Making Zombie Mall
Zombie Mall started as a variant to Twilight Creations Zombies!!! after watching the 2004 version of Dawn of the Dead too many times.
Eventually the variant rules morphed into a stand-alone game that was begging for some spit and polish, which in turn morphed as an idea that was
begging to get out of a brain (zombie symbolism notwithstanding).
The development of Zombie Mall started a learning process of what's involved in making a board game. Logical rules that are also fun to play by can often
run counter to written rules that are easy to understand. Playtesting brings up the vast difference in how people play a game on top of how each interprets
written rules. Publishing guidlines, in case you want to offer more than a simple download link. Eventually Zombie Mall expanded beyond "Can I make this game?"
to "I HAVE to make this game!". There's a certain joy in seeing people play your game the first time when everything is finally making sense - rules, mechanics,
graphics. Zombie Mall may not be for everyone, but hopefully you can find some fun in playing it.
What Is Zombie Mall?
Zombie Mall is a co-operative boardgame for 1-6 players where players try to escape the zombie hordes rampaging through the local mall in which they are
all locked. It's Day 0 of the undead walking and everyone has been caught unprepared. The only hope is to get to the emergency radio in the mall security
office, but the door is locked. Thanks to a helpful security guard's last words, the players learn that the key is in one of the shops inside the mall -
and it's a big mall to search even without the fear of being bitten by a wandering zombie! Can the players find the key and escape before succumbing to the undead?
A normal game with 2-4 players will take 1-2 hours after setup once players are familiar with the rules. Generally the 1 hour game is when things go horribly wrong. On average, each additional player will add 30 minutes to the total playing time.
Zombie Mall can be played as a cooperative game, with all players working together toward the end goal of being rescued. Zombie Mall may also be played where it's every man for himself (sometimes you have to sacrifice a friend to keep from becoming zombie food).
While searching the mall, players will come across Loot (random items & events) and will find Objectives (hopefully one of those keys that will unlock something important, but possibly something not helpful - such as a swarm of hiding zombies).
That mall map is constructed from Map Tiles which may be configured differently each time you play Zombie Mall. Sample layouts are shown in Sample Tile Layouts. The size of your mall directly affects the difficulty, as larger malls will take longer to search and increase the odds of running into hordes of hungry zombies.
One thing that makes Zombie Mall different from many other games in the zombie genre is that players aren't forced to constantly scrounge for weapons. Basic combat takes into account that players are grabbing whatever is handy and using everything possible as a weapon. In addition, the players are not treated as ninja trained since childhood, so those randomly grabbed items are more than likely thrown or lodged into a zombie when used. There are weapons to be found, but the odds are good that a given weapon won't be durable for more than a couple of uses.
After the first pass of the rules to get a working game, people (more than 1 is "people", right?) were ready and asking for tweaks and additions. I want to be a zombie!.
Ok, fine. Expansion 1 lets players become a zombie. I'm just like everybody else? Not after Expansion 2 where each player can have unique traits that will help them
on their way to surviving the Zombpocalypse. Or maybe those traits aren't helpful?
Expansion 1: Brains on the Brain
Instead of dying when fatally losing an attack against a zombie, players can now come back and play as a zombie. Now players that have turned into zombies form part of the horde that attacks the remaining Human Players as they frantically try to escape the mall. Sure, the humans miss their fallen companions, but not enough to enjoy seeing them when they're after BRAINS!
Expansion 2: Dead On Your Feet
After running around trying to escape the oncoming zombies as a nameless mass of players/zombie food, you can now add a little character to your game with the introduction of Character Cards! These new Character Cards will flesh out those nameless avatars you've been playing with by giving you careers (and bonuses!), perks(and bonuses!), and traits (and bonuses!) to add in to your play.
Print & Play?
Publishing a boardgame is expensive. It's fun, but expensive. The goal was to never try and make money off of Zombie Mall, it was a learning process for how to make
rules not just that someone else would understand, but that random people around the world would be willing to put forth the time to read in the first place. I've no idea
how many people may have actually read the rules versus downloading files for the graphics, but over 150 people downloaded files while I hosted them. The great part is that
it didn't cost those people anything to try out anything I published (rules, cards, maps).
While prototyping the game, I went a step beyond printing everything on my home printer. I tested out printing custom playing cards through ArtsCow
and Printer Studio in China.
The first time you're waiting on a deck of cards to be printed and shipped from China, with no idea of what will actually show up in the mail, it's quite exciting when you get
a chance to open a box and say "hey, I made that!" I also got the 6"x6" map tile cards printed at DriveThruCards as a prototype test when they first started offering that size
card (not sure if that's still an option with them). For a consistent playtest map, I pasted map tiles together in Photoshop to make a 30"x40" map that I printed at Staples,
which wasn't as expensive as it should have been thanks to a couple of coupons.
Note to anyone else wanting to print maps at Staples. Keep the map size within their normal poster sizes and it's a lot more affordable.
For printed rule books, I went through Amazon's Create Space. For fun I was able to make printed versions available through Amazon and
even offer ePub/Kindle versions. Not surprisingly, nobody ever bought a damn thing (see, FREE print & play is my target audience).
Not everything worked. I tried getting custom chipboard tokens printed but that didn't turn out too well. I tried a variety of boxes to store all of my custom printed components
in, but no standard sizes seemed to hold everything like I wanted.
I would raid other games for components. Dice. Tokens. Figures - Zombies!!! is a great source for
little zombie figures. Especially when you have a couple of hundred laying around. At one point they sold the Shotgun Guys pawns and I picked up a couple of packs to replace
my player tokens. For fun, and due to a weird sale at one of those Chinese card manufacturers, I made Zombie Mall coasters (see the pic up on the right) which I still use on
my office desk.