The wind muttered and the skeletal branches of the trees swayed as Karina crept through the dark streets with Ralph, Felix, and Walter behind her. Just as they were about to round the corner a low moan stopped Karina in her tracks, causing her to throw her hand up in caution. “Zombie,” she whispered. Felix made a face and said in a quiet voice, “We’re so close now! Billie, Simon, Leo, and Lara already finished the job at Cedar Grove, the rest is up to us.”
All four paused for a moment to give mental thanks for the success of their friends just days ago. The closing of Cedar Grove Cemetery had almost completely removed the undead presence in the town of Briar Glen. There was only one nest of infected left, and the responsibility for defeating it fell on their shoulders. Unfortunately rumors indicated that some of the remaining creatures were…different than the others, more dangerous.
After a long pause, Karina indicated that it was safe to continue and the four of them left the safety of the building and stopped to examine a scene they knew all too well: the playground of Mountain Oak Elementary School.
The see-saws stood at attention like ranks of soldiers waiting to charge into battle, the swings moved lazily in the breeze, and the merry-go-round creaked softly. The side doors stood open as if inviting the children to enter. The creatures shuffling around in the dim light of the cafeteria were the last things standing between them and a zombie free Briar Glen.
And Thus Begins Zombie Kidz Evolution
Over the past dozen or so years zombies have experienced a renaissance of sorts. Movies, books, TV shows, and even board games; all showing the best and worst sides of these ghoulish creatures. Most versions of the undead in popular media aren’t exactly fit for children: screaming horrors, gory mutilated corpses, or sometimes even sexy vixens. But back in 2013 Annick Lobet set out to make zombies a bit more family friendly with his game Zombie Kidz (read our review of Zombie Kidz). It was a cooperative experience in which 2-4 players set out to remove the zombie presence from the cemetery in their town. The catch was that this game was aimed straight at the under 10 age range. With bubbly artwork and cartoonish zombies the game offered a bit of menace that kids could bravely face head on.
A. The cold shoulder.
The original game is an excellent way to introduce younger kids to cooperative games, and in fact got an honorable mention in our top 6 games for younger kids. Because the group wins or loses together I could coach my kids and teach them tactical decision-making and strategy. Depending on your choices and the roll of the die, games usually take around 5-10 minutes, which is perfect for younger kids’ attention spans.
But as my boys got older (currently they’re 10, 8, and 6) their desire to play the original Zombie Kidz diminished. So picture my delight when I started seeing talk of a sequel of sorts, especially one which was billed as the first legacy game for kids!
If you’ve played the original Zombie Kidz then the mechanics of this game will be familiar to you. I’m not going to go deep into gameplay, but I will cover the basics. Also this will be a mostly spoiler-free review, with one or two high-level exceptions. I’ll make a point of calling those out when I get to them and you can choose to skip over them if you like.
So let’s dive into Zombie Kidz Evolution and talk about the best gaming experience I’ve had to date with my kids.
Zombie Kidz Evolution Overview
In Zombie Kidz Evolution 2-4 players are attempting to rid their school of an undead horde of zombies. There are 5 areas on the board where zombies can spawn, and 4 gates into the school which must be locked in order for your team to win the game.
On their turn a player must first roll a custom die which determines where a new zombie is placed onto the board. The die has 6 differently colored faces (red, green, blue, purple, yellow, and white). Roll anything other than white and you must place the next zombie in line onto that colored space, roll a white and you’re spared for that turn; a one in 6 chance of a temporary retrieve from the horde waiting just outside.
Next, players can move about the board one space at a time. Move into any location with 1 or 2 zombies and you can eliminate them all from that space and give yourself a bit more time to accomplish your goal. If there are 3 or more zombies in a room then that space is blocked and cannot be moved into or through.
Finally if there are two player pawns on a single gate space, that gate can be locked; congratulations, you’re now one quarter of the way through winning the game! If there’s ever a time during the game when no new zombies can be placed onto the board, then the heroes lose.
Didn’t You Say Something About a Legacy Game?
I sure did!
Zombie Kidz designer Annick Lobet decided that the original game could use a face lift, and while doing so also added legacy components in the form of sealed envelopes numbered 1 through 13.
The Zombie Kidz Evolution rulebook offers hints as to what might be inside these envelopes:
Zombie Kidz Evolution is a game that will evolve and grow richer with each game you play, and each feat you accomplish. In time, you’ll gain new powers, but the zombies will become more ferocious as well…
In some of the mystery envelopes, you’ll discover new rules that will be added to the basic rules.
Board gamer parents, especially ones with experience playing games like Pandemic: Legacy or The Rise of Queendale, can make some guesses as to what might be contained in these envelopes, but your kids will likely be surprised and delighted.
