This is a blog post written for my Digital Game Cultures class at university which required I limit word count, if you want to read my full review with pictures, quips, and all you can find it here.
I got far too invested in my first blog post for DIGC310, reviewing a board game I’ve played in the last week, so for anyone who doesn’t have the time to read my near 2000 words on City of Horror (and for Chris to read as part of the assessment criteria), here’s the Cliff’s Notes version.
The game requires that each player try to keep a team of survivor characters alive through four rounds of incoming zombies, scarce supplies, and blatant betrayals by other players. Significant mechanics include limited movement, limited capacities at each location, a democratic voting system to decide who gets new items or dies, among others.
The art in this game is truly fantastic, and was one of the reasons I bought it in the first place. In particular the clever use of art on the board space to make the placement of piles of items not currently in use feel natural is something that stands out, for example the barricade of sandbags behind which the restless army of undead are held, and the abandoned ambulance housing the antidotes players must scavenge throughout the game. The game’s pieces are beautifully thematic, combining comic book elements with the appropriate gritty and abandoned feel of any apocalyptic setting. The use of art serves as an excellent production element, happily using detailed images on 2D stands for characters and zombies instead of the plastic miniatures opted for in some other games which can easily warp or send the price skyrocketing.
Apart from this, however, the game is really quite disappointing.
Many characters are stereotyped, possibly in an unsuccessful attempt to mock the tropes and character archetypes of B Horror films. The characters of The Rasta, the Sushi Chef and The Student stand out as being problematic—a psychic black man, a chef who, being Asian, OBVIOUSLY makes sushi and has ninja know-how, and an Asian high schooler with an extremely short skirt as part of her sailor style school uniform. Then there’s my personal favourite (read: the depiction I hate most). The Blonde. This character doesn’t even get a special ability. Instead she is constantly screaming, which attracts a new zombie to her location every turn, and the only way to stop this is by “exhausting” her character. Flip over the card to see the alternate art for the “exhausted” Blonde and, oh hey, she’s been physically gagged!
My disappointment when I first bought the game and discovered the thinly veiled elements of sexism and racism (not mentioned by anyone in reviews while I was researching before making my purchase) was immense.
In fact, most of the media surrounding the game online was fairly misinforming. Specifically, the ‘buy me’ text attached to online store listings of City of Horror claimed that “the city map changes each game” insinuating a high level of replayability. This was a big selling point for me, so imagine my dismay when I discovered that in fact the game contained only six locations which are present in every single play through that can be flipped to reveal… More or less the exact same thing.
The game as a whole, while it does some things very right (especially when the mechanics and theme align), often feels more like an unfinished prototype, with simple instructions translated into obscure coded images in game, and the rulebook occasionally difficult to navigate on top of having some frustrating ambiguities in the way it has been translated into English by the Belgian production company.
Pretty pictures aren’t enough to carry a game.