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Posted on Mar 19, 2013 in Boardgames

Rise of the Zombies – Card Game Review

By Rick Martin

Rise of the Zombies! The Zombie Apocalypse Survival Game. Card game review. Publisher: DVG. Designer: Dan Verssen. $39.99

Passed Inspection: Fun and fast paced co-operative card game. Easy to learn.

Failed Basic: Rules could use some clarifications.

Rise of the Zombies! The Zombie Apocalypse Survival Game is the newest release from Dan Verssen Games, a company known to gamers for high-quality solitaire military games such as Hornet Leader and Thunderbolt/Apache Leader.  (Click link to read Armchair General review.) This new release is a stark departure—it is a beer and pretzel card game in which players try to survive a zombie apocalypse. As such, the game is a hoot!


The box art is a beautiful (Or is that horrible?—I was raised by the Addams Family, so I can never be sure.) painting of horrid, decayed zombies advancing down a dark city street. Upon opening the box, the player is treated to a full-color rule book with examples and back stories for the characters in the game, action cards, zombie cards, character cards, wound and experience point markers, dice, stand-ups of each character (and stands to put them in) and a wonderful “Re-Animator” green timer.

The game has no mapboard, per se, but the location cards, which are mixed in with the action cards, are played on the table to form a “map.” Game play is pretty simple, but the players must work together to come up with a survival plan or they will end up zombie chow pretty darn quick.

The number of players affects several elements of the game, including the number of hit points (called “Health Points”) of each player’s character, the hand size for each player, and the overall threat level of the zombies as they are spawned each turn. The number of players and the difficulty level chosen determine the number of minutes allotted for game play. You see, game play is in real time—the “Re-Animator” green timer is set for a certain number of minutes; if time runs out before the players find the helicopter that is waiting to evacuate them from the city, the zombies break out 11 herbs and spices and chow down. Difficulty levels range from Introductory (85 minutes for a three- or four-player game, for example) to Insane (45 minutes for the same number of players).

This real-time feature creates an amazing sense of urgency, as the counter cannot be stopped for any reason. Well, maybe, if the players were attacked by a real group of zombies, one assumes they would be justified in stopping the timer while they fight them off—oh, wait, that’s covered in the rules on page 13, under “Stopping the Timer.” Nuts; the rules say that if a real zombie attack happens, the designer recommends not stopping the timer, but some players should “gather guns and ammo while the other players are playing cards.” Oh, well.

To begin a game, each player picks a character to control. Characters include a Boy Scout, a katana-welding historian, a biker, mercenary, cheerleader, scientist (with a mysterious secret no less) and more. Each character has its own stand-up marker and data card as well as starting weapon and skills, plus its own very entertaining bio in the back of the rulebook.

After establishing the number of players, group hit points, game time, characters, etc., it is time to get down to some zombie-killing goodness.

The survivors start out in a safe house. They have heard about a helicopter evacuating survivors from the city, and they must make a dash through the hordes of zombies searching for human flesh in order to reach the copter before it flies off and leaves them trapped with the undead. Each player draws a certain number of action cards. Some cards are weapons; some are items that can help; some are companions such as Beauty, a helpful German Shepherd dog; some are instant actions such as “dodge,” while others are skills such as “Cardio,” which allows the players to run away from threats. Also in the mix are location cards such as City Hall, Parking Lot or the deadly to explore Sewers. Attachment cards such as the Barricade can be added to locations to protect against zombie assaults. Each location is rated for how many zombies are potentially spawned there. Some are not too bad, while others are positively crawling with hordes of the deadly creatures. To equip certain items or use certain skills, the players may have to sacrifice experience points, which are usually only earned by killing zombies.

As our group found out the hard way, the first few turns should be spent equipping characters and trading items in order to properly defend yourselves from the marauding monsters. Once the group can handle themselves, a low infestation location should be played so that the group can leave the safe house and make their way towards the rescue helicopter. As the group gains better skills and weapons, they can then take on more dangerous locations.

A major part of the game is that the number of cards in your hand drops as your characters take more wounds. It is beneficial for the players to work together and keep an eye on their friends. Players can trade items, so items that heal wounds can be traded to help another player’s badly wounded character. In the worst-case scenario, the players can turn on each other using the Walking Dead–inspired “Otis Rule.” Fans of the Walking Dead TV series will know exactly what this means, but here is Dan Vessen’s advice on using this optional rule:

Both players freeze, dice held high, ready to roll. Do they roll? Do they stare at each other as the timer ticks down? All very dramatic stuff, and sure to ruin friendships. So, let it play out as dramatically as possible.

There are different types of zombies to be encountered in the game. Slow moving “loner” zombies, large groups of zombies, “fast” zombies and even groups of zombie dogs! Each zombie does a different amount of damage, and some can even attract more zombies to the attack.

The game is very challenging and is a blast for three or more people to play. Out of four games, our group has escaped in the helicopter one time using the “Introductory” rules. Even when the group dies, the game doesn’t feel like a wasted effort, and everyone had plenty of fun.

At times, however, the rules are a little confusing, and we had to read certain sections a few times to get the drift of how to play. There is no index, only a table of contents, which can lead to much page-flipping to look up a rule—while the darn timer keeps running.

Nonetheless, fans of zombie horror will appreciate this fast-paced and very fun card game. Rise of the Zombies! is a great game and a no-brainer for horror fans!

Some cool web content (including a special Zombie Santa card and training videos) is available at

Armchair General Rating: 90 %

Solitaire Rating: (1 is low, 5 is high): 3; the game can be played solitaire but thrives on social interaction. A 1-player game would not be that interesting, based upon the rules at this time.

About the Author
A college film instructor and small business owner, Richard Martin has also worked in the legal and real estate professions, is involved in video production, film criticism, sports shooting and is an avid World War I and II gamer who can remember war games that came in plastic bags and cost $2.99 (he’s really that old)!