When you hear "tabletop game" you'll often think of a few standard elements. You'll picture a board, pieces for that board, and a whole bunch of other stuff put together in a box. But there's a growing subset of tabletop games that you can fit in your pocket, and Zombie Dice (developed by Steve Jackson Games) is one of them.
The copy of Zombie Dice we used belongs to my friend and is depicted with the optional brain case. I'd never played it before, and my buddy suggested that we give it a try since we had a few minutes to kill. The rules were quite simple and we were able to squeeze in a few rounds while we waited for our tabletop group to get together.
Zombie Dice has you and your friends playing zombies chasing after hapless victims. Each die has three different symbols on it. A brain represents a victim you've successfully slaughtered, footprints represent a victim that's run away, and a blast symbol represents a victim who has shot you in the head with a shotgun.
There are three different colors of die: green, yellow, and red. Each color represents how favorable the distribution of the three symbols is. A green die has three brains, two footsteps, and one shotgun blast. A yellow die has two brains, two footsteps, and two shotgun blasts. The dreaded red die has one brain, two footsteps, and three shotgun blasts. A set of Zombie Dice includes six green dice, four yellow dice, and three red dice.
Gameplay is a relatively straightforward press-your-luck style of game. All thirteen dice are placed in a cup, bag, or some other form of container. A player randomly draws three dice and rolls them. Dice that come up brains are put off to the left and banked as a temporary score. Footsteps are placed in the center in a "roll again" mechanic. Shotgun blasts are placed to the right as a damage counter.
Once you've rolled your first three dice, you can elect to roll again and risk the amount of brains you've acquired so far. The player keeps any footsteps dice and draws new ones until they have a total of three. Both brains and damage are persistent with each successive roll, and once you rack up three shotgun blasts you lose all of the brains you haven't yet banked. Cautious play might be the smart thing to do, but riskier strategies can lead to a sooner victory. The first player to thirteen brains wins the game.
RNG being what it is, it's possible for a player to get many brains in one turn. Indeed, if their luck is favorable, it's entirely possible for a player to acquire all thirteen brains needed to win before they take three shotgun blasts. I've personally seen as many as nine brains picked up in one turn in the gameplay sessions that we've done over the years.
My tabletop group has taken to playing a couple of rounds while we wait for everyone to get together. Zombie Dice has practically zero setup other than "Take all the dice and put them in a cup." Players can keep track of their score in their head or on paper.
The dice themselves were a matte black color and seemed to be pretty well-made. When your entire game is essentially thirteen dice it's important that they're up to par, and Steve Jackson games created a quality product in Zombie Dice. The optional Brain Case is useful for carrying the dice around, but it can easily be replaced by any other sort of container that can comfortably hold thirteen dice, such as a small box or a standard dice bag.
Zombie Dice is a game that can fit in your pocket and be played in a few minutes. Heck, it's possible for the game to be over in the first turn! It's great for when you have time to kill and don't have room to set up a massive, epic board game that takes six hours to play through. As tabletop games go, Zombie Dice is elegant in its simplicity. Anyone can pick it up and learn how to play it in a few minutes.
The copy of Zombie Dice used for this review was provided by a friend of the author.
What do you think of Zombie Dice? Are there any other pocket tabletop games that you're fond of? Let us know in the comments below!