Jennifer & I enjoyed this one a lot. As fantasy films go, this one is near the top.
Don’t let the simplistic blurb fool you, nor the fact that it casts the guys as heroes and the villain as a woman. Though it begins with the standard fantasy trope of young fellow in the boonies who dreams of being something bigger and is destined to become embroiled in a universal battle of good versus evil (you know, like Star Wars), the story grows smoothly into something deeper and more multifaceted. Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore head a cast that never missteps, the story is solid, and the special effects are unobtrusively excellent, making for an immersive experience.
Sometimes a movie comes along that makes me pine for 1980, when our very first role-play group would be inspired by and chatter about a book or film in the fledgling field of fantasy media. (Back when bookstores stocked fantasy novels at the tail end of the two rows of sci-fi books near the back of the shop.) This is one of those films. Except with 2021 CGI.
It’s also one of the very few movies I’ll definitely watch more than once. Time is precious. This one earns it.
With my study table still cleared off, last night Jennifer sat down with me to play The Road to Ruin, a 1-4 player cooperative scavenger hunt across a zombie-infested cityscape. It’s published by Hero Forge Games.
This little review follows my usual practice of “What’s it about? What’s good about it? What’s bad about it? What’s your recommendation?” learned from Space Gamer magazine in the 80’s.
We have the DriveThruCards version, which comes as a deck of 122 cards; you supply a pawn or other token for each player, and “dice cards” are included. The Hero Forge website lists that version and a Game Crafter one with tokens and dice.
Game prep consists of laying out the 25 location cards facedown in a grid, with a different layout in each of five scenarios. One location card, the “Safe House,” your starting point, is left face up. Then 18 zombie encounter cards and 6 “Supply Items” are shuffled together, with 1 each dealt to the facedown locations. Each player selects one of the Survivors, a few weapons and items are shared among them, and play begins.
Your goal is to find those Supply Items and return them to the Safe House—the Radio Call scenario being an exception, in which you must find the “Lookout” and “Airport” locations, then find and take the “Radio Transceiver” to the first 5 Supply Items to the second. The rest of the zombies go to a facedown encounter deck.
Play time is listed as 30 minutes, though I think Jenny and I took about twice that.
The game marvelously captures the theme of things like, “The Walking Dead”: the desperate search for supplies from locale to locale, encountering zombies, while you’re wounded and low on ammunition. This isn’t a game of heroically killing zombies left and right; it’s about desperate survival.
In part, that ambiance is conveyed by the graphic design and mood text, but the mechanics are what seal the deal.
Items are scarce, and when used, many go out of the game permanently. Hand size is limited. The survivors are fragile. And the zombies don’t go away when defeated. Battle at a locale doesn’t discard the zombie card even if you win, it just means you escaped the fight alive. Losing means you escape wounded. Five wounds and you’re dead.
Moving to a locale takes a turn, battling any zombies there. Scavenging the locale takes another turn, battling those zombies again. And the zombie combat levels range from frightening on some cards to truly brutal on others. There are no easy encounters. Combat is a matter of rolling 2d6 and hoping to match the zombie value, with weapons (if you have one) allowing a die to be rerolled. Sometimes weapons break and go out of the game; some weapons require ammunition. Medical supplies are fleeting.
The rules for all of this are simple enough to fit on 7 playing cards, with 4 of those 14 faces devoted to scenario layouts and conditions.
And to top things off, 2 of the cards are deck organizers, making it easy to keep track of which draw and discard decks are which.
There’s very little to complain about.
I do wish the rules cards were numbered, to keep them organized and easier to reference.
More importantly, I wish the rules were more careful to use capitalized game terms instead of less specific, lowercase one. The most troublesome example being that the term “supply cards” actually refers to “Supply Item” cards. It wasn’t until after playing a scenario and feeling “That was too easy” that I realized the items even had an identifier in the upper right corner, with most of those being merely descriptive, like the game’s flavor text.
And though the two organizer cards are handy, even handier would have been to label the card backs of each deck with its category.
One weirdness about the game is that while it includes a “dice” deck so you don’t need actual dice, it doesn’t seem aware of the strategic way that can change play, if mostly high numbers have been used so far, making it obvious that combat is about to become deadly, or vice versa. A direction to shuffle those cards after each battle would help.
Finally (though it’s hardly worth noting and has no discernable effect), the threat deck actually consists of 26 cards instead of 25.
If you’ve read through this review, it probably means you like zombie games, in which case I predict you’ll enjoy this one a lot.
It’s one of the best I’ve encountered in the genre, fun solo, and even more fun with others.