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Circus Train (Second Edition) – A Board Game Review

The Omnipresent Magician

By Mitch Freedman

Circus Train Board game review

When you slide Circus Train out of its protective sleeve, the first thing to catch your eye is its garish, poster-bright red cardboard case.

Open it, and you are dazzled by a rainbow of laser-cut cardboard markers that must be  snapped apart to play the game…a kaleidoscope of shapes and colors that will become your clowns and elephants, lions and horses, the human cannonball and the sideshow freaks.

The game is remarkably simple. All you have to do is start your Circus Train out in Canada, then go to different cities Continue reading “Circus Train (Second Edition) – A Board Game Review”

Duel of Eagles – Board Game Errata

Designer Errata and Clarifications for Duel of Eagles

by Hermann Luttmann

Duel of Eagles: Board Game Preview
Hey all! I hope you’re enjoying the game. The reviews have been very positive so far and I’m really thrilled. Thanks for your support. Here’s a comprehensive list of things that may need clarifying and couple of small errors.
Continue reading “Duel of Eagles – Board Game Errata”

“Dawn of the Zeds” Board Game Erratum – 03-26-2013

Dawn of the Zeds Errata

by Victory Point Games

1. In 3.1 (Tutorial Scenario), the last sentence to the Scenario Specific Rule has been changed:
“When Fate cards ([11.0], page 21) result in a Tunnel Track location, choose any other Track (i.e., “Player’s choice”).”
Continue reading ““Dawn of the Zeds” Board Game Erratum – 03-26-2013″

Duel of Eagles: Mars-la-Tour 1870 Board Game Review



For the last two weeks, I’ve been spending quite a bit of time with Hermann Luttmann’s latest design, Duel of Eagles, which features an August 1870 battle between the French and Prussians during Franco-Prussian War in the vicinity of the town of Mars-La-Tour, France. Two Prussian Corps went up against the entire French Army of the Rhine, commanded by Marshall Francois Bazaine. The Prussians were victorious.
Continue reading “Duel of Eagles: Mars-la-Tour 1870 Board Game Review”

Duel of Eagles: The Battle of Mars-la-Tour – Board Game Preview

Game Preview

“What is certain beyond argument is that the war – and with it the future of Europe – was decided at Mars-la-Tour on 16 August 1870.”

– Otto von Bismarck, Versailles, 18 January 1871


The Battle of Mars-la-Tour was a critical turning point of not only the Franco-Prussian War, but arguably of European history. The French loss at this battle essentially led to the end of the Second Empire of Napoleon III and helped give birth to the Second Reich of the new German Empire. Why then has it received such scant treatment in the wargaming community? Other than Charles Vasey’s excellent Deathride for ATO and scenario treatments in various miniature gaming systems, this highly important battle has been ignored. Why is that?

For one thing, Mars-la-Tour has a reputation as being “just” a cavalry battle. This is thanks to von Bredow’s famous (and amazingly successful) “Deathride” cavalry charge, along with the huge cavalry battle fought outside the village of Yron at the end of the battle (and which was the last large pure cavalry engagement fought in western Europe). But more importantly, the military situation on the morning of 16 August, 1870 was quite an unusual one.


The entire French Army of the Rhine, almost 130,000 men and under the command of the newly-appointed Marshal Francois Bazaine, was moving ponderously out of the Metz fortifications toward Verdun. The goal was to escape the swiftly advancing Prussian pincers and join up with French Emperor Napoleon III (who had earlier escaped Metz) and a new army near Chalons. However, Bazaine carried out his task in an inexplicably lethargic manner. He seemed to have been paralyzed by the heft of his new command responsibilities and/or by the looming threat of two pursuing German armies. These burdens were just too much for him to bear and his resulting plan of action was no plan at all – Bazaine simply dawdled and ached for the protection of the fortress walls around Metz. In fact, the Prussian armies had become strung out and, while advancing quickly, were somewhat blindly searching for the location of the French army.

The Prussian command assumed that the French were much farther along, well on their way to Verdun. When Rheinbaben’s 5th Cavalry Division first spotted the French tents early that August morning outside of Vionville, the troopers assumed at first that they had encountered the rearguard of the escaping French army. To their shock, they soon realized that they were instead staring at the van of the entire French force. So what happened next? Well, in typical Teutonic fashion, the Prussians launched an attack! The horse artillerists aimed at the brilliant white French table cloths and polished breakfast china and began firing. Thus began the Battle of Mars-la-Tour and the audacity of the assault intimidated the French into near inactivity. It also highlighted a key advantage the Prussians possessed over their French adversaries throughout the campaign – offensive flexibility and initiative.

This boldness flustered an already desultory Bazaine, who needed to press west to Verdun, but who also refused to become separated from his protective burrow at Metz. The Prussian strategy and superior artillery pummeled the French into indecision and after a bitter and vicious day-long fight (inflicting a total of more than 30,000 casualties to both armies), Bazaine finally ordered a retirement during the evening to better defensive positions nearer Metz. This retreat and redeployment was pursued by the Prussians and resulted in the even bloodier Battle of Gravelotte-St. Privat two days later.


So there existed a situation at Mars-la-Tour that makes, on its face, a difficult battle to simulate properly and a tough subject matter from which to make a challenging game – an intact French army facing the scattered elements of an unsuspecting Prussian advanced guard. The French outnumbered the Prussians 4 to 1 during the opening phases of the battle and should have, by all rights, crushed the Prussians as they force-marched piecemeal onto the field. Any competent French game player would easily destroy the Prussians in this situation. Having full knowledge of their size and deployment and then knowing the reinforcement schedule, the French would simply advance as needed and rout the Prussian forces as they entered the field. Perhaps this is the biggest reason Mars-la-Tour has not been simulated in game form very often: it is not an easy task to create a balanced, entertaining game on this battle.

Nonetheless, while Michael Kennedy of White Dog Games and I were discussing the play testing of his new WWI game, At Neuve Chapelle, the subject of the Franco-Prussian War came up. He asked me if I would be interested in designing a game for WDG on the Battle of Mars-la-Tour and, having a strong interest in this period of history I said that I would be excited to do so. My game design resume to this point includes four rather unconventional designs for Victory Point Games (Gettysburg: The Wheatfield, Dawn of the Zeds, High & Tight and In Magnificent Style) but no traditional hex-and-counter games. I thought that this would be a fun challenge for me to design my first hex-and-counter war game about an unconventional and under-represented, yet important battle.

The resulting game design, Duel of Eagles, is a game of moderate complexity and size. The game board is 22 by 17 inches and there are 176 counters, markers and chits. Each hex represents an area about 500 yards across, each turn is equal to approximately one hour, infantry and cavalry units represent brigades while artillery units are organizational groupings of batteries by weight of gun. As far as hard numbers and military abilities are concerned, the game accounts for unit sizes, equipment and morale in a rather straightforward manner.

The Prussian’s combat factors are inflated a bit to account for their high morale due to their recent victories in the war, their infantry training was second to none and the artillery was equipped with the superior breech-loading Krupp cannons. Prussian leaders also have an advantage in that they are more aggressive and can thus attack much more efficiently than the French. The French, on the other hand, have the edge in small arms firepower, as the Chassepot rifle allows the infantry to fire further and with greater affect. In addition, some French artillery units have Mitrailleuse batteries (a Gatling gun-like weapon) which are deadly at close range. And, finally, there are just a lot more Frenchmen on the field of battle than Prussians.

Obviously a major design problem to overcome was Marshal Bazaine’s bizarre performance as the French commander. The French Army was a well-equipped, brave and otherwise capable force. However, its training regimen had become sub-par and the men were generally demoralized by the spate of early Prussian victories. But they also knew that with proper leadership, direction and inspiration, they could be victorious. Unfortunately for the French, Bazaine was not that leader.


So, how to reflect the lack of French command and control without making the game feel forced and predictable (and thus not very much fun for the French player)? I didn’t want to just install “idiot rules” for the French player, so my solution was to utilize a chit-pull mechanic – but with a twist. Chits are used in Duel of Eagles to mirror chaos, fog-of-war, the friction of combat, and to activate corps. This latter function of the chit-pull system recreates the slow French reaction at the beginning of the battle by starting the game with one French corps chit and then adding a new French corps chit each turn to the draw pool, gradually increasing the number of French corps that are activated in a turn, and thus simulating a giant slowly awakening from deep slumber.

In addition to corps activation, players draw “event” chits that either side plays immediately or, in some cases, can hold to apply in a future situation. Events are era-specific and model the advantages and disadvantages of each side’s historic weaponry, tactics and leadership. For example, there is a “Beaten Zone” chit that allows the French player to issue immediate fire from an infantry unit (whether activated or not) or hold the chit for a future opportunity fire at a moving Prussian unit. The Prussians have a “Krupp Guns” chit that allows the same abilities but for Prussian artillery units. There are also “fog of war” chits that players can inflict against one another. The Prussian player has a powerful chit named “Bazaine’s Malaise” that allows the Prussian player to possibly force a French corps to skip its activation for a turn. The French have a “Prussian Aggressive Tactics” chit where the French player can move a Prussian infantry unit one half its movement allowance and require it to assault whatever French unit is adjacent. Events like these can frustrate player tactical plan-making but reflect actual events that occurred at this and other Franco-Prussian War battles. The chit system weaves player tactical opportunities with each army’s particular martial character. It attempts to give the game a realistic feel for warfare of this period while creating decision-making challenges for the players that their historical counterparts had to confront.

Both the French and the Prussian player have certain problems that they must overcome in order to win the game. It will not be an easy task for either player to gain a decisive victory. The French player is handicapped by sluggish command and control and poor overall morale but he has the strength to achieve victory if he handles his forces well and takes advantage of his opportunities as they arise. The Prussian player has an edge in the efficiency of his artillery and the morale of his infantry but he is heavily outnumbered and his forces come on in piecemeal fashion. If he has any bad luck or misses an opportunity to strike hard and fast at a surprised and initially vulnerable French army, he may find himself in deep trouble

In summary, Duel of Eagles is hopefully filled with challenging decisions for players to make while also accurately simulating a very important battle in military history and one which certainly deserves to be represented on more gaming tables.

Hermann Luttmann

Got some feedback for us? Email your opinions and comments to Hermann.

Dancing Through Raindrops – Design Philosopy and the Board Game “In Magnificent Style”

By Hermann Luttmann


Dancing Through Raindrops… and Musket Balls… and Cannon Balls…


In Magnificent Style is the first in the new Death or Glory! series of games from Victory Point Games depicting various famous “forlorn hope” attacks of history. This is my fourth published design for VPG and you may be wondering “How the heck did he manage to get four games published in less than a year?!” Well, honestly most of the credit goes to Alan Emrich’s guidance, along with the wonderful “noobie designer” support system that exists at Victory Point Games. The other factor is that I’ve really tried to find a niche area of game design by developing new “takes” on rather popular subjects. So, for example, one of my games is about Gettysburg, but involves only the fighting at the Wheatfield (a subject that has never been covered in detail) and uses a miniatures-based game system. Another game is a zombie game, but is solitaire and set at a more operational level than the normal skirmish level zombie games. The third is a baseball game which in no way resembles any other baseball game, thus avoiding the pitfalls of direct comparisons to Strat-O-Matic, etc. and making the game more accessible to younger players and the more casual baseball fan.

