City of Horror, from author Nicolas Normandon and produced by Belgium company, REPOS PRODUCTION, is another board game inspired by the vastly popular zombie genre. In this game, a small town has remained relatively safe from the zombie invasion that has plagued other areas for the last month. Until now. The undead have began their assault on the town and the marshall has called for help, but it’ll take 4 hours for rescue to come. With people fighting over guns and antidotes, both of which are in limited supply, maybe the threat isn’t the undead, but the living!
From the backstory, it is evident this is a game that does not require you just to fight the zombies, but to scheme and plot against your fellow players as well as making alliances in a battle for survival.
The game is for 3-6 players aged 14+ and is played over 4 turns, with each turn representing an hour of time before rescue helicopters arrive. During this time, players will have to move their characters around the town, battle zombies and collect antidotes and food. The aim is to be the player with the most victory points when the 4 ‘hours’ (turns) have passed. Victory points are awarded with by the number of characters, food and antidotes a player has left at the end of the game. However, in order to final seal a win, the player must have enough antidote to vaccinate his or her remaining characters so they can board the helicopter.
City of Horror comes in a sturdy, medium sized box, brimming with content. Rather than having a bumper rule book containing the instructions in various languages, the creator has decided to make 4 rules books, one for each language. This is in addition to the 4 crib sheets, that are meant to aid players during gameplay. Personally I think this is quite a waste, and just adds clutter to the box.
The rest of the box contains:
7x location boards
3x road boards
1x Water Tower
21x Character Cards
21x Character Standups
40x Zombie Standups
70x Coloured Stands
36x Movement Cards
40x Action Cards
20x Invasion Cards
6x Explosion Markers
4x Fire Markers
1x First Player Token
12x Food Tokens
20x Antidote Tokens
1x Zombie Leader Token
3 Caches to be used during gameplay with less than 6 players
6x Summary cards
The playable pieces, both the zombies and the characters, are made from a thick cardboard. I’m not a fan of cardboard and much prefer plastic, however, the quality of the cardboard characters is fantastic and I admired the unique designs of the characters as I slotted them and the the zombie characters into their coloured stands. The black stands are reserved for the zombies only whilst the coloured stands are used for differentiating each player and their characters. As we played a 3 player game, we each had 5 characters assigned to us by randomly dealing out the Character Cards. The characters vary from a punk rocker to a nerd wearing a Big Bang Theory Sheldon Cooper Bazinga! t-shirt, and even a granny with a zimmerframe!
As this was our first game, we used the A version locations, which were defined by the side with a letter A on them. Slotting them together made a generous size board game area for us to work with, consisting of a bank, armory, church, water tower and hospital. The Water Tower even had a water tower we could construct and place on the board, which was a nice addition to the game. Food tokens were placed on the truck at the crossroads, with antidotes on the tipped over ambulance and the Action cards on the military truck.
Each player chose a colour and we covered up colours not in use on the Zombie Leader Wheel, a multi-coloured pie-chart style circle, on the board with the Cache pieces, which look like a grey slice of pie. One of the players was chosen as the first player and thus became the Zombie Leader. The Zombie Leader token was then placed on that player’s colour on the Zombie Leader Wheel.
Starting with the player on the right of the Zombie Leader, each player drew as many Movement cards as characters they were playing, which in our case was 5 each, and then moved one of our characters to each of the 5 locations, so the characters were spread out around the board.
Each player then received 7 Action cards and a single pack of Invasion cards, comprised of 1 card for each hour from 0:00 to 4:00 were placed on the board. The 0:00 card was revealed and indicated the number of zombies to be placed on each location of the board.
After a slow startup, the game was now ready to start!
The players who had a character on the Water Tower were allowed a sneak peek at the 1:00 Invasion card but were not allowed to discuss the card’s contents. Each player then secretly chose a Movement card and revealed it to the table. This was followed by the reveal of the 1:00 Invasion card and the application of it’s zombies and airdrops of Action cards and antidotes. Once the effects of the Invasion card were applied, each player could then move one of their characters to the destination their previous choice of Movement card dictated. If the location was full, the character must be moved to the crossroads, which acts like a no-mans land.
With one of each of the player’s characters now moved, each of the 6 locations, starting with the Water Tower, had to be resolved.
Location Resolution consists of 3 steps: Activation, Zombie Attack and Sharing. Activation allows any players with a character in that location to use the location’s effect. These effects are not always necessary to the game, especially when you are starting out. The symbols on the board, which are to help you understand the effects, are no help either. After the effects have been applied, the players on that location can kill the Zombies on the location with their special abilities and Action cards, but first must decide which character is going to die if they cannot defeat the zombies. I luckily had 2 shotgun Action cards which enabled me to wipe-out all 4 zombies on the patch and survive. Finally, Sharing means that any antidotes or Action cards which were airdropped in have to be divided up. How do you do that, I hear you ask? By raising a hand and voting, of course. The person who wins the vote gets the first choice of one of the Action cards or Antidotes, with the rest divided up between the other players. However, if there is a tie, all the airdropped booty must remain on the location.
After the location has been resolved, it must be repeated for the other 5 locations. Once this has been accomplished, the last player to lose a character to the zombie hoarde is given the Zombie Leader token. This marks the end of a turn and signifies that an hour has passed in the game. This whole process is repeated through to the final hour, when the rescue helicopter arrives. Each player must discard one antidote for each character of theirs still alive to board the aircraft to victory. Any characters without an antidote immediately die. The food tokens and antidotes of each player are counted up, along with the currently value of the rescued characters, to determine the winner.
City of Horror is a long-winded game. At first glance it looks simple enough, but as you stick your nose deeper into the pages of the rule book, it becomes evident that it’s more of a slog to play than an enjoyable one.
The best games keep it simple, with basic rules and a quick turnaround. This game took an hour and a half to get our heads around and then we had to keep referring back to the rule book and crib sheet to see what effect each location provided. As the game involved us moving to 6 different locations before the turn officially ended, it became a chore and we weren’t having fun. To be honest, the only fun we had was popping the playable characters out of the cardboard.
The packaging, cards, board and playable characters are all made with due care, but aesthetics count for nothing when the game lacks simplicity and enthrallment. The game takes far too long to play and struggles to keep players interested.
City of Horror is available from Amazon