GTM #182 - Elysium: "Welcome to Olympus!"
by Brett Gilbert & Matt Dunstan

~ Welcome to Olympus! ~

In Elysium, you become an ambitious demigod, striving to win the favor of the Olympian gods and claim your own place amongst them. On your journey, you will discover powerful artifacts, enlist the aid of mythic heroes and beasts, undertake heroic quests - and perhaps even call upon the gods themselves!

Elysium is a game of combination and set collecting for 2–4 players, driven by simple actions but with constant dilemmas and complex strategies. The game is structured around eight decks of 21 cards, each representing the heroes, allies, artifacts and myths of an individual Olympian god. At the start of each game, you choose five families to shuffle together to form the game deck, and every combination creates a new game experience, giving players new opportunities to explore, and new challenges to overcome.

During the game you will discover powerful ways to combine the game’s many unique card powers, but in time you must help your allies reach Elysium - the final resting place of heroes. Here, their powers can no longer help you, but you will use them to forge you own legends by building valuable card sets, which are the only certain way to secure victory.

A distinctive feature of the game production is that each of the eight decks has been illustrated by a different artist. Every unique card has its own artwork: 104 illustrations in total! The decks capture the heroes, artifacts, beasts and myths that surround Apollo, Ares, Athena, Hades, Hermes, Hephaestus, Poseidon and Zeus, and each has a different functional flavor and so brings a unique set of connected powers to the game when that deck is in play.

Over the five Epochs of the game, you will draft cards from the Agora display in the middle of the play area, placing them first in your Domain where you may use their powers. At the end of the Epoch, you will have the chance to transfer cards to your Elysium and so build valuable collections called Legends that will be reckoned at the end of the game. If you are to win, you must carefully balance the choices of which cards to draft, when to use their powers, and how best to acquire the gold and transfers you need to build your Legends.

~ A Heroic Journey ~

Our journey to the summit of Mount Olympus began in early 2013, when we made the first prototype that would lead eventually to Elysium. That game was utterly different: a fantasy adventure game with characters, equipment and a large world full of enemies to explore, at the heart of which was a system of colored dice that represented the abilities of your character. We prepared the board and hundreds of cards needed for the first playtest - but very soon realized that it the game really didn’t work at all.

However, the one successful element were the dice, and in the following months we tried different styles of game that incorporated them. One of these was a Roman-themed game where you claimed and used the powers of various citizens. Every citizen had an acquisition cost, which you had to meet using the dice in your pool - either by matching the color of the dice or the symbols that you rolled. The game wasn’t particularly interesting or successful, but the idea of using resources to acquire cards with different costs survives within Elysium.

Our quest to find a home for our dice continued, but seemed doomed. After eight complete redesigns, and eight frustrating attempts to make the dice work, we were almost ready to give up! But as in all great legends, our persistence was eventually rewarded…

The ninth prototype was when we finally hit on the main concepts that would eventually be realized in Elysium. We revisited our previous Roman theme, and populated our game with cards representing merchants, craftsman, scholars, senators and soldiers. Each different card was given an ability - some of which remain unchanged in the final game! - and had an acquisition cost of colors and symbols, which had to be matched by your dice.

Importantly, we introduced what would turned out to be the magic ingredient: something we called ‘promoting’. The idea was that once you hired your recruits, and they had done their work for you, you would pay to give them a nice retirement. When you promoted cards into ‘houses’ you would lose their abilities, but you would score points for the sets of cards in your houses at the end of the game.

With these core concepts finally settled upon, the design and playtesting process picked up pace, and by the time of SPIEL 2013 we were ready to present our prototype - rechristened ‘Aurum et Gloriam’ (Gold and Glory) - to a number of publishers, including Space Cowboys. The game contained eight different Roman families of cards, and the very same dice that had survived completely intact from our original prototype!

After having a chance to play the game back at Space Cowboys HQ, they very quickly came back to tell us that they loved it and wanted to publish. They took incredible care of our game, but after much development work emailed us to break the bad news that the journey to Mount Olympus had claimed one last casualty: the dice. Even if we were a little sad to say goodbye to our oldest companions, it was the right decision for the game.

With that final change, and all of the exceptional work and passion that the Space Cowboys have poured into the game, Elysium was ready to be released to the world. And may the gods be ever in your favor!

Matt and Brett are both game designers living in Cambridge, UK. Matt is a materials scientist, who has recently completed his PhD at Cambridge University. Brett, himself a Cambridge University graduate, worked in publishing and online retail before realizing he should have been designing games instead.

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.