Borrow, Ignore, or Buy?
A lot of people are bored of the zombie thing. Not me. For one thing, the appeal of straightforward bad guy artificial intelligence is undeniable: they walk towards you, walk some more, and then paw at you like a drunkard on the subway. There are no cover mechanics to worry about, no flanking, no need to do anything other than walk and paw. And anyway, aren’t they sort of a Metaphor? For death, or how you don’t like spending time with your grandma because she’s slow and she paws at you?
I suspect Run, Fight, or Die! is a metaphor too. Possibly for death. Maybe for boredom.
Run, Fight, or Die! (heretofore called RFoD! because I hate all those commas) is another one of those dice-chuckers that people seem to gobble up. Before we get into it, I ought to disclaim that I’m not really a fan of those games because, well, they’re boring, and my actions don’t often affect the outcome of the game in any meaningful way. There are a few I like, usually the ones called King of Tokyo, but other than that, I find it hard to get too fired up about the latest dice-version of something.
That said, RFoD! does a few things I really like. For one, each player gets a little board that acts like a sort of zombie treadmill, feeding zeds at you at a steady pace. On your turn you generally roll five dice and reroll up to three times — you should know the drill by now — and in RFoD!’s case, different results have their own appeal depending on the quantity and proximity of the zombies, which is a far cry more interesting than many dice-chuckers manage. For example, a baseball bat result is great at killing extra zeds up close, while a gun is useful for picking off distant stragglers. The book of the dead isn’t particularly useful unless you roll a whole bunch of them, but doing so lets you zap an entire row of zombies at once or heal your wounds. The search result, best claimed when things have calmed down a bit, is useful for discovering new followers, little dudes who will bestow perks or disadvantages and always victory points.
I also like the way you can mitigate bad rolls. If you’re unfortunate enough to roll a zombie result, that die is locked and an extra zed will be added to the back of your treadmill at the end of your turn. This is bad, obviously, because it’s rather easy to get swamped and eaten, or at least distracted from looting locations and finding followers. Instead of accepting your fate, the game lets you reroll your zombie dice, though you’ll have to draw a flee card that might wound you, or bring out the mutant zombie boss, or any number of awful things, provided “any number of things” means “about four things.” This is a smart mechanic because it lets you exert some degree of agency over the proceedings, which is always nice to see in a game that’s inherently random.
However, while RFoD! is somewhat innovative for a dice-chucker, it still doesn’t get me particularly jazzed, for three broad reasons.
First, I mentioned above that the game is inherently random, but I’d argue that there’s Good Random and Bad Random, and RFoD! has a few too many instances of the latter. Good Random allows me to mitigate or cope with the fickle results of chance, while Bad Random just sort of sticks me with the consequences to actions that I didn’t actually choose. So, in RFoD! terms, when I choose to flee and therefore get wounded, that’s Good Random, because I accepted the risk of running away; but when I roll the event die at the beginning of each turn — which I’m required to roll, so this isn’t an optional risk vs. reward type thing — and get an “ambush” result that just wounds me outright, without offering some way to block that wound by, I dunno, sacrificing one of my dice or something… well, that’s kind of dumb.
One more example of Bad Random highlights another of RFoD!’s problems. While the cards themselves make no pretense at balance, there’s one in particular that lets you take an extra turn. In one of our games, Somerset drew it twice in a row, stringing three turns end-to-end, which was excruciatingly boring for the other players at the table since there isn’t really any reason to invest in other players’ turns — unlike, say, King of Tokyo, where everyone is affecting the standing of the player in the middle, so other turns have a direct impact on what you’re doing even though you aren’t playing. Here, player interaction is practically nonexistent other than the occasional card that wounds someone or moves a handful of zombies over to another player’s treadmill. Mostly, you sit back and shoot the breeze with whoever else isn’t taking a turn — which is fine if that’s what you’re looking for. It’s just that there are way more interesting filler games out there.
Lastly, and this is one of those personal preference things that some people get super defensive about for some reason, but some of the game’s portrayals of women left some of my friends a tad uncomfortable. Men are bestowed generally competent roles like “outdoorsman,” “army vet,” and “athlete,” while the scantly-clad women are relegated duties like “country girl” and “sweet prom girl.” This becomes less blatant once you dip into the follower deck, but the womenfolk I played the game with all made note of it, wondering aloud why so many of their female characters were defined by their attractiveness — unnoticed smart girl, attractive nurse, hot chick with attitude, screaming cheerleader — while the male characters have a more interesting spread of characteristics and artwork (though I was pleased to see a “dumb jock” in there). Not a huge deal, and I suspect most people won’t care at all, but I think it bears noting.
Anyway, that’s Run, Fight, or Die! I realize this is a pointless review, because some people are going to be bored with this title while the folks who love zombies and/or random dice-chuckers are going to love it, and, as I mentioned above, at least it’s making some positive innovations within the dice-chucker formula.
So what’s my RFoD! Metaphor? Boredom. But it’s the sort of boredom you feel when you’re watching a friend’s favorite nostalgia-tinted movie. I can see why some people like it, but it’s not the type of thing for me.