This latest publication, In Magnificent Style, also fits neatly into this game design template. It’s a game about arguably the single most infamous Civil War battle event – Pickett’s Charge – during the war’s most famous battle – Gettysburg – and yet is ironically one of the most un-gameable situations you can think of. Now this certainly sounds like a recipe for disaster, but not really. Understand – I play games primarily to enjoy the narrative, experience the thrills and revel in the excitement of encountering unexpected situations and attempting to deal with them. Gaming is my action movie, my exotic journey and my adventure novel. When I play, I want the game to take me for a joyride and as long as I have fun and my adrenaline is pumping, I don’t care about winning or losing. It’s all about the ride!

So I thought that I could take those feelings of tension, terror and pending calamity prevalent in these horrid doomed attacks of history and convert them into thrilling game narratives. On the surface, you’d think these battles would make boring games. But my thinking was that by placing the player in the position of the unnerved attacker and telling him to “push-his-luck” the best he can would inspire some great gaming moments. Essentially, the idea was to have the player play solitaire and be forced to constantly perform “against the odds”, evoking the emotions of a desperate gambler down to his last chip. Therefore what makes these near-suicidal frontal assaults entertaining is the desperation to survive. The system is designed to throw all sorts of chaos and disaster at you – what are you going to do about it?


In Magnificent Style actually began life as a World War I trench assault game. I switched to designing a more generic game system that could be used as the DNA for a core system and then massaged to fit other periods of history. While cobbling together a framework to accomplish these goals, I stumbled upon some unique and interactive mechanics. First of all, I harkened back to my childhood and pulled out of my memory banks a dice game called “Schwein” (or “Pig”) that my German grandmother taught me when I was young. By enhancing the dice mechanics of that game, I was able to construct a system that generates not only the unit’s move, but also vigorous enemy “activity”. This device also keeps the player constantly involved, as each roll generates a major decision point.

Added to this dice mechanic, the drawing of Event Chits containing both positive and negative events produces a multitude of more opportunities and more angst for the player. This all melds together into a cohesive system that gives the player the feeling of leading men forward through a hail of enemy fire, straining with each die roll to reach an improbable goal. Hopefully, this amalgamation of systems yields the right blend of chaos management, clever decision-making and plain dumb luck. The player must decide when to push his men forward through the storm and when to have them hunker down and try again next turn. But the additional problem is that there are only five turns in which to get this done and almost nowhere on the game board is a safe haven. There is a ton of dice-rolling and chit-pulling but this serves not only to keep the player actively involved in the game, but also assures a new experience every time it’s played.

Importantly, it should be noted that this game is not meant to be a detailed study of this or any other battle. It is a quick-playing “gambling” style game system that uses a historically-based theme to provide context. It is a game of entertainment first and a simulation second. However, one play tester (Paul Fish) did note that playing In Magnificent Style compelled him to further research Pickett’s Charge in more detail and that is certainly a constructive residual effect of the game’s experience.


So I hope that those of you who try this game will come away with a smile on your face and a feeling that you were on a perilous adventure for an hour or so. Lead your troops through the carnage, go once more into the breach and hopefully have fun doing so!

Dawn of the Zeds Solitaire Board Game Strategy – First Edition

By Jaret R. Morgan


You can barely make out the fires far to the east. You haven’t heard anything from Sheriff Hunt in hours. You sent him to help the militia in Beauxville make their stand. He could already be dead. To make matters worse, that group of refugees from Ingeburg arrived moments ago and rumors of infected in the group have already frightened citizens turning terrified. You can feel your grip on the town loosening. Even Doc Seaver suffered a complete nervous breakdown amid the constant flow of injured and dying. Professor Agee said she was close, very close, to formulating a compound that would be effective in the fight against this horror. But is there enough time? You slam your fist against the wall.“Dammit, Agee…please hurry.”

This beginner guide assumes you already have a working knowledge of the rules of the game. It will provide you with basic tips for better play and will break down the contents of the game so that you get a clear picture of overall structure. There are also sample turns included!


The main part of the map consists of Farmingdale at the center surrounded by four tracks. Farmingdale has a Town Center square (“0”) and four Town squares (“1”) that each belong to one of the unique tracks. Town Center belongs to ALL tracks. For instance, West Side, a Town square, is the #1 space on the Highway Track. Downtown is part of the Mountain Track. Keep in mind that the #1 spaces are NOT considered adjacent to each other. To move from the Mall District to Suburbia, you must go through Town Center.

Mayor Hernandez’s “Management” abilities can be used if he is present in Town Center. Being able to speed up movement through town and increase gunfire and forage odds is very helpful!

The Zeds have four avenues of approach to Farmingdale. Each avenue, or track, is named for its unique geographical feature. These are: Highway, Forest, Suburbs, and Mountain. As you will see in the Event card breakdown, Zeds on the Highway and Suburbs track, as you would expect, move faster than on the Forest and Mountain track. Also take note of the Suburbs track. Because it is more populated (with two villages instead of one) it is probably the most vulnerable to an early “Brains!” card.

Zombie Zinger: In one ill-fated game I played, on turn 1 I moved Capt. Piazza into space 4 of the Suburbs track. I had intended to use her Elite Sniper ability on a tough Zed unit by the time it hit East Irek. But I turned a “Brains!” card over on turn 2 and when it was all over, East Irek’s villagers and civilians were decimated, Piazza was dead, Beauxville’s milita was wiped out and all I had left were exhausted and frightened refugees at the Bridge. Oh, and the Infection level was up to 6.

Take a look at the Mountain track. The Mine is VERY important but hard to hold. As has been stressed in other strategy articles, AMMO is a necessity. Being able to inflict damage on the Zeds without raising the infection level or risking losses yourself is probably the most precious ability you have in the game. You cannot run out of this valuable resource. Your best bet for securing ammunition is to barricade the Mine and have Mr. Johnson present (he has the Heavy Weapons ability). Sheriff Hunt adjacent to a civilians unit isn’t bad either because the forage roll will always be above and beyond your action allowance.

Don’t forget that terrain spaces give you a favorable < 1 shift. Don’t hesitate to use these naturally defensible spaces to your advantage. Try not to defend attacks in clear spaces.

Zombie Zinger: Favorable defensive column shifts do not “stack”. It is a common mistake to add a barricade bonus to a natural terrain bonus for a < 3 shift. Remember: it is either < 1 or < 2, not both!

The terrain spaces also play a negative part in the game due to Chaos markers. Zeds that end a phase in control of a named space place a Chaos marker there. Chaos markers are dangerous for several reasons:

  • During a Brains! Event your Infection level increases by one for every two markers in play
  • During an Outbreak, a Zeds unit will pop up on the Chaos marker closest to Farmingdale on the track indicated by the Fate draw
  • Refugees who enter a Chaos space increase the Infection level by one
  • The National Guard might be hindered by Chaos markers, thus prolonging the game
  • Oh, to even clear a Chaos marker, your Infection level will go up by one unless you use Doc Seaver’s Purging ability or Professor Agee’s Decontamination

This means that the Suburbs and Mountain tracks are harder to clear. The Mountain track has three named spaces and the Suburbs track has FOUR named spaces!

Zombie Zinger: The first time I lived through until the National Guard could arrive was by pure luck. My National Guard Fate draw was for the Suburbs track. I had three Chaos markers on that track! My roll was 1 and the National Guard managed to squeeze through to save us!

It definitely is worth keeping the Chaos markers in play to a minimum. Once the middle of the game hits and you are starting to retreat and hold down the fort in Farmingdale, you can’t have Zeds popping up on your doorstep. Success in the game depends on TIME. The longer it takes for Zeds to show up in Town the better. If a Strength-8 Zeds marker pops up at the Gap or even the Bridge you really don’t have a lot of time to get rid of it!

Event Cards

The Event cards drive your story and you draw a new one every turn. There are 48 total cards and 13 will help you, 30 are pro-Zed, and 5 could go either way.

Favorable Cards

Supply Room Discovered: Being in the Mall District gives you four Supply points

Hunting Lodge Located: Being in the Gap gives you 1, 2, or 3 Ammo points

A Hero Arrives (x2 cards): Gain a Hero for the fight

Berserk Hero!: Favorable shifts for attacking and defending this turn for one Hero

National Guard Helicopter Strike: Target a Zed unit for some hits

Hospital Efficiency: No-fail healing and Infection level reduction

Well Armed Civilians: One of your Civ units gains 1 favorable shift on fighting table until eliminated

Army Drone Missile Strike: Target a Zed unit for some hits

Stocked Barn Discovered: Being in the Farm gives you 1-6 Supply points

Research Discovery: Being in the University space increases your Research level by one

Research Materials: Being at the Nuclear Plant increases your Research level by one

Soldiers of Fortune: All gunfire attacks get a favorable shift and consume no ammo but lose Supply points

Neutral Cards

Vengeance!: Initiate a free attack with a favorable 2 column shift on fighting table

Unidentified Mob Appears: Gain new Zed or VIP Survivors based on Infection level

Flamin’ Zeds!: Zeds going through Chaos markers receive 2 > though they will suffer a hit

Raiders Appear!: Raiders make appearance, hurting Zeds and Friendlies alike

National Guard Arrives!: Game is either over or it continues to punish you

Unfavorable Cards

Mountain Night Assault: Mountain Zeds increase Infection level and you get no defensive table shifts for terrain

Highway Night Assault: Highway Zeds increase Infection level and you get no defensive table shifts for terrain

Forest Night Assault: Forest Zeds increase Infection level and you get no defensive table shifts for terrain

Suburbs Night Assault: Suburbs Zeds increase Infection level and you get no defensive table shifts for terrain

Mine Explosion!: Zeds or Friendlies must retreat from the Mine and take hits; Lose Ammo or add Chaos marker

Nuk’lr Meltdown: Zeds or Friendlies must retreat from Nuclear Plant and take hits; Infection level increase or Chaos marker add

Toxic Zeds: If the Nuclear Plant is Zeds controlled, one Zed unit will raise the Infection level by 3 during combat

Fast Zeds: If the Farm is Zeds controlled, one Zed unit will start moving one additional space

Smart Zeds: If the University is Zeds controlled, one Zed unit receives 1 >

Tough Zeds: If the Mine is Zeds controlled, one Zed unit will have a 50% chance to cancel future hits

Wandering Zeds: Suffer a free Zeds attack on a random track

Hidden Zeds Appear: Suffer a free Zeds attack on a random track

Disaster At The Lab: Good chance of losing a research level and maybe a hit on Hero at the Lab

Contamination At The Hospital: Possible Infection level increase and maybe a hit on Hero at the Hospital

Death Trap: All Zeds attacking terrain spaces get 1 >; also suffer additional hit and attack if you would normally retreat

A Fed Zed Ain’t A Dead Zed: Zed units in or adjacent to Villages or Towns get to flip to full strength side

Hell’s Dinner Bells!: Zed units in or adjacent to Villages or Towns get to flip to full strength side

Nervous Breakdown: Select a Hero in Town Center, Lab, or Hospital; Could suffer 1 or 2 hits

Local Zeds Outbreaks: Eliminated Civilian units are replaced by Zed units

Zeds Disease “Quickening”: Eliminated Civilian units are replaced by Zed units

There’s No Way Out!: All Zeds attacking Terrain spaces get 1 >; also suffer additional hit and attack if you would normally retreat

Growing Despair: Zed units in spaces 3, 2, or 1 each give a 50% chance to cause a hit to Civilian units

Brains! (x4 cards): Turn sequence suspended; Infection level increase based on every two Chaos markers; all Zed units advance; if a Zeds unit is still adjacent to a Friendly unit, continue fighting

The four “Brains!” cards can trigger devastating chain reactions in a track, particularly in the Suburbs. Be careful about filling a track up with Friendly units!

