total is compared to the number of zombies, and if the zombie number is higher, the team must lose the difference in life. Anyone fleeing while others fight regains a life, and only those remaining suffer the damage.

The team must find the cursed totem and then bury it in the graveyard before midnight in order to win. Whoever has the most life wins the most.

NOTE: This is only a brief summary, with many details omitted.

The Good And Bad

Good Stuff

Zombie in My Pocket is a neat translation of the famous Prisoner's Dilemma into a game form. The classic agonizing decision of whether to cooperate or defect is now iterated many times over the course of a single game.

Semi-cooperative games are an interesting genre. Many people enjoy the idea of playing a cooperative game, but find that pure cooperative games end up being more like puzzles than games, and that the best player can simply direct everyone else. The added element of a player who "wins more" keeps the game from being static.

It's a social game. Players whose idea of fun does not include silently contemplating a knight move may enjoy the bickering, bantering, and bartering that goes on as players try to convince each other not to break ranks -- as well as the sudden but inevitable betrayal.

Bad Stuff

Although it's listed as 1 to 8 players on the box, the semi-cooperative element all but disappears in the two-player game. Players will pretty much have to cooperate the whole way through, and the whole group dynamic is lost.

The game can become a lot less fun once someone gains the life advantage. The first player getting a life advantage late in the game can easily decide fighting will only let others dump damage on him, and flee for the rest of the game. Conversely, other players must either still try to help the team win the game (conceding victory to the first player), or decide that if they can't win, nobody else will either. In either case, enjoyment will likely drop.

Conclusion

Zombie in My Pocket is an interesting idea for a game, throwing everyone into the prisoner's dilemma repeatedly. Unfortunately, it doesn't work well with few players, and with many players there is a higher chance that a single stubborn player may ruin the game. Those who enjoy negotiation and backstabbing may enjoy this game, but others should probably avoid it.

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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