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Most hardcore horror fans, and zombie fans in particular, have envisioned the scenario. You know, the one in which the dead rise up and everything turns to crap. You imagine how it might go down…what you might do…what it would take to survive. It’s a fascinating topic, and one of which we zombie freaks never seem to tire. And thanks to the ingenious work of Lance Meyer, we can have a little bit of help envisioning the flesheating apocalypse.
Meyer is the mastermind behind ZOMBIE CATACLYSM, a “zombie simulation” game that puts you, the player, smack dab in the middle of an undead uprising. Seems like a great concept—and in his capable hands, it becomes much more than that. I recently had the honor of being invited up to idyllic Ruby, New York to take part in the game itself with its own creator, as well as several of his nearest and dearest friends. And I can tell you first-hand that this is the kind of game that ghoul fans have long been craving.
“It allows you to try to do just about anything you can think of during a zombie invasion,” Meyer says. “At the same time, the rules are simple and easy to follow. They don’t define the game; the undead cataclysm defines the game. The rules just allow you to attempt anything you could realistically do—like, for instance, dropping a garbage can over a zombie’s head and taunting it repeatedly as it tries to attack you. Good clean fun.”
Fun is certainly the name of the game, and even though I made the lame decision to select playing a doctor (my weapon was a scalpel…), I still enjoyed the hell out of this highly addictive game with Meyer and his associates. The easiest way to describe it would be to say that it takes the best aspects of role-playing games and distills them into something that even a total newbie can instantly get into, without necessarily having to memorize a damn thing. This is thanks to not only Meyer himself, but also his capable co-writer Joe Bozlinski, who was responsible for the skill-set descriptions as well as the brilliant concept of having players roll to alternate Gamemaster duties.
“Technically, it is a role-playing game—much in the same was as checkers is technically a war game or Internet poker is technically a computer game,” Meyer explains. “It has been heavily influenced by role-playing games and shares some mechanics with them. There the similarities end. Way back in the early ’90s, the role-playing-game industry became infatuated with rules. The real die-hard RPG geeks would buy all of the books of new rules and generate more profit for the companies. Unfortunately, this alienated the casual gamers who just wanted to have fun. We’ve reversed all of that. This is a game that is made for the common person—well, assuming the common person likes zombies. The rules are simple. There is no homework. Anyone can play and have fun.”
ZOMBIE CATACLYSM has its origins in an earlier game developed by Meyer called PREDATOR, in which players get to take on the roles of monsters hunting down human prey. Meyer, who has been designing games for nearly 30 years now, developed PREDATOR back in 1994, and it became an instant underground hit—despite the fact that its über-bloody nature scared away many would-be publishers at the time. Subsequently, Meyer’s friend Arnold Tompkins suggested the concept of a zombie-themed simulation game, and since the framework of PREDATOR had been such a success, Meyer used it to build ZOMBIE CATALCYSM.
From there, Meyer researched a company known as Two-Hour Wargames, which has been heavily involved in micropublishing games. Recognizing this as a feasible way to circumvent the publishers that had been so squeamish in the past, Meyer got to work creating a version of ZOMBIE CATACLYSM that could be self-published.
“No publishers were ever approached about ZOMBIE CATACLYSM,” he says. “It was our plan from the beginning to put it out ourselves. Our group has been described as a bunch of maniacs who don’t believe that a corporation is required to bring a fun game to people who want to play it. This is the 21st century. The players now spread the game themselves.”
To this end, Meyers put together a .pdf version of the game, and in early October began the first official print run. He has also been hard at work promoting the game at all sorts of zombie-related events, most notably the Village Invasion zombie crawl in Saugerties, New York organized by Cruella Moxham (who did all the makeup work for the undead actors photographed for the ZOMBIE CATACLYSM gamebook).
“I would like potential players to know that they will have fun—unless they’re little old women who don’t like zombies,” Meyer laughs. “For many players, this is a new kind of game, and it may seem confusing and even daunting, but anyone can learn it quickly just by playing it. For the fans, this game will finally allow you to find out if all of your zombie survival ideas and training will keep you alive during a real invasion.”
Having survived the game myself—well, not really, since my character was unceremoniously killed off after two hours of playing—I can say that quick and easy fun is definitely what ZOMBIE CATACLYSM delivers. As a fan of both undead films and gaming, I found that was all you really needed to be able to immerse yourself in the game. The rules are intuitive, character generation is a blast and the play itself is smooth and exciting, with an emphasis on cinematic action. As someone who had been somewhat intimidated by role-playing-style games in the past, I can honestly say I was pleasantly surprised.
“ZOMBIE CATACLYSM has been influenced by many movies, but I guess I would have to mention George A. Romero as the main inspiration,” Meyer says. “I wanted to include both the slow zombies like those in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and the fast type from the DAWN OF THE DEAD remake. I also had to include the wiseass humor you find in RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD and SHAUN OF THE DEAD. When it comes to fighting tactics, THE ZOMBIE SURVIVAL GUIDE also gave me a lot of ideas.”
In short, as a gaming experience, ZOMBIE CATACLYSM is a ghoul fan’s dream come true. For more information, or to order copies, check out the game’s official website.
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