Where Are They All Coming From?: Remove all Dead Zed markers and add a Zed unit to every track that has no Zeds

What The…? There’s More!?: Remove all Dead Zed markers and add a Zed unit to every track that has no Zeds

We Can’t Kill’em Fast Enough!: Remove all Dead Zed markers and add a Zed unit to every track that has no Zeds

You Gotta Be Kidding!: Remove all Dead Zed markers and add a Zed unit to every track that has no Zeds

Let’s now do a quick count or summary of the “Sequence of Play Activities” on the Event cards.




I hope the summaries gave you a little more information and guidance on what is in your Events deck and what your chances are at particular results. Remember that you are always free to check your discard pile at any time!

Fate Cards

The Fate card deck is exactly balanced with 10 cards good for you and 10 cards bad! These cards add some interesting narratives to your story and can make you breathe a sigh of relief or make you want to finish pulling your hair out.

Good Fate cards give you a shot at another Hero coming into play, gaining additional actions, reducing the Infection level, increasing movement, having a Civilian Leader show up, etc.

Through cards you have a shot at getting a maximum of 3 more Heroes into play: two from Events and one via the Fate card.

Bad Fate cards give Zeds the gunfire ability with a Supertoxic Stench, can bring an Alpha Zed into the picture, stop Refugee movement, can collapse the bridge outside of town, cause you to lose supplies or ammo, etc.

As for track location on the Fate cards, the most common is the Forest track (25%), followed by Mountain and Suburbs (20% each). This might make up for their slower speed on the Forest and Mountain track. There is one each for where Zeds are strongest and for Player’s Choice.

Why is the Forest the most prevalent Fate card location? One can’t help but wonder what further evil might lurk deep in the silent, pitch blackness of the woods outside of Farmingdale! The dense forest might hide other mysteries…


It is now time for a quick discussion of the Heroes. If you wondered about the green diamond and blue swirl icons on some of the Hero cards, the designer did mention that their purpose will be revealed in future expansions. The green diamond is mentioned on the back of the Player Aid Card, under Rule 16.3 “Historical” Set Up, as an optional game start set up as per the Top Secret Green Diamond report!

Do not forget that Heroes with two dice abilities get the result of BOTH dice when they roll doubles!

Mayor Hernandez

Unless you are about to lose the game and you are throwing all caution to the wind, Hernandez belongs in Town Center. Don’t even think about moving him. Don’t forget that his Management abilities only apply if he takes no other actions in the turn…so if he gives the stirring Speech, he can’t also use Traffic Control or Keys to the City. Having him in Town Center and Mr. Johnson also somewhere in Farmingdale pulling forage duty is nice. His Citadel ability might be your last hope when the undead horde has Farmingdale surrounded.

Sheriff Hunt

He is one of your best all-purpose heroes. He is a great fighter in hand-to-hand, can fire long range, is hard to injure and gives adjacent friendly units a free action. You can almost see Hunt racing ahead of refugees to fire on a pursuing Zeds unit and then using the free action to hurry them along their path. Perhaps you want to set him up behind a civilians unit so that he uses gunfire and then has the militia fire for a free action (a one-two punch).

Deputy Schmidt

A toned-down version of Sheriff Hunt, Schmidt is also tough and skilled in hand-to-hand and is more deadly in the Forest and Mountain tracks. Keep him on those tracks to maximize his effectiveness. Like Hunt, you will be using Schmidt as a combat hero.

Captain Piazza

Early in the game I like to send Captain Piazza against the toughest Zed unit on the map. She can fire from safe distances and has a 50% chance to evade any hand-to-hand combat. She is also fast so she is great for racing from track to track to handle Zeds. When the villages fall and Farmingdale is in trouble, stick her in a tower in Town Center. Hopefully the Mayor is there for a real nice Gunfire combo.

Mr. Johnson

However you end up with this old coot, don’t forget your Stockpiles (1 Supply, 2 Ammo)! With his Heavy Weapons and Scavenger abilities, he is a great choice for holding down the Mine. If you have the Mayor in play, he is powerful in Town also. However you use him, try not to waste time moving him from place to place. An action spent moving is NOT an action spent foraging.

Doc Seaver

Not only is he great for healing, but I believe he is your best bet for clearing Chaos markers, especially early in the game if your Research Level is low.

Professor Agee, PhD

If you want a real hope at getting the Super Weapon then she is your ticket. It is wasteful to even have Doc Seaver try. Once that Super Weapon is discovered, she is awesome at clearing out Chaos markers! The Super Weapon is very helpful in your game despite being hard to get. The Antidote makes Decontamination very nice but really is probably only worth it if you are trying to get a high end game score.


Pickles can pull one of two main duties for you: forage or freeze up a Zeds unit. Even a Zeds mob might have problems getting by this dog as long as you aren’t rolling ones.


There isn’t much to say regarding Zed and Civilian counters. However, your initial draw/setup might have an impact on your starting strategy.


Looking at the table, if all of your 2-strength civilian units are in villages you know you are in trouble. Be prepared to fall back or try to maintain your supplies and build barricades. If you have your 4 and 3 units out and the Zed units are 4s and 5s, you might feel more brave and willing to make a stand. Just remember that it is hard to heal your militia units and the zombie horde is never-ending. A few bad event cards will find your once promising start turned around on you in no time!

Zombie Zinger: I usually have no problem having my 4-strength Civilians unit use gunfire, and if I have to, any 3-strength Civilians. A 2-strength Civilians unit firing their guns is usually just a waste of ammo.

So how does a Zeds marker show up in your game? Well, we all know that you start with one on each track at the beginning of the game. Here are other ways:

  • Outbreaks: Not taking care of your Infection level? Don’t worry, no matter what do, you are going to have many Outbreaks! But plan for them! You know when you have one, a Zeds marker will show up on the Chaos marker closest to town on a track determined by Fate draw
  • Event Cards (44-47): These nasty cards usually won’t trigger an Outbreak themselves but they do add Zed markers to all Tracks lacking Zeds BEFORE the start of the Zeds phase (so they are moving)
  • Event Cards (14-15): These cards spring surprise Zed attacks on a unit but do not actually place a marker
  • Event Cards (31-32): These turn eliminated Civilian markers into nasty undead
  • Event Card “Unidentified Mob Appears”: This will place a Zeds marker or VIP Survivors based on Infection level

Trust me, when it rains, it POURS ZOMBIES!!! Look what the game designer himself had to say in a session with never-ending Zeds and a collapsed bridge!

16th card – “There’s No Way Out!” – Ugh! First of all, I have another Outbreak to contend with. Hand soap, people! My Fate Card is “Bridge Collapses” – of course it is! I place the “Bridge Collapse” marker on the Bridge space like a dutiful loser. And then to add insult to injury, Beauxville is attacked and mauled. The poor Civs have to retreat, but can’t. Not only because there’s no way out – but even if they could find a way out, the damn bridge has collapsed! I told you this game is realistic. So the fight has to be done again and the poor schmucks are massacred on the beaches – a regular zombie clambake. I have three actions – Pickles Forages and finds three ammo! Schmidt opens fire on those pesky Forest zombies and rolls a “12” – three hits and those green meanies are dwindling away. Things are starting to look good!– Hermann Luttmann

Yeah, “Things are starting to look good”, he says. These are very famous last words when playing against Zeds. He lost the game a few cards later! Never get comfortable…it’s always going to get worse!

Fighting Table

Get to know your Fighting Table. See that One Third and One Half column? No matter how well you roll, you are retreating if you are the attacker. You have to roll at least an 8 on the Equal To column for the defender to retreat. As an attacker, you still suffer losses even on the Triple column with a roll as high as a 5 or 6! The table slightly favors the defender. If you are attacking, make sure the odds are right!


Ok, enough talk, let’s start a game! Use the following game turns to get more comfortable with how the game works. Follow along with your copy of the game.


  • I rolled a 10 for Supplies and a depressing 1 for Ammo
  • I place the Infection and Research markers on the board in their 0 boxes
  • The Player Actions marker also starts in its 0 box with its “can Speech” side up
  • I place the villagers in their respective spaces on the tracks
  • I place the following Zeds units:
    • Mountain: 8-strength
    • Suburbs: 5-strength
    • Forest: 6-strength
    • Highway: 6-strength
  • I place the Civilian units as follows:
    • Lefty’s Pass: 3-strength
    • East Irek: 2-strength
    • Beauxville: 2-strength
    • St. Thomas: 2-strength
    • Ingeburg: 4-strength
    • Town Center: 2- and 3-strength
  • Due to low Ammo I select Mr. Johnson as my first Hero, increasing my supplies by 1 and my ammo by 2
  • My next three Heroes, chosen at random, are Sheriff Hunt, Pickles, and Doc Seaver
  • I shuffle the Fate deck and construct the Event deck as directed in 3.12-3.14

Initial Thoughts

Starting with 1 ammo is enough to make me jump off the bridge near town. Some tough Zombie units have started play, particularly on the Mountain track. The Suburbs are in bad shape with 2 of the weakest units defending it. I might be able to hold off the Zeds on the Highway track.

Because of the low Ammo roll, I decided not to risk chance and selected Mr. Johnson right off the start even though I usually pick Sheriff Hunt. I ended up with the other great forager in Pickles. But with the toughest Zed unit on the Mountain track I am starting to think that the Mine is not worth rushing towards. Maybe I should keep Mr. Johnson in town and use Pickles to bark at undead? That leaves me with only 1 combat Hero to handle matters. What if I send Pickles out to the 8-strength Zeds unit to try and freeze it in place and follow up with Mr. Johnson to try and fortify the Mine space? No, that is too risky. Not enough time and it is always risky to string friendly units along a track, especially staring down at the strongest Zeds unit. It could tear through several friendly units like a hot knife through butter. In the first 16 cards there are 2 Brains! cards. Hopefully they are not near the top of the deck.

Let’s see what the first Event brings us.

Suburbs Night Assault (#6)

1. Refugee Phase: 0
* There are no refugees on the map yet anyway. All the villagers are still making their stand.
2. Outbreak: 10+
* We are at level 0 so we are ok here.
3. Consume Supplies: No
* Still have a nice full load of supplies.
4. Zeds: Suburbs x2
* The 5-strength Suburbs Zeds unit marches into space 7 but then marches AGAIN into East Irek!* This Sequence of Play has an asterisk. ALWAYS read the Event card description at the bottom before beginning the marked phase. The instructions could take place before, during, or after normal phase resolution.* Remember, anytime a Zeds unit enters a space with any non-Refugees, hand-to-hand fighting is sure to come!* This particular card will, on the Suburbs track, increase my Infection level by 2 instead of 1 for Hand-to-Hand attacks and I get no combat terrain shifts for friendly units.* Increase Infection level from 0 to 2. It is strength 5 attacking strength 2. This is on the DOUBLE column. Normally I could shift it to GREATER THAN because it is a terrain, or named, space, but this particular Event card prevents that on this track.* I roll two dice for 4 and 3. Reading a 7 on the DOUBLE column results in “1/3”. The first number is for the attacker and we apply the Zeds hits first. They take 1 hit so they get a 1 Dead Zeds marker placed on them.* The Civilian unit suffered 3 hits and because their result is in red they must retreat. Three hits almost eliminate the unit. Flip it to its reduced strength side AND place a Casualties marker on it. Retreat them to the University. They were also “released” when the Zeds unit first entered their space so they are no longer turned 180 degrees.* Now the Zeds “Control” the space. Time for the villagers to FLEE! They are flipped to their Refugee side and join the militia in the University space. If they are caught by the Zeds again they are devoured!

