GTM #181 - The History of Zombies!!!
by Kerry Breitenstein

The undead are everywhere. You’re short on time and out of luck. Only a mad dash to the waiting helicopter — taking down anything that gets in your way — might save your sorry hide. There are other survivors, but only one of you is getting out alive. The rest will make a tasty meat snack for the endless horde of Zombies!!!

~ Twilight Created ~

Years before zombies staggered all over pop culture, the original Zombies!!! game was published in 2001 by Journeyman Press. Designed by Todd A. and Kerry Breitenstein, the game featured art by Dave Aikins who has stayed with the series from the earliest days to the most recent expansion.

Todd had always been fascinated by zombie movies and was a huge fan of George Romero’s films in particular. Our games are designed to offer an experience that feels like the classic movies and pay homage to our zombie master. The fans have enjoyed a game with straightforward rules and the fun of horror movies both good and bad!
United States Playing Cards shut down the Journeyman Press division not long after the Zombies!!! initial release and Todd was able to take the game with him. In 2002 we started our own company: Twilight Creations.

~ Expansions, Ahoy! ~

With full creative control of the game and its future, we explored our love of zombies as inspired by Romero. Our zombies don’t run, but rather represent a growing horde of shambling danger. The film Day of the Dead was very much on our mind when we designed Zombies!!! 2: Zombie Corps(e), setting it on an army base with government-enhanced zombies to mix up the original formula. Zombies!!!: MallWalkers is our love letter to Dawn of the Dead — it’s a classic!

We definitely wanted to express our love of horror movies in our games. Zombies!!! 4 combined elements of several different films to create extremely challenging play. We have zombie dogs in a wooded setting, and the players must collect the pages of the Necronomicon to reverse the zombie-summoning spell. This set is called The End… as it led into the spinoff game MidEvil that sent players back in time to battle walking skeletons.

Owning a popular game franchise allowed us to pick among fan suggestions for future expansions. One frequent request was using a school setting, leading to the creation of Zombies!!! 5: Schools Out Forever. (You get a sense of our taste in music by exploring our game titles and card text!) The set also introduced a new mechanic — the Guts token — that dictates the size of a player’s hand. Poor combat rolls lead to less available cards and more tension at the table.

~ Second Edition ~

After five years and many expansions we rolled up our sleeves to create a Second Edition of Zombies!!! In the interest of diversity and mixing up the visuals we added female zombies (which somehow manage to be even scarier). Rules were cleaned up, gameplay streamlined, and our hearts went from black to blood-red.

Our little game had grown to include a much larger play-area and additional mechanics, so we decided there should be a fast way to get around our city. Subways and sewers were introduced in Zombies 6!!!: Six Feet Under and allow for easy movement from one side of the map to another (allowing players to snag weapons and items) and escape from zombie-infested areas.

For most of us Zombies!!! 7 is the most terrifying of them all: Send in the Clowns — two nightmares for the price of one! That said, the game allows you to shoot clowns in the face. The goal of this set is to snag a clown car from the Big Top and escape through the front entrance of the circus. We embraced the setting and allowed ourselves to be silly, though the Funhouse might make you scream (and not for the reasons you think).

Now for something completely different: Humans!!! This game reverses the formula and sets players in the role of the zombies to eat and infect as many humans as possible. It’s a great standalone game or can be mashed together with the original game to create a true Zombies!!!  vs. Humans!!! experience.

Zombies 8!!!: Jailbreak was inspired by a fan who works as a guard at a prison. The idea started as a joke but we quickly got excited and began working out the gameplay. Each player begins confined to a straightjacket, dodging zombies and running while attempting to free themselves to fight and escape!

One would think a cemetery expansion was a natural idea, but it didn’t come about until Zombies 9!!!: Ashes to Ashes, which drew upon movie influences such as Night of the Living Dead and Pet Sematary. The graveyard setting was scary enough, but the zombie kids put it over the top — lethal by being able to share squares with any adult zombies (even the terrifying hell-clowns).

~ Mixing Up the Formula ~

Each time we go to the drawing board for a new set, it’s important for us to build on what came before and mix up the gameplay, while never breaking the basic formula. Zombies 10!!!: Feeding the Addiction focuses on messing with the humans. Addiction cards became a new element in the game, simultaneously giving players a penalty and a reward — a coffee addiction that speeds up movement after a strong cup of Joe, but then slows the player down after the caffeine crash being just one example. Instead of adding a completely new location, this set introduces additional buildings to the map tiles from the main set. No town is complete without a coffee shop or a casino.

Zombies 11!!!: Death Inc. is playable as a standalone game or can be added to the original Zombies!!! game like the other expansions. Designed by convention volunteer and megafan Adam Cardoza, this set creates a corporate environment for zombie mayhem. The company CEO has been transformed into a zombie, and the players compete to rescue the board of directors for their chance at the top job. If you’ve ever worked in a soul-crushing office environment filled with corporate “zombies,” this set might hit a bit close to home.