In short, the designer and Iello Games took a fun experience and made it even better. Zombie Kidz Evolution boasts higher-quality artwork, pumped-up colors, better quality components, and the best gaming experience I’ve ever had with my kids.
My Thoughts and Some (signposted) Minor Spoilers
The original Zombie Kidz was a pocket-sized affair – about the size of a paperback book with cool but not particularly eye-catching artwork. It was entertaining in a simplistic way, and while we enjoyed ourselves, there wasn’t really much to it. Although, that didn’t stop my boys from wanting to play it pretty regularly for a few months.
When I brought home and they got a glimpse of the new cover they were hooked! The bright splashes of colors are vibrant, with arresting 3-dimensional illustrations of a different crew of characters. Their eyes grew wide as we opened the box and extracted the contents, particularly The Zombie Hunters Guide.
With each game players are able to attach a brain sticker to the back of the Zombie Hunters Guide. If you win a game (or complete any mission), then you also get to add a trophy sticker to the progress chart. For every 5th covered spot on the progress chart players are able to open the next envelope in the sequence. It’s an easy to understand system, but also tough for impatient little boys.
“But how does it compare to the original” you might ask? I’ll be honest, while the game play is roughly the same, the difference is night and day, like comparing a minivan to a muscle car. From the next paragraph onwards my thoughts contain some minor spoilers, but if you want to avoid all spoilers then here’s what you need to know: Zombie Kidz Evolution is a huge improvement and strengthening of what was already a fun children’s co-operative game.
The new mechanics and additions to game play enhance the experience tenfold, my boys were clamouring to play again and again to progress their characters and from an adult perspective Zombie Kidz Evolution introduces interesting decisions without making it too complex for the kids. Importantly, Zombie Kidz Evolution is challenging, drawing us all back in to play repeatedly in a single session. Ok, below lie minor spoilers, further thoughts (good and bad) and some tips on improving your experience.
While the basic mechanics are the same between both games, Zombie Kidz Evolution introduces some goodies that really improve the gameplay and engage players. Starting with the very first envelope players can expect to see special player powers, super zombies (including colored stickers for the back of the zombie pieces), player clones (featuring some really neat alternate artwork), and even some secret missions.
The envelopes open after every 5 stickers, and there were many nights where my boys would beg and plead to play “just one more game” so that they could open the next one. We each took turns opening envelopes and exclaiming loudly when a character received some sort of upgrade, or got disappointed when a super zombie was revealed. This led to one of the bigger disappointments in the game.
From the very beginning each of us selected a character and chose to keep that one for the entire duration of our plays. Myself and my two younger sons all received our player special powers AND our clones before my oldest son’s character even received his special power. That was a big disappointment for him, and a baffling mystery for me. If Zombie Kidz Evolution receives follow up print runs (and I sincerely hope they do) then I strongly suggest reworking the envelope system to make sure the bike-riding player gets his special power earlier in the game.
There were days where we’d play 3 or 4 games in a row just so that we could open the next envelope. It was like board game catnip for my eager boys. We enjoyed ourselves so much that I also chose to tweak the mission completion part of the rules as well. By default you’re only allowed to complete one mission per game; I think this is in an effort to extend the duration of the game and the enjoyment. But my kids were already having such a great time playing that we allowed ourselves to mark more than one mission as completed (assuming we’d actually done so). I recommend this approach as well since it will mean that you might open more than one envelope in a single gaming session. I found that it really boosted our excitement (including my own).
A. No, they eat the fingers separately.
The introduction of the new elements really makes a difference in gameplay. Previously you could make some pretty simple decisions about where you moved and still win most of the time. But as you can see from all the brain stickers on our book, we lost a lot. My character (bespectacled and helmeted Walter) had the ability to defeat up to 2 zombies in a room adjacent to him OR 1 zombie in two different adjacent rooms. Another character could move two spaces instead of one, another player was able to choose where their zombie was placed, and another power allowed that player to automatically defeat zombies which where placed on the same space as their character.
The special powers complemented each other quite well, which is great because while using the special powers you’re forced to add two zombies on your turn instead of one. This really changed the math and meant that at the end of your turn you needed to make sure there were at least two zombies available to be placed.
Including the clones in the game added another level of strategy because while your clone is active you’re able to move it as a second piece on your turn. The downside is that you lose the use of your special ability. And because clones are added to and removed from the board when you roll a white face on the die, there were plenty of times when you were actually disappointed to roll a white.
Final Thoughts: Zombie Kidz Evolution Stole My Heart (and Both Kidneys)
I could go on and on raving about this game, but hopefully at this point you’ve either already ordered it or decided that it’s not for you. If you’re at all interested, I strongly suggest that you grab Zombie Kidz Evolution and enjoy it with your own kids; it’s an undeadly good time.
Who knows? You might even win.