* The Zeds just gained control of a village. That’s a Chaos marker! East Irek is in turmoil!


5. Actions: 2
* Move the Actions marker to the “2” space.* What in the world can I do with a lousy two Actions? Uggggh. Civilian units can only move up to 2 spaces and cannot stack except with Refugees. If I had more actions I could possibly juggle another Civilians unit (not Beauxville’s as they are not released yet) with the fleeing units from East Irek AND move the Refugees. But with only two Actions all I can do is hope that the Suburbs track sees no movement next turn. Moving Doc Seaver all the way over to #4 and then removing the Casualties marker on the next Action is practically meaningless. The 5-strength Zeds marker, upon moving again, will still be fighting at TRIPLE odds and will surely destroy them. I just don’t see that as a good use of two Actions. My only other thought would be moving Sheriff Hunt to prepare for action on a future turn. Because he is “Tough” he might be able to hold off a Brains! advance.* Let’s move the East Irek refugees one space to #4. Maybe I can salvage one thing from that horrible attack.* I want to forage with Mr. Johnson. I roll both dice for 4 resulting in not a darn thing.

Smart Zeds (#12)

1. Refugee Phase: 1
* Move East Irek’s Refugee marker to Beauxville. Remember that there is no stacking limit for Villagers/Refugees.
2. Outbreak: 7+
* Still no problems here. Not yet anyway.
3. Consume Supplies: Yes
* My Supplies go from 11 to 10.
4. Zeds: Suburbs x2
* Are you kidding me? Move the Zeds unit on East Irek to the University. Those poor people! They just retreated to the University to make their last stand!* Now we interrupt our movement to handle the fight here. Increase the Infection level from 2 to 3. Every hand-to-hand combat will increase that Infection level.* The odds, 5-1, starts on the TRIPLE column. The University space lets me shift it down to DOUBLE. I roll two dice and get 9. The result is “0/3”. The Zeds suffer no hits and the people in the University are butchered! But at least they are not gone permanently. Place the Civilians marker, on their reduced side, in the HOSPITAL on the map.* The Zeds control another named space! That’s another Chaos marker! The Suburbs are a mess of undead and fires.* Finish the second part of their movement by placing them on the #4 space. If I hadn’t moved those Refugees on my first turn, they would have been devoured and removed from play! Note that I never placed a Chaos marker on #7 or this #4 space. Only named spaces controlled by a Zeds unit gets this marker. Picture the blank spaces as desolate enough to not have roaming bands of undead giving you trouble.
5. Actions: 4
* Move the player actions token up to 4.* Let’s move the Refugees again, to the Bridge. If the Suburbs track advances again and they cause the Civilians in Beauxville to retreat, these Refugees will get eaten. Remember that they only run by themselves when they first flip from Villagers to Refugees. When they are Refugees they are VERY vulnerable.* I don’t think the odds warrant me spending two actions to send Doc Seaver to the Hospital and then attempt healing. With my research level low, I require a 6 to heal the single unit there anyway. I’ve had it with running! Move Sheriff Hunt to the Bridge!* Our third action is going to be a Long Range gunfire attack from Hunt against the Zeds in #4. Deduct 1 ammo from our amount to bring it down to 2. With gunfire you use the Gunfire Attack FV row at the top of the Fighting Table. Sheriff Hunt is a strength 5 but suffers a < 1 penalty due to Long Range. He will fire on the 4 column. If I can get the Zeds flipped to their reduced side, the militia in Beauxville might have a chance. I roll a 7. I follow 7 across and get the result “2/2”. With gunfire you do not suffer losses so ignore the first 2 and only apply the hits to the Zeds. With two additional hits the Zeds unit gets flipped to their reduced side of strength 3 with no Dead Zed marker. Zed units have a total of six steps so whenever they suffer a total of three hits they get flipped. Three more hits and this unit is gone. But was this enough?* Should I fire again with Sheriff Hunt? Did you read the Smart Zeds Event description? The University space is indeed Zeds controlled. If I do not eliminate them, they will always get a favorable 1 > on their attacks. This would nullify the natural defense of Beauxville. I think I will fire again! I decrease my ammo from 2 to 1. I then roll a 10 and when I look under the 4 column I see that the Zeds unit suffers 3 hits! They are gone! Throw the unit back into your cup/container.* Sheriff Hunt, using his Leadership ability, can now either move the Refugees into the Suburbs of Farmingdale or convince the people in Beauxville to forage for him. Let’s try hunting down some ammo. I roll a 6 and my ammo goes back up to 2. What luck! And there are no Smart Zeds around! Whew!

Looking at the board, I am kind of torn now on having Doc Seaver head out to restore order in the Suburbs (I have plenty of supplies for that!) or send Pickles to the mine.


Brains! (#41)

There is no normal Sequence of Play now. Follow the instructions!

1. We have two Chaos markers in play. Add 1 to our Infection level (now 4).

2. Advance every Zeds unit one space. The 3 Zed units left in play are still on their START spaces. Each moves to their respective #7 spaces.


If I hadn’t eliminated that Zeds unit in the Suburbs, it would have advanced on Beauxville. If it had defeated the militia there, it would have advanced again on Sheriff Hunt! If they managed to get by my Hero, they would have eaten the refugees! The Infection Level would have soared! I HATE BRAINS! CARDS!

Well Armed Civilians* (#23)

The title of the card is marked with an asterisk so I follow the instructions right away. I get to place a Well Armed marker on any Civilians unit. We could put it on the unit in Ingeburg to make them really tough! Or we could try to make the unit in St. Thomas a little tougher. Looking at the card I see that the Zeds in the Forest are going to advance. So yes, let’s put the marker on the unit in St. Thomas and hope that the militia in Ingeburg can hold their own.
1. Refugee Phase: 0
* The Refugees from East Irek must wait outside Town a little longer.
2. Outbreak: No
* Still ok here!
3. Consume Supplies: Yes
* Flip our supplies marker from +10 to its normal side and place it on space 9.
4. Zeds: Forest
* Move the Zeds unit to space #6. They pose a real threat now to the citizens of St. Thomas.
5. Actions: 3
* Move our actions marker to the 3 space.* Let’s have the militia in Ingeburg open fire. They have strength 4. Deduct 1 from our ammo to bring it back down to 1. I roll 7 so I cause 2 hits to that Zeds unit. Place a 2 Dead Zeds marker on it.* I can’t really afford to move Pickles or Doc. I need ammunition!! Mr. Johnson forages and gets 8 so I get 1 ammo point! Increase our ammo from 1 to 2.* I have Mr. Johnson forage again. I roll 8. Since it is doubles I get the result of both dice and that would be +2 to our supplies. Bring that total back up to 11.* Sheriff Hunt now will move the Refugees into Suburbia.

Toxic Zeds (#10)

1. Refugee Phase: 1
* My villagers from East Irek finally make it to Town Center. Hmmm, that will raise the Infection level by 1 so it is now at 5. Now I can either Equip them and send them back out into the fight or Protect them. You better bet on me arming them and kicking them back out the door! I only have one Civilians unit in the hospital so I can use my two replenish actions for this procedure on the same unit. The Civilians unit pops back into Town Center at FULL STRENGTH. That Refugees marker is removed from the game
2. Outbreak: 5+
* My run of luck has ended! The Infection track is at 5 so there IS an outbreak!

  • i. First, decrease the Infection level by 5. Now it is back at 0.
  • ii. Make a Fate Draw. I draw “Drastic Times, Drastic Measures”. This is a good card. I can use it decrease the Infection level by 5 by spending an ammo point. You can almost hear the screams of infected people who don’t want to die as they are gunned down. I get to hold on to this card. Look at the Track location above the title. It says where Zeds are WEAKEST.
  • iii. Draw a Zeds unit from the cup. I pick a strength 6 unit. The WEAKEST track is obviously the Suburbs. This unit is placed on the Chaos marker CLOSEST to Town Center. This is the University. Looks like Hunt has more work to do!

3. Consume Supplies: Yes
* We are now down to 10.
4. Zeds: Highway x2
* The Zeds attack Ingeburg! Increase the Infection level due to Hand-to-Hand combat. It is back to 1. These Civilians are now released.* It is 6-4 so they fight on the GREATER THAN column. Since I am defending in Ingeburg I shift them onto the EQUAL TO column. I roll 5 and so the Zeds unit gets flipped to its reduced side with 1 Dead Zed marker. They retreat back to #7 since their fight result was in red. The Ingeburg Civilians suffer a Casualties marker.* But they advance again! Increase Infection level to 2.* They are now the underdog, fighting at LESS THAN. I still get a column shift for defending in a terrain space so I roll on the ONE HALF column. I roll 3 and the undead are destroyed! Put their rotting backside back into the cup.
5. Actions: 3
* Move your actions marker to the #3 space.* Move Hunt to #4 in the Suburbs.* Let’s fire on those undead! Deduct 1 ammo, now down to 1. I am adjacent so no Long Range penalty. I am firing on the 5 column. I roll 11! That’s a full 3 hits and will flip that Zed marker to its reduced side.* Ok, let’s put some barricades down in St. Thomas. With the well-armed Civilians there, this should be a stable fighting position for a while. Decrease supplies from 10 to 8 and put a barricades marker in St. Thomas. Instead of < 1 for defense, I now get a < 2 for the space. Also remember that you can only keep 1 barricades marker in play for each track.* Sheriff Hunt is going to have the Civilian marker in Beauxville forage for us. I roll a 5 and so my supplies are back up to 9.* It is the end of the Action phase and the Nuclear Plant space is NOT Zeds controlled. There are no toxic zombies!

I really need to get those Chaos markers cleared off the board. The longer they stay, the more chances of Zeds popping into play closer than you would like! They also help increase that Infection level.

Don’t hate me for sending those poor refugees back out into the fight. This game is hard enough without trying to save everyone. You just can’t! Sometimes you have to let people die!

I was really hamstrung from the beginning in this game with such a poor ammo roll. That’s life.

Getting barricades down early on a track in the beginning can help get you some time. Hopefully I won’t have to worry about the Forest for a while. I need to get one down for Ingeburg and I need to take care of that valuable strength 4 Civilian unit!

