I have a kid who loves zombies, so when I saw Feeding Zombies, a new game from Mangrove Games (who recently supplied ATGN with a copy of their recent game DIG to give away in competition) I had to find out more. When I found out they are offering a printable copy of the game for review – in black and white with colour rulebook, compared to the finished product’s full colour for everything – on their current Kickstarter campaign page, I grabbed it up. I’d just finished printing it when I heard about the DIG competition, so it seemed like a good opportunity. This game wasn’t given to us for review, I just happened to come across it. Feeding Zombies may not contain brain chomping, but it looked like delicious fun.
‘You are a restaurant Chef facing a horde of Zombies invading your kitchen. To survive this apocalypse you will have to gather every bit of food you can get your hands on and throw it towards your opponent in order to attract the Zombies to her instead of you! Make special menus and unleash more effective attacks, arm yourself in case the Zombies get too close and choose your strategy carefully.’
This quick card game is made up of Food cards (including Knife cards), Zombie cards, Menu cards, and Chef tokens.
The Food and Knife cards are compiled into a deck and shuffled, with each player being given five cards for their hand, and the remaining deck put face down to one side. The Zombie cards are shuffled, with five being laid in a row parallel to the Food deck, and the remaining deck put face down at the end of the row. The Menu cards are shuffled, three selected and placed face up perpendicular to the Food deck, with the remaining cards put to one side. A discard pile for each will start running next to the respective decks.
Each zombie can be attracted by certain food items shown on its card; if you have at least one of those Food items in your hand, you use it to move the Zombie card one card length towards your opponent (called ‘throwing’ food at it), with a new Zombie taking its place in the original row. Knife cards can take out the zombie closest to you, but there aren’t many Knife cards. You can only tempt the end Zombie in a column, with the rest of the Zombies in line behind it shifting forward to follow the lead one and a fresh Zombie from the deck always filling the new empty place in the main line. Once a player has four Zombies in a column on their side, they’ve lost. Players can each make two actions on their turn; actions being: throw food at a zombie, swap for a Menu card, use a Knife or Menu card. Each player builds their hand back up at the end of each turn too, so if you get the right cards in you can make an aggressive march towards your opponent (balanced out by not being able to tempt the same zombie twice in your turn) and end the game quickly, but strategy is often a wise path.
A player can swap two of their Food cards for a Menu card, according to which types of Food card it requires, and this grants a special ability – moving a Zombie from your side to your opponent’s side, or being a wild card for any Food card, for example. These are optional, and the rules recommend leaving them out for beginners and focusing on the Zombie’s special moves instead. The Zombies fall into three types: standard, lightning, and ninja; while the standard can only make a shambling march towards its victim, the lightning and ninja zombies have special moves that can be activated by offering multiple Food cards that it desires, rather than just one. Jumping sides or lanes, they can make the game unpredictable and turn a losing streak into a sudden win, or vice versa.
The Chef tokens are another optional part of the game – there are a couple of options for using them. There are six, three for each player, and each has a white placid chef face on one side and a red angry chef face on the other. Using them as life tokens can extend the game; rather than losing with too many zombies, it takes a life point, where you switch a token from placid face to angry face. They can also have extra game uses like swapping Food cards for getting tokens back, or sacrificing one for a Menu card. Once all a player’s chefs are angry face up, they’ve lost.
The game is for 1-2 players (you can play with just yourself), about 15 minutes a pop, and aimed at age 10+.
The solo version of the game is played basically the same, but against an imaginary opponent. You have to move Zombies towards yourself, and figure out how to not beat yourself; you can make it easier or harder with how many (if any) Chef tokens you and/or your invisible opponent has.
I played it as two player, against a nine-year-old who has experience with card games, and they picked it up fine. We played using the Menu cards, but didn’t use the Chef tokens.
This was quite fun. Ignoring the Chef tokens, with the game finishing as soon as someone had four Zombies in a lane on their side, meant that each game went quickly (no more than ten minutes, I think), so we were able to play a few games in a row. My opponent favoured the aggressive march approach I mentioned before, while I favoured strategy, and we both won and lost pretty evenly. Being able to make two actions means focusing on the Zombies can get them moving up fast at times, but using the strategy of Menu cards and carefully saving the right Food cards to use a certain Zombie’s type abilities means you can make some sudden leaps forward or cut down the number on your side handily, though not very often.
The Food deck is nicely balanced, making sure the Knife cards can’t be overused since there aren’t many, and encouraging regular use of the cards in your hand, since saving any up for other uses means less slots for having a variety of cards to move the Zombies on your opponent’s side. I was once or twice stuck with an action still open to me but none of the right Food cards to tempt any of the Zombies towards the other player because two or three of the cards in my hand were being saved, but it didn’t happen often. The quick playing time doesn’t leave much opportunity for a long, multi-layered, cunning strategy against your opponent (I was planning to destroy that kid, but it was not to be), something which also encourages more opportunistic use of your cards.
Setting up the game and mastering the mechanics isn’t very hard, and I found the trickiest bit to be remembering what certain card abilities were. I had to keep going through the rule book to remind myself of what Menu cards did what (there are only three kinds, but I hadn’t exactly memorised them), and what the different type of Zombies could do (again, only three different kinds, but I hadn’t memorised which could do what). Of course, that’s what the rule book is for, and since the two pages I needed weren’t far from each other, looking them up just to remind myself each time was pretty quick. I think having some sort of quick reference guide summarising the special abilities of those cards – either a single page in the rule book that it can be left open at, or one larger card that can be easily accessible for the players to check – would be good, but I can easily make one myself for the future at least.
Of course, the one thing you’ve all noticed about the game so far, is that cute pixel art. Combined with the game layout it absolutely seems designed to be reminiscent of old arcade and video games. The Zombies especially are adorable, with many different designs, all sporting big chibi heads and vacant hungry eyes, blood dribbling down. Although the game was developed in France, the types of food used are often Asian style; leeks, octopus, etc. alongside burgers and drumsticks. It’s enough to make you hungry. It sounds strange, but I also especially liked the background on the Food deck cards, with its collaged pattern of the different foods (and the game name on a white band across it).
All in all, this was a really charming game, and we both had fun playing it. You can guess that my kid is a fan of Plants Vs Zombies, so battling zombies advancing in lanes (and using plants to do it) while keeping track of what different zombies do was second nature to them. It can take a bit of room to play once you’ve got lanes of Zombies going, but the quick game time means it doesn’t get out of hand, and keeps you wanting to play again. Use strategy or brute force, and crow with triumph when your opponent’s kitchen is overrun with zombies desiring their foodstuffs. I enjoyed it enough that I have backed the campaign to get a proper colour copy, because I can’t wait to see those cute zombies in all their gory glory.