The first waves of undead advanced on Farmingdale from the suburbs and the highway. We might have overcommitted to drive them back, because now those approaches are secured with barricades and defenders, but no zombies to hold back. All quiet on the southern front. Not so on the mountain and forest approaches to the north. Hordes of undead are pouring down out of the mountains and in through the forest. Both of the villages in these areas have been overrun, the civilian defenders have been slaughtered, and the refugees have been run down and eaten. Only 20 cards into this game of Dawn of the Zeds — the National Guard will arrive as one of the last 17 cards in a deck of 62 cards — and we’re going to be hard pressed to keep the zombies at bay. This is not an auspicious beginning.
After the jump, things you’ll only see in The Director’s Cut.
In Dawn of the Zeds, the brilliant solitaire boardgame, you’ll sometimes have to contend with various breeds of superzombies. These are the product of experiments conducted by mad scientist Dr. Marteuse in the tunnels that connect the nuclear power plant, the university, and the town center basement. There are leaping zombies, feral were-zombies, and fast zombies. The Director’s Cut add-on adds two new superzombies, the flying zedactyls and the fear-imposing doom zombies. But there are lesser superzombies as well. For instance, supertoxic stench zombies, which have just appeared in the mountains, get a ranged attack, which is hardly fair. They’re bringing up the rear behind a group of regular zombies. I can’t attack them because the regular zombies are running interference as the pack approaches Farmingdale’s East Side.
But Sheriff Hunt, using the That Took Some Guts! card, slathers himself in gore and sneaks through the regular zombies. That puts him in range of the supertoxic stench zombies, which he dispatches in a hail of gunfire, securing the mountain approach. Now Sheriff Hunt just has to turn around and finish off the regular zombies. Then we’ll hose him down and have him head into the tunnels to arrest Dr. Marteuse, who just showed up in the catacombs. If you don’t arrest Dr. Marteuse, he’s going to cause trouble later.
The other approach to Farmingdale’s north side is the forest. Early on, Alyssa Darling set out to secure the forest, which had a sizeable zombie mob bearing down on the farm, which is the best place to forage for supplies. Alyssa, trained in stealth and martial arts, is capable of hiding among zombies and then using a badass assassin strike to thin their numbers. But sometimes the dice don’t cooperate and the badass assassin strike leads to Alyssa getting attacked. And although heroes are powerful, they’re not hardy. They tend to die quickly when faced with large numbers. Which is precisely what just happened to Alyssa. One woman, no matter how badass, isn’t a match for 13 strength points worth of zombies.
Fortunately, as the zombies surged past the farm toward the mall district that leads into Farmdale — if the zombies reach Farmingdale, the game is over — the Handy Electrician appeared! He rigged an electric fence on the barricade I had set up just outside the mall district. The barricade is manned by the security guards we moved out from the town center basement. Once the zombies make contact with the fence, it’ll zap half of them. The security guards should make quick work of the unfried half.
And just now, the Rangers just showed up. In the suburbs where they’re least needed. But at least they added ammo to our stores, which we desperately need. Also newly arrived and also currently useless is Sasha Brooks, a lab assistant who will improve our research attempts. When you play Dawn of the Zeds, the first measure of how well you did is whether you survived until the National Guard rescue. If you did, the best you can hope for is a stalemate. To actually score a victory, you need to research the zombie virus. This requires a scientist character in Farmingdale’s laboratory using valuable actions to make research rolls. Sasha boosts these rolls, which makes him one of my favorite additions from The Director’s Cut. Anything to make research less punishing!
Unfortunately, I don’t have a scientist in this game yet. And with the deaths of Alyssa Darling and Deputy Schmidt, who was killed by the supertoxic stench zombies in the mountains, I’m down to two of my four starting heroes. At least Sheriff Hunt and Captain Piazza, my sniper, are flush with ammo for the time being.
But then there are the crowded tunnels, which are unfortunately spitting zombies out into the suburbs and highways through the entrances at the university and nuclear power plant. These entrances are behind the barricades I’ve built. Oops.