The most important advice? BE FLEXIBLE! Every game is different! Let’s continue…

A Hero Arrives (#9)

1. Refugee Phase: 2
* Nothing to move here.
2. Outbreak: No
* I’m loving it!
3. Consume Supplies: 4+
* I do indeed have 4 or more full-strength Civilian units. Let’s decrease our Supplies from 9 to 8.
4. Zeds: Suburbs and Forest
* Let’s start with the Suburbs. The reduced strength Zeds attack Hunt. Increase the Infection level to 3. Notice Hunt is NOT in a terrain space. Try not to ever get in this situation! Yes, I hoped I could finish that unit off with gunfire, but that is life. The good news is that I am risking this with a Hero unit that is “Tough”, skilled in “Martial Arts”, and the Zeds are indeed only strength 3 right now. I roll on the LESS THAN column and get 11! Yuck. But because Hunt is skilled in Martial Arts, I am allowed a re-roll. I roll again and get 6. The result is a “3/1” so the Zeds are gone! But now Hunt is hurt! But he is Tough so let’s roll again and get 4. He avoids the hit!* Ok, let’s go to the Forest. We have another Hand-to-Hand attack there so increase the Infection level to 4. Normally we would have to roll on the TRIPLE column, but the Barricades give us a < 2 shift and these are Well-Armed Civilians so they get another < 1 shift so we are back on the EQUAL TO column! OH NO! I roll a 12! That is a “0/3” result. The Civilian marker is flipped to its reduced side and a Casualties marker is placed on it. Retreat them back to the Farm. The Villagers are now released and flipped to their Refugees side. They also go to the Farm. The Barricades marker STAYS there for now. They are only cleared off the board when the Zeds marker advances past it. I could still rush in to save this valuable marker if I am able. But a Chaos marker is placed as this is the end of the Zeds phase.
5. Actions: 3
* Ok, I get a new Hero! Hmmm, I think I want to get working on that Super Weapon. I’ve been fairly lucky in keep Zeds away (though the Forest needs attention) so I am hoping Hunt alone can work on things. So let’s select Professor Agee. I put her marker down in Town Center.* Let’s move the Refugees one space closer to town and put them on #3.* Put Agee in the Lab* Move Hunt to Town Center. My plan is to move Seaver out immediately in the Suburbs if no Zeds appear so he can clear a Chaos marker or two. Hunt will be my back up for the Forest track. Since Hunt is back in Town, let’s have him direct a Civilians unit to do something for us. Let’s forage. I roll a 4 so I get 1 Supply. Move the Supply marker up to 9.

You Gotta Be Kidding! (#47)

1. Refugee Phase: 2
* I move the St. Thomas Refugees to the #2 space. Note that this does not mean I can move them 2 spaces! It only means, during this phase, I can move up to 2 Refugee markers 1 space.
2. Outbreak: No
* Out of these four special Event cards, 3 of them say No and one of them says 10+.
3. Consume Supplies: 3+
* Yep, that puts us down to 8.
4. Zeds: All Tracks
* Ok, at the beginning of the Zeds phase, we remove ALL DEAD ZED markers. We have none now. Then we draw for tracks that do not have a Zed on them. This would be for the Highway and the Suburbs. I draw a 5-strength unit for both tracks and put them on the Start space. Remember, Zeds get placed on Chaos markers during Outbreaks, not these cards.* Now, time to move. The Highway Zeds go to #7, the Mountain Zeds go to the Mine, the Suburbs Zeds go to #7 (there goes my plan for Doc Seaver), and the Forest Zeds attack!* Move the Infection level to 5. Remove that Barricades marker. The Zeds start on the TRIPLE column. The Well-Armed Civilians are fighting in a Named space (the Farm) for < 1 and of course they are Well-Armed for another < 1. This puts the column I’m rolling under at GREATER THAN. I roll 6 and that is a “2/2” result, the last result on that column that makes the Zeds retreat. Put a 2 Dead Zeds marker on them and remove that Civilians marker and put them in the hospital (reduced side). The undead did not get the Farm, but the militia sure did buy it! Make sure you put the Well-Armed marker away; that does not go to the hospital with them.
5. Actions: 3
* Send Hunt to the Farm. He’s gonna hold that Farm for us!* Let’s do some research! I roll two dice for Prof. Agee due to her Bioengineering ability. I get a 5. I get to move the Research marker one space over to number 2. It does not cost me any Supply points as we are still early in our Research. It won’t cost us anything until level 3.* Should I forage for Ammo? Should I have Hunt fire, spending our last Ammo point? Should I spend an Ammo point to reduce our Infection level? The Civilians in Lefty’s Pass sure would like a Barricades marker (or maybe even run)! What do I do? I’m going to go the way of the indecisive leader that gets people killed and have Pickles forage for us: 10, so that is 1 Ammo, giving us 2 Ammo points.* Go ahead and play our Fate Card, Drastic Times, Drastic Measures, at a cost of 1 Ammo point. Note that this does not cost us an Action to play. Some cards will specifically say “…as an Action…” whenever doing something costs you a valuable Action. Our Infection level is back at zero.

Should I have been more aggressive with my Hero pick? I’m kind of weak on the combat side. Schmidt or Piazza would have helped more than Agee. But Agee can get us that Super Weapon and a higher result at the end of game (provided I even make it there). Should I have saved the Drastic Times card for when I can spare more ammunition? Am I going to regret not building a Barricades in the Farm, Ingeburg, or Lefty’s Pass? Probably. But that is the name of the game!

Yeah, This Game Is Hard…

If you feel alone in the world with nothing but losses to show for your efforts, take a look at other players and their anguish from game reports they have posted on Boardgamegeek:

Found some more supplies, but not many. Where are the Feds?Here they come! The big mob finally sallied in from the Bridge. Sheriff Hunt tried to stop them, but he was overrun and, well, eaten. Zeds came in from the south, too. But a rapid response of gunfire by civilians in each area caused Zeds casualties and drove both groups back. We have very little ammo left.

Omigod, they’re in the Town Center, swarming everywhere! Where did they come from so fast? They’re beating on the door of my office. The wood’s breaking……

–David Spangler

It truly felt like Zeds walking relentlessly to Town Center and I had that scary feeling and nervous hand shaking every time I drew another Event card from the deck, praying for the National Guard to arrive.

–Mariano Rico

Shivering, disoriented and alone, only Professor Agee is left on the map. The last hope of mankind stands in her dirty lab coat, surrounded. Her only chance is to go back to the Hospital and try to heal back an army that can put up a fight. Despite numerous attempts, she can’t find enough medicine and healthy bodies to drag back with her. She returns to the Town Center, grabs a wrench and crowbar and awaits the inevitable. I Am Legend! On card 41, it’s all over but the whimpering.

–Hermann Luttmann

The two groups of Zeds on the Suburbs road made a vicious assault on the Suburbia district. The first one came in and was fought back and the second assault wiped out the Zeds. The second fresh group of Zeds assaulted only a few minutes later overwhelming the exhausted defenders. The Zeds who could not get to a body to feed on shambled onward and moved into the Town Center…

“Farmingdale, this is Red Hawk One, over.”

“Farmingdale, this is Red Hawk One, please respond, over.”

“Farmingdale, this is Red Hawk One, please respond, over.”

“Farmingdale, this is Red Hawk One, Please respond, over.”

The silence on the other side was answer enough to the fate of those in Farmingdale.

–Joe Norris


I hope the sample turns helped your understanding of how a game is played. If you have not done so already I STRONGLY recommend you download the FAQ and Clarifications document from either the Victory Point Games website or Boardgamegeek. There is lots of good information and strategy there.

Don’t get frustrated. This game is HARD. But the more you play and the more you get familiar with the cards and text, the easier it will get. Just think of all the little things that might have helped you that fell by the wayside because you forgot about that Hero’s ability or the benefit on the Fate card that you forgot you were holding? And hey, nothing helps if the dice Gods are not in your corner.

I want to thank Hermann Luttmann for such a fantastic nail-biter of a solitaire game, Alan Emrich at Victory Point Games for making this happen, and everyone else involved in art, graphics design, writing, production and playtesting!

Good luck and happy hunting!

— Jaret R. Morgan

Very special thanks to Hermann Luttmann for helping me to get this guide finished!

“High & Tight” Board Game Preview

Delivering a Hight & Tight Pitch

By Hermann Luttmann


“No matter how good you are, you’re going to lose one-third of your games. No matter how bad you are, you’re going to win one-third of your games. It’s the other third that makes the difference.”– Tommy Lasorda

Game Design

I have always been a baseball fan. From the days of going to the Mayor’s Trophy Game with my father (the only time the Mets and Yankees played each other back then) to being at Game 7 of the 1986 World Series and through to today, baseball has been an important part of my life. I even named most of the Heroes in my recently-published Dawn of the Zeds game after former New York Mets players. So when Terry Coleman of VPG asked me to design a game to follow his TC Tennis game for their fledgling Sports Game Line, I could not resist attempting a baseball game. I decided to try and design a game that was more accessible to the non-baseball fan, but one that still oozed the necessary baseball theme and strategy.

Despite being a huge fan of Strat-O-Matic, I consciously tired to avoid doing a clone of that style of game. More to the point, my actual design influences were Avalon Hill’s Pennant Race and Slapshot games. Why? Well, I loved the unique vision used in Pennant Race, as the player could simulate an entire game with one roll of the dice and thus complete a full season in one sitting! And with Slapshot, there was a prevalent tongue-in-cheek “fun factor” and ease of play that was missing in the other simple sports games that I had tried.

So I started designing High & Tight with the idea that this game would be a card-and-dice game that wives, daughters, sons and non-baseball fans alike could play and enjoy. But just as importantly, it still had to appeal to the dedicated hardball fan and provide a viable outlet for his hardcore baseball desires. The heart of the game became a simple statistical model that breaks a ballgame down into basic percentages. So if there’s a 10% chance to score a run in a situation, High & Tight resolves that situation withone die roll instead of the three or so rolls used in the more detailed baseball games. The central “percentage-setter” is the pitcher. Pitchers are rated by their ERA’s (called “Stuff” in the game) and this is expressed as a number of die rolls along with a target number (expressed as a Roman Number to avoid confusion). The target number is the sum that needs to be rolled on the two dice to score a run. For example, a pitcher with an ERA of 3.00 would have Stuff of “2 / VII”. This means that the pitcher will roll a pair of dice two times each inning and the batter will score a run with each roll of “7”. This will result, on average, in scoring 3 runs over the course of 9 innings (a total of 18 rolls with a 1/6th chance to score with each roll) and therefore a 3.00 ERA. Pitchers are also numerically-rated for “K”, “Control”, “Gopher”, “WHIP” and “Clutch” skills, which are utilized in certain circumstances with the Strategy Cards.

Strategy Cards


Ah yes, the Strategy Cards! In order to add to the feel and narrative of the game (and to cut out multiple die rolling events), the game uses Strategy Cards. Each card is titled with a baseball slang term or phrase that describes the action. The players use these cards offensively and defensively to simply increase or decrease the odds of scoring (as they will alter the pitcher’s percentage mentioned above).

Each inning has its own assigned Strategy which dictates which cards can be played. The inning Strategies are intentionally set up in the normal skill order of a typical baseball lineup – a fast leadoff hitter (1st inning is Speed), a good contact hitter second (2nd inning is On-Base Percentage), the best pure hitter third (3rd inning is None, meaning you need a good Offense rating to have a positive affect), the star “cleanup” hitter fourth (4th inning is Clutch) and your big-boppers bat fifth and sixth (both innings are Power).

The next inning is the “7th inning Stretch” where you get to draw additional cards to gear up for the last third of the game. The 9th inning is, of course, a “Clutch” strategy inning as well.

The Ballplayers


The ballplayers themselves are also numerically-rated in certain important skills – “Offense”, “Defense”, “Power”, “Speed”, “On-Base Percentage” and “Clutch”.

In each of the nine innings, one of your nine ballplayers will be assigned to be the batter and the fielder that inning. In this sense, the game is like Slapshot’s “mano-a-mano” matchup system – the two opposing ballplayers will match their skills against one another in that inning only. They will take turns both batting and fielding against one another. You, as the manager, have to be clever deciding which player is assigned to the inning (each player can only appear once in the game) and how to play your Strategy cards.

