Board Game Review: City of Horror

City of Horror

“A tense yet enjoyable game!”

City of Horror is a survival-themed board game for three to six players, in the style of classic zombie apocalypse movies. The city is beset by a shambling horde of flesh-craving zombies and the players’ goal is to survive the onslaught until help arrives at daybreak. To do so, players must charm, negotiate and backstab – outwitting both zombies and players alike to gain a temporary respite. Survival, however, often means sacrificing fellow players to the ravenous hordes of the undead…

Players control several characters, each with unique special abilities which may be used once per game. These characters move around the city to various locations, barricading themselves in for safety while scavenging for potentially life-saving weapons and items. There is a catch, however: each building has a limited capacity, so some characters will find themselves doomed to braving the zombie-infested streets. As the encroaching swarm swells outside each building, there is a growing sense of inevitability that the zombies will eventually force their way in. When they do, it’s feeding time!

When it comes to the crunch it’s every man for himself and the players must vote to determine the zombies’ next victim. The loser meets a grizzly end at the clawed hands of demonic, flesh-eating maniacs, while the survivors loot the building for weapons with which to defend themselves and antidote serum to stave off the zombie infection.

The game begins at midnight and the city (board) is populated with zombies according to a card drawn from a deck. After seeing the initial distribution of zombies, players secretly and simultaneously select a number of different locations to which to attempt to move their characters. Characters are then moved to their respective buildings (water tower, church, armoury, hospital and bank), with those who miss out (due to their chosen building already being full) finding themselves consigned to roaming the streets. Henceforth, every turn (each representing an in-game hour) the players will attempt to move one character to a new location. After selecting locations, a card is drawn from the zombie event deck to determine if any zombies move and/or appear, along with any supply drops. The location cards are then revealed and players, in turn, attempt to move their characters.

Each building is resolved in order, beginning at the water tower and proceeding clockwise until reaching the crossroads in the centre of the board. At this point, players may activate the special ability of the location if they have a character residing there. Once the zombies at a building achieve critical mass they will break in; only the taste of human flesh can sate their appetites, so players must use their hand of item cards in concert with their characters’ special abilities to prevent the zombie incursion if possible. If they cannot (or choose not to), then it’s time to vote and that is where the majority of gameplay is in City of Horror. Players will negotiate, broker deals and form alliances in an attempt to survive each election. Players may bargain using any resources at their disposal, including items, antidotes and promises of future assistance or a favourable division of loot – although such promises are, of course, entirely non-binding.

At the crossroads there is no vote, the zombies will devour a character determined by the zombie leader – a marker on a coloured wheel, which may be manipulated by taking the location action at the bank. Other locations offer different benefits, for example characters at the water tower are forewarned with a sneak preview of the hourly zombie event card (and may share or lie about this information with other players) – but the location is unsafe and may collapse (killing everyone present) if players employ too many explosive weapons.

The game ends after 04:00, at which point a helicopter arrives to whisk the survivors to safety. However, the military will not let anyone on board who cannot prove they are uninfected, so each survivor must possess an antidote serum or else become stranded – scoring no points. Escaping characters score victory points based on their value and are worth more if their ability has not been used. Players may score additional points by risking the streets to collect canned food.

The horror theme comes across strongly in City of Horror. There is a genuine sense of desperation and dread prior to a vote, with players entering a panicked state and playing a flurry of cards in a last ditch effort to save themselves – or sabotage others! Then there is the feeling of betrayal when you hand over your vaccine on the promise of immunity, only to be double-crossed and condemned to a death sentence.

The social aspects of this game are very much its strengths. This is not a game in which dice determine one’s fate or players become paralysed with concentration. Players are masters of their own destiny and must speak with a silver tongue to guarantee survival. However, it is also possible for a participant to lose their stake in the game at an early stage if their characters are eliminated, so it is not recommended for sore losers or those whose feelings are easily hurt if ganged-up on. This is not a game for die hard strategy gamers, but fans of the horror genre that are looking for something light on rules and thematically strong will enjoy its kill-or-be-killed nature.

The overall look and feel of City of Horror is very professional. Components are made from good quality card and the artwork is stunning. The rulebook is clear and easy to read, employing straightforward and language independent iconography to summarise items and special abilities. The city board itself is modular, with each location having an alternate version printed on the reverse side. Combined with a variable zombie event deck, this all serves to improve the replayability and ensures that no two games play out the same way. All in all, City of Horror is a tense yet enjoyable game that would serve as a refreshing change of pace during a serious gaming session or a sociable precursor to a horror film night. Fans of the zombie sub-genre will love this game.

JOHN THORNBY


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