Zombie Bus presents a rather grim cartoon style with some serious sarcastic elements. “I am Vegan! Next one Tastier!” is a particularly notable element of humor mixed with the horror theme.
Publisher: Sweet Games
Designer: Christophe Laures
Artist: Mary Pumpkins
Game Type: Cooperative
Game Type: Variable Player Powers
Game Type: Dice Rolling
Initial Year of Release: 2018
Age Range: 10+
Expected Playtime: 20-30
Number of Players: 2-5
Theme and What is it?
Zombies are attacking your school bus! Gather your equipment, bats, and if handy maybe even a fire extinguisher and hold off the horrific brutes! But holding them back is only part of the battle. A terrifying horde of zombies is approaching and you must help all the cheerleaders trapped on the bus to escape before they arrive.
Zombie bus is a cooperative dice rolling game. Players work together to overcome the zombies attacking the bus or each other. They also attempt to save cheerleaders. But do not think this to be a standard “We all win or we all lose” game. A special twist to the game is that cheerleaders and zombies have a victory point value and players can choose to be very helpful for a while and when the going gets tough… get going! A player can choose to abandon their fellows and escape to a news van (conveniently available for an escape route and to broadcast the heroism or cowardice of the protagonists but not at all useful in the battle).
Zombie bus has a Yahtzee style dice rolling mechanism. Roll your dice, keep some if you wish and roll whatever you wish again, keep some again if desired and a roll a third time. After the third roll, what you have is what you get.
Assign dice to wound zombies, rescue cheerleaders, or to open the ability to help your allies. Each unique hero has special abilities and ways to manipulate their dice. Too many zombies piled up behind the bus will result in a loss. Too many zombies piled up on a player will result in death (and thus a new heroic zombie attacking the bus) which causes that player to lose and probably the others soon after. Too much time passes trying to deal with all the threats will result in the horde descending upon the bus. Oh, that also makes you lose.
The ability to run away and flee like a coward is a key part of the game. A player can help their fellows by attracting the attention of dangerous zombies then fleeing. Of course, that player making the heroic sacrifice of removing those zombies from the play will lose if the heroes do succeed… So maybe they don’t grab any zombies and instead just flee with a shouted “later losers” over their shoulder. Of those who escape, the winner is whoever did the most useful work killing zombies and saving cheerleaders.
Zombie bus is a highly thematic dice rolling game. There is a lot of luck in how the zombies come out, how the dice results go, and in what order cheerleaders scramble for safety. Each game will play out completely differently. This gives it a high amount of replay value and Zombie Bus can be completed quite quickly once the rules are known.
Game Build Quality
Zombie bus has a simple set of board game components that blend well into the gameplay. Cardboard punchboards contain most of the player pieces, equipment, and standees. The zombies play out like a deck of cards with some stratified set up to make the horde come at the end and only a limited number of special zombies to enter in a single game. A set of dice and colored damage tokens round out the components.
Zombie Bus features an assortment of artwork that focuses on horror film tropes. Exposed brains, gore, blood, broken bones, etc. Zombie Bus presents a rather grim cartoon style with some serious sarcastic elements. “I am Vegan! Next one Tastier!” is a particularly notable element of humor mixed with the horror theme.
The semi-cooperative twist to Zombie Bus gives it a lot of its excitement. A tactical retreat drawing off dangerous zombies might give your allies the reprieve they need. But that means you lose if it was enough. You could always just wait till they are being overwhelmed and instead of taking care of those critical zombies at the bus… abandon them in a shameless retreat that is almost sure to leave them high and dry. Maybe take a hot cheerleader with you. Better to be alive and have a cheerleader or two.
Age Range & Weight
10+ is fine for the gameplay mechanics. But it might be slightly low for the thematic imagery and gore. Each child has a totally different threshold for this kind of content and I can see some even slightly younger being fine while others above the 10 mark still might struggle with it. The dice rolling decisions are reasonable for all ages to be able to grasp quickly and learn what good decisions look like.
Zombie bus fills a place in the market for a semi-cooperative dice rolling game that sets up and runs in a very quick time frame. The game has a dozen ways the game could play out. The order the cheerleaders can get stacked, the combination of player powers, and unique special zombies that will come out give a totally unique game experience.
I can name a half dozen other Yahtzee style rolling games. All of them have some sort of merit but none of them present as unique a mechanism as running away in disgrace only to win anyway. Or the double disgrace of running away laughing as you go than being humiliated as your once allies finish without you. This is easily my favorite part of the Zombie bus experience.
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