Zerpang! Game Review

zerpang_top

The Basics:

  • For ages 8 and up (publisher suggests 12+)
  • For 2 to 6 players
  • Approximately 90 minutes to complete

Geek Skills:

  • Counting & Math
  • Logical & Critical Decision Making
  • Reading
  • Strategy & Tactics
  • Risk vs. Reward
  • Hand/Resource Management
  • Worker Placement & Area Control

Learning Curve:

  • Child – Moderate
  • Adult – Easy

Theme & Narrative:

  • It’s the final showdown between Zombies, Elves, Robots, Pirates, Aliens, Ninjas, and Gunslingers!

Endorsements:

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

Overview

Classic geek culture archetypes once again meet on the battlefield to claim the title of ULTIMATE GEEK MEME! Zombies, Elves, Robots, Pirates, Aliens, Ninjas, and Gunslingers are ready to fight to the bitter end. Each army has their own path to victory and unique way of fighting, making it clear you must know your enemy to survive. Choose your army wisely and then lead them into the heart of the skirmish where only one shall rise above the rest!

Zerpang!, by Whirling Derby, is comprised of 1 game sheet, 9 Class cards (2 Ninjas, 2 Pirates, 1 Robot, 1 Gunslinger, 1 Zombie, and 1 Elf), 99 Resource cards, 6 card stands (one per player), 36 player pawns (in 6 different colors, 6 per player), and 12 Zombie Infection rings.

Game Set Up

To set up the game, first place the game sheet (it’s technically the game board, but it’s printed on paper cardstock instead of mounted to a thick board – thus, “game sheet”) in the middle of the playing area and within easy reach of all the players.

Second, each player should now choose a pawn color and take the matching colored card stand. All the pawns should be placed in the player’s selected Home Base.

Third, each player should now select a Class card. This can be done either randomly or each player can take the time to review each Class and take the one they want that best matches their playing style. The player who selects the Zombie Class card should take the Infection rings. When done selecting, at least one player MUST be a Ninja or a Pirate. The Class cards are placed in the card stands and in front of their owning players. Additionally, the Elf Class card should only be used if you have a friend who wants to observe and not play. It’s a silly class…

Fourth, shuffle the Resource cards to form the Resource deck. From this deck, deal out 4 cards to each player. The rest of the deck is set aside and within easy reach for all the players. Make sure to leave room for a discard pile.

That’s it for game set up! Determine who should go first and begin!

A Quick Tour of the Battle Zone

The game sheet is divided up into circles that the player pawns will move in, on, and through during the game. There are specific locations on the game sheet that are important to game play in regards to drawing cards and obtaining victory. Honestly, the rules included with the game do a great job of summarizing the spaces. Since I am by nature a lazy creature, I’ll just reuse the image included with the rules. Sooooo lazy…

zerpang_board

Resources, Points, and Powers

The game is driven, more or less, with the Resource cards and the Class cards. The Resource cards contain two different types. These are point Resource cards and specialty Resource cards. The point Resource cards have a number value on them referred to as “points”. Points are spent to complete actions during the phases of the game. Think of them as something like currency, except you can’t get change if you pay higher than what a specific action is worth. The specialty Resource cards have a point value, but also a specific action that is only available to the Pirate and Ninja class. Regardless of the class, specialty Resource cards can always be used for its point value. When paying for anything, the Resource cards used are discarded into the discard pile.

Each class has a number of special powers. These are summarized on the back of each of the Class cards and detailed in the game rules. The powers of each class are too numerous and varied to go into detail here. Read the game rules to learn more about them. What we can tell you is that they are all unique, perfectly balanced (from what we observed), and compliment each of the classes they belong to. Oh, heck, here’s a few to demonstrate what we mean.

  • Contagion (Zombie class): infects an opponent’s pawn making them a “Carrier”, thus making more Zombies.
  • Resource Probe (Alien class): draw 1 Resource card whenever an opponent draws a card if one of the opponent’s pawns have been abducted.
  • Quick Draw (Gunslinger class): player always draw up to their hand size limit…always.
  • Upload (Robot class): player transfers one of their pawns to the “Cloud Mind”, taking the pawn off the board.
  • Dirty Rotten Scoundrel (Pirate class): move an opponent’s pawn, but pay a lot more points for doing so.
  • Leap Across the Heavens (Ninja class): player can move their pawn to any open space on the game sheet if the pawn is currently located on the player’s Gate space.

The Elf class is something of a joke, as it is only meant to be used if a player is observing but doesn’t really want to play. For example, one of the Elf powers is noninterference that states the Elf player won’t do anything to another player, ever. Or, put another way, not play.

