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Zombies!!! MidEvil
Reviewed by Eric Funk, © 2005

Format: Game
By:   Todd Breitenstein and Kerry Breitenstein
Publisher:   Twilight Creations
Genre:   Bash 'em up horror
Released:   August 2005
Review Date:   December 19, 2005
RevSF Rating:   8/10 (What Is This?)

MidEvil is a standalone game in Twilight Creations' Zombies!!! line. Instead of facing zombies you are up against skeletons, and to any Army of Darkness fan the idea of fighting through hordes of skeletons definitely has its appeal.

The game’s main goal is to find the dreaded book, the Necronomicon. Starting at the Altar tile, players place map tiles and fight skeletons until the Graveyard tile is flipped. The first player to get his pawn to the Graveyard, grab the single copy of the Necronomicon found there and then race back to the Altar tile wins the game. Alternatively, a player can achieve victory by accruing 30 points worth of defeated skeletons in his pool. Not 30 skeletons, but 30 points worth, as they come in three colors: Defeated white skeletons are worth a single point, red two, and blue three. My friendly local game store owner said, “It’s so that you can play poker with them.”

Setup is simple, but the rules seem to assume that someone has played the various Zombies!!! prequels (or is that sequels, chronologically speaking?). For example, it assumes that skeletons cannot walk between trees. Also, the example pictures in the rules require a magnifying glass to read the corner writing. Either dedicating more space or having a "blown up" shot of the corner text would have been more useful than two pictures of tiles (out of four) that are never referred to. Despite it being a standalone game, "MidEvil"is printed in the corner of every tile.

Rolling the Bones

Play follows this order:

  1. Draw a tile and attach it to the board.
  2. Combat the skeletons in your square, moved there by yourself or another player.
  3. Draw Event cards until you hold three.
  4. Roll a die for movement (doubled if you have a horse "item"), and start moving, fighting any skeletons whose square you step onto, picking up extra Life Tokens as you go.
  5. Roll one die and move that many skeletons one square.
  6. Choose whether to discard a single card or not, signifying the end of your turn.

A player always begins his turn with a hand of three Event cards. These allow him to not only "break" the rules in various ways, but also to "collect" weapons from skeletons. Perhaps it is a carryover from previous Zombies!!! titles, but the pawn/Life Tokens are portrayed with a gun and sword, and neither guns nor swords appear in the game. Weaponry found in the game can be divided into three categories: melee weapons that provide a +1 or +2 bonus in a single fight each turn, ranged weapons that cost skeletons to operate, and one-shot mega-weapons that affect an entire neighboring tile. Other cards allow a player to reroll his dice or those of his opponents, to teleport his opponents to an adjacent tile on the board, amongst others.

Movement of both skeletons and pawns follow the same "logical and orthogonal" rules. You cannot pass though walls, and movement is never diagonal. A pawn is moved a number of squares equal to a throw of a die per turn, doubled if the player has deployed the coveted horse card.

Pawn-skeleton combat is simple: Roll a die and on any roll of four plus, the skeleton is defeated. As this is only a 50-50 proposition, after rolling the die a player can chose to "spend" skeletons from his pool of defeated skeletons, returning them back to the box.

Spending captured skeletons adds their point value to the attack roll. The effect of placing them in the box is to differentiate them from the skeleton pool, from which tiles are populated. A player can spend any number of skeletons that he has in his pool, although each point spent takes him farther from the target of 30 needed to achieve victory. The rules also point out that combat "does not give change." For example, a die roll of 3 only needs +1, a white skeleton, to become a success, but if the player only has three-point blue skeletons in his pool he will waste the extra two points.

At the beginning of the game, or if the player chooses not to use skeletons, he can only reroll the die by spending a Life Token. If a player has insufficient skeletons and Life Tokens to defeat a skeleton, his turn ends and his pawn dies and respawns back at the Altar. Life Tokens are replenished frequently as certain tiles indicate how many skeletons and extra Life Tokens need to be seeded on the new tile when drawn. If none are indicated on the new tile, a die is rolled to indicate the number of points' worth of skeletons to be placed there.

The rules on skeleton movement seem to suggest that it will always be toward opponents, but all of our games to date have seen the players sending skeletons towards their pawn to collect them! As map tiles are placed, there is a layer of strategy involved in placing the color of skeletons with the intent of fuelling specific Event cards in your hand. Normal greed says to put the three-point (blue) skeletons first, as you get the most points for killing them, thus rapidly approaching the 30-point victory condition. On the other hand, most Event cards that require skeletons specify that they must be red (two points) or white (one point).

The only direct player-vs.-player combat occurs when one player possesses the Necronomicon item and another player moves his pawn to share the same square. Each player rolls a die, the result further modified by any skeletons they wish to spend. The victor gets the book. The Web site's FAQ adds that the loser automatically dies, respawning at the Altar, itself the destination of the winner. The trek is made more difficult as the other players will use every Event card possible to stop the possessor of the book, including rerolling dice, teleporting his pawn to the other side of walls, stealing from his skeleton pool, and reanimating them between his pawn and the Altar.

Armies of Darkness

The components come in zip-lock bags, separating the skeletons from the pawns and Life Tokens, as well as rubber bands for the cards and tiles. This is a nice change, not needing to provide my own packaging after opening a new game. The down side is that the cards and tiles are tightly shrink-wrapped, making it difficult to open them without damaging the contents. Unfortunately, this game is so generous with its components such that all those skeletons do not compress well and the box cannot be closed completely. The actual components comprise 30 map tiles, 60 Event cards, 50 Life Tokens, 6 pawns, a hundred "heavily armed and angry skeleton warriors" (divided into 40 White, 40 Red, and 20 blue), and two dice, one red and one blue.

Physically, MidEvil is well presented. The cards and tiles are crisp and easy to shuffle and hold. Tiles and grids are easily visible. A nice touch is that it comes with its own packaging. The bad news is that the rules assume that you have played the previous games in the series.

And perhaps it was a low sampling, but throughout the game the other players and I noted that the blue die seemed to prefer to roll high, and the red, low, and took advantage of that. (Future matches will have us bring our own dice.) At the beginning of the game, combat proved both gruelling and frustrating, with players going through perhaps all 5 Life Tokens unable to roll a 4,5, or 6 on the red die. Sometimes it is also hard to differentiate the red, white, and blue pawns from the skeletons. Perhaps they should have been made in another color. Standing up the Life Tokens made them hard to differentiate from skeletons and pawns, so we placed them lying down.

Playing with just two or three players, victory by points seems most likely outcome. To extend the game, especially with four or more players, I would suggest following the original Zombies!!! rule of placing the Graveyard tile at the bottom of the shuffled tile pile. In this situation, it is possible that the skeleton pool will be depleted more quickly, forcing the players to find the Necronomicon and return it to the Altar.

With its fine quality components — let down only by the merely adequate rules and pawns — and play mechanics that resolve themselves quickly, MidEvil is fun and enjoyable. Its high random factors, the mechanics and the drawing of the tiles in particular, give the game plenty of replay value.

If you come to this game expecting shotguns and chainsaws, prepare to be disappointed. Although MidEvil is a nod to Army of Darkness, it is not wholly based on that movie. If taking down hordes of skeletons with mace, crossbow, or explosives is more to your liking, then MidEvil is the game for you.

Eric Funk has been trapped in time often enough to know the proper weapons to use against rampaging hordes of undead. Melee weapons do not require ammunition. . . .

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