Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de



Richard Launius


No. of Players:
1 - 4

G@mebox Star



Once again its Zombies!

As it seems, the Zombie Apocalypse has not yet ended. Over the last few years we have mastered the City of Horror, made a run against the clock in Zombie '15 and have made a last stand as a group of survivors in Zombicide, but all efforts were in vain since yet another wave of Zombies is scuffling through the land. But this time all available choices can be put in a fairly simple way: you have to Run, Fight or Die!

The new game by Richard Launius (designer of Arkham Horror) uses the classic Yahtzee dice rolling mechanism. During his turn, a player gets to roll an hand of 5 Action Dice, and he can re-roll any number of dice up to two times, provided the dice have not been locked due to a rolled "Zombie" result. The final results must be used to the best advantage of the player's character, and here a major part will be to fight approaching Zombies.

The character boards are placed in front of each player, and above each character is a small City Board which is divided into three different zones: far away, closer and really close. At the beginning of the game several Zombie-miniatures have been positioned in each of the zones, and the players will strive to combat these Zombies as effective as possible because Zombies breaking through to the character board will cause a loss of Life Points (and ultimately the death of the character).

The dice results "Baseball Bat" and "Gun" can be used to fight the Zombies, but whereas the bat only works in close quarters (the "really close" zone) to kill two Zombies per dice, the gun works in all three zones and kills and Zombie per dice. A third dice face which is effective against Zombies is the runner "Runner", and this face can be used to move one Zombie back for one zone, so that the distance between the player's character and the Zombies can be increased. However, this is only a temporary relief, because all Zombies on a player's City Board move one zone forwards at the end of the player's turn. In addition, after Zombie movement three new Zombies will be added to the furthest zone, plus additional Zombies for each dice which has been locked on the "Zombie" result.

This fairly simple mechanism forms the backbone for Run, Fight or Die!, but a lot of variety and surprising elements come into the game due to the use of several decks of cards which are representing the city, its inhabitants, useful equipment and some events. One of these decks contains Followers, fellow humans whom the players try to recruit in order to win the game. A Follower card can be gained by using the "Scout" dice result, and if a player has rolled at least two of these results a random Follower may be drawn from the deck. Each Follower is unique, giving the player 1 to 6 Victory Points and a special ability, but whereas the special abilities of low value Followers are very effective, high value Followers tend to be a real pain in the a.. due to their rather obstructive abilities. Some examples:

  • The Mysterious Occultist (1 VP) allows you one free reroll of all dice locked with the "Zombie" result,
  • Dumb Jock (2 VP) kills one Zombie on your board at the beginning of each turn,
  • the Hot Chick with Attitude (3 VP) gives you a free bonus dice but attracts a Zombie to your furthest zone at the beginning of your turn,
  • Infected Marge (5 VP) will turn into a Zombie and is added to your board when you roll three or more "Zombie" results, and
  • the Obnoxious Councilman (6 VP) makes you lose all of your re-rolls (gulp!).

Many more Followers are included in the game, and it can be a real setback to be left with a group of incompetent maniacs, but on the other hand much depends on the situation and the dice-rolling luck. So, a player who gets more than two "Scout" results actually may draw several Followers and chose, and during the late game Followers with a high value may become much more popular because they may ensure a player's victory. The game's end can be initiated when a player gains his 5th Follower, and if that player declares that the game will end only one more round will be played. So dragging along some high value Followers may be useful after all…

Even more atmosphere is added to the game by the Location deck of cards. A player may use one "Scout" or two "Book of Dead" dice results during his turn to draw a Location card, and these cards show a load of different places where the players may find useful equipment, heal some wounds, trigger an event or enjoy special conditions in their fight against the Zombies. However, running into a Graveyard or a Dead End is not really advisable, and even though there are more positive locations than negative ones, locations where Zombies are added to a player's board are always uncovered with some nasty comments from your fellow players.

