Student Bodies, by Angry Duck Games, takes place in a high school that’s been overrun with zombies. The players take the part of various outcasts, from the goth girl to the D&D nerd. However, the real problem is that you’ve all been bitten. You have to get from one end of the hallway down to the science lab to find a cure, and then back down the hallway to escape out the fire exit so you can lock the doors behind you, leaving everyone else still alive inside to be eaten by zombies. It’s possible to die and come back as a zombie, in which case you’d work with any other zombies to kill the remaining survivors and you all “win” when everyone dies.
First off, the components are pretty solid. The tokens are a nice cardboard and the cards are a good cardstock that’s easy to shuffle. There are standees instead of minis, but for this game I think I like that, since the visuals are really good and you get details you just wouldn’t get with minis. Honestly, if more games had standees this good, I might could be tempted away from minis. The artwork is sort of cartoony but not overly so, with just the right amount of blood and gore. Despite being bloody, it’s very clean artwork and it works. The standees look nice and colorful, and the character design for the survivors is pretty great. I also like how they came up with a pretty decent name for their zombie game without resorting to using the word “dead” in the title. Granted, the original version of this game was titled “Zombies 101” which is pretty generic, but they found a better name and went with it. Good for them.
As for the game itself, I like what they did with the game setup. It’s actually kind of neat as it allows for a decent amount of replayability. The decks for setup and zombie spawning all contain quite a few more cards than you’ll actually use during a single game, so there will be a lot of variation in between games.
The rules are actually quite simple. Everyone starts with five health, three stamina, five cards in their hand, and an item card. You set the board up according to the drawn setup cards and then put the survivors at one end of the hallway. Each turn has four steps. First you deal with equipment, if you managed to loot an item card from a corpse the previous turn. Then you draw a zombie card. These tell you what the zombies do. Usually either some zombies spawn and then take an action, or all zombies take an action. Sometimes it’s both or something else entirely. Non-player zombies will use their actions to move towards the closest player, if no obstructions are in the way. If they’re already next to a survivor, then they’ll attack them. The player whose turn it is gets to choose who the zombies target if there are two or more players equidistant to them. When the zombies are finished moving and attacking, then the active player gets to move. You normally get three stamina a turn to either move or play cards, but some items can change this for a turn. Cards are mostly for moving, attacking, or defending. You have to choose your moves wisely, because if you move next to a zombie it will automatically attack you. (Unless you use a card to “rush,” which allows you skip being attacked.) Zombies are fairly easy to kill if you have attack cards, since they don’t defend themselves and only have a single hit point. You can also attack other players, but they have the chance to defend themselves if they have the cards for it. After the active player moves, they can discard any cards they don’t want, and then all players who have fewer than five cards in their hands draw back up to five. Only the active player gets to discard, though.
And that’s the game in a nutshell. It’s actually really simple. Figuring out where the zombies need to move is probably the hardest part, since it’s not uncommon for them to be equidistant to two or three players at once and you need to figure out who it would be most advantageous for you to screw over. As for how the game actually plays once you have the rules down, I have mixed feelings. The game has occasional moments of brilliance mixed with a lot of shortcomings. It’s fun enough, but I wouldn’t make it my go-to game to play.
One of my big complaints about the game is that there’s a lot that doesn’t make sense. For instance, I get that high school is cliquish, but why wouldn’t the remaining survivors work together to get out? I mean, there’s enough of the cure for everyone in the science lab, so why fight each other? Do they really hate each other so much that they’d lock each other in, even the ones who have been cured? I’m a nitpicker like that and there are a lot of small logical problems I have with the game’s premise. I probably should let go of them and play, but they bug me.
Another problem is that the game just doesn’t seem to play in the manner intended. The description makes it sound like it’s a cutthroat game where you’re stabbing each other in the back and attacking each other as often as you kill the zombies. But in the games I played, that just didn’t happen. That’s not to say we didn’t play against each other, we did, it just didn’t happen as much as we were expecting. Heck, with only two players, there was almost none of that and the game felt more like a sprint than anything, since we mostly avoided each other. More players (four or five) is definitely the best way to play this game, but even then we didn’t interact with each other all that much. Most attacks against other players got blocked and the zombies just felt more dangerous so we concentrated on them more than each other. A few things got stolen, a couple people got knocked down, but not much more. Maybe it’s just a matter of how our group played the game, but there just didn’t feel like there was enough incentive to go after the other players as opposed to the zombies.
My next complaint is really just an extension of my previous complaint, but I feel the game gets a lot of stuff only half right. What I mean is that there’s a lot in the game that feels like it works at first, but as the game continues it stops working as well. For example, at the start of the game, the zombie spawning works great, forcing you to make decisions about killing zombies or running around them, what routes to take, etc. But in pretty much every game I played, all of the players would get to the science lab and then there ended up being a huge blockage at the doors to the science room, forcing the players to bash their ways out. It’s really easy for that to mean TPK since the zombies can respawn as fast as you can kill them. Maybe we were playing sub-optimally in getting to the lab, but getting out just wasn’t much fun. Even when I once managed to get a hand full of cards that would let me swap places with the zombies and move through them without really fighting, essentially bypassing the entire horde, it felt like a hollow victory. Sure it was awesome for me, (and I laughed at everyone else when it actually worked,) but it was pure luck and it wasn’t so fun for the other players, trying futilely to get out via violence.
I kind of feel that I’m being harsher on the game than it really deserves. I should emphasize, this is not a bad game. It just that it feels to me like it’s an incomplete game. It feels like the rules the game does have are fine-tuned and functional, but also that it doesn’t have quite enough rules to make the game everything it could be. But then again, I also admit a bias towards games on the more complicated side of things. The upside to this simplicity is that if you like homebrewing rules for games, making your own rules for Student Bodies would be pretty darn easy.
Bottom Line: Student Bodies is a pretty simple game, which is both its greatest strength and greatest weakness. If you’re looking for a zombie game with depth and strategy, look elsewhere. However, if you’re looking for something easy to play that’s simple enough for your kids to pick up quickly, then Student Bodies might be for you.
You can find Student Bodies at your local game store or on Amazon.com
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