As you all may very well know, tower defense games have been all the rage for a while now. The simple yet rewarding experience of defending a castle or base against waves of advancing enemies has made a huge impact on the casual (and on occasion, hardcore) video game market, inviting players new and old to partake in these challenging titles.
Designed by Justin De Witt / Published by Fireside Games
2 – 6 Players; Ages 13+
Retail Price: $39.95
You can buy it here.
*Review copy provided by Fireside Games.
Fireside Games, a board game publisher, has recognized the appeal of these fast-paced titles and took on the challenge of translating it into board game form. The result: Castle Panic, a game where players had to defend the titular structure against increasing waves of bloodthirsty Orcs. The game successfully captured the essence of the tower defense genre, offering tense moments and edge-of-your-seat gameplay. It was a hit, and left fans of the game clamoring for more.
But what happens when you mix the tower-defense gameplay of Castle Panic with zombies? You get Dead Panic, the latest title from Fireside. Here, players are tasked with defending a cabin smack dab in the middle of the woods from unending waves of lumbering undead. Is this new release good enough to make a dent in the tower defense market, or should you stick with the hundreds of video game versions instead?
The first thing you’ll notice about Dead Panic is that it features a unique game board. The forest is divided into six arcs (or zones), and each one has three rings (or levels), from the outskirts of the woods to right outside of the cabin. The cabin lies right in the middle of the board, meaning that everything will eventually arrive at it. The cabin is then outfitted with neat little cardboard walls designed to look like cabin walls, so it gives the game a cool-looking pop-up 3D effect.
Players then get to pick characters. Like any good multiplayer survival horror game, each character card features an individual that has a unique ability. There’s eight characters in total, and range from a preacher that can give a turn to another player and a construction worker that can repair walls for free, to a kid who’s a great brawler and a paramedic who can heal himself or others. The variety in characters is excellent, and it’s always fun to try out a new character and see what kind of strategies you can develop.
Once the board is set and the characters are selected, that’s when the real fun begins. The objective of Dead Panic is to survive long enough to gather three pieces of a radio, put them together, call for backup, and escape. While it may sound pretty straight-forward, it’s actually quite challenging.
This is how it works: each turn, players take two actions: They can move around the cabin or outside, pick up items, trade with others, attack, assemble, or use special actions. Essentially, it’s the calm before the storm.
Then the real horror begins. An event card is drawn, which tells you how many zombies spawn this turn and a random turn effect. A dice roll determines in what arc the zombies are spawned in, and a random draw from the zombie bag determines what type of zombie it is. Some zombies are slow and low of health, while others are tougher, faster, or can crawl under walls. Then the turn effect is completed, like even more spawned zombies, faster enemies, health regeneration, etc. Some of these are quite simple and don’t really affect you much (and are usually a blessing), but others can literally make your life in Dead Panic a living hell. It’s all about chance, and it’s really thrilling stuff.
Then it gets scarier. Zombies move forward towards their goal: the soft, fresh meat inside the cabin. At first they head straight for the cabin one or two spaces, since they can’t see through the walls. But should there be someone outside, then they’ll head in his or her direction. Once they hit a wall, they’ll begin to smash it in. Some zombies do minimal damage and need two turns to take down a wall, others like a Brute will utterly destroy it instantly. No walls means no protection, so it’s in your best interest to keep them up as long as possible.
Thankfully, you’re not completely defenseless. Inside the cabin are various items you can pick up, for a maximum of five. Some are firearms, like pistols and rifles that automatically hit zombies but come with very limited amounts of ammo (most carry two or three bullets). Then there are melee weapons, which don’t deteriorate, but require players to roll dice to see if they succeed in striking. Finally there are other potential weapons, like hammers and chainsaws, and other miscellaneous items that save you in a pinch, like trail mix, rope and zombie muck. The problem is, however, that these items are limited, meaning that once you gather them all, they’re done. Careful resource management is the key to succeeding in this game, so you have to plan ahead if you’re going to get out alive.
Zombies are pretty relentless in this game, and if they spot you, you’re going to have one hell of a time fighting them out. True to zombie fiction, the undead swarm towards victims like vultures, abandoning their mission of reaching the cabin in order to partake of some fresh brains. This means that you can potentially be covered in zombies that you’ll have to fight, especially if they spawned on your arc or nearby ones. This leads to some potentially dangerous situations that are pretty crazy, but also quite fun.
Battles play out very easily. First players announce what weapon they’ll use. Firearms deal instant damage, while melee weapons need dice rolls to succeed. If the sum of the roll and the weapon power is equal or superior to the zombie’s defense, then players deal damage to zombies (which the exception of the Brawler, who wins on ties – yikes!). If it’s the other way around, players take damage, unless they discard the weapon they are using. Good thing is that you’ll only have to do battle with a zombie once, so if you don’t die, you’ll be able to get away next turn, unless you’re completely surrounded, which means you have to fight them off one by one. It’s crazy, but it totally nails the survival horror vibe.
But how do you collect the pieces of radio to free yourself from this terrible fate? Three survivor tokens are mixed in with the zombies in the bag, so they’ll appear randomly in the game. Each one carries a piece of the radio, and they’ll rush towards the cabin at full speed, usually with zombies in tow. Sometimes they might make it and hand you the piece in the comfort of the cabin. Most of the time they’ll get mauled right before they make it, though, leaving the piece outside and making things more complicated. Couple the fact that you have to venture out to regain lost pieces and contend with random events that can jack you up good, and you got yourself a very challenging game. Sometimes it might get too challenging, but it’s all good fun.
