After The Virus (2017) is a zombie-themed deck-building game designed by Jacob Fryxelius, well known for the fantastic science fiction strategy game Terraforming Mars. The story takes place after a zombie virus has hit the world. Society is in shambles, and you’re trying to survive. The game comes with three player decks, four character boards and a bunch of markers. After The Virus is for 1-3 players, but this review only takes solo play into account.
Since I’m starting with The Good I might as well be up-front about it: I really enjoy this game. Here’s why:
- You play as one of four different characters, each one starting with a unique selection of cards in the deck, reflecting different skills and assets. Depending on your choice of character, you can approach the game from different strategic and tactical angles.
- The win conditions are variable. There’s a total of 16 different scenarios, each with its own goals and starting conditions. Playing the scenarios in succession is great, since the difficulty gradually increases. The first scenario is great for beginners.
- In many deck-building games new cards added to your deck are purchased from a more or less arbitrary selection of cards. In this game new cards are instead made available by a clever scouting mechanism; by discarding a card from your hand, thus forfeiting an action you would have been able to take on that turn, you get to reveal the top card of the “area deck”. Cards thus revealed stay face up and represent an increased knowledge of your surroundings. To get these cards into your hand you have to discard more cards, forfeiting more actions. Thematically, this is brilliant! You explore the area around you, finding things and scouting out locations that could potentially be of use.
- You begin your turn by drawing five cards from your deck. On the turn when you run out of cards to draw you get to reshuffle the deck, but when you do this the zombie threat increases by one step and more zombies are brought into play from the zombie deck. Since you start with only ten cards in your deck, and often don’t get more than a few new cards per turn, the increasing threat level keeps the game very tense.
- If the attacking zombies are not killed but just fended off, they end up in your discard pile. The next time you need to reshuffle and draw a new hand, you might draw zombie cards instead of the useful cards you’ve worked so hard to get. Once again brilliant from a thematic point of view; if you let the zombies get away they’ll come back for you soon, making it harder to focus on the mission at hand.
Combined, these things make for a very intense experience, and for something that feels way more story-driven than the other deck-building games I’ve played. You lose if the zombies wound you three times, and you win if you fulfill the scenario-specific goals. In some scenarios your mission is to get human survivors to a safe location, in others to find medical equipment, to save your family and escape in a car, or to kill a certain number of zombies. Depending on the scenario, on your cunning, and to some extent on what cards that show up, you’ll usually win or lose in 20 to 45 minutes.
It feels like Fryxgames have cheaped out on the components here. The cards started to look worn after just a few hours of play. The markers are too big for their tracks and get in the way of each other – nitpicking perhaps, but it can’t be that hard to get wooden disks of a smaller size. Also, a wound marker was missing. To me these are minor concerns, but maybe not to some other folks.
I really have a problem with the artwork in this game, specifically how the people and the zombies are depicted. The caricature-style cartoon figures with their enormous heads look like a line of grungy stoner Bratz dolls. The comical illustrations, although well executed, are at odds with both the theme and the tough challenge of playing this game. This is my only serious gripe with the game, though. I care more about the look of a thematic game than about the quality of the components. If the card stock is bad there’s always sleeves. But artwork is important to help players immerse themselves in a game. If the illustrations were on par with the horror theme and the tense gameplay, this game would have been great rather than just really good.
I find artwork more important than component quality, sure, but game mechanisms are more important than artwork, and on those grounds After The Virus is an obvious keeper – a very enjoyable solo game that I’m looking forward to playing again.
Jacob Fryxelius has managed to create another game where the mechanisms are very well tied to the theme and the story. Just like in Terraforming Mars, what you do simply makes sense. While the eclectic combination of photography, artists’ impressions and blueprints in Terraforming Mars gives the theme a further boost in it’s similarity to science magazine illustrations, the artwork in this game works against it. The game mechanisms shine through, though.
If you’re into deck building and feel up for some zombie-bashing, you should definitely try this game. And who knows, you might even like the odd choice of illustrations.
Other People’s Opinions
” I am not sure why this game has not gotten more love, it has definitely flown under the radar of a lot of people. I really hope that more people take a moment to look at it, After the Virus is a great game” writes Wendy of Singlehandedly in a thorough review. She does not find the artwork as annoying as I do, by the way.
” I actually would rank it above the go-to solo deck building game Friday” writes David Gendron in a review on BoardGameGeek.
Ian K. finds the rule book problematic, but thinks the art “[is] fine. It’s not the ceiling of The Sistine Chapel but what were you expecting?” I, on the other hand, had no issues with the rule book. Read Ian’s review here.
I hope that you enjoyed reading this review. Me and the cats are off to bed. This business is tiring – but great fun! We’ll be back shortly!