After the cards are played, a final adjusted number of die rolls are made along with a possibly new target number. Whether the number of rolls and target number are higher or lower than existed at the start is dependent on how well the managers manipulated their lineups and how well they played their cards.

These final scoring die rolls are made by the batting player and each successful roll will score a run for that half of the inning.


High & Tight does take a significantly different approach to baseball simulation. Instead of the 100+ die rolls of the more traditional detailed games, the Strategy cards act as a catalyst for all those other events and instead provide a narrative of the action, concentrating on the one or two significant aspects of each player’s contribution to the game.

Essentially the game takes a “mega-view” of what the ballplayer does to help his side win (or lose) and the cards provide the storyline to help place that contribution in the context of a baseball game. It’s up to the manager (i.e. you) to take the cards dealt him, analyze the situations that arise and utilize his ballplayers and pitchers skills to maximize his odds of winning.

I’m hoping that these elements will make High & Tight a successful combination of a card management/dice-rolling family game and a flavorful baseball simulation.

Fleets 2025: East China Sea

The Near Future?

Fleets 2025: East China Sea Board Game


Fleets 2025: East China Sea, a board game by Victory Point Games, is a two player game that simulates a future conflict between the United States and China in the vicinity of the East China Sea. It is strictly an Air & Naval game; ground forces are not represented at all. As would probably be the case in such a conflict, the Chinese have numerical superiority while the U.S. retains a technological edge. Each player’s proper usage of their respective advantages are required to score a victory in Fleets 2025.

The basic rules, or Captain Level rules are quite simple and easy to follow. For added realism, there is a small addition set of rules called the Admiral Level rules. These additional rules, however, do not add much complexity to the game.

The game ships in a 6″ x 10″ plastic zip lock bag (as do most of Victory Point Games titles) and contains the following components:

  • 11″ x 17″ color game map (paper, unmounted)
  • 5-page color rules booklet
  • 2-page color examples of play sheet
  • Game Scenarios Sheet, containing setup instructions for 3 scenarios (plus bonus ‘Full Campaign’ scenario on back of the game’s “cover” sheet)
  • 80 color 5/8″ square cardboard units
  • 60 Activity cards
  • 2 Player Aid sheets
  • One page of Designers Notes

The components, as I have discovered to be standard for Victory Point Games titles, are not super slick but are very functional and adequate for the game. The Activity Cards are a bit small (approx 1.5″ x 2.5″), making them difficult to handle and shuffle. The cardboard unit counters, however, are large 5/8″ pieces, easy to see and handle. Victory Point does not put a tremendous amount of stock in “pretty” games, preferring instead to focus on the quality and enjoyability of the game.

The rules are excellent. They’re clear, well organized, and succinct. Setting up and starting the game is quick and painless (great, because poor setup instructions are a BIG pet peeve of mine), leaving you free to jump right into the game. This is the second VPG game that I’m reviewing, and both had excellent rules booklets. In addition, Fleets 2025: East China Sea contains a two page color “Example of Play” that is just fantastic. If you have any confusion after reading through the short rules booklet, a quick run-through of the “Example of Play” will clear things right up. I give two big thumbs up to VPG for the quality of the written documentation.

Playing the Game

We started off with the “Training Exercise” scenario located on the main Scenario Sheet, because it contains a small number of units and is therefore more easily manageable for a first game, but we could easily have played any of the scenarios since the game system is easily and quickly digested. Simply place the specified units in the specified hex(es), or range of hexes, set the Max Hand Size and Starting Political Will (more about these in a moment), and begin the game! Notice that that Chinese player must set up first, thus giving a small starting advantage to the U.S. player.

There are two important levels in this game: the Political Will level and the Max Hand Size level.

  • Political Will – As your units are elminated in combat, you place them on your Political Will Track, starting at the bottom right of the grid and working towards the top left. Each eliminated unit fills one box on the Political Will track, except for Carriers which fill an entire row! This simple rule makes the carriers as important in the game as they are in the real world. When your casualties fill up the Political Will track such that they reach the Political Will marker, you lose the game.
  • Max Hand Size – This determines the maximum number of Activity Cards you may hold in your hand at any given moment, and can fluctuate during the game due to Events on the Activity Cards. Obviously, the player able to hold the most cards will be somewhat advantaged.

Fleets 2025: East China Sea
Fleets 2025: East China Sea

Notice that, although the U.S. Political Will marker starts the game in the “8” row, there are only two boxes per row whereas the Chinese chart contains three boxes per row. That means the U.S. can only absorb 16 casualties before reaching the Political Will marker and losing the game. The Chinese, on the other hand, can take 18 casualties (6 rows of 3 boxes) before losing their resolve to continue the fight. This simulates the historical Chinese ability to absorb casualties without flinching. I’m not so sure that will still hold true with the new consumer culture in China today (or even more so in 2025).

The Game Turn Phases

Reinforcements Phase

First the Chinese player, then the U.S. player may place Reinforcements, if any. Reinforcements are assigned by scenario instructions, in Reinforcement Groups, and can only be brought on the map by permanently reducing the Maximum Hand Size. So, there’s a trade-off. More combat units means less Activity Cards.

Movement Phase

During this phase, first the Chinese player and then the U.S. player may move any or all of their combat units. There is no combat allowed during this phase; only movement.

Action Phase

The Action Phase is the heart of the game, and is performed first by the U.S. player and then by the Chinese player. Note that this gives the U.S. an advantage, by allowing them to move all units last in the prior “Movement Phase” and then allowing them to activate units first in this phase. This Phase is broken up into several sub-phases. The U.S. player performs all of these sub-phases followed by the Chinese player:

  • Searches – The Active player may spend an Activity Card to search a single hex. The number of his colored dice on the card (i.e. Red dice for the Chinese player, Blue dice for the U.S. player) is the number of dice he may roll. The lowest number of all the die rolls is compared to the movement allowance of the unit being searched. If the low die roll is lower than the movement allowance, then the unit is revealed.
  • Conduct Event/Issue Orders – The active player may play an Activity Card for either the Event or to issue Order (as many orders as the number on the Activity Card).
  • For each Order issued, the Ordered units may move and/or attack.

The following graphics show a very basic example of an Action Phase. For purposes of this example, we are assuming that all units have been detected, except for one Chinese surface ship and one Chinese submarine unit. The U.S. player plays first in the Action Phase.

Fleets 2025: East China Sea

Wanting to reveal the Chinese “Stealth” units, the U.S. player immediately plays an Activity Card to perform a search. The search card can be any Orders value (1, 2, or 3). What’s important for the search is the number of colored dice on the left side of the card (blue dice for the U.S. and red dice for China), which determines how many dice the player can roll for the search. The U.S. player decides to perform a search in hex 1503 which contains the two stealth units. The Activity card that the U.S. player selected has 3 blue dice on the left side which entitles him to roll 3 dice for the search attempt.

He rolls three 3s. The Search rules state that you must roll less than the movement value on the stealth unit in order to successfully detect it. But a special scenario rule says that the U.S. player (only) successfully searches if any die roll is less than or equal to the movement allowance of the stealh unit. So, in this case, the surface ship is revealed. The stealth submarine has a movement allowance of 2, and none of the die rolls were <= 2, so the submarine remains “stealthy”.

Unwilling to expend any more Activity cards for searches, the U.S. player decides to leave the Sub hidden and proceeds to issue Orders.

The Scramble Activity card is played for its Event. This card allows the player to issue an order to each of his Aircraft units, with the restriction that all Aircraft units stacked together must share the same order. All three Aircraft on the CVN-1 carrier are launched, and are moved to attack hex 1503 which contains the newly revealed Chinese DDG and the still stealthy Chinese submarine. (Although the graphic shows the 3 aircraft in separate locations for clarity, in reality they would all be in the same hex, adjacent to the target hex since they only have a 1 hex range)

Fleets 2025: East China Sea

Note that only the revealed Chinese DDG may be attacked. Units which are still in stealth mode may not be attacked. Stealthy units are only revealed when:
(1) They are the subjects of a successful enemy search or
(2) the player voluntarily reveals it so it can participate in an attack.

The U.S. aircraft have a total of 3 attack points and may therefore roll three dice, resulting in rolls of 4, 5, and 2. An attacker scores a hit on rolls of 4, 5 or 6, so this means the U.S. has scored two hits on the Chinese DDG.

The Chinese roll defensively, hoping to neutralize the U.S. hits. Total defensive strength is 3: 2 for the strength on the DDG unit plus an extra 1 for the white aircraft symbol on the DDG, which indicates an extra die roll when fighting with aircraft. The Chinese rolls are pretty lousy: 2, 2, and 5. Thus, since a 5 or 6 is required to neutralize a hit, only 1 hit is neutralized, forcing the DDG to take on a damage marker. (Ships and subs can take two hits before elimination whereas aircraft are eliminated on one hit, so the DDG is damaged, but survives to fight another day)

It’s now the Chinese player’s turn to issue move and attack orders, and he plays the Flank Speed Activity card for its Event. He could have played it for its Orders value of 3, allowing him to move up to 3 units or stacks of the same type (i.e. surface ship, sub, or aircraft) in the same hex, but he chooses to play it as the Event so he can extend the range of his Submarine and get a shot at the U.S. Carrier (CVN-1). The Event allows for Orders to be issued to two units, ships or submarines, and extends their movement range by +2. The U.S. player thought his Carrier was safe…

He decides to first have his SSN, in hex 1506, move to attack the U.S. Carrier (CVN-1)! The SSN has a 2-hex attack range so it must move closer to the U.S. Carrier. Thanks to the extra movement points provided by the Flank Speed card, it can get within range. At the start of each combat, first the attacker then the defender may play a Battle Card to enhance their combat strength. Playing an Activity card in battle allows the player to add the number of his colored dice on the card to the number of dice he can roll. The Chinese player plays a card with 1 red die on it, allowing to to roll a total of 4 dice (3 for the sub itself and 1 extra for the Battle card). He rolls 5, 5, 1 and 1, scoring two potential hits on the Carrier. The Carrier can roll 3 defensive dice and does so, rolling a 2, 1, and 5. The 5 is sufficient to neutralize one of the sub’s hits, thus sparing CVN-1 from being sent to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean! The Carrier is marked with a Damage marker.

Fleets 2025: East China Sea

The second, and final, ship activation allowed by the Flank Speed card is used to activate one of the DDGs in hex 1203. The card is very specific in saying that only two units may be activated, not two groups or stacks. So, only a single DDG is moved to hex 1504 to attack the U.S. DDG in hex 1803. The Chinese player has no more cards to use as Battle Cards and so must attack with a poor strength of only 1. The U.S. player also opts to not play a Battle Card.

The Chinese player rolls a 1 on his solitary die, missing the target entirely. This time, since the attacking Chinese DDG unit is also within range of the U.S. units being attacked, they roll defensive fire as usual, but there is the possibility of a CounterAttack. If the defender rolls more “saves” than the attacker rolled “hits”, the attacker may suffer hits. For every two “saves” above and beyond the attackers “hits”, the defender inflicts a hit on the attacker, which is exactly what happens here when the U.S. player rolls 5 and 6 on his two defensive die rolls. The Chinese DDG is marked with a Damage marker and the attack ends.

