Feeling like you’ve seen everything zombie-themed games have to offer? Think again! You’re already infected… how will you spend your final minutes? Student Bodies delivers a mad dash to find an antidote for the poison slowly killing you… and a bunch of vicious fellow players who would throw you to the horde to save their own skin!
The Student Bodies board is long and narrow – it will take up most of the center of the table, but leaves lots of room on either side for 4 players. Once placed, you will arrange the lab doors and fire doors on their designated spots to separate the board’s three sections (lab/hallway/exit), place four zombies to the side in the lab, four to the side at the exit and ten to the side of the main hallway.
While the board is static, set-up is not. Each of the board’s 3 sections has a deck of corresponding set-up cards. You must shuffle each of these decks and draw the top card (top two cards for the hallway) to determine how that section will be set up. The hallway is arranged immediately, with zombies, corpses, obstacles and spawn points placed according to the illustrations on the cards. The lab and exit set-up cards are not revealed; they remain face-down until a player accesses those sections by opening the doors, at which point the card is revealed and board set accordingly.
The lab requires a little extra pre-game prep. A number of antidote tokens (a particular type of Beaker Token) equal to player count must be combined with enough of the other Beaker Tokens to make a total of six (seven for a 5-player game). These are set next to the lab area face-down awaiting the reveal of the lab set-up card.
The Zombie Deck, which determines the actions zombies take each turn, needs to be prepared. The rulebook comes with suggested Zombie Deck compositions depending on player count and desired difficulty. As a competitive game it will be difficult enough to beat your opponents… but you can make things harder on everybody by boosting the efficacy of the zombies through deck construction.
The Main Deck (which probably should have been called the “Action Deck”) and Item Deck are both shuffled and placed near the board. Finally, each player selects a character and prepares their Character Sheet. There are no variable powers in Student Bodies, but each character receives one Item Card that serves to differentiate them. Each Character Sheet gets five Health Tokens and three Stamina Tokens (these count actions to be taken). On to the game!
The goal of Student Bodies is to make your way from the entry of your High School to the Science Lab, navigating a hall full of your former classmates turned undead, in order to find the antidote to the zombie virus (alas, you’ve been bitten prior to game start and will eventually turn…) Once you’ve got an antidote in-hand you’ll head back through the hallway of the reanimated to make your way out of the school… and lock the doors behind you dooming anybody who doesn’t get there before you.
Part racing game, part zombie-smasher, part “take that”, you’ll be using a lot of hand management and striking a balance between exploration, running and fighting as you go through each of four steps on your turn: Ready Items, Zombie Actions, Player Actions and Cleanup.
During the Ready Items step, the active player may go through their inventory of items (which is theoretically unlimited… but you may need to shuffle discards back into the 23-card deck in a 5-player game to make this so) and select which 3 items they’ll have access to this turn (only one of these items may be labelled “weapon”). All un-readied items return to your “backpack” – the area to the left of your Character sheet.
Student Bodies gets exciting during the Zombie Actions phase. The active player will draw the top card of the Zombie Deck, which will instruct the active player to move zombies, add zombies to the board, or both (as well as some other nasty effects on the higher-level zombie cards). But the active player has a surprising amount of say as to how the zombies go about their business.
You’re only handicapped by one rule in zombie movement: zombies must move toward the closest character. As you might imagine with a board this narrow, there are frequently multiple “closest characters” (even in 2-player games!) Where there are options the active player gets to choose which of these “closest characters” to advance the zombie on. In some instances you can even open a clear path for yourself through zombie movement, then exploit that path during your player actions. And in the event of a zombie attack (which triggers when a zombie with a movement point to spend is already adjacent to a character) with multiple possible targets, the active player gets to choose the attack’s recipient.
The Player Action phase allows you to expend your Stamina Tokens moving or playing Main Deck cards from your hands. Some Item cards require Stamina Tokens to play; others are used for free or discarded for use. In general players have three Stamina Tokens to expend, but this amount can be raised by use of certain cards. Movement costs 1 Stamina Token, as does standing up if you were knocked down by a zombie or opposing player.
The final phase – Cleanup – allows players to discard any unused Main Deck cards from their hand (if they choose) and re-draw to a hand of five. At this time Stamina is reset to three tokens.
Student Bodies has two great tools for keeping players dialed-in when it’s not their turn: first, zombies can attack you constantly (and other players may choose to as well) – it’s not uncommon in a 4-player game to suffer two or three attacks between your turns; second, your hand of Main Deck cards (and possibly some Items) will contain abilities you can use during other players’ turns to combat these attacks, in some cases even attacking back. While a 4-player game will take longer than a 2-player game, there is never a dull moment… even if you’re waiting 10 minutes for your next set of Actions.
