Set in a not so distant, zombie-infested world, ZORP is a shoot-em-up strategy game that combines fast-paced action with chess-like strategic maneuvering and decision-making. ZORP is a 2-4 player game, featuring one player as the zombie master, and the rest playing as humans, vying to become the first to receive the only cure to the zombie virus.
(Photo courtesy Wes Trapp.)
Carl on the left. Myself on the right. (Photo courtesy Wes Trapp.)
Carl and Wonky Rhino Games
Wonky Rhino Games is a new publisher, headed by publisher/designer Carl Sommer. I met Carl online through a Christian Tabletop Developers Facebook group, where I learned of his game: ZORP: Zombie Oblivion Response Package.
A few emails later, Carl and I set up a meeting to play at Gen Con this year, but you might already know about this from our previous Gen Con Recap articles. Meeting Carl and learning about self-publishing and designing a board game was invigorating. While simple, his is a story of relentless creative pursuit, and like all other good designers, building and tearing down your design until you’ve put so much work into it, you might as well publish it.
I won’t spoil the preview this early, but as we will see, Carl’s personality bleeds through the cardboard and gameplay of ZORP. This is not only clear through gameplay, but through the mechanics, and definitely the artwork.
ZORP will (ideally) feature three expansions and is keyed in on an early 2017 launch.
“Find a fast shoe” just makes me giggle. (Photo courtesy Wonky Rhino Games.)
ZORP Gameplay Preview
Flamethrower in one hand. Pistol in the other. The cure to the virus is so close, but in between you and victory are at least a dozen zombies. Some are fast. Some move in L-shaped patterns. Thinking about how to get past the horde, you suddenly notice another human making a mad dash for the sole cure. Realizing time is nearly up, do you ignite your flamethrower and kill every zombie in sight? No. That’s the easy way. Instead, you hop into a Honda Fit and plow through the zombies, bringing you that much closer to the cure.
ZORP: Zombie Oblivion Response Package presents you with opportunities like these, and forces you to program your moves in such a way to: position yourself the appropriate distance from zombies, end up close enough to new weapons and events, and most importantly, bring you closer to the cure every turn.
Players are divided into two teams: the humans and the zombie master. The goal of the zombie master is to eat and destroy the human players, turning them into zombies. The humans, while playing somewhat cooperatively early on, will inevitably split up to be the first to reach the cure on the opposite side of the board.
The board features a parking lot, which acts as a grid for players to move their characters. The setup of events and character placement to play the game is simple because of the natural grid state of a parking lot.
Various weapons, along with the layout of the board. Cracks in the parking lot represent starting location for players and events. (Photo courtesy Wonky Rhino Games.)
Littered across the board are tiles that will flip to give players access to new weapons and human-specific events. These could be more powerful weapons, grenades, or ways to kill or distract zombies.
The game is split up into nine rounds, with each round spawning new zombies for the zombie master. On every other turn, the round features a randomized zombie event that aids the zombie master. These can do a variety of things, including: making zombies explosive, giving them a slingshot, etc. The game will end at the finish of the ninth round, and if no players have landed on the cure, the zombie master wins.
My experience with “one against many” game types (Star Wars: Imperial Assault, Descent) isn’t vast at the moment, but ZORP does it well. ZORP isn’t a dungeon crawl, but for players looking for a shorter game to scratch that itch, this one hits right on the mark. Furthermore, I think ZORP could play a pivotal role in introducing kids or newer players to this sort of gameplay. Especially before sitting down to a campaign of Descent or Mice and Mystics.
That said, like Twilight Struggle relies on an experienced USSR player to drive the game with a newcomer, ZORP needs a zombie master who is somewhat familiar with tabletop games, and is okay being the bad guy at the table. To the game’s advantage, I think it’s helpful the game isn’t overly complicated. I think one would find the play of the zombie master somewhat straightforward, but only after mistakes from their first game.
When players realize the combination of silly artwork and easy-to-understand mechanics, a meta develops. I’d be curious to see this ebb and flow from game to game with the same players each time. Maybe the zombie master stacks the middle of the board one game, but then relies on funneling all the players to the center in later games. Maybe purposefully letting players take events and weapons, only to have them waste their time killing zombies and not focusing on the cure.
The setup in all its glory. (Photo courtesy Wonky Rhino Games.)
I appreciate precise rulings for games, and would prefer FAQs in the box, rather than resorting to scouring Board Game Geek threads for obscure rule clarifications. ZORP features direct rulings printed on the back of weapon and event cards. While extremely helpful, these feel a bit of an eyesore, and might have been better suited for a page or two in the rulebook. Carl’s reasoning is to keep the rulebook short, which is a breath of fresh air. After all, I think after two games most players will know the basics, so flipping the cards to read their effects may not even be necessary.
Masked under paragraphs of rules and exceptions, there is a playful nature to ZORP. It makes itself known, likely after a game or two. At first glance, ZORP has a unique art style and that’s about it. In film, Quentin Tarantino bathes in pools of blood and viscera. If you follow auteur theory, then it is clear we are watching another Tarantino movie. In ZORP however, Carl Sommer’s design and artwork speak to this theory, but as a polar opposite to the film director.
Carl’s purpose with ZORP was to design a fun, family-friendly, engaging game for people to enjoy. His theme is prominently a violent one, yet his artwork is bereft of any mature content. His characters fight for their lives, yet point imaginary guns with their hands. Does a character scream at the top of his lungs to distract the zombie horde? No. A blowup from a car dealership springs to life, waving its ridiculous, droopy arms high, opening paths for the humans to escape.
Having only played one of Carl’s battle-tested prototypes of the game, I’m anxious to see finished chits, cards, and of course, the board itself. Carl’s characters are based off close friends who helped play-test the game and bring it to life. They have various silly names, combining both famous historical figures and the violence of the zombie attack, like Andrew Carnagey, or Amelia Scareheart. At this point, I’ve slain enough virtual zombies to not be enthralled by ZORP’s theme. Yet, I realize some groups are still on board the zombie choo choo, and I’m sure that train won’t be making a stop any time soon. This isn’t to the detriment of ZORP, but at least my personal preference leans in another direction.
One feature of ZORP that doesn’t sit well is the possibility of losing the game before it’s over. If you don’t end the second to last turn at least two spaces away from the cure, you are guaranteed to lose. Some players might count zombie kills at that point to decide a faux-winner of the game. Though, let’s be honest, if you didn’t actually win the game, you can’t make up a reason you won. In Imperial Assault, one player might only need to reach a control panel to end the game, so I suppose this is a reality of playing a “dudes on a map” game.
(Photo courtesy Wonky Rhino Games.)
Altogether, I’m thankful to know Carl and to have played ZORP. Furthermore, I find it very encouraging to see a fellow believer pursuing his faith, but also his passions for game design. At the end of the day, what stands out the most with ZORP is Carl’s desire to create something for all people to enjoy. His energy was clear in our conversations, but even more so in the gameplay of ZORP, which is something exciting to experience.
Since my preview has been written, Carl has developed a few changes to ZORP, including new starting player setups, and different rules when a player is eaten by zombies.
Chris enjoys the simple things in life, like teaching his wife the newest review game, looking up Ketogenic recipes, and playing 10 hour long indie games on Steam. If he's not thinking about the oil drum components from Manhattan Project: Energy Empire, playing Player Unknown: Battlegrounds with his college buddies, or dwelling on the release of Daredevil Season Three, he's probably shooting or editing video, because that's what he does for a living.
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