Zerping the Pang

The game is played in turns with each player completing 4 sequential phases. Once they have completed their turn, the next player going clockwise has their turn. This continues until one of the players has successfully completed their victory condition. Some classes have the ability to replace the 4 phases with a class-specific phase. The Class card will detail when and how. The phases follow.

Phase 1: Entrance (Optional)

All the pawns start on the player’s Home Base. During this phase, the player can bring in a pawn at the cost of 1 point per pawn already on the game sheet. The placed pawn must occupy one of the two available Gate spaces in front of the player’s Home Base.

Phase 2: Movement (Optional)

Choosing one pawn, the player can move it to one unoccupied space for free. Every space after the first will cost the player 1 point. There is no limit to the number points that can be spent to move the pawn, but a pawn cannot travel through or end its movement in an opponent’s Gate space or on an opponent’s pawn. Players can move their pawns onto any Great House and Buried Treasure space.

Phase 3: Combat

When two or more enemy pawns stop their movement next to each other, combat ensues. Combat is pretty straight forward, but is surprisingly involved.

During combat, there are essentially two sides. These are the Aggressors and the Defenders. The Aggressor is the player that initiated combat by moving their pawn into combat range. The Defender is the hapless player who got dragged into the conflict. These two players will be playing Resource cards, using the point values, to determine who will win the combat phase. Additionally, other players can assist one of the two sides by playing Resource cards that are added to combat.

When combat first starts, all the connecting pawns on each side are counted. “Connected” means adjacent to one or more of the pawns in combat. This represents the player’s base combat rating. For example, if the player had 1 pawn adjacent to an enemy pawn, but then had 2 of their own pawns in a line directly behind the initial pawn in combat, their combat rating would be a “3”. Connected pawns can be in a chain or a “clump”. All that matters is that each is connected.

zerpang_combat

Once players tally their base combat rating, they will now play Resource cards, one at a time, to determine who has the combat advantage. A player who has a pawn involved in combat that is also in their Gate space, gains an automatic +5 to their combat rating. The Aggressor will play their Resource card first, announcing its value and their new combat rating. Then the Defender goes. This continues until both players (and any player who wishes to assist) stops playing Resource cards.

To win, the Aggressor needs a total combat rating higher than the Defender. If the Aggressor wins, all the Defender’s pawns are returned to the owner’s Home Base (unless a Class card says otherwise). If the Defender wins, all the Aggressors’s pawns are returned to the owner’s Home Base (again, unless a Class card says otherwise). Regardless of the outcome, all Resource cards played are discarded.

It is also perfectly possible that a single pawn move could put an Aggressor into combat with 2 or more Defenders. All combat is completed one battle at a time in clockwise order.

Phase 4: Draw Cards

The final phase allows players to add Resource cards into their hand. By default, the player will be able to draw 1 Resource card. However, for every Resource Zone on the game sheet that the player has at least 1 pawn in, the player draws 1 additional card. Note that having 2 or more pawns in the same Resource Zone doesn’t provide the player any additional cards. The only class that has a set hand size limit is the Gunslinger.

Victory!

Each class has a specific victory condition that must be met. When a player succeeds in completing their victory condition, the game automatically stops, regardless if another turn or action could be made. Each class’s victory condition is summarized here.

  • Ninja class wins when the player’s pawns occupy 3 of the Great Houses in a triangle formation (or all 6 in a 2 player game)
  • Pirate class wins when the player’s pawns occupy 3 of the “X” marked spaces around the center space of the game sheet in a triangle formation.
  • Robot class wins when the player “uploads” all 6 of their pawns into the center space of the game sheet.
  • Gunslinger class wins when 4 of the player’s pawns are in a line across the board, with 2 of the 4 occupying the Great Houses.
  • Zombie class wins when the 3 opponents’ pawns have 2 Infection rings on them.
  • Alien class wins when the player “abducts” 4 or more opponent pawns to their Home Base.
  • Elf class wins when the game has been played 3 or more hours (see, it’s a silly class…).

To learn more about Zerpang! and read the full rules, visit the game’s web page or The Game Crafter.

Prediction

I heard a lot about this game from friends at Gen Con 2012. I was most pleased when I was passed a copy of it, but wasn’t able to get it onto the table due to scheduling and a stupidly large backlog of games I needed to write about. When the game finally did come up in our queue, I didn’t know what to think of it. First of all, it’s pretty much all over the place. This was clearly a combat game, but it had a strange hodge podge of thematic elements. This was nothing terribly groundbreaking, however, as other games have used multiple geek culture archetypes in a single game before. For example, For the WinZombie Ninja Pirates, and Vampire Werewolf Fairies. When I was finished reading all of the class special powers and each class’s unique victory condition, it all started to make sense.