This concludes our brief example of an Action phase. Keep in mind that the Action phase can become deeper and more involved than the sample shown here, depending on the tactics used and cards played.

Air Unit Movement Phase

All air units may move again, usually for the purpose of returning to an aircraft carrier or an airbase.

Housekeeping Phase

During the housekeeping phase:

  • Air units are checked to insure that all requiring basing are located on such an air base.
  • All stacking limits are checked.
  • Victory conditions are checked. If the active player’s Political Will marker is stacked with a destroyed unit, the opponent immediately wins.
  • If the game has not ended, both players refresh their card hands back up to Maximum Hand Size.

What I Liked About the Game

I love the fact that it’s fast moving, and that several games can (possibly) be played in a single sitting. This is the type of game where you want to try a bunch of different strategies, and the short play time allows you to do this. (I question how many different strategies can realistically be employed, but that’s a matter for the “What I Didn’t Like…” section).

Fleets 2025: East China Sea

The Victory conditions are unique and integrate well with the game. I like the idea that you can make trade-offs that will increase your combat strength for a cost in Political Will. It’s up to you to decide the best course of action at any given moment. For example, the New Birds Activity Card can be played to allow a player to resurrect four eliminated aircraft units at a cost of -1 Political Will. If the extra combat power will give you the extra punch you need to eliminate enough enemy units to push them past their Political Will threshold, you’ll have the option to take that approach.

The unpredictability of the Activity Cards contribute to the replay value of the game. At least that’s been the case so far, in the few games I’ve played. There are 24 different varieties of Activity Card, which sounds like enough variety to keep card play fresh for a while.

What I Didn’t Like About the Game

I guess the main objection is that it’s a bit too simplistic. When I’m simulating an air/naval conflict between future super-powers, I don’t want to resolve combat like I’m playing Risk. All the dice rolling just made it feel like I could have been playing any game from any historical period. I appreciate VPG’s reluctance to clutter up the game with a lot of complexity, but I require a bit of complexity in my futuristic simulations. I may just be a glutton for punishment, but this ain’t Davy Crockett shooting up Santa Ana’s infantry at the Alamo, after all. This is high-tech, futuristic air/naval mayhem! Give me a bit more realism in the combat sequence, even if it means I have to read another page or two of rules.

The pint-sized Activity cards are a pain to handle and shuffle. A small complaint, yes, but one that had to be mentioned because it crosses my mind like 10 times every game of Fleets 2025: East China Sea that I play.

I guess this may fall under the category of “too simplistic”, but it deserves special mention because it could have been fixed without adding any significant complexity to the game. I have a problem with the zones of control rules. Each hex represents an area 200km wide, which translates into something in the neighborhood of 35,000 square km. This is an awful lot of open water to cover. We can postulate the electronic detection abilities in 2025 will be considerably more advanced than stealth countermeasures, but then why bother will “Stealth” movement at all (and the accompanying “Search” process)? I think this can be resolved by only performing Searches when units are in adjacent hexes, during either player’s movement. If the moving Stealth unit is “found” at this time, then it is revealed and must cease movement. If not, then it may continue moving, in Stealth mode, until such time as it is “found”. This design idea may have been tried and discarded for some reason; I won’t second guess the designer. But it’s a thought…

Once the US player fully grasps the idea that he has a combat range advantage and a double-move ability (which is essentially what happens in the transition from the Movement Phase to the Action Phase), I don’t know how many basic strategies can be employed. From that point on, it seems like the variability of the Activity Cards is the only thing that may keep the game fresh.


Personally, I like games that cover hypothetical or alternative history situations. No matter how well a historical game is designed, there’s always some built in bias that nudges you towards historical behavior. Hypothetical conflict simulations don’t have that problem. But they’re not always guaranteed to be exciting situations either.

Although “it didn’t suck” (to quote Arthur Bach), Fleets 2025: East China Sea never really lives up to its potential. It just doesn’t capture the “feel” of a future conflict between 2025 titans America and China. Some say that you really can’t capture the “feel” of a hypothetical conflict. But anyone who was alive and gaming in the 1970s and 1980s, grinding out the hypothetical horror of a Nato/Warsaw Pact conflict in Europe, will tell you differently. Those games sure captured the “feel”.

Fleets is a very basic war game with some interesting game mechanics and a unique (at least to my knowlege) way of achieving victory. But you never get the feeling that you’re in the midst of the pandemonium that a 2025 air/naval conflict would surely be. It’s a fast playing, enjoyable game, and I appreciate it for being just that. But it will never be in my Top 10… or even my Top 50.


Mark,Thanks for the gorgeous looking review of our FLEETS 2025 game. I’m sorry you’re disappointed that it was designed to be a “player’s game” not a “hardware / hard war” game, but we both seem to agree that it achieves success as the player’s game it was designed to be (which is good).

-Alan Emrich, Victory Point Games

Alan,Agreed. I’m a “half inch hex monster gamer” at heart, so “player’s games” are always a tough sell with me. But there were enough good things about this game that I’ll be looking at other Chris Taylor designs in the future, I’m sure.


Caesar XL: Review

Can Good Things Come in Small Packages?

Caesar XL Board Game Review - Title Graphic


Caesar XL, a board game designed by Joseph Miranda and published by Victory Point Games, is a two player contest set in the time of the Roman Civil War, from 50 BC to 44 BC. One player controls the forces of Julius Caesar and the other player controls the forces of Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (aka Pompey the Great). Historically speaking, Caesar represented the Populares, a political faction that appealed to the people of the lower economic classes, while Pompey represented the Optimates, or established order, comprised mainly of Senators and landed gentry. To its credit, the game does not force you into these roles and Caesar may end up winning the game as the champion of the Optimates and Pompey the leader of the Populares. More about political victory conditions later…

The basic rules, or Bronze Rules, are very uncomplicated and easy to follow. The Silver Rules add a bit more depth and complexity to the game, but in my opinion (as well as the Publisher!) it still qualifies as a low complexity game. Good news for those just starting out in the board gaming/war gaming hobby or those hobby veterans that are trying to recruit new players. In my experience so far, a game takes anywhere from 45 minutes to 90 minutes to play to completion, depending on whether the game goes the distance (i.e. the full 14 game turns), or one of the automatic victory conditions are achieved sooner.

There are also Gold Rules available that push the complexity up another notch by adding even more realism, but I have not played using these rules and therefore don’t address the “Gold” version of the game in this article.

The game ships in a small 6″ x 10″ plastic zip lock bag and contains the following components:

  • 11″ x 17″ color game map (paper, unmounted)
  • 4-page color “Bronze Rules” booklet
  • 2-page color “Silver Rules” sheet
  • Game Setup instructions (located on the game’s inside front cover)
  • 40 color 5/8″ square cardboard units (combat units and leaders)
  • 28 color 5/8″ round cardboard pieces (mostly game markers, but also some leaders)
  • 40 SPQR game cards
  • One page of Designers Notes

While the components are not super slick, they are very functional and adequate for the game. The only gripe that I heard consistently was that the SPQR game cards were too small, only measuring 1.5″ x 2.5″, which makes them a bit difficult to handle sometimes. But the cardboard unit counters were actually a bit larger (5/8″) than standard hex game counters and the 11″ x 17″ map was not crowded or laid out in an awkward way. Could the map have been a bit “prettier”? Sure. But it was not an eye sore and in no way detracted from the enjoyment of the game. Oh, and they spelled “Mediterranean” wrong on the map. I think that just about covers the negatives.

The rules were clear, well organized, and concise. (I think this article is longer than the rule book) Actually, they were much more organized than is common in our hobby. Setting up and starting the game was a snap, and even the very first play through proceeded without a hitch due to the quality of the rules. There’s nothing more annoying than ambiguous rules and poor setup instructions, so hats off to Victory Point Games for a great job there.

Playing the Game

After following the simple setup instructions on the back side of the game’s front cover, determining how much Gold (money) each player will start with, and drawing 2 random SPQR cards for Caesar and 1 random SPQR card for Pompey, the game begins with the Caesarian Player Turn of Game Turn 1.

Each Game Turn is comprised of two Player Turns, first the Caesarian Player Turn then the Pompeian Player Turn (from here on I will simply refer to the Caesarian Player as “Caesar” and the Pompeian Player as “Pompey”). Each Player Turn is further divided into Phases that are followed in strict sequence.

For this example, let’s assume that Caesar starts the game with 11 Gold (5 + one die roll), and Pompey starts the game with 14 Gold (5 + total of two dice).

For their initial SPQR Card draws (two for Caesar; one for Pompey):

Caesar draws the “Fleet” Action Card (allows movement of a force by sea within a sea zone), and the “Quintus Scipio” Leader card which allows him to place and control that Leader’s unit counter during the Purchase Phase. Caesar XL Board Game Review - Caesar's starting card hand
Pompey draws a Forum Card (“AlliedSettlement”). Since players may only keep Action, Tactics or Leader Cards on the initial draw, this card is immediately placed in the Forum area, and another SPQR Card is drawn. The next card is the “Successor” Action Card, which provides for the replacement of Pompey, should he be killed. Since this is an Action card, it is retained in the Pompeian player’s hand. Caesar XL - Pompey's starting card hand

Caesar XL - Starting Positions

The first Game Turn is now ready to begin. The next section, below, is a walk-through of a very basic Caesarian Player Turn of Game Turn 1.

Forum/Victory Phase

Caesar XL - First Forum card
Caesar may declare Victory if conditions are met (more about Victory later). This being Turn 1, it’s not surprising that there will be no victory declared just yet.

There is only one card currently in the Forum area, the “Allied Settlement” card, so Caesar checks the conditions for claiming it. The conditions are that you must control at least 3 Allied Client cities (denoted by the circle) and spend at 18 Gold. At this point, Caesar does not control three Allied Client cities OR possess 18 Gold, so he cannot claim the Forum card.

Draw Cards Phase

Caesar XL - Brutus Card
In this Phase, an SPQR Card is drawn, for free, from the deck. Caesar draws another Leader card: Marcus Brutus. The card is held secretly in his hand until the Purchase phase. Up to two additional SPQR cards can be drawn for 5 Gold each, but Caesar is content with the free draw (in addition to being a little cash poor at the moment) and declines.

Purchase Phase

During the Purchase Phase, players may purchase combat units (the most common activity), make a Diplomacy attempt to convert a city or Barbarian Area to Ally status, or perform any other action specified on his SPQR cards for this Phase. Caesar first reveals his Quintus Scipio Leader card then places the corresponding Leader counter in Massilia with his stack of Legions. He then reveals the Marcus Brutus Leader card (that he just drew during the Draw Phase) and places that Leader’s counter in the same hex. Note that these Leaders could have been obtained and controlled by either player. If Pompey has selected their Leader card, he would have deployed them, blue side up, with his units.

Finally, Caesar decides to spend 9 Gold to purchase a new Legion and places it in the Rubicon Legionary Colony space along with Caesar and the veteran Legion. This purchase leaves him with 2 remaining Gold.

Tax Phase

During this phase, income is derived from controlled cities, subdued Barbarian areas, and areas that contain a friendly “Ally” marker. Caesar can only derive Tax income from three locations: Rubicon (Gold Value = 0), Campus Lutetium (Gold Value = 1), and Massilia (Gold Value = 3). This nets Caesar a total of 4 Gold. However, he now controls the Marcus Brutus Leader who has the special ability (as specified on his card under the “Tax Phase” heading) to add additional Gold to Caesar’s treasury equal to the roll of one die. He rolls a 1 (big deal), which gives Caesar a new total of 7 Gold (2 current + 4 for cities + 1 for Brutus = 7 Gold).

