Grave Business Game Review

The Basics:

  • For ages 7 and up (publisher suggests 13+)
  • For 2 to 4 players
  • About 1 hour to play

Geek Skills:

  • Counting & Math
  • Logical & Critical Decision Making
  • Strategy & Tactics
  • Risk vs. Reward
  • Bluffing and Misdirection
  • Auctioning, Bidding, & Trading
  • Worker Placement & Area Control

Learning Curve:

  • Child – Moderate
  • Adult – Easy

Theme & Narrative:

  • You are a necromancer of great power and skill who has recently put all your focus into a foolproof business model to make money and raise an army of the undead. All would be well and good if it weren’t for the fact that you have competition…

Endorsements:

  • Gamer Geek approved!
  • Parent Geek approved!
  • Child Geek approved!

Overview

In Grave Business, the player takes on the role of a necromancer (but not necessarily an evil one) and sends their zombie minions into the night to collect the necessary “components” to build their growing army of the undead and any discarded family heirlooms that might be left in the grave. Resources are limited as well as time. Work is made all the more complicated with outside competition from other necromancers who are digging in the same graveyard. There are only so many plots and zombie parts to go around so what is an enterprising young necromancer to do? Clearly, if you want to be on top, you have to take out the competition!

Grave Business is comprised of 1 Graveyard Board, 1 Mausoleum Board, 4 Player Boards (which includes the player’s Vault and Lab), 1 Start Player Maker, 50 Corpse Piece Tiles (3 types in 3 different colors), 47 Treasure Tiles (2 types in 2 different colors), 40 Player-Colored Zombie Tokens (10 each of 4 different colors), and 68 Player-Colored Corpse Pieces Tiles.

Sound like a lot? It is.

All the pieces are colorful and made from thick cardboard. The text and numbers on the tiles are small but easy to read. The illustrations are very cartoonish and macabre at the same time which provides a whimsical, yet dark mood throughout.

Game Set Up

Note: The game itself does not take up a great deal of space, but the set up time can be significant if all the tokens and tiles have been mixed together. The colors on the tiles make them easy to distinguish from one another, but with over 200 tokens and tiles to sort through, it will take you a long time to divide them into groups. It is highly suggested you take the time prior to game set up to divide the different tiles and tokens and store them in bags both before and after the game. This will make the entire process of game set up and clean up faster, not to mention much more manageable.

To set up the game, place the Graveyard Board in the center of the play area and hand out one Player Board to each player. Each player should then be given the colored Corpse Pieces that match their Player Board color. The players should separate these pieces by name to create three different stacks. These stacks of tiles are shuffled and placed, face-down, on the headstone on their Player Board that matches the name on the tiles. All players are also given the Zombie Tokens that match their board color. All but the three Zombies that the players start with should be placed on the image of the necromancer on the Player Board to show they are not currently available. The three zombies the player starts with should be placed to the side of the board at this time.

If you are playing with the rules that allow zombies to attack other zombies, place the Mausoleum Board next to the Graveyard Board.

Shuffle all the remaining Corpse Pieces and Treasure Tiles together. This can be done by simply placing all the tiles in the game box or a bag. Whatever the method, the players will be drawing these tiles blindly and should not be able to easily see what they are selecting. At this time, randomly draw 16 tiles and place them, face-up, on the Graveyard Board in the square spaces.

Lastly, the Start Player Marker is handed to the player who last visited a haunted house or using whatever selection method the group agrees to.

You are now ready to go dig up graves and play the game!

Playing the Game

Grave Business is played in 6 rounds. Each round is divided into 4 steps where the players send their undead minions into the dark night to do their bidding.

  • Step 1: Reset the Graveyard – During this step, 16 new tiles are placed on the Graveyard Board, refilling each square.
  • Step 2: Place Zombies – Starting with the first player and continuing clockwise, each player places one of their zombies to attempt 1 of 5 actions. This step does not end until all players have placed their zombies. The five different actions include:
    • “Dig This Row” – place a zombie on a space found on the border of the Graveyard Board
    • “Grave Space” – place a zombie in a square in the Graveyard Board
    • “Steal” – place a zombie in either an opponent’s Lab or Vault
    • “Start Player Marker” – place a zombie on the Start Player Marker which is currently in front of the player who is going first
    • “Attack” – place zombie on the attack space on the Mausoleum Board – if a zombie is placed here, resolve the combat immediately before continuing – see “Combat & Brainssss…” for details
  • Step 3: Resolve Zombie Actions – All zombies are now flipped face-up. The order in which the actions are resolved are Stealing, Digging Up the Graves, and Determining New Starting Player – see “Zombie Management” for details
  • Step 4: Manage Your Zombies – Players build new zombies and can equip zombies, too – see “Raising the Dead for Fun and Profit” for details

Zombie Management

Zombies are surprisingly capable minions but are horrible multitaskers. As such, zombies can only focus on one action at a time. During step 2, the players’ assign each of their zombies an action to complete. Assigning an action does not guarantee success, however, as contested actions will pit zombie against zombie.

