Zimby. Mojo. Zimby. Mojo.
Remember when Dominion first splashed onto the scene, and its rulebook completely belabored how to pull off the whole deck-shuffling thing? There were diagrams and everything. You might have been a deck-building genius from day one, but I remember not entirely wrapping my head around it. My brother-in-law had to stop me from shuffling my discard pile prematurely. It wasn’t that the concept was complicated; there just wasn’t anything like it.
Well hold onto your socks, because when it comes to Jim Felli’s Zimby Mojo, there isn’t anything like it in the whole damn universe. Nothing. Zip. Not even close. It’s one of the weirdest, most bewildering, out-there games I’ve ever played. And if you know anything about my taste in games, that makes it an absolute winner in my book.
Here’s the elevator pitch:
Each player is the shaman of a tribe of cannibals called zimbies. Yes, cannibals. Yes, they eat each other. Yes, that’s something you can do in the game. And there are multiple ways to do it.
Great, so that’s out of the way. As the shaman of your tribe, you very much want to become the cannibal king of all zimbies. The king himself resides in the center of this maze-like complex, surrounded by hulking guards, deadly blood thickets, magical portals, and a few locked elemental seals. In order to penetrate the king’s inner sanctum, you have no choice but to work together with some other shamans. Once the king is dead, it’s everyone for themselves as you race to drag the crown back to your village. Think of it like a heist, except once your team has broken in and stolen the goods, it turns into a game of rugby, with everyone on their own team, and zombies shambling around, and guards chasing you down these narrow corridors, and magic spells changing the rules every few minutes. Sometimes people will team up to drag down whoever has the crown; other times they won’t. Alliances are opportunistic and last maybe forty seconds before dissolving again.
The thing about Zimby Mojo isn’t so much that it’s complicated; rather, it’s otherworldly, like an artifact from some parallel universe where game publishers with their safe bets and safer marketing and almost-knockoff titles never came into existence. The rulebook is a cackling mess, omitting even a single concise list of what you can do on your turn, but after a couple rounds that almost stops mattering, as everyone begins to move on instinct, playing to the freewheeling bongo rhythm that underscores each round. As one of my friends pointed out during our most recent game, he had no idea what he was doing, but everything he did made sense. Such is the game’s ability to transmit you into a world where gleefully screeching pygmies swarm together, climbing atop one another’s shoulders — even making nice with the zimbies of other tribes for the time being — in order to more efficiently rip and tear at their opponents.
Here’s an example. In one game, the white tribe was absconding with the former king’s crown. This was an hour into the game, maybe an hour and a half. Down the corridor that pair of zimbies ran, crown balanced between them, grunting under its weight but almost making it around the bend to their home territory. At the instant the white zimbies passed a T-junction, a single green zimby announced he was interrupting the white shaman’s turn. A witchery was being cast. The white shaman rolled a die, his new crown failing to shield him from this treachery — there is a lot of dice-rolling in this game — and then the green shaman succeeded in channeling the spell through his lone zimby, blasting both of the crown-bearers. The crown was now on the ground, waiting for another set of greedy claws to pluck it up.
I happened to be nearby, my yellow zimbies sharing a column with those of the red tribe. I gladly ditched my erstwhile companions, scuttled over to the crown and set it atop my head. I ran off in the opposite direction, but not before casting a witchery that would leave a set of vines in my wake, preventing my enemies from passing. Back home, friendly zimbies chanted a magical incantation that lightened my feet and let us travel more quickly. Dodging guards and former allies alike, I left behind one of my zimbies to block any pursuers. I even transformed him into a zombie, a lurching creature that’s almost impossible to dislodge.
Unfortunately, that very same zombie would be my undoing. He was cheerfully receptive to my commands while my mojo held out. Mojo is the game’s primary magical vintage, used for everything from moving to casting spells, and I’d run dry for the time being. Unwilling to cannibalize my few remaining zimbies for an extra squirt of the stuff, I decided to end my turn. I was secure, after all: my enemies were either far away or blocked by vines and my zombie. I was sure I’d be safe.
Driven by unnatural hunger, my zombie shuddered to life. While I was far off from any enemies, I was much too near to my former brother, and he immediately began snacking on the lone zimby who’d worn the crown. Back to the floor it went, again awaiting a warm clutch to bear it off in a new direction.
There’s a feverish logic to everything that happens over the course of a match of Zimby Mojo. Guards patrol near to the king, then begin sprinting madly around the map once their liege has been slain, even potentially regaining the crown and dragging it home to anoint themselves your new sovereign. The king himself casts spells, and has enshrouded his complex with impassible vines that funnel you towards the center, though these begin to wither once he’s shuffled off this mortal coil. Shamans must team up, both to break the seals that protect the inner sanctum and in order to kill the all-powerful king. Teleporting onto a zimby will promptly detonate it. Having your warriors cannibalize one another will drive them into a blood frenzy, all the better for assaulting other creatures or casting spells.
Of course. Like being in the middle of a dream, it all makes sense. The rules might have you walking on the ceiling, but for the moment there’s no other place your feet might find purchase.
Best of all, Zimby Mojo is so wonderfully vindictive, but it never feels serious enough that anybody but the most delicate could ever find themselves taking offense. Driving the crown down the final stretch, your heart will pound with the strength of a thousand roaring percussion sections — only to flutter when somebody somehow manages to disrupt your plans, snatching the crown away at the last minute, hopping into a portal, leaving traps in their wake. Your friends will betray you, you will betray your friends. It’s not a big deal. It’s just the crazy day-to-day life of zimby cannibals. Look at those grins. These guys love it.
There’s a chance you’ll love it too. I certainly do. Zimby Mojo isn’t a game for everybody, with rules aplenty and enough dice-chucking to satiate even the most free-willed despiser of all things deterministic. It’s capricious, fevered, cracked in the head, messy, and will absolutely have people shouting about overpowered cards and flubbed rolls and How could you not see how easily Laura could get the crown that round?
Glorious insanity. That’s what this is. There’s nothing like it in all the world.