Tabletop Terrors: Take a Gamble with Zombie Dice and Cthulhu Dice from Steve Jackson Games
In Part 2 of Tabletop Terrors, we jump to the completely opposite side of the gaming universe from such immersive, detailed titles as Mansions of Madness, which we covered in Part 1. Here we have two casual dice-based games set in very different horror sub-genres.
Zombie Dice and Cthulhu Dice are both published by the legendary Steve Jackson Games. I remember playing Car Wars when I was VERY young, and Jackson is still at it as one of the biggest and most successful game companies out there.
Zombie Dice is a very quick and simple game using 13 custom dice and a cup for dice sorting.
Play is simple: You're a zombie; the dice are your potential victims. You shake your cup of dice and select three at random. You roll those dice and see what luck you've had. You're a zombie so you're looking for Brains, of course. You're a classic zombie, so Feet mean your prey has successfully run away, denying you a score. The other possible result is what you're trying to avoid: The survivors are armed, and a Shotgun means you've taken a hit.
After the initial roll, you set aside any Brains and Shotguns. Brains are your score, but three Shotguns send you to zombie heaven and you lose ALL the Brains you've collected, which means zero score this round.
Push your luck all you want. Keep the Feet and choose new dice from the cup until you have three, and roll again. The goal is to collect as many Brains as possible during your turn and avoid those Shotguns.
This game is incredibly popular both for its simplicity and quick, easy fun. It works for two or as many players as you want to bother scoring. The first player to 13 Brains wins the game!
There's also a sequel of sorts available, an expansion called Zombie Dice 2: Double Feature. This three-dice set includes The Hunk, The Hottie, and Santa Claus. Yes, Santa Claus. (Did I mention Steve Jackson games tend to have a decidedly bent sense of humor?) The Hunk has a Double-Shotgun icon (two hits in one!), but his Brains are worth double if you eat them. The Hottie has two Shotguns and three Feet, so she's both hard to catch and dangerous. Santa brings you gifts, like two Brains, an Energy Drink that makes you a fast zombie, and a Helmet that makes you harder to kill. Combine them all for a wacky game full of twists and turns.
Cthulhu Dice may have a similar name, but play is entirely different and fits the Lovecraft mythos well.
The game consists of only one special die and a number of 'sanity' counters. The die has different markings that dictate what happens in the game as each player rolls.
Players are cultists, each trying to earn favor with everyone's favorite sleeping tentacle-fest by offing competing cults. You do so by using dark magic to steal their sanity and drive them mad! Making things interesting is old wiggly-beard himself: Cthulhu is also a player here, and ALL players can lose to him!
Each player begins with a set number of sanity marbles (yes...you lose your marbles...damn, I love Steve Jackson) and rolls the die once each turn after targeting an opponent. Markings can make you lose sanity to an opponent, steal sanity from an opponent, or steal from/lose to Cthulhu in the center of the play area.
Once the 'caster' rolls and does his deed, the victim is forced to roll to respond. This continues until one player remains with sanity or all players have lost their sanity to Cthulhu. Insane players still play, but they basically represent Cthulhu at that point as all gains go to him.
Play is quick, fun, and best with three or more players. Two can play, but without being able to choose a victim, there's no strategy involved, simply luck. As with Zombie Dice, play can be learned in a single turn, and the themes (which are merely suggested) are appropriate for most ages. (The little ones can enjoy Dino Hunt, a re-skinned version of Zombie Dice with a more kid-friendly theme that has far less brain eating.)
One of the great things about Steve Jackson Games is that he's a marketing genius and provides a metric buttload of add-ons and accessories for every game he makes. Zombie Dice has dice bags, cases, score pads, and even shot glasses. Cthulhu Dice has many variant dice in different colors and materials (even solid metal and huge, oversized designs) as well as bags and even plush tentacles!
Both games are extremely fast, portable, and durable for play on the go. All you need is a small, flat surface and a way to keep score in Zombie Dice, and you're ready to roll. Literally.
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