  • “Dig This Row” – zombies placed on these squares that border the graveyard, face-down. These zombies will later be revealed and determine which player gets to claim the tiles in that zombie’s row or column.
  • “Grave Space” – zombies placed on a specific space in the graveyard. Unlike zombies placed on the “Dig This Row” space, zombies on grave spaces are only counted for the specific grave they are on.
  • “Steal”  – zombies placed on an opponent’s Lab or Vault on their Player Board, and are not removed by the time all the zombies have been played, allow their owning player to take one random tile.
  • “Start Player Marker” – zombies placed on the Start Player Marker allow their owner to place the Start Player Marker wherever they like and to secretly look at any face-down zombie already in play.
  • “Attack” – zombies placed on the attack space on the Mausoleum Board attack any other zombie currently in play. Unlike the other actions that wait to be resolved at the end of the zombie placement phase, zombie combat is resolved immediately. See “Combat & Brainssss….”.

Combat & Brainssss…

When a zombie attacks another zombie (initiated when a player places their zombie on the attack space of the Mausoleum Board), the defending zombie turns over one tile on the matching zombie headstone on their Player Board. The number indicated on the tile is the amount of damage dealt to the zombie. If a zombie should ever receive damage equal to or greater than the value noted on their headstone, the zombie is destroyed. All damage is permanent, but as a necromancer, you can always build new zombies later. Zombies that take damage are placed on the defender space of the Mausoleum Board and do not complete the action originally assigned this round.

If the revealed tile states “Zombie Attacks Back” or an Equipment Tile, it might allow the zombie to defend itself. Combat continues like this, back and forth, until one of the player’s zombies takes damage.

Determining which zombie claims a graveyard row is much more civil. To determine who gets to claim the tiles in the rows and columns, you compare a zombie’s brains and brawn. On each Zombie Tile are a number of brains and bones. Whichever zombie has more brains automatically wins. If both zombies have the same number of brains, then the zombie with the most bones wins. If it is still a tie, the player with the Start Player Marker wins. If neither player has the marker, the pieces in the row are mixed back in with the rest of the tiles to be placed in the graveyard during the next round.

Zombies can lay claim to all squares in a row and column they are next to in the “Dig This Row” space. A zombie in a specific space only influences ownership of that specific space. Only one zombie can occupy a “Dig This Row” and grave space at a time. This makes it necessary for a player to attack a zombie if they want to take it over.

Any one grave space could have up to five zombies attempting to control it.

Raising the Dead for Fun and Profit

Each player starts the game with three zombie henchmen to control. In game terms, this means the player only has 3 actions and limited influence. By visiting the graveyard and collecting Corpse Piece tiles, a player can build more zombies to take actions with, but this will cost them points at the end of the game.

All Corpse Piece tiles are found in the graveyard and collected by the player whose zombie controls a specific row or space (see “Zombie Management” and “Combat & Brainssss…”). Once the zombie shuffles back with the bits and pieces, they are kept on the player’s board in the Lab space if it is a Corpse Tile and the Vault if it is treasure.

During step 4, players can use Corpse Pieces to build new zombies. Each Corpse Piece has a number value and the player must combine the tiles so the sum total of all the tiles is equal to or greater than the headstone value of the zombie they want to raise. Keep in mind that a higher number does indicate a more resilient zombie, but not necessarily a smarter one. The player is welcome to look at their unused zombies to see what their brain and bone count is. This is especially useful if the player is looking to build a more combative zombie to harm their opponent’s progress.

Zombies, while exceedingly dim-witted, do have the capacity to use simple tools. A player can equip one tool per zombie from their Vault space if they so choose. To do so, the player takes the tool of their choice and puts it, face-down, on top of the tiles staked on that zombie’s headstone. The tools are used by the zombie when they are attacked. This allows the player to create something of a “shield” for the zombie, albeit limited.

Winning the Game

The game ends and a winner is determined when the graveyard can no longer be filled with tiles.

Victory immediately goes to the player who has the three Remnants of the Master in their Lab.

If no one has all three Remnants, each player adds the number values of all the tiles currently located in their Lab and Vault. The player with the highest total value wins.

And that concludes the summary of the game, but there is much more to it. Take a moment to read through the game rules available on the game’s web site for specifics.

Prediction

Whoa, this game is going to be an interesting one to teach. I already know the theme is going to interest my little geeks (they are absolute nutters for zombies, like their dad), but there is a sharp learning curve on this game that might send them running for the hills. As such, this game might require a number of attempts before my little geeks “get it”. In fact, I’m calling it right now that my 4-year-old is going to be overwhelmed with all he will have to manage in the game.

The game itself is not overly difficult. The steps and actions are fairly simple. What is going to cause confusion is the number of bits my little geeks have to look through and keep track of. Let’s use a puzzle as an example. A 10-piece puzzle is put together just like 5000-piece puzzle. The process to build each is exactly the same. What is different is the amount of time, energy, and thought process you have to put into each piece. Therefore, the more components a game has, the more difficult it is to teach and learn.

With this in mind, I did take a few days to introduce the game. On day 1, we just looked over the tiles and I had my little geeks help me punch out the game and separate all the parts into different piles. This helped them to learn what each tiles was as I gave them a summary of what each piece represented. On day 2, I showed my little geeks how the zombies were made and interacted with the graveyard. On day 3, we reviewed what we had learned before and I introduced combat. On day 4, we put it all together and played the game.

