[Zombie Cinema] Great Balls of Fire

Started by Jaakko Koivula, July 29, 2010, 10:35:14 PM

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Jaakko Koivula

Got Zombie Cinema (special handcraft edition) from Eero at the TraCon and now finally got to actually play it. We had 3 players: I and Petteri had never played the game before. Sami had played rather many games, but all with some other version of Zombie Cinema, that was published at the Roolipelaaja-magazine. Abridged, shortened or preliminary or something. We went through the rules in the beginning and there were some things that were quite different from what Sami had played. The zombies moved on the board differently, etc.

We decided, that the milieu would be a lonely country house in Finland, near the city of Oulu. Maalismaa, or some other silly little county, where the bus stops twice a week, maybe.

My character: Matti Ijäs: an old hobo-looking unkempt guy, 60-70 years old. Just escaped from prison. Known as the Knifeman of Porvoo.
Sami: Pasi Posio: an anarchistic and a black metallist. Young guy.
Petteri: Timo Ruoho: a city official, anxiously seeking for his relatives, who seem to be missing

I think the game took pretty exactly the promised 30 minutes per player and that we really nailed together a great b-zombie-flick. The story held together and kept moving constantly and at a hectic pace. No respites, just pure and escalating panic. We didn't actually get any draws in the conflicts, but the turns moved so quickly, that the zombies got to second to last space on the board by the end of the game. What happened:

Timo Ruoho arrived to search for his gran at her country house. Instead he found a heab-banging metallist and a scary geezer who threatened to stab everyone in the eye with a sharpened spoon. In the beginning, the characters happen to see a bit of news on the television: there's been a second accident at the Chernobyl power plant. Animals have suddenly disappeared and a great floating ball of light has been spotted hovering above the plant. Then the weird shit starts. Matti finds a bunch of frozen bats in the fridge. Dead bats. Lots of them. Pasi actually keeps bats as pets and later reveals, that they just suddenly started to die earlier. So he put them in the fridge, so he could send them later to be examined or something. Later, Timo realizes, that the bats actually aren't dead. He tossed them into the bin, but it seems they sort of thawed out and are now crawling all around the kitchen, hissing and snapping at people.

At the point when black deformed tentacly-flesh-bludgeon-thingies come crashing through the cellar door, everyone decides that the attic is the best place to be. The characters are pretty much assaulted from all sides at this point: there's some monster in the cellar, the bats are bloody everywhere and there's some thing up on the roof, scratching. Pasi the Batman tries to escape through the attic-window, but is stopped by Timo. In the ensuing struggle, Pasi stumbles and falls through the window anyways, to his death. Also, there's a floating ball of light, just above the country house.

At this point, the zombies break in. Timo hears the voice of his gran, calling for him to open the door. Behind the door is the grandmother, all zombified, putrefied and with tentacles. Matti and Timo escape to the roof and stumble into yet another zombie. The zombie tackles them both and all three go tumbling down the roof, crashing through at one point. Luckily the zombie breaks the fall of everyone, but at this point the zombies have evolved a new way to spread. Timo was bitten earlier and now realizes, that his whole arm is going evil. Black and infected, etc. Matti and Timo remember the scooter. They try to exit the house, but another zombie pops out from a wardrobe. Timo panics, but Matti slaps him, kicks him out of the door and shouts: "Come on, get a move on young one. I'll handle this guy!"

Timo lands on his face outside and looks back, seeing just a black doorway into the house, too dark to see what's happening inside:

Matti: "YYyyaaaaarrrghlgl" *dead*

Timo turns around and bumps into Pasi, lying there all broken up by the fall. He spots the keys to the scooter on his belt, but unfortunately Pasi is of the living dead now also, and won't give up his keys without a fight. The infected hand of Timo is utterly strong though, and he utterly pulverizes Pasi and manages to get the keys. After a short scooter ride, Pasi bumps into a bunch of special forces army guys, who had crashed their chopper and got zombied. Timo mashes a couple of them, but the hand goes evil on him again and grasps his own throat. Choking yourself isn't a viable option when fighting zombie-SWAT, so the last thing Timo sees, is a bunch of zombies ripping off his legs.

Last scene: A large Gigantti (a large electronics store franchise) hall. Completely deserted, no people anywhere. Just tons of televisions, all showing news from all around the world. There are talks of pandemonia, clips of the floating balls of light all around the globe, and one by one, all the transmission cut off, leaving just static on all the screens.

The game was just brilliant. The mechanics worked beautifully and I think the story actually turned out pretty darn nicely. I told bits of the game to my girlfriend (who doesn't like horror movies) and she said, that she will never play Zombie Cinema ever. There were just so iconic zombie-movie bits in the story. Scenes like the "death scream from the darkness" or "Crap, Im infected! I can't let the other guys notice this." or "Hey, why are you removing all the stuff that I put before the door to.. .. Noooooooooooo!"  Pure gold.

