The premise of Hit Z Road is fantastic – a zombie apocalypse has ravaged America, but that doesn’t stop disparate groups of survivors traversing Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles for the road trip of a lifetime! The game itself is meant to have been put together by a child zombie apocalypse survivor, called Martin, hence the bottle top resources and re-purposed cards, which are undeniably fantastic.
Players are given a team of five survivors and a limited number of resources. Before a round starts, adventure cards are laid onto the table in pairs (known as routes), equal to the number of players, with players bidding their resources (gas, bullets and adrenaline) to determine player order to secure the better choices of the routes. However, these resources you're using to bid with are the same ones you use to take on the zombies and challenges that lie ahead. Gas can be used to drive away and avoid zombies, bullets can be used to shoot at advancing hordes, and adrenaline can help you in hand-to-hand combat.
When you encounter an adventure card you scavenge the resources shown on the top-left of the card, then face the event shown in the centre of the card, before fighting the number of zombies (if any) indicated at the bottom-right of the card. Once you have done that you move onto the next card. When everybody has dealt with their routes, new routes are placed and the auction phase begins again.
A True Ameritrash Story
Events can vary from nice safe havens, to encountering cannibals, finding a bus to ride in, making Molotov cocktails, recruiting a new survivor to your team, to being poisoned by a teenage girl, etc.
One thing I really love is you can collect items and “friends” along your way and they may give you a positive benefit or negative effect depending on the route you take. For instance, there is a kid who can join your gang who may, down the line, blow a load of zombies up for you with a home-made bomb, or conversely he may steal your resources!
Hit Z Road skilfully mixes elements of both the Euro and Ameritrash genres, with the more Euro elements (the auctions and resource management) working well alongside the Ameritrash dice rolling and player elimination.
Before you encounter zombies, you can spend two gas tokens to drive away (but you then discard the card and won’t receive any bonuses). If you stay to fight any zombies you can use bullet tokens to shoot at them from afar before they descend onto your group – you will then roll the wonderful custom wooden dice for hand-to-hand combat and potentially use your adrenaline tokens to kill zombies quicker and to avoid death.
If your group of survivors perishes before the end of the journey you’re out – now before people get turned off by that, it usually only happens towards the very end of the game unless the person has made some glaringly obvious bad decisions.
People also complain that there can be a runaway leader problem of the person with the most resources being able to consistently win the auction and face the easier cards, but I have never found this to be a problem in any of the games I have played.
The artwork in this game is superb and the three different stages of adventure cards show very differing scenery (Chicago city, middle America, West Coast) that really makes you feel like you’re progressing across America and each stage presents its own thematic and increasingly difficult challenges.
Despite the scary artwork (my daughters are too frightened of it to play this game), the whole game takes a slightly amusing and ironic look at the situation with most of the location cards containing humorous comments scribbled onto the pictures.
I displayed my disdain for the box art in my blog post about my board game top 10 box art – it takes the form of a dishevelled 1950's aspirational poster with scribbled writing overlaid on it – I argue it misleads people and is almost a joke too far - I feel there should have been a ripped cutaway (maybe in the bottom corner) showing something more relevant to the game itself (such as a zombie, for example).
Hit Z Road includes solo rules where you completely do away with the auction phase and each round you place three routes – the first of which has both adventure cards faced-down, the second has one card face-up and one face-down, while the third route has both cards face-up. If you choose the first route you get to pick up any two resources before encountering them, for the second route you receive nothing, and for the third route you must pay any two resources before encountering the route.
I really like how you’re incentivised to gamble on the unseen or partially seen routes – it may work out really well, or it may not! You get scored on whether you made it to the West Coast and how many resources and survivors remain – you can then keep score and try to beat it next time. The solo game is extremely quick and while it misses the competitiveness and banter of playing with friends, I still think it offers up a fun thematic 20 minute solo romp, and is one of my most played solo games.
Final Thoughts on Hit Z Road
Hit Z Road is intended as a fun, thematic, tense mini adventure and if the players are all game for a laugh then everyone around the table will have a blast. The melding of the different Euro and Ameritrash elements keep things interesting and sets it apart from other zombie games such as Zombicide, Dead of Winter and Tiny Epic Zombies. This is a road trip you're guaranteed to enjoy, until you get bitten by a zombie on Venice Beach…