While we loved our zombie dogs, we knew the time had come to add more animal zombies to the mix and a trip to the zoo was just the excuse. Zombie penguins were discussed and quickly ruled out (we love penguins too much to zombify them — yet). Lions, tigers, and bears (oh my!) and hyenas, gorillas, and monkeys joined the legions of the undead in Zombies 12!!!: Zombie Zoo. The players must override the automatic release mechanism for the cages to prevent a zombie animal apocalypse from being unleashed on a world not ready for poo-flinging undead monkeys.

We owe our success and continued enthusiasm for the game to our fans, so we wanted an idea that truly involved them in multiple ways. Twilight Creations launched a crowdfunding campaign through Kickstarter that offered fans the ability to design and appear on cards, design tiles, and even help design figures that would appear in the game. Our backers were able to playtest, make suggestions, and heavily influence the evolution of Zombies 13!!!: DEFCON Z. The campaign and resulting expansion was a huge success and a fantastic addition to the line.

~ Third Edition & Beyond ~

With nearly a decade of expansions since the last version of the game, we knew it was time for Zombies!!! Third Edition. We not only tightened things up for a solid and well-presented base set, we wanted to offer new dimensions of play. Long-requested, our new edition offers cooperative rules, team play, and scenario-specific play. We also offer options of speed-play for fans who want to grab a quick game between classes or at lunch. We don’t want you to be late!

Zombies 11!!!: Deadtime Stories is the culmination of eight years of tinkering. We incorporated fan-submitted scenarios to those we cooked up in the Twilight Creations creative kitchen, and included rules for playing Zombies!!!, Humans!!!, and Martians!!! all together for a genre-busting mashup mega-game. We included methods for using all the expansions together while preventing a game that takes a week to complete. We added character cards and even Bingo cards — yes, you read that correctly: Zombies!!! Bingo! We also threw in a zombie reference card to easily differentiate all the many types of zombie figures from each of the sets and give them unique stats to keep things interesting. Deadtime Stories allows for a highly-customizable game suited to a group’s particular taste.

We really believe the long-lasting success of Zombies!!! owes a lot to solid but simple game mechanics. The foundational rules can be used for any number of scenarios, variant rules, and add-ons to make it exactly the game you want to play. Our basic rules are easy to learn and teach friends and significant others, and serve as a gateway to more complicated games on the store shelves. Even the non-gamer husband or girlfriend can be easily drawn in for pure backstabbing fun.

For the gore-impaired we offer something a little more visually tame: Zombies!!! PG Version. This presents more family-friendly art for the more sensitive among us, while the traditional blood-and-guts artwork is still out there for the hardcore horror movie fan!

Our mission at Twilight Creations moves forward to make Zombies!!! a game for everyone. It’s reasonably priced, easy to learn, and offers endless variation so it will never grow stale. We’re grateful for our fans and hope you’ll stick with us until we finally cave in and design the Zombies!!! March of the Zombie Penguins expansion.

GTM #180 - Vikings & The Duke: The Invasion is Coming!
By Randall N. Bills

Vikings. The word has a power all its own. And conjures images of powerful warriors, distant lands, and, of course, long boats cresting through storm-tossed waves. While much of what we know of Vikings has been mythologized, that very process, perpetuated across centuries - and continuing today - readily demonstrates their primal siren call.

In March 2013 the History Channel debuted the Vikings TV show. The combination of compelling characters, dramatic action, and brilliant cinematography almost guaranteed its success from day one. The ratings have climbed steadily through two seasons, while racking up a treasure trove of critical acclaim. Catalyst Game Labs is exceedingly pleased to have the license from MGM to add Viking games to the list of excitement surrounding this growing TV show.

But where to begin? We immediately thought of a nice, big euro-style game of exploration and resource management, and we solicited numerous game designers immediately to fill that game slot. However, a much closer-to-home concept presented itself.

Two-and-a-half years ago we successfully Kickstarted The Duke tile-laying game, which was then published in the summer of 2013 and very quickly sold out. We just got in the first half of the reprint at the end of last summer, which once again almost immediately sold out, and we’re in the process of selling out of the second half of the reprint, with another reprint already under discussion.

“Well, what’s The Duke?” some of you may be asking. The politics of the high court are elegant, shadowy, and subtle. Not so in the outlying duchies. Rival dukes contend for unclaimed lands far from the king’s reach, and possession is the law in these lands. Use your forces to capture enemy troops before you lose the chance to claim the land for yourself. In The Duke, players move their troop tiles around the board and flip them over after each move. Each tile’s side shows a different movement pattern. If you end your movement in a square occupied by an opponent’s tile, you capture it. Capture your opponent’s Duke to win!