Btw. Im still really struggling with writing play reports here. Im just not sure if a detailed report of everything that happened in the game is really called for, or if it interests anyone except us that were present. But how can I hype all the cool bits, if I don't give background to the whole thing? Hopefully this is enough for us players to remember all the tons of cool bits and conflicts in between, that I just coldly left out. We also talked on the mechanics a bit, but I'll let Sami come back to those and follow up then.

Btw. I have to say that I think that Zombeja! Ovella! is written extremely well. It's was curious feeling when I read through the book and realized, that I actually could explain these rules after the first read, play the game instantly and it most propably would work brilliantly. Kudos Eero!

Callan S.

QuoteTimo hears the voice of his gran, calling for him to open the door. Behind the door is the grandmother, all zombified, putrefied and with tentacles. Matti and Timo escape to the roof and stumble into yet another zombie.
Not quite getting this - he didn't know she was a zombie? Why did he go and escape to the roof?

Ron Edwards


I love this game. What cards did you draw for the characters? I can infer a few of them, but I'd like to know the combinations.

Forgive me, but any mention of Nordic black metal instantly brings this to mind. Not to mention that in this, I am disturbed by the possibility that Eero and Jari are among those captured in #3, during their not-misspent-enough youth.

The thawed-out bats were especially cool.

Is Sami the same guy I know, who came to GenCon last year? Or another guy with the same name?

Best, Ron

Jaakko Koivula


The gran was missing. She hadn't been seen during the whole game and Timo's whole point was that he was looking for her. So of course when Timo heard her voice, he (true to horror-film cliches) panicked and opened the door. The attic was our safe haven that the zombies hadn't been able to breach, with just two exits: the door and the window. So when there was a grandmother-zombie at the door, the only alternative was to escape to the roof. Even though we knew that there was something waiting for us there also.


I took three character sticks, one of each category, and got: Old/retired, Short-tempered, Finally free. So the old escaped convict sort of jumped right out of those.
Don't unfortunately know what the other people picked. Sami propably can tell what he got. Btw. Sami is Pekoraali in here, don't know if he's been to GenCon.

And yeah, that's exactly what I think about black metal too (Though, I occasionally enjoy the music, but the posturing is just hilarious). Pasi's entrance to the game: Matti and Timo are standing on the yard, when a guy blasts out of the house with satan fingers, going "Wwrryyyeeeaaaaghhhh!!" ..then realizes that there's actually people there and slinks back into the house very quickly.

Christoph Boeckle


This thread made me laugh. Especially imagining Ron headbanging at a black metal gig. I share his fears regarding pic #3 of the second link (#3 of the first linkis quite disturbing as well).

Jaari, have you tested the cards? They have these evocative phrases all over them, which I like because it helps think about the character more than just the sticks. But of course, the sticks are much more underground. Eero "Eternal Terror" Tuovinen is a sell-out. Glory to the spirit of garage-produced RPG!

Christoph Boeckle

Drat, sorry about the name Jaakko, I got mixed up there!

Jaakko Koivula

No probs, I can't get any names right ever myself either.

Haven't seen the cards myself. Saw the Zombie Cinema box at the TraCon, but went for the ug-edition. I think Im conflicted about the idea of evocative phrases. I like the "one word, no explanations" -style of the sticks, even though I understand that evocative phrases can be very helpful. Less is more etc. I'd like to see the other edition at some point though, see how it's different.


Ron: Same, same but different... No GenCon experience here. I was looking for the Ghaal character from the notorious youtube document "The True Nordic Black Metal", only younger. I was not going to use the cards or anything because I already knew what I was looking for (a long ride to the main event). I was going for a split-personality, but realized that hey, this is a perfect spot for a small improvising. So I took some personality cards/sticks, got "gentle and Polite" and "Scared and Corrupted". So Pasi had two different strong personas which I changed every now and then. It was obvious that the Scared and Corrupted Pasi had locked the granny in the basement for some reason. I desided Pasi was "corrupted" in the Morrrrdor kind of way. The Gentle and Polite Pasi took care of his bats and offered people some tea when they came in.

Callan S: Pete chose a distant country house as the playground. He was cryptic about what his character "loves" and is "looking for", so I decided that the house is actually Timo Ruoho's granny's home. We later learn that it's this weird shit that's been happening in Černobyl (A tribute to the S.T.A.L.K.E.R.) that has forced Timo to travel to his granny, but _unfortenately_ the car broke down a few kilometres away. Jaakko's character had escaped from the Oulu prison and was looking for a place to hide. The reason why my character Pasi was there was never really explained, but obviously he had stayed in for a long, long time.