Dawn of the Zeds is ultimately all about these sorts of zombie apocalypse vignettes. Much of the stuff I’ve mentioned above was made possible by the $15 Director’s Cut add-on. The Director’s Cut consists mostly of new cards. Half of them are event cards that mark the game’s turns, and the other half are fate cards that are drawn and resolved when new zombies arrive. You just shuffle these new cards into the existing decks and you’re fully Director’s Cut enabled. Now you can find the town’s memorial cannon for a little old-school artillery support. There’s a special treat available for Pickles, the zombie shepherding dog. In addition to Sasha’s invaluable assist, there are a couple of cards that offer, uh, questionable ways to boost your research (one of the cards is called “Who’s the real monster here, Doc?”). A well-armed biker gang called Petra’s Angels plunders your supplies, but does a great job clearing out zombies. One of the worst cards lets Dr. Marteuse escape even after you’ve arrested him. There’s a killdozer. Yes, a killdozer.
My favorite thing about The Director’s Cut is that it addresses one of my problems with the core game’s full campaign. You can play abbreviated versions of Dawn of the Zeds by building event decks using fewer cards. This makes the game considerably easier, since the National Guard card flips up sooner. But real zombie aficionados only play the full campaign game, with 62 cards. In the core game, this means all the cards get used. With the exception of whatever cards are underneath the National Guard card, every event will always happen in every game. It’s just a matter of when.
But by adding to the pool of cards, The Director’s Cut finally allows for a full length game with a degree of uncertainty. You’re still playing with a full event deck of 62 cards, but now some of the cards won’t be used. Will the helicopter air strikes arrive? Will the nuclear power plant blow? Will the doom zombies show up? Will you discover the space artifact that started the zombie outbreak? The randomness of a good card game should include the question of whether, and not just when.
The Director’s Cut also adds two heroes. Alyssa Darling hasn’t quite proved herself, falling victim to the dice in my current game. To be fair, that was my own fault. She uses a very hands-on risk/reward mechanic. You decide how many hits she’s going to try to inflict on her zombie target by choosing a number from one to five. You then roll two six-sided dice. As long as at least one of the dice exceeds the number you chose, her hits resolve. Otherwise, she gets attacked. I got greedy and tried for four hits against the horde in the forest.
The other character is Rusty Staub, a mountain man whose crossbow lets him make gunfire attacks without having to expend ammo. That’s huge. Gunfire is a powerful counter to the zombies, but it’s limited by the fact that the necessary ammo is almost always in short supply. Frankly, I can’t imagine not choosing Rusty for every game (you select one hero and then randomly deal three more to determine your starting line-up). He also automatically earns one supply point when he forages in the mountains or forests. That’s also huge, since foraging often involves having to waste valuable actions. Rusty can also sacrifice himself in place of another hero. Hmm. Not likely. I can’t imagine many heroes more valuable than Rusty, who I presume is a nod to Daryl from The Walking Dead.
Aside from the whiff of power creep I get from Rusty, The Director’s Cut demonstrates how a good add-on can just add more story beats. Dawn of the Zeds doesn’t really need fancy new systems, or an add-on board, or different types of gameplay, or more combat options. It’s a fully realized narrative engine with plenty of room to just plug in more cards for more narrative possibilities. With only about fifty cards and a handful of markers, The Director’s Cut might be a modest addition, but it’s an effective one.
(For the record, my game ended when Farmingdale was overrun from the suburbs, thanks to an insidious double zombie movement card. You normally plan for the zombies to move just one space. When the going gets rough, an unexpected double move can be fatal. I made it through 27 out of 62 cards. Ouch. That’s what I get for playing without Rusty Staub.)
Dawn of the Zeds: The Director's Cut
Much anticipated by the beleaguered residents of Farmingdale who were hoping for a glimpse of salvation, Dawn of the Zeds: The Director's Cut expansion instead delivers all sorts of new evil, mayhem, and, yes, a small bit of relief for those Zeds players everywhere exhausted by the never-ending onslaught.