Basically, what you have here is a miniature battle game in the same vein as Warhammer. Admittedly, however, a much smaller and dramatically simpler version. In Warhammer, each army has special racial abilities, but all armies follow a set base of rules. The same can be said for all the classes in Zerpang! All the classes had their own special powers that worked within the defined base rules. Sometimes they broke the base rules by replacing them, and sometimes the powers simply bent them a little.

Teaching games like this is not easy, but nor is it the most complicated thing in the world. The game is, however, heavily slanted towards the Gamer Geek. The base game rules are very – well – basic. Place, move, fight, and draw. That’s it. Where the complexity comes into play is the contestant use of the Resource cards (making them an exceedingly valuable assets and limited resource) and the quirky class powers. Additionally, knowing what the other classes can and cannot do will go a long way to help a player be competitive. For example, you don’t want to go toe-to-toe with a Zombie in combat unless you really plan to win the battle.

As such, I took my time with this game and made sure the Parent and Child Geeks were comfortable with what the game was about and how it was played. I’d say I spent a bit more than 10 minutes explaining the base game and about 2 to 3 minutes explaining each of the classes. This worked out pretty well for the Parent Geeks and the Gamer Geeks understood what the game was about 5 minutes into my base game explanation. The Child Geeks took a bit longer because they had a hard time keeping track of all the class powers. I told them not to try to remember all of them and just focus on their own class for their first game. And so, after answering any questions, demonstrating combat, and making sure each player understood what they needed to do to win, my groups were ready to play. As I set up the game for my little geek and I to play together, I asked him his thoughts on Zerpang! so far.

“This game is crazy! Zombies? Pirates? Aliens? It has everything! Let’s play!” ~ Liam (age 8)

Looks like my little geek is excited about this game and so am I. But we don’t know anything for sure until we give it a try…

Final Word

The Child Geeks’ level of enjoyment was based on what class they were playing. If the Child Geek was playing a class they liked (which was almost always the case), they had a lot of fun in the game. They didn’t, however, stay with the game all the way to the end. In fact, none of the Child Geeks we played it with had the time or mental energy to complete it. In most cases, I would count that as a sure sign the Child Geeks would reject the game, but I was wrong. The Child Geeks had a lot of fun with Zerpang! and wanted to play it again. The only thing the game lacked was shorter game play. The Child Geeks didn’t seem to mind, however, and as a result, they approved it.

My little geek smirks as he considers what he should do with his Robot army

My little geek smirks as he considers what he should do with his Robot army

Parent Geeks thought the game was a strange but rewarding mix of casual game play with spurts of intense thinking. This proved to be an enjoyable mix for them, as they were mostly used to games that were either casual or intense, not both. Game play was easy to learn and each class was different enough to be a lot of fun, making the game highly replayable. The Parent Geeks didn’t care for the game length, however, and mentioned several times that the game was taking too long. Again, I was sure this would mean the game would be rejected, but I was twice mistaken! The Parent Geeks blamed the game’s length on the other players! Despite each game more times than not ending in draws because the players lacked the time to complete it, they very much enjoyed every minute they spent playing it. As such, it was approved.

Gamer Geeks thought this game was simply delightful. They were also the only group to consecutively start and play the game to its conclusion. The Gamer Geeks were very surprised how deep you could delve into the game with strategies and tactics. This was a game that played casually, but fully engaged even the most hardcore of gamers; challenging and rewarding in equal measure. All combat was well-balanced, as were the classes, and the only time a player thought the game was “broken” was when everyone ganged up on him. But, really, he deserved the smack down.

I found Zerpang! (which, if you haven’t figured it out already, is named after the first letter of each of the classes – Z.E.R.P.A.N.G) to a be a real delight. Playing with my little geek was a lot of fun as I watched him think through his moves and react to mine. At no time was I ever bored, and I was impressed from the very start how much control was given to the player, but never enough to make the game feel chaotic or unbalanced. An unexpected pleasure and challenge was how often I had to change my tactics when interacting with another class type. How I approached and dealt with a Pirate, for example, was different from how I dealt with a Ninja.

The game does have a few surface flaws. For example, I’m not a fan of the game sheet approach for game components. Zerpang! is good enough to put on a real board! Some of the wordage in the rules and the class powers also need some work to reduce confusion. Other than that, it’s a brilliant game.

If you are looking for a game where geek culture archetypes are creatively mixed and offer a unique area control, resource management, combat game, then do make room on your gaming table for Zerpang!

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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