Jaakkko: I took the liberity to check the rules I had in the "Roolipelaaja" magazine and realized that the rules were not actually that different, I had just misunderstood them. I have played the game previously countless times, but we have always made the same basic mistake. We have moved the zombies after every player's scene whereas whe should have waited for the whole round of scenes. So my games had been previously a bit more hectic and without a true possibility for character or story development. Very funny anyways :)

There were a couple of improvements though, and I found them to double the enjoyment. The draws resulting in to the advance of the zombies and the possibility to overwrite the story by consulting the table. As a general rule though I must emphazise that new players should always remember two core suggestions. Firstly the playground should be chosen so that it has clear borders and all the characters are quickly together. Secondly every storyteller should remember to add an escape for the characters. Especially the main escape route should be established in the first few scenes. When everyone has some idea of where the characters are trying to get, the conflicts, the joined narrative, and such become much more easier to handle. Of course the player in charge can always change the main escape route, but it should always _be there_. As an example I built the "scooter" option in our game and Pete remembered it quite brilliantly later.

In this game I tried to create an alternative explanation for the events for a long time. Pasi had given the other characters tea. Was the tea drugged? Was there really so many bats?  Was granny perfectly ok (albeit beaten and kept in the basement for a long time)? Was Matti Iäs just hearing voices? In the end it was however clear that the game had evolved in to a basic zombie splatter, not into a psychological thriller. The one thing I like in the mechanics is the possibility to build such alternatives and keep them open as long as possible.

Callan S.

Quote from: Jaakko Koivula on July 30, 2010, 10:09:21 AMThe gran was missing. She hadn't been seen during the whole game and Timo's whole point was that he was looking for her. So of course when Timo heard her voice, he (true to horror-film cliches) panicked and opened the door. The attic was our safe haven that the zombies hadn't been able to breach, with just two exits: the door and the window. So when there was a grandmother-zombie at the door, the only alternative was to escape to the roof. Even though we knew that there was something waiting for us there also.
Oh, I get you. I kinda read it that they happened upon a door she was behind - then just ran the hell away from it, even though they were looking for her. So she turned up at the entrance to the attic and they opened the door and saw her z state - I get you now :)

Eero Tuovinen

Ah, excellent. I've been on a break for a bit, so didn't see this earlier. Good to know that you got the game, Jaakko. I think your copy was the last one of the Finnish handcrafted edition, actually, so now we're just selling the English version. It is excellent that you found the time to write about your experience with the game. It's doubly excellent that you liked the rules text; I've had some self-seeking to do about writing rules text as it's become evident over the years that I'm not as clear to most people as I imagine myself to be, so it's always nice to stumble on somebody who doesn't have trouble understanding the way I write ;)

Your game report is very gratifying in that I can easily read between the lines and see the atmosphere - that's exactly the sort of play we fortunately got from the game when playing it for the first times in 2006. Especially the zany, tragi-comic characterizations, the uncertainty about the mental stability and moral character of the player characters, the strongly impressed and highly visual cinematic details (like the inhumanly strong infected hand - pure gold), and the creative uncertainty over the nature of the zombie threat are things that I like a lot myself in the game - it's a great creative rush to get through the first part of the game, get some solid characters going and then get to the creative payoff when the zombies are revealed for what they are, whatever it is. I know exactly what Sami (different from Sami Koponen who Ron mentioned) means about alternative explanations and the creative tension in finding out the explanation behind the events. The nuclear accident and the black tentacles are adorable elements, I couldn't have resisted bringing in aliens myself at that point - in fact, ambivalently mysterious alien visitors was exactly what we did once in 2008 when we did the "Russian nuclear reactor accident" thing ourselves, I seem to remember.

I've encountered that rules misinterpretation Sami mentions about moving the zombies after every turn instead of every round a couple of times. I think it's mostly in groups that first learned the game from the magazine draft, so perhaps I wrote that bit in there too vaguely. I have this bad habit of getting punctuous about my rules text when I get to writing it, relying a lot on the reader being as punctuous as I am about the terminology - I can totally imagine how I probably just have one sentence in there about when the zombie is moved, and it's something where reading "turn" instead of "round" makes perfect sense, and I never stress the matter, so it's easy to misread.

Sami: I definitely agree with you about the rules changes between the magazine version and the final rules. Making those changes was a very foundational experience for me as a game designer, as they were a direct outcome of solid, real, patient playtesting. I'd played the magazine version of the game a couple of times before it went to press, but I didn't really make an effort to change the rules at that point, as I didn't think of the magazine version as something that would need to be playtested; it was only after several more plays, some external playtesting and a couple of months of creative break that I pin-pointed what, exactly, the game would need to be complete and final. It's a textbook example of the ashcan method of development, in fact, although I didn't think of it that way when I wrote the game. I've never had trouble distinguishing between a complete and "almost-complete" game after that, though.

Zombie Cinema is very much to the instrument side of things rather than a ready-made backmusic track insofar as game design philosophy goes, so I think that you can and should be justly happy about your success in getting a creative concord going and succeeding in the goal of the game, to create zombie movie in words. It's a great accomplishment in personal, community-initiated grassroots art, even if the actual work is limited in time and has only one showing.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.