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Review: 'City of Horror' (Board Game)

ICv2 Stars: 2.5 (out of 5)

Published: 11/06/2012 02:39am
City of Horror
Publisher:  Repos Production (distributed through Asmodee)
Release Date: October 2012
MSRP:  $49.99
Number of Players:  3 to 6
Playing Time:  About 90 minutes
Age Rating:  13 and up
Product #:  COH-MU01
ICv2 Rating:  2.5 Stars out of 5
 
Zombies continue to be all the rage these days, somehow staggering their undead way through every branch of popular culture.  It is no surprise, then, that many game companies are capitalizing on the trend.  Design house Repos Production, distributed through Asmodee in the US, has joined the horde with this re-implementation of Nicolas Normandon's 2005 hit, Mall of Horror.
 
Summary:  In the now-familiar scenario, a small pack of still-living human survivors struggle to hold out against the teeming horde of zombies long enough for the rescue helicopter to arrive.  But the pilots of this rescue flight are no fools:  they will only pick you up if you can prove that you aren't a zombie by injecting yourself with "the cure" right in front of their eyes!
 
Being the selfish survivor-types that they are, however, your fellow humans are not going to help you make it.  Instead, they will callously throw you to the zombie hordes to save themselves at the first opportunity.  This is accomplished through a "vote them off the island" mechanic:  When the zombies attack, the humans vote for which unfortunate slob gets tossed to the hungry horde.
 
Make it through four hours (turns) of zombie terror, clutching your hypo full of cure desperately in hand, and you’ll be whisked away to safety.  If not… well, hopefully you like the taste of brains.
 
Originality:  It would be easy to dismiss City of Horror as "yet another zombie game"--a charge that is not entirely unfair--but the game is quite different from most other titles in the genre.  This is not a game about slaughtering hordes of faceless enemies.  Rather this is a game almost entirely focused on manipulating the other players.
 
Presentation:  The game has dark and gritty artwork everywhere, and the quality of that work is quite good.  Even the box insert is completely decorated with zombie apocalypse artwork.  The game tokens are attractive, intuitive, and clever.  The cure, for example, is presented as hypodermic-shaped tokens.  The characters look like they could have lept out of the pages of a good comic book.  Unfortunately, they chose to buck the plastic trend, and went with card-board standees instead.  While the artwork on these is good, there is something about the tactile pleasure of having a horde of plastic zombies chasing you down that two-dimensional pieces cannot replicate.
 
Everything is language-neutral, relying on pictures to communicate the effects of cards and character abilities.  This is a mixed blessing:  most of the icons are intuitive and communicate their concepts nicely.  Other times, they are too obscure.  There is a handy reference chart, though, and once the symbols are learned it does help the game move along.
 
Quality:  Sadly, this is where City of Horror really fell short for me.  The copy that I received warped very badly during our first game (I am told that this problem has since been corrected).  The rulebook needed to be more clearly written, and better organized to make it easier to look up rules during play.  Thankfully, the rules are short and have plenty of well-illustrated examples, so that is easily overcome.  My biggest complaint, however, was the icon reference I mentioned above.  Not all of the cards are referenced, and some of the symbols are not mentioned at all.  This caused us quite a bit of trouble in our first game.
 
Marketability:  With Asmodee's reputation for quality, a reasonable price point, fine graphics, and a hugely popular theme, there is definitely a market for City of Horror.  The box is hefty for its size, with good graphics and an easy-to-read logo.  The back of the box beautifully illustrates the game components and summarizes the theme of the game, but offers no details on game play.  On the plus side, it includes rules in four languages.
 
Overall:  If you are a fan of games with a very high level of player interaction, and enjoy games that have a lot of negotiation and back-stabbing, City of Horror is a good choice for you.  It is almost a pure negotiation game, much like Diplomacy.  But the game is very light on mechanics, and offers very few tactical and strategic options.  The various character abilities are not well-balanced, and there is a huge random element on which characters and action cards you will have.  If you overlook the production quality issues, City of Horror is a worthy addition to the zombie board game genre, and makes a good casual game for players that don't tend to hold a grudge.  But for serious gamers who want a challenging tactical or strategic experience, they had best do their zombie hunting elsewhere.  I give this game 2.5 out of 5.

--William Niebling
 
 
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