And since its publishing, in addition to a growing community of avid fans, it’s garnered a slew of critical acclaim as well:

  • "…this is one of the best abstract strategy games I have ever played." - Tom Vasel (The Dice Tower)
  • "Most innovative little board game since Chess." - Michael A Stackpole (New York Times Bestselling writer and award-winning game designer)
  • “The best abstract strategy game I own!
" - Bryan Pope (Creator of Mage Wars)
  • "This is an abstract I would suggest to anyone…”" - Ryan Metzler (The Dice Tower)

The Duke was also nominated for 2013 Best Two-Player Game by The Dice Tower Gaming Awards, as well as winning a 2014 Mensa Select.

And if those accolades weren’t enough…it’s just a brilliant game that I’ve played hundreds of times. The unique, changing movement profile on the tiles as you flip them back and forth creates a dynamic, ever-changing game board that means no two games are almost ever alike. Anytime someone wants to play The Duke, I’ll drop almost anything I’m doing and dive in.

In addition to the base game, we’ve released six expansions that provide a variety of additional tiles for various styles of expanded play. These include such sets as the Robert E. Howard and Arthurian Legends that introduce a specific type of flavor and change up the victory conditions, or the Reinforcements: City Troops that is the first of a series of four sets that allow a limited “build your bag” style of play, with each player deciding between the standard tiles in the base game and corresponding alternate tiles found in the Reinforcement sets.

During the development process of the game - as well as the expansions - we quickly realized how ludicrously robust the game was and that it could support a large swath of tiles. And that’s without even touching new movement icons…and if you include those…then the sky's the limit on the adaptability of the game and subsequent fun. For example, in addition to those mentioned above, we kicked around a host of unique sets powered by this phenomenal mechanic, from such craziness as a superhero set to Cthulhu (of course!), to the very serious Shogun set we’ve roughed out. So when Vikings came along, it seemed a perfect fit for our first game, which will publish in spring - Jarl: The Vikings Tile-Laying Game.

~ A Game of Stones ~

In the long winters between raiding seasons, warriors keep their intellect sharp through games of wit and chance. Ragnar, Rollo, Floki, and even the Earl challenge each other to this game of stone placement filled with tactics and subtle maneuvering for victory. In Jarl: The Vikings Tile Laying Game, players move their warriors (tiles) around the board and flip them over after each move. Each tile’s side shows a different movement profile. If you end your movement in a square occupied by an opponent’s tile, you capture that tile. Capture your opponent’s Jarl to win!

Jarl comes with beautiful stone-like tiles, and includes the standard light and dark sets so it’s a standalone game. However, it’s been designed so players can immediately take Jarl straight up against The Duke to see who will be master of the British Isles! Also, while all the tiles are new, unlike many of the expansions already published, we wanted Jarl to feel truly different. As such, none of the tiles make use of two of the movement icons found in The Duke, while making heavy use of two other movement icons noted in the rulebook, but not found on any tiles in the base game, which also introduces a brand-new movement icon. This helps to ensure that not only is Jarl fun to play on its own merits, but as a new “faction” to play against The Duke it brings it’s own wonderful ambience and challenges.

Jarl: The Vikings Tile-Laying Game is for two players and plays in 15-25 minutes. While it’s suggested age is 13+, astute younger players will easily grasp this fun, abstract tactical game. Visit www.catalystgamelabs.com/casual-games and on the The Duke page you’ll find an interactive demo that shows you how the game mechanic works, while the full rules for the game can be found on the Jarl page. Following Jarl, this summer will also see the release of Vikings: The Board Game.

~ All Things Begin and End as Stories ~

Vikings. The name conjures images of longboats, flashing swords, and ruthless warriors without equal: a terror that stretched across the centuries and a thousand miles of raiding! And among the legendary warriors is Ragnar Lothbrok, the scourge of France and England and father to a host of renowned sons that would make rulers and kingdoms tremble for long years.

Vikings: The Board Game is a strategy game of exploration and raiding for 2-5 players based upon the hit History Channel series that allows players to embrace their inner Viking. Each winter players will scheme to acquire appropriate resources while convincing heroes such as Ragnar Lothbrok, Lagertha, Rollo, and Floki to support them as they launch their longships in the water to raid each summer. Plunder treasures and foreign resources across modular tiles that ensure a different game each time you play, while completing Seer cards, will ultimately lead a player to victory!

The dangers of failure are bloody, but the rewards of victory are legion: you will help build the Viking legend! This great board game builds upon the success of such games as Lords of Waterdeep that wed elegant, Euro-style mechanics with the more Ameri-centric desire for loads of immersive flavor.

