The boardgame industry is dominated by a few big publishers, with lots of small publishers bringing out occasional games. However, one small publisher that has steadily grown to join the big guns is Z-Man Games. After the last few years Z-Man has released a wide range of games to suit all tastes, from big box, highly thematic extravaganzas to small abstracts and card games. Z-Man Games are known for their variety, so you’re sure to find a few favourites among their catalogue. Here’s a look at some of their better-known games.
First, I must declare a slight bias, since I worked on the graphic design for a few Z-Man games!
Road Kill Rally
There are few things more enjoyable than a good car combat game, and Road Kill Rally is a hilarious example of the genre which adds pedestrian-smashing to the mix! Fans of the old David Carradine camp-classic movie Death Race 2000 will feel right at home here, racing against opponents all eager to destroy you with guns, rockets and flame throwers. Which is all a lot of fun, but the big points come from running over and blasting pedestrians!
The game designer Christophe Boelinger is well known for his highly-successful abstract dungeon combat game Dungeon Twister and its many expansions. His newest game is quite a departure—a highly realistic, scenario-based simulation game set in a post-apocalyptic melieu, Earth Reborn. This is a system for those who love detailed, very thematic, big games. Luckily, the rulebook/tutorial/scenario guide leads you step-by-step through the complexities of the game system, and in no time at all you’ll have the factions of the underground cities meeting on the wastelands and in the ruins of Earth, 500 years after its devastation—NORAD, militaristic, scientific, paranoid, and the Salemites, occultists experimenting with the revival of the dead.
This game has been receiving a lot of positive buzz, not only for its highly-detailed and impressive miniatures, but for the huge potential for player modification and publisher expansion. It looks designed to be a big ‘sandbox’ of a game. The support is already in place: the official site already has several new scenarios and scenario tools available.
Of course no article about Z-Man Games can fail to mention Agricola, the classic ‘Euro’ game of medieval farming that even knocked Puerto Rico off its Number One perch at BoardgameGeek, for a time. You start small in Agricola (Latin for ‘farmer’)—as a simple farmer in a wooden shack with your spouse. On a turn, you only get two actions from all the possible things that have to be done on a farm: collecting clay, wood or stone, building fences, even having kids to help with the work—once you’ve expanded your house of course—but then you’ll have to feed them! It’s a game of countless strategies, and also plays as a simpler family version or solo. Agricola has won many gaming awards, including the Deutschen Spiele Preises Game of the Year (2008), and continues to be expanded. If you love games like Puerto Rico and Caylus, you really should try Agricola.
Tales of the Arabian Nights
I’ve written in detail about the graphic design of Tales of the Arabian Nights before in this article, but if you’re a fan of the story-telling possibilities inherent in boardgaming, you really can’t miss this one. A remake of an 80s classic, Tales explores the rich and detailed world of the Arabian Nights stories in a boardgame. It’s not so much about the winning or the losing in this game; it’s all about the story you create as you travel the colourful world of the board, encountering a huge range of characters and going on countless adventures, all detailed in the 300-page Book of Tales. It’s a hugely enjoyable and very funny game, and you won’t even mind if you end up a diseased, penniless beggar at the end, because you’ll have had such a good time!
If you enjoy fantasy adventure games like Talisman, you should definitely check out the excellent Prophecy by Vlaada Chvatil, the designer responsible for such favourites as Space Alert and Dungeon Lords (also from Z-Man Games). As in Talisman, you play a fantasy character adventuring across an imaginary land, but you have more control over your destiny in Prophecy. With the addition of Dungeon Realm and the upcoming Water Realm, there’s an incredible amount of variety available as well, so no two games will ever be the same.
In Prophecy, you battle creatures (and other characters), increase your skills and learn spells at the five Guilds, acquire special items, and eventually may possess enough of ancient artifacts to become the next rightful king. But first you must defeat their guardians in the Astral Planes…
A big new release for 2011 is Ninjato, a thematic strategy game that puts each player in the role of a master ninja. Players practice dojo fighting techniques, learn the sensei’s esoteric skills, raid clan-controlled houses, bribe influential envoys, and spread certain rumors—the pathways to rise as the most legendary ninja of the age. Since I worked on the graphic design, I’ll be writing some special articles in the coming months about this fantastic game, including an interview with one of its designers, Adam West.
Well, that just touches on the huge range of games that Z-Man Games publishes, and I highly recommend checking out their website and exploring the many excellent games they have available. And if Games Paradise doesn’t have your favourite in stock, let them know so they can get it to you!
by Universal Head
Universal Head has been designing for clients across the globe for more than 20 years, and playing games for much longer than that. He’s responsible for the graphic design of several boardgames, notably ‘Tales of the Arabian Nights’ by Z-Man Games, and once spent an entire year recreating the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza in 3D for a computer game. In between he’s designed just about every form of visual communication: corporate identities, websites, packaging, brochures, even postage stamps. He also created the game websites www.tekumel.com and www.battleloremaster.com. His blog site www.headlesshollow.com is an obsessive repository of professionally designed rules summaries and reference sheets for boardgames.