When it comes to games imported from Japan, the first thought most people have is video games. Not many would think of card games. But that’s exactly what Card of the Dead is. Card of the Dead is a draw-one-play-one card game designed by Motohiro Nakamura imported from Japan to America by Alderac Entertainment Group, who was kind enough to supply me with a review copy of the game. And this is probably the most unique game of its type I’ve played in a long time.
Card of the Dead certainly has elements familiar to you if you’ve played similar games, like Zombie! Run For Your Lives! and Badass Zombie Killers, where you try to get out certain cards to escape the horde while trying to prevent yourself from getting too many zombie cards. But it also has so much more. Let’s back up, I’m getting ahead of myself.
The game components are fine. The cards are fairly standard playing card stock. Very easy to shuffle and not at all glossy, just the way I like it. The rules come on a folded, double-sided sheet of paper which works well enough, but you need to be careful, since I’ve found the creases have an annoying tendency to rip if you aren’t. The box is a solid cardboard with a cradle that’s easy to put the cards into and take them out of. The art is good. It’s very cartoony, perhaps just a little too cartoony, but not so much that I don’t like it. It works, it’s functional. To be honest I’m not sure if I prefer the original artwork of the Japanese version or the new artwork made by Alderac. As you can see below, in Japan this game was much darker. Literally. It gives the game a much different feel and I can see why Alderac would change the artwork. The Alderac art is perfectly suited for a family game in North America, while the original Japanese artwork isn’t so much.
There are three types of cards. Zombie cards (with green titles) are bad. If you get too many in front of you, you get eaten. Action cards (with yellow titles) are good. Action cards have a dual purpose. They can be played for an effect, usually getting rid of zombies in front of you, or played as movement cards to help you escape the zombies and give you Survival points at the end of the round. Event cards (with blue titles) are different, in that instead of going into your hand, they are played immediately. Some of the effects are bad, some just change the game. There aren’t many Event cards, but they all add a certain amount of unpredicatability to the game. This is more good than bad, as it shakes up the monotony that most draw-one-play-one games have, but it also can really suck if you end up on the wrong end of one of them. You can literally go from “about to win” to “lost this round” in the play of a single Event card, which takes away from the strategic feel of the game just a bit.
The best part of the game is that it’s played in several rounds. Instead of going the all-or-nothing route, Card of the Dead uses a cumulative point system. At the end of each round, anyone not eaten by zombies counts their movement points and gets that many survival points. (If only one person is left standing, the round is over and they get a flat 5 Survival points.) You can technically not win any of the rounds, but still win the game, if you played your cards right. It’s not easy, but it’s possible. It seems like a small thing, but between this and the dual-purpose Action cards, it completely changes the way you play the game. Your decisions are much deeper than just “do I help myself or screw over someone else?” You have to decide if playing an Action card to get rid of zombies would be more beneficial than playing it as movement. You have to decide if you want to end the round by escaping the zombies for extra points or if you want to deny someone else points by playing a zombie on them so they get eaten. You actually have to think long-term in this game!
Card of the Dead actually plays pretty well, too. I wouldn’t say it’s quite as much fun as Badass Zombie Killers, but I do like that Card of the Dead has actual strategy to it. Sure it’s no chess or anything, but for a game as simple and quick as it is, it’s much deeper than anyone would suspect at first glance. I appreciate that a lot.
Bottom Line: In terms of actual rules and how the game is played, this is easily the best zombie-themed, draw-one-play-one game out there. If I’m completely honest, I think that Badass Zombie Killers is more fun due to its over-the-over the top humor. Ultimately, though, I still have to concede that Card of the Dead is the better game in terms of design. It’s more complex, more dynamic, and arguably more thematic. If you’re looking for an inexpensive game that’s great for parties or as a way to fill time in-between larger games, you don’t want to overlook Card of the Dead. Check it out.
You can buy it at your local game store or at Amazon.com
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