Finally, we’ve a third game in development for potential publication in the fall. A fast and fun card game of longship raiding and trying to outthink your opponent. Utilizing the "Prisoner’s Dilemma" game theory, it wonderfully echoes the often-tragic circumstances of the hit TV show, leaving even the losers ready to dive in and try and seize victory…this time!

As the third season of this phenomenal show unfolds, join Catalyst Game Labs and a variety of great games…hopefully you’ll find one that fits your inner Viking!

GTM #179 - Star Wars: Armada
by Fantasy Flight Games

Massive Star Destroyers fly to battle against Rebel corvettes and frigates in Star Wars: Armada, the two-player miniatures game of epic fleet combat in the Star Wars galaxy!

In Armada, you assume the role of fleet admiral, serving with either the Imperial Navy or Rebel Alliance. You assemble your fleet and engage the enemy. Using the game’s unique maneuver tool, you steer your carefully detailed and pre-painted capital ships across the battlefield, even while the battle rages around them.

Banks of turbolasers unleash torrential volleys of fire against squadrons of X-wings and TIEs. Engineering teams race to route additional power to failing shields. Laser blasts and explosions flare across the battlefield. Even a single ship can change the tide of battle, and it’s your job to ensure that it’s in the right place at the right time. You issue the commands that will decide the course of battle and, perhaps, the fate of the galaxy.

~ Capital Ships In Combat ~

Armada balances the awesome scale of the Star Wars galaxy’s capital ships and space warfare with intuitive ship designs and accessible rules for issuing commands and resolving combat. The result is a rich, engaging, and highly tactical play experience.

Capital ships are extremely powerful war machines, but they’re also massive and sophisticated vessels that can’t swiftly react to every development in the heat of battle. Instead, you must plan ahead. Each of your ships has a command value, which determines how many commands it will have in its stack at any given point in time. These commands are then revealed throughout the game, one per round, even as you assign new commands to the bottom of your stack. Each of the four possible commands offers a different, powerful advantage. The key to flying your ships effectively is to issue these commands in such a way that your crews will be ready to execute them at just the right times.

~ An Innovative Maneuver Tool ~

Another reason you need to plan for the future is that the massive space battles of Armada are always in motion. Throughout the Ship Phase, in which you and your opponent activate your capital ships, you’re always exchanging activations. Not only that, but when you activate one of your ships, it attacks first, then moves. This means that you’re always setting your course to set yourself up for the next round’s attack, rather than setting a course to set yourself up for an attack in the same round. You have to consider where your opponent’s ships have already moved, where the unactivated ships are likely to move, and which ships are likely to activate first in the coming round. You also need to consider your ship’s limitations.

Capital ships can’t easily vary their speeds or execute hairpin turns like the starfighters that buzz around them. They measure hundreds of meters long, boast thousands of crew members, and carry tremendous inertia through every turn they execute. Accordingly, Armada uses a unique and innovative maneuver tool to maneuver your capital ships that makes it easy for you to set a ship’s course, even while it lends an element of realism to your ship’s pitch and yaw.

~ Squadrons of Starfighters ~

The Star Wars movies remind us that there’s always room – even a need – for personal heroics. No matter how many Star Destroyers, corvettes, or frigates rain laser fire upon each other as they vie for the fate of the galaxy, there’s always the chance that a single starfighter pilot can turn the tide of battle.

Accordingly, even though they’re dwarfed by the capital ships they accompany, starfighters and their pilots are a critical part of Armada. Entering the game as whole squadrons, your starfighers are highly adaptable and flexible, and only a foolish admiral would overlook the tactical options they can add to your fleet. While squadrons don’t pack the raw power or resilience of the capital ships they accompany, they come with their own rules for movement and combat that make them far more capable of occupying and threatening the exact portion of the battlefield that you choose.

If left unchecked, a swarm of starfighters can tear down even the most massive of capital ships, and while capital ships can return their fire, any shot directed at squadrons is a shot not taken at a larger ship.

~ Assemble Your Fleet ~

With its capital ships, starfighter squadrons, and accessible rules, Star Wars: Armada provides you an unparalleled take on the largest and most consequential battles in the Star Wars universe. What’s more, your first games are only the beginning of your involvement in the Galactic Civil War. Just as it is your job as fleet admiral to assemble a battle plan, it is your job to build the fleet that stands the best chance of emerging from battle victorious. Rules for fleet-building allow you to handpick your strike force as you prepare to meet the enemy.

Within the Core Set, you will find plenty of options. Not only can you choose which ships and squadrons to bring to battle, you can upgrade them with powerful weaponry or call upon the talents of elite pilots and officers. However, these options expand further with starship and squadron expansions that allow you to refine your strategies and explore even more of the Star Wars galaxy.