When attacked by zombies you’ll roll the Zombie Attack Die. This 6-sided die has two “bite” faces (you’ll lose a health token unless you have a card to block it), two “knock down” faces (you’ll suffer no injury, but be prone to an automatic bite on the next attack and have to use one of your precious actions to stand up on your next turn) and two “miss” faces (zombies see poorly – they bit the trash can instead of you). While this even distribution can make the zombies a little less potent (given the abundance of cards that help you dodge bites, you’re more likely to get away clean on a zombie attack than take a wound), the sheer volume of attacks you’ll encounter keeps the damage coming.
If you lose all of your Health Tokens before finding an antidote you are dead. Temporarily. For you will rise… and you will hunt your former schoolmates until the last has perished. Upon death you’ll flip your Character Sheet – the back contains your character’s Smart Zombie. You will swap out the normal character standee for its orange-rimmed zombie version and begin tormenting your former comrades. Note that losing your final Health Token AFTER finding the antidote will truly kill your character. You’ll be watching the rest of the game from the bleachers.
While alive you were able to attack other players, but you were generally more concerned with finding the antidote yourself. Once dead such qualms are gone… no more exploration or running, just feeding! You keep three Stamina to expend on actions per turn, as well as a hand of five cards from the Main Deck that make you much more powerful than a regular zombie (some Main Deck cards contain extra powers for Smart Zombie use only). However, you can still be double-killed – Smart Zombies have only two Health Tokens (although there are means to generate more)… if you lose these you’re eliminated from the game.
To win Student Bodies as a Smart Zombie you need to eliminate all living characters. All Smart Zombies still alive when the last living character dies have won.
This is a big box holding a bunch of stuff. First and foremost are the cardboard standees. There are 18 Zombies (in eight unique illustrations), 5 Characters and 5 Smart Zombies. The illustrations are fantastic, the cardboard durable, and the scale huge (around 2.5 inches); these are probably nicer than miniatures would have been. While 18 zombies doesn’t sound like a lot, it’s just right for a board of this size. If all of them are out, you’re probably dinner.
“A board of this size” may make it sound small, but it is actually quite big. It just doesn’t have an abundance of space (due to the large size of the standees). It’s more concerned with setting the grid for the game than setting the theme, so school-related touches are minimal (lockers adorn the sides, as well as a few classroom doors… and a few blood smears in the corners).
The Main Deck contains 82 cards of possible actions in 22 flavors (between 2 and 6 cards apiece). If this seems like a small number of unique actions for 82 cards, it’s made up for by the Item Deck. There are 21 unique items among that 23-card deck. The value of these cards can vary – they’re all useful in certain situations… but the situations for certain cards materialize more frequently than others.
Of the 126 included cardboard tokens, I only have complaint with the Stamina Tokens. It’s not a quality issue – all cardboard in Student Bodies is above average – but a size issue. They’re the smallest tokens, but the ones you handle most frequently. The rulebook itself offers a solution – simply use one Stamina Token to slide up and down your Character Sheet as you use Stamina, rather than moving three-plus tokens back and forth each turn. It’s a small recommendation, but helps de-clutter a component-heavy game.
Five included Character Sheets do a nice job of providing a breakdown of rounds and actions as well as tidy homes for your Heath, Stamina and Antidote tokens. They also work well to help separate the living from the undead.
Student Bodies is easier to get the hang of than most zombie survival games. As many in the genre are cooperative, they inevitably end up pretty rules-heavy. Being competitive, Student Bodies can skip the convoluted rules on zombie spawning/movement, item trading (as is the modus operandi of Smirk & Dagger Games, you would never think about helping a fellow player in Student Bodies) or general pressure-building that ensnares its cooperative cousins.
This allows you to get the hang of the zombies pretty quickly… but your opponents are just as dangerous, and frequently completely unpredictable. Like all good hand management games, truly mastering Student Bodies involves knowing when to utilize or dump the cards in your hand, and anticipating what remains in the deck to turn the game to your advantage. We learn through repetition.
Who would enjoy this game?
Don’t be mislead by the “No Guns” badge Student Bodies proudly wears… while there are no guns, there is certainly a ton of violence. Your vessels may be soccer trophies and hockey sticks rather than bullets… but you’ll be smashing skulls all the same.
While this was a little surprising (we were anticipating more of a “run at all costs… but trip others while you’re running” game), Student Bodies is not worse for it. It’s a lot of thematic fun stuffing your backpack with items you find in the corpse-strewn hallway that may be of use later. The fact that it’s all stuff a high school student might carry rather than guns and knives just makes sense.
Like most zombie games Student Bodies plays with the fear of “what’s behind that door?” And while it does so less frequently (due to only 2 rooms to open), it enhances the unknown by not telling you until you open the door how close zombies may actually be to you, and what exact point in the room you need to arrive at to accomplish your objective.
Scaling for player count is rather unique Student Bodies. 2-player games play nothing like 4-player games, but they’re equally challenging. In a 2-player game you’re at little risk from opponents but you WILL be overrun by zombies. It can be imperative to be well equipped with items before entering the Lab and finding an antidote. In a 4-player game more zombies will die… but those opponents will do some nasty things to you. And you will return the favor.
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