Talking about the "Book of Dead" dice result, this serves as a multifunctional joker which can get you out of some really tight situations. The more books you roll, the better their effect gets. One book will just trigger an event, but more books can be used to gain back some Life Points, to draw a Location card or an Equipment card, or even to clear one of your Zones of all Zombies (old survivor's rule: don't rely on rolling this result!)

As mentioned, other decks of cards include Equipment and Events, and there is even an Escape deck from which the players can draw a card if they want to re-roll some dice which have been locked down by the "Zombie" result. The Escape cards always have a minor or medium negative effect, but at least those otherwise unproductive dice can be rerolled - to what result remains to be seen…

It falls out of the scope of this review to give further details on the contents of each of these decks, but one particular nasty Zombie overlord can be triggered by a card in nearly all decks. It's the big Mutation, and this special Zombie is not placed on a player's City Board, but once it enters the game it moves always to the active player. The Mutation has several Life Points and can only be wounded by using "Gun" results. Each wound inflicted on the Mutant counts as a Victory Point when the game is over, but if a player does not kill the Mutant during his turn he is obliged to take a Mutant card (with some negative effects) when his turn is over.

The game ends when only one player character remains, when a player has gathered 5 Followers, if the Mutant loses all 20 Life Point markers or if the "Town Line" Location is drawn and a certain number of Followers are in play, but until the end the players face a rmanifold playing experience and a decision-making process which is rather unusual for tactical dice games. Indeed, the mechanism chosen for dice rolling certainly is well known from many games, but the tactical opportunities for re-rolling and for using the dice are much wider than in other games based on a comparable mechanism. Usually the players have to balance their different needs (kill Zombies, fend off the Mutation, collect useful stuff, visit Locations and hire Followers), and here a number of 5 dice is rather restricted if it comes to tackling more than two problems at a time.

Quite interestingly, the number of options available to the players is so big that even some bad luck can be counterbalanced, and so it's rarely the case that a character gets killed. However, due to the fact that players with dead characters have to lean back and watch the outcome of the game, this effect is appreciated because the "killed players have to watch"-approach seems a bit outmoded. Talking about watching the other players, the game also has a comparatively low degree of player interaction because the players mainly focus on using their hand of action dice to the benefit of their character. Only a handful of game effects allows for direct interaction in form of sending Zombies to another player or stealing a Follower card. This low degree of player interaction is absolutely tolerable if the game is played with 2 or 3 players, and even a 4 player game is still flowing along quite smoothly because of the feats and mishaps of the other players. However, even though an expansion for 5 to 6 players exists, playing the game with so many participants will cause considerable downtime. So, this expansion can be recommended for getting two more player characters (for variety) and more Zombie miniatures, but the game will be played rarely with a full cast of 6 players.

A fact which my wife and I rather enjoyed is the different way the story unfolds during each game. The player characters have special abilities, and in addition the people they meet and the things that will happen will be rather different from game to game. Sometimes you will feel like you have hit a dead end with lots of Zombies on your City Board and a bunch of mindless idiots as Followers, but I have seen my wife steal the day and make a grand victory under exactly these conditions. Of course there is a considerable degree of luck in the game, but as mentioned before much depends on the decisions and risks taken by the players.

If you want even more playing depth, two more expansions are available for Run, Fight or Die!. One of them is the Horde Expansion, featuring new Zombie types (and their minis) which may be moving quicker or which are harder to kill. The inclusion of these new Zombies makes the game even more strategic, although the game's pace is reduced because specific Zombie cards have to be drawn whenever new Zombies arrive (and this happens at least once during each player's turn). The Coop Expansion on the other hand features two new characters and four Location cards, but most important here are the rules and cards for cooperative play. Now the players have to unite in fulfilling certain tasks, and the game will be lost instantly if one character dies. This allows for a rather different playing experience, and taken together the basic game of Run, Fight or Die! plus its expansions allow for weeks of classy Zombie bashing!

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Copyright & copy; 2015 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany