Dead Panic Review

Dead Panic is the latest release from Justin De Witt and Fireside Games, who are both probably best known for their 2009 release, Castle Panic.

Dead Panic is a cooperative game in which players take on the roles of survivors fighting to escape a zombie onslaught. The players do this by moving around the board, and using whatever weapons they can find to kill zombies and stay alive. 

The survivors are still alive in the cabin...but the zombies have take out a wall!

Dead Panic bears some cosmetic and a few gameplay similarities with Castle Panic, but for the most part, the games are pretty different.

One of the most interesting aspects of this game is that while the game starts off cooperatively with all players on the side same, if a player character dies, she turns into a zombie - essentially switching sides - and now has the goal of killing the other players. Players win the game if they are able to survive long enough to find the pieces of the broken radio, collect them all, assemble them, call the van, and get into the van. Anyone who makes it into the van and escapes wins, and any zombie players lose.

Each player will choose a character to play. Each character has special abilities that will need to be utilized in order to make sure the group survives until help can arrive. On a turn, a player will have 2 actions. Possible actions include basic things like drawing a card (when still inside the cabin), using a card, moving, and other special things like repairing, trading, or assembling.

After taking actions (and hopefully killing some zombies), the player has to draw an event card. This card will usually indicate how many zombie tokens need to be drawn and added to the board, as well as which zombies move. After this, all players have to fight any zombies she shares a space with, by using either any weapons she might be (hopefully) carrying or her bare hands. 

Dead Panic is a game that I had high hopes for. I had really wanted to like another game from Fireside Games - Castle Panic - which is distantly related to Dead Panic, but found it overly simple with not very many decisions to be made. While that game was a good choice for family play with younger children, I was hoping that Dead Panic would add more options, and more decisions to a base system that I thought had some interesting potential. And although Dead Panic does add more to the system, I would not say it is a vast improvement over Castle Panic. 

I do really like the aspect of players turning into zombies and then working against the rest of the players. That adds a neat dynamic especially towards the end of the game - when it becomes pretty clear that at least some of the players are going to win, do those in stronger positions take the risks necessary to make sure everyone survives, or does it devolve into "every man for himself" at some point? That piece of the game is a lot of fun. And of course rolling dice for combat adds an exciting "Ameritrash" level of excitement to the game. Overall, though, I was disappointed with Dead Panic.

First, the rulebook is formatted awkwardly. It is easy enough to read through to learn the game, but there are so many tiny rules and rule exceptions that finding that clarification during the game can be very frustrating. The publisher has released a FAQ that address some rules confusions, which is great of them, but might not be found by some players.

Look at all of those! Are you kidding?

I mentioned the rules exceptions above. In many games, and most cooperative games, there are upkeep steps that are required to keep the game moving. These steps are usually outside of the realm of any single player's turn, and (ideally) need to be memorized in order to keep the game moving smoothly. In Dead Panic, at least one of the players needs to know how the zombies move each turn. The table above shows all of the special rules for zombie movement. Does that look like fun to you? For our games I would have kept the rulebook open to this page, but we kept having so many other rules questions that I had to keep flipping back to it. This may seem like a minor quibble, and maybe it would be for some players, but for me, having to look up and confirm rules questions after a fourth and fifth game in the rulebook and the FAQ is rare, and a deal breaker.

I think I would have to give Dead Panic a 5.5/10. There is a game here, but I don't find it especially enjoyable. I do think it is worth reiterating that I did have high expectations for Dead Panic, and these were not compatible with what Fireside Games intended with this release. Dead Panic is absolutely one of those games that I could see other people enjoying, that I just don't "get."

Jim would like to thank Fireside Games for providing him with a review copy of Dead Panic.

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