Throughout this process I made it very clear that my little geeks should focus on the “big picture” and not get confused or frustrated by how much “stuff” was in the game. Easier said then done, admittedly, but whenever I saw my little geeks get confused, I would pause the game, take the time to explain and answer any questions, and we’d start again where we left off. This helped my oldest learn the game but my 4-year-old quickly lost interest. Not surprising as there was a lot of downtime while we discussed the game in detail, had lunch, played outside, built LEGOs, wrestled, and read books.

My 7-year-old stuck it out, though, and had the following to say when it came time to play the game.

“OK. I understand the zombies, I understand the graveyard and how zombies attack. What I don’t get yet is how all of this works at the end but I will learn as I go.” ~ Liam (age 7)

I am greatly impressed with my son’s attitude. Instead of taking the easy road, which is to not even try it and tell his dad the game is “too hard”, he is welcoming the challenge and admitting up front that he will be confused and lost, but no less eager to go forward. If only more adults I work with had this attitude…

Final Word

Grave Business is a very interesting game to play. It moves surprisingly fast during some steps and slows to a crawl during others. This up and down always kept me interested but never really overly excited. Kind of like drinking a really good lukewarm coffee. Great, but you could use more heat.

When we determined who got what in the graveyard is when the game slowed down a great deal. This was true when I played two players with my son and when I played 4 players with my friends. You have to really focus in and keep track of where the zombie influence is to ensure that no one is being cheated out of a tile. Depending on the number of zombies, this can be a rather easy chore or a lengthy one. Understand that we are just talking minutes here, but in game terms, that feels like a long time.

From a little geek perspective, though, the speed of the game felt just right to him. The pace changes didn’t seem to bother him and he genuinely enjoyed himself. But he did tell me he felt exhausted afterwards. “Like how I feel after I run outside”, he said. I can appreciate this statement. The game took more brain power then the other games he usually plays. He did have a great time, though, and was engaged throughout. As was I, I might add. This game kept me smiling, entertained, and challenged. Even more so when I played it with my Gamer Geek friends, who are absolute game sharks.

My little geek was only too willing to send his army of shambling dead to do his dirty work in the graveyard!

Gamer Geeks, this is an excellent game that has a true Eurogame feel without being terribly Eurogame heavy. All your favorites are here: area control, resource management, and worker placement, but it has been streamlined and simplified. You can also mess with the other players, which is always good fun. There is a lot to think about and to do during the game. You also have the opportunity to change your tactics and attempt new strategies. Overall, solid.

Parent Geeks, take note. This game does depict grave robbing, brains, bones, heads, and other body parts. It is all very cartoonish and tongue-and-cheek, but this game might not be for you or your little geeks if you don’t see the humor in it. The game play is solid, but the theme might turn you and your friends off. A real shame considering how good the game really is. This game would make for a great “next step” for your non-gamer friends after they have played Ticket to Ride or Settlers of Catan. There is a learning curve, but nothing so difficult that it is not easily explained and demonstrated after only one game round.

Child Geeks, get ready to unleash your zombie horde and take over the world! This game will challenge you and I doubt very much you will understand some of the strategies and tactics that can (and should) be used during the game. Not that any of that matters, however. The game is fun but will take a while to play through. The more people you have, the faster the game as the graveyard will empty just about every round.

Grave Business is a very entertaining game and provides an enjoyable challenge. It will keep you engaged and make you think, for certain, but it won’t be making you sweat or bite your nails. There is a good deal each player can influence on the board and different ways they can mess with the other players. Don’t become overwhelmed by the heft of this game as it is misleading. Everything is very straight forward and intuitive once explained and demonstrated. If you are looking for a good strategy game with zombies, you need not look any further than Grave Business from Minion Games.

This game was given to Father Geek as a review copy. Father Geek was not paid, bribed, wined, dined, or threatened in vain hopes of influencing this review. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek.

About Cyrus

Editor in Chief, Owner/Operator, Board Game Fanatic, Father of Three, and Nice Guy, Cyrus has always enjoyed board, card, miniature, role playing, and video games, but didn't get back into the hobby seriously until early 2000. Once he did, however, he was hooked. He now plays board games with anyone and everyone he can, but enjoys playing with his children and wife the most. Video games continue to be of real interest, but not as much as dice and little miniatures. As he carefully navigates the ins and outs of parenting, he does his very best to bestow what wisdom he has and help nurture his children's young minds. It is his hope and ambition to raise three strong, honorable men who will one day go on to do great things and buy their Mom and Dad a lobster dinner Cyrus goes by the handle fathergeek on Board Game Geek. You can also check him out on CyrusKirby.com. Yes, he has a URL that is his name. His ego knows no bounds, apparently....
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One Response to Grave Business Game Review

  1. James Mathe says:

    You’re right on for most of this! My 5 year old daughter couldn’t stick it out, but my 8 year old son did and kicked my but in the process with a huge horde of Zombies that knocked off most of my bids on the main board. Thanks for the review!

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