If you do manage to survive and gather the pieces, then you get to call in a sweet looking ambulance armed to the teeth with weapons. This is your getaway vehicle, and it’s the only way to win the game. Getting to it is another thing, because it’s on the outskirts of the woods, so you need to haul it if you want to make it. If you do make it with your team, then you’ve officially conquered Dead Panic.
Oh, and there’s one more thing: you and your friends can turn if you die, and can try to sabotage the game. It’s one thing fighting a bunch of mindless zombies, but fighting one that can think and has two special abilities? Not nice. Still, it’s loads of fun, and gives you a second chance of winning (if killing all your friends can be considered winning).
As you can very well see, Dead Panic is a solid game full of chills and thrills. It’s fast-paced, the mechanics of the game work very well, and you have to carefully work with your friends if you want to win this game. It might get a little frustrating due to the sheer of zombies that can appear at once, but it’s the randomness and unforgiving nature of the game that keeps players coming back to it. You won’t always be winning this one, but it sure is fun to lose and play for the other side. So, if you’re up for a challenge and want to play a quick game of tower defense in board game format, and love campy horror, you definitively should give Fireside’s Dead Panic a try.
Some second opinions from the board game guys:
Z day has come.
While (un)fortunately there are not any actual cases of the reanimated dead shambling about the face of the planet yet, pop culture most certainly has zombie fever. There are zombies on my TV, in my movies, in my games, and in my comics, and now they’re finally on my tabletop.
Thanks to Fireside Games, I can now fight for my survival with the roll of a dice, which is how most of us tabletop gamers would like have it. The game itself quite cleverly embraces the tropes of the genre. Your group of 2 – 6 survivors begins their fight against the hordes of the undead in the classic log cabin in the woods. In the cabin, players can search the premises for items that could help them in the fight while at the end of every turn the zombies creep ever closer to the all too vulnerable cabin where walls can crumble with just a few zombies attacking.
Amongst the creatures, every once in a while a survivor comes straggling through the forest carrying pieces for a radio that allows a rescue vehicle to be summoned. Once the rescue vehicle appears the party attempts to fight their way through the throng of living dead to escape, the game’s end goal.
Achieving all that sounds easy enough, but when you consider what I believe to be the most novel of the game’s mechanics – when a player fall they become zombies themselves – suffice to say things can get interesting rather quickly. Dead Panic offers a great sense of game logic that makes things easy to follow and quick to pick up, as well as a variety of play styles that makes each playthrough unique. Add to that the difficulty inherent to the game, and it’s my opinion that Fireside Games has themselves a winning formula with this game.
Tabletop game, good friends, beer, and zombies! Ok, scratch out beers; that part is optional. Still, what more can you ask for? Maybe somewhat clearer instructions and a slightly higher difficulty? Here’s my opinion on Dead Panic.
First off, I really doubt there’s any other game out there that makes you feel like you’re in a zombie movie like this one. Granted, the setting doesn’t get more cliché and familiar when it comes to fleeing zombies, but it’s cliché for a reason: it works.
There is a clear goal and a myriad of ways to accomplish it; strategy plays an important role as expected, however, the level of strategy required to beat it was surprisingly complex. This detail makes for a fun group dynamic and requires everyone to pitch in somehow. Good fun.
The gameplay itself, however, possesses a few, small, if somewhat annoying, problems. It’s either because of lack of prep time or attention given by me mostly, the things you are allowed or not in this game seemed a little too cumbersome. This problem could easily be resolved, in my opinion, just by taking time to prepare better. The only other issue is the difficulty, as I hinted at earlier. We were either really good at it, or the game isn’t too hard. Not to take away from the excitement of having to survive a zombie onslaught while escaping a log cabin, but we beat it somewhat easily on our first attempt, which didn’t promise much challenge for a later go in the future. There are alternative rules and modes of play though, so that likely solves this second issue. Again, nothing that breaks the game, just things to look at.
The last point I’m going to touch on is both a good and bad feature. The game provides an event in which one of the players could become a zombie and thus his/her goal would be to try and beat the other players. Going from co-op to “screw you” is a fun twist. Unfortunately though, this never came close to happening as we played, which seems like a lost opportunity in my opinion. Some more playthroughs would tell just how often this might happen and just how fun it could be.
All in all, this game succeeds at making you feel like you’re in a zombie movie, which is commendable for a board game. The length is decent and makes for lots of fun and cooperation among friends, and interestingly leaves you talking about it long after you finish playing it. So grab your friends, board up you apartment and keep your eyes peeled cause Dead Panic is a scary good time.
This game pumps you up.
When everyone got a character, I got David. At first, I thought his ability was pretty nice, as he can melee as though he had a weapon. This ability is mostly useful at the beginning of the game when you don’t have any weapons, but once you gain a weapon it kind of becomes obsolete.
As time passes in the game, the atmosphere becomes more tense and tactical, and strategic decisions are constantly made. The first time I played, after a couple of turns, a lot of zombies already started on certain arcs. The thought of already losing came to me. But somehow, little by little, we chipped away at the mob of zombies, collected the radio pieces, and won the game. We believed the game to be fairly easy.
That is… until we played a second time.
The second game started pretty much the same way, and there came a time when we thought we were losing (which reminded us of the first game), but we didn’t give it a second thought and kept on playing. Little did we know that the event deck was conspiring against us, and soon after zombies started appearing everywhere. People started dying, and eventually, we lost.
This game is highly random because of the cards and types of zombies drawn from the pouch. This makes the game very different each time you play, and a single game can last from one hour (excluding initial setup) to 3 hours or more (which also depends on the time spent strategizing). Overall, Dead Panic is a great game that brings some forth small roleplaying elements and really draws you into its world.