Caesar XL - After Tax Phase

March Phase

Caesar may now move any or all of his combat/leader units. Each unit is eligible to move one space that is directly connected to their current location by a line. The Caesar Leader unit, accompanied by two Legions (one veteran) will “cross the Rubicon” and move to attack Rome itself. He must now decide what to do with the stack of seven Legions accompanying the Scipio and Brutus Leader units.

There are several good possibilities:

  • Move the entire stack, including both Leaders, to attack the Pompeian forces in Nova Carthago.
  • Do not attack anyone, and move the entire stack to the island of Caralis, which is connected to Rome, Nova Carthago and Utica thus providing more options for next turn.
  • Try to Force March all or part of the stack into Rome to assist Caesar in his attack there. (Forced Marching is introduced in the “Silver Rules” and allows the players to spend Gold to move one additional space. In some cases, Leaders and units accompanying Leaders, may Force March for free. Forced Marching also allows units to move directly through enemy occupied spaces, thus adding a whole new dynamic to the game.)
  • Use the “Fleet” Action Card which will allow the stack to sail directly to Utica for an attack there (the Fleet card allows a force to sail from any port to any other port that has an anchor of the same color).
  • Some combination of the above.

Getting into the spirit of being Caesar, our Caesarian player opts for “some combination of the above” and opts to send Scipio with the veteran Legion and three non-veteran legions into Nova Carthago, and send Brutus with the other three Legions to Utica, utilizing the “Fleet” Action card, which is then placed on the discard pile. Note that the Fleet card could not be used to attack Pompey directly in Athens since that city is in a different sea zone, as indicated by the green anchor symbol.

There will be three battles fought during the Combat Phase; in Rome, Nova Carthago and Utica.

Caesar XL - After March Phase

Combat Phase

All combat is now resolved in the order of the phasing player’s choosing. Caesar decides to resolve the battle for Rome first. All units are removed from the map and the battle area is marked using the round Battle Marker. Combat, in Caesar XL, is resolved as follows:

  • First the attacker, then the defender, has an opportunity to play one Tactics Card to assist them in the battle. Tactics Cards contain various benefits such as adding additional strength to combat units, etc.
  • Whichever side has the highest leadership value (i.e. sum up the total swords on all leaders present in the battle space), becomes the Lead Player for this battle. If no Leader units are present on either side, the defender is the “Lead Player”.
  • Each combat unit and Leader unit has a certain number of swords printed on it that represent the combat strength. For example, a unit with two swords on it will score a “hit” on a die roll of 2 or less.
  • The Lead Player commits one “Allied” unit, if any, and attacks by rolling a die. Any hit scored by the “Allied” unit causes one casualty to the opposing army. To absorb a casualty, remove one Leader unit or one non-veteran Allied unit or Legion, or flip a veteran unit to its non-veteran side.
  • The non-lead player then commits one of his “Allied” units, if any, and follows the same process. If the non-lead player does not have any “Allied” units, the Lead Player continues to attack with all “Allied” units present in his force.
  • Note that combat is not simultaneous. If a unit that is eliminated before it has a chance to attack is just out of luck.
  • The same one-at-a-time, back and forth process is repeated for all “Legion” units.
  • Finally, the same process is repeated for all “Leader” units.
  • This concludes one combat round.

If one side has eliminated all opposing units, that side is victorious and now controls the battle space (i.e. city or Barbarian Area being fought over). If units from both sides still exist, first the attacker (the phasing player, not necessarily the “Lead Player”) has the option to retreat. If not exercised, the defender has the option to retreat.

If both sides refuse to retreat, another combat round will be fought. Eventually one side or the other will retreat or be totally eliminated.

If one side retreats, the opponent gets a (sort of) pursuit round. He rolls one die for every unit in the pursuing (non-retreating) force. Regardless of the actual strength of the unit, every die roll of 1 scores a hit on the retreating enemy units. So, it’s possible that a retreating force could be totally eliminated during the retreat process!

Battle for Rome – A veteran Legion, a non-veteran Legion and the Caesar Leader unit attack the lone Pompeian Legion defending Rome. Neither player has any Tactics cards to play.

The only Leader in the battle is Caesar so his side will be the “Lead Player” in the battle, receiving the advantage of attacking first.

There are no “Allied” units on either side, so we move directly to the “Legions”.

The Caesarian non-veteran Legion rolls a 4. Since the unit only has two swords printed on it, a roll of 2 or less was required so this is a “miss”.

The Pompeian Legion gets to fire back. It rolls a 1, scoring a hit on the Caesarian forces. Caesar chooses to remove the non-veteran Legion since it is the weakest unit, and it has attacked already this round.

The next step is to fire the Legions of the Lead Player. Therefore, the veteran Caesarian Legion attacks, hoping to roll a 3 or less and score a hit. The roll is a 2, scoring the one hit necessary to eliminate the sole Pompeian defending Legion.

Since all Pompeian units are destroyed, the battle ends immediately, without the Caesar Leader unit ever needing to roll an attack die. One Caesarian Legion has been eliminated as well as one Pompeian Legion. Caesar is master of Rome!

Caesar XL - Combat in Rome
Battle for Utica – Brutus, accompanied by three non-veteran Legions, attacks two defending non-veteran Legions.

Once again the Caesarian player becomes the “Lead Player” since he possesses the only leader unit in the battle

Again, there are no “Allied” units on either side, so we move directly to the “Legions”.

Starting with the Caesarian Player and alternating one Legion at a time, all units “miss” on their first round fire (i.e. all rolled higher than 2). The last hope, Brutus attempts to roll a 1, but fails to do so as well. This battle will proceed to a second round.

The attacker declines to retreat, but the Pompeian defender thinks it wise to thank the gods for surviving the first combat round and scoot. Pompey retreats his force to the city of Massena.

The Caesarian Legions, as well as Scipio, may now roll one die each. Every roll of 1 scores a hit on the retreating Pompeian Legions. One unit succeeds, thus eliminating one of the retreating units. Pompey is satisfied that having one Legion survive is better than none, thanks the gods again, and the combat ends.

Caesars Legions now occupy Utica. In addition, since the enemy retreated, one Legion is eligible for upgrade to Veteran status. One Legion is flipped to its veteran side to indicate this.

Caesar XL - Combat in Utica
Battle for Nova Carthago – Scipio, with a veteran Legion and three non-veteran Legions, attacks the three non-veteran Pompeian Legions there.

Once more the Caesarian player is the “Lead Player” since Scipio is the only Leader in the battle.

No “Allied” units on either side so combat begins with one of Scipio’s Legions and then alternates.

One of Scipio’s non-veteran Legions scores a hit, and the veteran Legion scores a hit, while all of Pompey’s Legions miss. The Pompeian force is reduced to two Legions.

The Pompeian defender is determined to make a stand and refuses to retreat. Scipio naturally refuses as well, leading the combat into a second round.

In the second round, Scipio’s first Legion misses and the remaining Pompeian Legion hits. The Caesarian player must immediately remove one of his units and so removes the Legion that has fired already. Now, since the Pompeians are out of units, Scipio’s remaining units (and Scipio himself) may fire at will. The veteran Legion scores a hit, which totally eliminates the Pompeian force and wins the battle.

Since the combat went more than one round, Scipio is allowed to upgrade one of his Legions to veteran status.

Caesarian units are now in command of all the turn’s battle fields.

Caesar XL - Battle at Nova Carthago

Caesar XL - After combat

This ends the Caesarian player turn for Game Turn 1. The Game Turn marker is now flipped over to it’s Pompeian (blue) side and the Pompeian player now repeats the same sequence of phases, starting with the Forum/Victory Phase.

The Bronze and Silver Rules

The first few games I attempted were played using only the “Bronze Rules”, and they were all adequately competitive and enjoyable games. However, a few issues do arise using the Bronze Rules that don’t exist with the Silver Rules.

  • You’ll often find that you have more Gold than you can spend. Using the Silver Rules, you constantly find yourself running out of Gold! There are just more things to buy under the Silver Rules (SPQR Cards, Diplomacy Rolls, Forced Marches, etc.)
  • The ignoring of the Barbarian Areas, to the point where you are not even allowed to enter them, creates artificial “dead ends”. On several occasions I found myself getting trapped in places that I shouldn’t have been. The Silver Rules bring the Barbarians to life and open up many more possibilities (and challenges!) for both players.

I recommend that you spend as little time as possible with the Bronze Rules before moving on to the Silver. I’m also looking forward to trying the “Gold Rules” in the near future!

Winning the Game

Victory can be achieved in two ways:

  • Military Victory – Have your supreme leader in Rome, kill your opponent’s supreme leader, and control at least 25 Gold points worth of cities and/or Barbarian Areas. Neat, clean, simple.
  • Political Victory – The political rules add another dimension to the game that takes it beyond a simple military contest, and require a bit more explaining.

Every Forum Card has three important pieces of information on it:

  • Requirements for gaining control of the card.
  • Special ability for the player who controls the card, and turn Phase during which the benefits occur (i.e. Extra income during the Tax Phase, etc.).
  • One or more “Victory symbols” listed at the bottom.

Caesar XL - Victory symbols on Forum card
Caesar XL - Victory symbols on Leader card

In addition to the Forum Cards, most Leader Cards also have Victory symbols on the bottom. One is a raised fist, which represents the “Populares” faction and the other looks like a chess rook and represents the “Optimates” faction. You must constantly be aware of the net total of these symbols present on all the Forum and/or Leader cards currently in your possession. You need a net total of seven of one faction or the other to win. For example, if you have 6 “Optimates” symbols in total, and 2 “Populares” symbols, you subtract the smaller total from the larger total to arrive at a “net total”. In the example just mentioned, you would have a net total of 4 “Optimates” symbols (6 Optimates – 2 Populares). If either player can achieve a net total of 7 symbols (either “Populares” or “Optimates”) during a Forum/Victory phase, that player wins the game!

Simple, right? Not so fast. While the rules may be simple, winning this game is quite a challenge and most of my contests so far have ended up in a draw!


Let me kick off the summary by saying that this is an incredibly enjoyable and addictive game.

In my opinion, the Political Victory rules are the catalyst that move this from being a good game to being a great game. The basic military aspects of the game are also interesting and challenging but, as with all board gaming activities that involve a lot of dice rolling, strange and frustrating results can occur. With the introduction of the concept of a “Political Victory”, you could be getting your butt kicked all over the Mediterranean due to your crappy dice rolling and still squeak out a victory if your opponent is not paying careful attention. The Political rules (theoretically) provide a mechanism that will allow you to win the game without ever winning a battle. I haven’t seen that happen yet… but it’s theoretically possible, and that’s good enough for me :-)

I am primarily a hard-core, half-inch-hex only type of war gamer, but Caesar XL really grabbed my interest… and held it! It’s the type of board game that has you mentally plotting the moves of your next game, within minutes after the current game is finished. All too many games these days, many of them beautifully crafted and polished, leave you feeling almost relieved that you’re done playing, but Caesar XL leaves you wanting to play again.

I highly recommend this game. All the gamers who played Caesar XL with me felt the same way, without exception. Apparently good things definitely can come in small packages! I look forward to playing more Victory Point Games and hope the others compare favorably with Caesar XL.