“Once upon a time, she was looking for love…Now she’s looking for lunch!”
It’s a funny pitch, right? That’s the text front and center on the box cover of the new game Zombie Princess and the Enchanted Maze, designed by Andrew Beardsley and published by WizKids. The intro in the rulebook is even funnier, so kudos to Beardsley and the writing team at WizKids for coming up with a funny premise, setting the stage with such gusto.
Unfortunately, the good times end there. This is not for lack of a quality production or a smooth rulebook. The reasons for my sadness go a little deeper than that, which is interesting because Zombie Princess and the Enchanted Maze is not that deep at all.
Lay Those Tiles!
In Zombie Princess (let’s go with this shorter title for the rest of the article), players take on the roles of knights from a nearby kingdom who hear the loud, distant scream of a princess. What happened? Is she in trouble? It’s a game, so she must need rescuing!
Each of the 2-4 players in the game will then enter a corner of the Enchanted Maze, where they make another discovery: the princess is now a ZOMBIE princess, so instead of saving her, it’s time to make a beeline to the other corner of the maze to grab a key and escape.
Armed with only 3 face-up maze tiles and your wits, each turn has 2 phases. First, you need to roll a die to see if the princess takes actions starting from her 3-D castle structure at the center of the game board. If you roll a number, you are in control of the princess to lay down a tile adjacent to the princess then move her towards other players, in the hopes of taking a bite of your competition. Usually, the princess can only move a tile or two away, if at all. But if you roll ZR—Zombie Rampage!—you can move the princess as far as she can legally move between connected tiles.
Whether the princess moves or not, you’ll enter the knight phase. Here, you’ll place a tile, move your knight, and rotate a single unoccupied tile in any order to get closer to grabbing your key. You can also rotate a tile that has your own knight on it, creating interesting opportunities with each tile’s layout of empty spaces and walls.
So what happens when the princess touches another player? That player becomes a zombie! Flip out their starting, full-body knight pawn and swap in the zombified version—always a fun moment, when you add in the token with tattered clothes and broken limbs that looks sorta like your player a moment ago. For the rest of the game, that player takes a princess action then their own action, with severely limited movement abilities for thematic reasons. New goal: eat the other remaining human knight pawns before they can get out of the maze.
The human knight who grabs their key and gets back to the center of the board first will win. Unless, of course, everyone gets zombified, in which case everyone loses!
There’s an advanced version of the game, which is where you should start if you’re playing this game with seasoned gamers who play a lot of strategy titles. In the advanced version, you’ll get a handful of extra action tokens, one of which can be used on each turn to strengthen your options. This mode didn’t add or subtract much for our group, but it did make the game easier for experienced players to use the princess or their newly-zombified self to catch other players.
Meeple Mountain always enjoys the physical aspect of WizKids game productions, and Zombie Princess is no different. The starting princess castle adds nice depth to the look of the board, and the acrylic pieces really shine. Walking the princess pawn around the board looks great and the plastic standee never tipped over randomly during my plays (although my big, clumsy hands did accidentally sweep all of the pieces near the castle during one game when I was rotating the castle tile).
But the color palette in Zombie Princess is strangely bland. The acrylics dampen the look of the human version of each player character, to the point where it isn’t exactly clear which character is black versus blue versus yellow. And the tiles are very plain, with most tiles coming up as “same-y” even if the walls are different on many of the tiles.
One issue I’ve had with Zombie Princess: none of the games feel terribly different from each other. In a 3-player game this is especially true—most of the time, 2 of the players will try to walk the princess towards the unoccupied starting corner of the map to make room for walking unimpeded to their opposite corner. In a 2-player game (which I cannot stress to you enough that this should be avoided) you take actions similar to how the game Labyrinthos plays. On your turn, you’ll move the princess 1-2 spaces towards your opponent. On your opponent’s turn, they basically hit the “undo” button.
The Fun Factor
Ultimately, Zombie Princess is a miss; it’s just not very interesting and the fun factor was non-existent in each of my plays. This is a surprise because Meeple Mountain has had great success enjoying other light WizKids games such as Dungeon Scrawlers and Super-Skill Pinball: Ramp It Up!. Save for the bland green look of the finished game state, Zombie Princess looks good on my table but the gameplay is not very deep for a strategy title.
As a family title, I imagine Zombie Princess will work better, if I can get my daughter past the theme (she is frightened of the idea of becoming a zombie; so far, she won’t play with my wife and I). The decision space and the downtime both lead me to think Zombie Princess fits best as a 30-minute after-dinner game with a couple of 10-year-olds and their parents, who won’t mind the very swingy moments I’ve had in my plays. How swingy? In my first 3-player game, with one Zombie Rampage die roll I was able to catch another player who had just gotten his key by walking the princess 9 tiles in his direction—and to his doom.
But as a 2-player game for adults? My wife flat-out said she won’t play Zombie Princess with me again. While we only played this once together, we had a number of turns where we rolled an X (no princess action), meaning that many of our turns were as simple as place/rotate tile, move a little, pass. The princess was a non-factor, and because she prefers a less confrontational style of play, she only occasionally took actions to try and block my path with the princess. But it’s so easy to undo the other player’s actions that this tug of war became drama-free.
My wife and I played Kingdomino Origins after our game of Zombie Princess, and if you are just looking to lay tiles, Kingdomino Origins wins the day. You can find the mechanics Zombie Princess offers in many other more entertaining games!