Updated: Dec 13, 2019
At first sight, this seems a highly unlikely combination: a zombie game that’s designed to be educational. And despite the “You need brains to survive” strap line, City of Zombies isn’t intended as an educational primer on how to survive the zombie apocalypse. Created by Matthew Tidbury and published by ThinkNoodle Games, City of Zombies is a game designed as a fun way of reinforcing children’s numeracy.
You might think a horror theme like zombies would be an inappropriate choice for a game aimed at primary school children but the cartoon artwork is unlikely to give anyone nightmares. The idea of the game is players are having to use their arithmetical skills to halt waves of zombies that appear at the top of the board and which advance down the board like descending space invaders (which, a generation earlier, would probably have been an alternative theme for the game). Any zombie that reaches the barricade level ‘eats’ survivors equal to its hunger (shown on the top right corner of the zombie card).
Players roll three conventional six-sided dice but this is no roll and move game. To defeat zombies, a player has to use the numbers rolled in order to match the ‘strength’ of one or more of the zombies. They have to make use of all three dice.
You can adjust the difficulty of the game according to children’s differing levels of numeracy; at the simplest level players will match the numbers by matching of exact rolls and by using simple addition and subtraction. All operands are available, however, and at the harder levels some of the zombies’ numerical values can only be achieved by a combination of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Even with the lower level zombies, players may have to think about how best to use the dice. For example, a roll of 6, 5, 2 could be used with either individual dice or combinations of two or three dice to arrive at any of the numbers between 1 and 20, with some of the numbers accessed through the use of multiplication and power ups. Yes, ‘power ups’ allow a player to square any of the numbers rolled (either on a single die or combination of dice) and, indeed, to square that number again: so 2 can be used to make 4 or 16. Powering down is also an option, using dice as the square root, although this is mainly likely to be useful in using a 4 as a 2.
What’s great about City of Zombies in terms of its educational value is that it encourages numerical agility. Children enjoy and quickly rise to the challenge of spotting increasingly complicated ways of combining numbers using the four operations and powering. Hero cards offer special abilities and, in game play terms, players need to think about when these cards can be used most effectively. They are each single use until ‘refreshed’, either as the turn counter (airplane marker) reaches certain waypoints or through an Event card. The zombie deck is seeded with a number of Event cards, some of which are helpful to the players and some of which advance the zombies. It also includes item cards, all of which are helpful to the players; so much so that you may find you need to thin the deck of some of these to avoid the game proving too easy when played with more than four mathematically agile players.
City of Zombies is designed to be played by up to six players and it works very well as a solitaire game. It’s engrossing enough to be played and enjoyed as much by adults as children, especially if you try playing with the Level 1 (easy) zombies removed from the deck! The game can also be scaled up a notch or two in difficulty by applying the effects of the 'apocalypse' symbols on the zombie cards.
If you're looking for a game that will encourage your children to practise their arithmetical skills, you need look no further. Who knew, maths could be so much fun?