App Review: Eat brains or get shotgunned in Zombie Dice

Zombie Dice is one of a new breed of board games that was released almost simultaneously in real life and in digital form as an app for the iPhone/iPod touch. It wasn't supposed to be that way, but the popularity of the free Flash demo that Steve Jackson Games developed for its website made someone realize an iPhone app might not be a bad idea. Fast forward a little while and we can now download – for free*, yay! – a slick version of Zombie Dice from the App Store.

Featuring zombies that are actually kind of ripped and who have a serious love of braaaaaains, Zombie Dice will instantly appeal to the Steve Jackson gamer crowd. Of course, if you're in that group, you most likely already have this app installed, so we'll have to explain what all the fuss is about. Read on and we'll do just that.

*You can get the basic game for free, but not everything. Read the review for details.


The Game

The Venn diagram of people who will like new Zombie Dice app is made up of people who like Yahtzee and those who like zombies. So, that's pretty much everyone, right?

As in Yahtzee, you get to roll dice each turn. Unlike Yahtzee, though, there is no limit to the number of times you can roll. Instead, as in Farkel, you keep rolling until you choose to stop. Why would you stop? Because someone is trying to shoot you, and the dice are out to prove it. In this game, you play a zombie that's out for a simple evening of eating brains. Each die you roll has three options: brains (yay!), feet (hmm) and shotgun blasts (boo!). In a welcome change from most dice games of this sort, different dice are used. There are 13 total, six green, four yellow and three red. Similar to a stoplight, the red dice suggest stopping, the yellow caution and the green one usually mean go. The die represent victims, and the different levels (colors) represent easy, average or hard people to attack. Green dice have three brain symbols, red dice have three shotguns. Yellow have two of everything.

In Zombie Dice, you don't get to choose which dice you will keep and which you'll re-roll. You start each turn with three random dice (of the 13) and roll them. Brains go into your temporary score pile, shotguns are also saved and feet mean that you'll be re-rolling that one (should you choose to keep going) along with enough random extra dice to get back up to three dice. After each turn, you can stop and score your brains or push your luck. If you ever get three (or more) shotguns, your turn is over. Since you can get an idea about how easy the next turn will be based on the feet dice, there are some math problems available to people who are interested in such things.

The goal is to get to thirteen brains and have more than the other players. Everyone gets the same number of turns, so the first to thirteen doesn't necessarily win. The game is quick and easy and takes even less time on the iPhone than it does in real life.

The App

The number one great thing about the app is that it's free. Want to try it? Go for it. The full experience, which offers up better zombies -- which, at the app itself admits, aren't all that smart because, well, they're freaking zombies and eating brains doesn't exactly make you smarter – costs $0.99. The buck is worth it if you want to play against anyone other than the basic zombie AI -- up to eight other people -- but don't want to shell out the $13.13 (MSRP) for the actual dice game. Playing against other humans works best when the iPhone (or iPad, as the game looks decent at 2x resolution) can be seen by everyone. The fun of dice games lies in seeing the roll results and laughing when your friend thinks his five set-aside brains are safe, only to be blown away by three green shotgun blasts in one turn. Good times.

The app's UI is perfectly intuitive and easy to use. I'm not a huge fan of the animated zombie hand that rolls your dice for you, but what the heck, it adds to the theme. What is unacceptable is that when you turn on the app, you also turn off iTunes. Where's my shotgun?

In short, this is a dice game that, ironically, requires more brains to play than Yahtzee. The different dice give the game an interesting twist, and the only reason we can see for not enjoying the simple game is if the theme isn't your style. Other than that, gamers owe it to themselves to check the app out. It's a great and quick way to find out who's going first in a board game session, or whose turn it is to buy a round.

Steve Jackson Games says it is looking to port the game to the Android and the upcoming WP7 platforms, "but nothing has been signed yet," so enjoy the iPhone version as the only Zombie Dice app while you can. If you're interested in playing with the real thing, check out the video of what you get with the physical game below.