Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Mall of Horror board game

Note: This is just the rough draft of a review that I wrote for buyzombie.com. Please check out the polished article here: http://www.buyzombie.com/2012/03/05/reviews-of-zombie-related-things/mall-of-horror-review/

If the Zombie Apocalypse has taught us anything, it’s that a shopping mall is just about the worst place to be in the event of the breakdown of society caused by hordes of the flesh-eating undead. Mall of Horrors wants to make sure it’s a lesson you never, ever forget.
Mall of horrors is a board game for 3 to 6 players where each player takes control of a group of survivors competing with the other groups of survivors for, well... survival. Eventually rescue will arrive, but not until only a small fraction of the starting survivors remain.

There are six different rooms you can hide your survivors in, and each turn you have to move your survivors around. But each turn, zombies show up to different rooms at random or when certain conditions are met, and when there are more zombies trying to get into a room than there are survivors trying to barricade it, the room gets overrun and someone gets eaten. This is where the game gets really cutthroat. You see, the survivor is chosen by vote, so if you’re in a room that gets overrun, make sure you have more survivors in that room than anyone else if you want to keep yours alive. Once the victim is chosen the other survivors hightail it out of there while the zombies are busy eating. The good news, at least, is that the zombies then clear out, so you it's relatively safe to start hiding in there again. A couple rooms are more advantageous than others, such as the security room, which lets players there vote on who gets to be security chief for the turn, or the parking lot, which allows you to search for cards to help you against the zombies. Of course, a couple rooms are less advantageous, such as the grocery store, which has so many entrances that it will always be overrun after four zombies besiege it, or the parking lot, where the zombies will always eat someone there when a survivor is present.
On the topic of survivors, your groups each consist of a tough jock, a crazy guy with a gun, a blond bimbo, and an optional innocent little girl. Each has a different point value and special rule. The jock is worth a lot and can keep out more zombies, the guy with the gun is worth fewer but has an extra vote, the blonde bimbo is worth the most points by far but attracts more zombies, and the little girl does nothing at all and is worth the least amount of points by far, but you feel like an incredibly horrible person (or at least you should) if you let her die. She’s just an innocent little girl. She even has a teddy bear and everything. How could you let her die? But the question the game asks isn't "What will you do to survive?" The question it asks is "What will you do to win?"
So, anyway, after the initial setup, the security chief rolls four dice and keeps the results secret at first. These represent which rooms more zombies are going to be showing up at. If the security chief was elected that turn, then they can look at the dice to see where they are arriving to. This represents having access to the security cameras. Then everyone secretly chooses a room to move one of their survivors to. Once everyone has chosen, everyone moves a survivor to that room, and then the zombies show up. The dice are revealed and a new zombie is placed at each corresponding number. If one room has more survivors than any other, then the zombies smell all that fresh meat and an extra zombie shows up. If one room has more blond bimbos than any other than all the screaming attracts another zombie. This is when you check to see if there are enough zombies to overrun the room's defenses and eat someone. So, whatever you do, try not to end up with a single room full of blondes. They'll end up as lunch for sure. If one room ends up with no survivors in it and 8 zombies show up, then the room is considered to be completely overrun and you can't send anyone there anymore.The Parking Lot is the exception, as it can have any number of zombies.
The various cards help out, either by killing zombies, giving extra votes, letting you move a survivor to a different room, and stuff like that. The biggest problem with the cards is that it's so hard to get them. You have to have someone in the parking lot, and which is the quickest way to get your survivor killed. But, every time you do draw cards, you get two, one to keep and one to give to another player, so it's also a nice way to buy votes and keep your survivors alive.
Once enough survivors have been killed, the army shows up with a helicopter rescue, and points are tallied. Ties are broken by number of cards still in your hand. If that's still a tie, then the tie stands.

Overall, it's a fun game. Just make sure that you and your friends can agree that it's a just a game and no one will get mad. I'm not saying that people will get mad, but you need to be aware of whether or not your friends are capable of playing such a cutthroat game. I know a few people that really can't, and therefore I make sure never to play this game with them. You see, there's a difference between winning a game by being luckier in your dice rolls or have a better strategy than the other players and winning a game where you win by being a better politician and voting all your friends to a gruesome death.
There are a couple of problems, but they are rather minor. First off, the little girl is considered an optional rule, if you want to make things last longer when you have fewer players, so only half of the "teams" have a little girl. And while I suppose it makes sense for the Men in Black to not have a little girl with them, why don the cops have a little girl while the rednecks don't? It kind of limits which color you can play with three players.
Also, the game only comes with thirty zombie figures. While I haven't yet run out of zombies playing the game, I've come very close a couple of times.
Finally, the game is French in origin, I believe, (if anyone knows differently, please correct me) and the fact that it was translated into English shows. It's not a terrible translation. In fact it's pretty good, but there are a few tells that, to the trained eye, are rather glaring and obvious. I don't want to strait out accuse them of not hiring a native English speaker to translate the rulebook, because it is entirely possible for a native speaker to make such mistakes/translation choices. However I would say that a few romance language artifacts found in the translation mixed with the stereotype of French pride would put the odds in favor them having stuck with a native French speaker.

Bottom Line: The game isn't new; it came out in 2005 and I think that it might be out of print, but if can find it on your local store shelves, you haven't had a chance to check it out yet, give it a spin. However, since the publisher recently announced that they're soon going to releasing a "sequel" called City of Horror, you may want to wait for that to come out. If it's anything like Mall of Horror, it's probably something you'll want to check out. We'll try and have coverage for you as more news appears.

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