Senior year wasn’t supposed to end this way. A mysterious plague has fallen over the high school, turning the jocks, nerds and teachers into brain hungry zombies! Only a plucky crew of cheerleaders stands in the way of the undead taking over the entire town. Two players will face off to see who will walk out of school alive or…well, dead. It’s Zombies Vs. Cheerleaders!
ZvC is kind of like a tower defence game. Each round the zombies will shuffle forward and attempt to tear down the barriers separating them from a tasty meal. As some of the barricade cards get removed they may be collected by the zombies for special abilities. The cheerleaders will spend their actions to move, attack zombies, or shift the barricades. Whenever the cheerleaders manage to kill off a zombie boss they collect the card for its special ability.
Each team is made up of characters with their own skills and personality. The zombies are comprised of the student body and faculty of the school; jocks, nerds, teachers, band members and even the lunch lady have been infected. It will be up to the player controlling the zombies to use their skills effectively, tear down the barriers, and defeat the cheerleaders. If that weren’t enough to ruin prom night, a set of zombie bosses will also be among the undead: the coach, nurse, security guard, principal, janitor and teacher’s pet are all stronger than the average zombie.
The cheerleaders each have their own skills, specialized weapons and method of attacking the zombies, like Gloria and her molotov cocktails and Vanessa and her razor blade frisbee. They have secured themselves behind a wall of barricades and will work together to destroy the infected.
This game on its own is more or less fine. It works as a type of tower defense board game. There are some interesting tactics to take into account. It’s not going to change your life, but it’s a good way to waste a half hour or so. That being said, there is something that bothered me about the theme of ZvC.
I am a big horror movie fan and I can appreciate many of the genre tropes. Just like in movies, I feel like zombies have been way overdone in games these days. It’s a theme that just won’t stay dead (ba dum chhhh), but I’m really ready to move on to some fresh ideas. Likewise, the depiction of women in both games and horror movies leaves a lot to be desired. There have been some notable exceptions lately, but too often women are depicted as scantily clad victims. In horror movies there is the reoccurring theme of the final girl who survives the axe-wielding maniac of the day in large part due to her avoidance of sex and drugs. The final girl is rewarded for her perceived virtue (for a deeper examination of this trope I highly recommend the Toronto-based horror podcast, The Faculty of Horror). While the cheerleaders are the heroes in this game, they are about as stereotypically represented as you can get – yes, they are the ones fighting for their lives, but never at the sacrifice of their sex appeal. Is it the end of the world? No. But the lazy, unoriginal, and objectifying depiction of women is a problem within this hobby of ours. If for no other reason than lack of originality, we should demand more from a lot of the stories that are being told these days.
The themes of our hobby often rely heavily on outdated stories and tropes. The more stories we can tell from diverse perspectives – not just from women’s, but many others – the more our hobby stops being about a narrow focus and starts to really become inclusive. That should be our goal as gamers, to welcome as many different people as possible to the hobby. That is how we learn, that is how we grow.
In many ways, I’m not the person who should be making this argument. I’m a white male, who has all of the privileges that come along with that and I don’t want to come across as someone trying to ‘save’ women or fight their battles for them. Yet, if people like me don’t add our voices to those pointing out the problems in our hobby, we risk making targets or victims feel isolated or alone. Recently the debate has been starting to build within the board gaming community about the levels of harassment and even outright assault that may exist. I don’t know the numbers and I haven’t witnessed these problems directly. I believe in supporting victims of any form and I can tell you that personally I wouldn’t stand for any of that type of behaviour if I saw it happening. Putting aside the actions of some members of the community, we can look to something as simple as the way games represent different groups as empirical evidence that the hobby, at least at times, views some people very stereotypically.
ZvC is not by any means the root of this problem and I don’t mean to call out the designers or publishers for intentionally perpetuating a stereotype. I simply got around to reviewing this game at a time when these issues were in the forefront of my mind and felt like they needed to be addressed.
You probably didn’t click on this review for a heavy handed rant on the state of gaming or, the problematic tropes within. You want to know if ZvC is worth playing or purchasing. So in a nutshell, ZvC is a game that may meet some two-player needs in your collection. It’s neat how asymmetrical the game is and how it’s designed to make each player think in a unique way to accomplish their goal. It’s not a bad game…it’s just a theme that’s been done and it’s laden with art that I personally think is outdated.