“Hey little boy, don’t be rude. Zombies came here, searching for food. Give them your brain, give them your smile. Don’t run away, stay for a while.”
This little rhyme did not frighten Thomas until now. As he sat in the cemetery alone among the cold stones and the night approached. The wind hummed in the tops of the poplars and he could not help it – he must repeat the words of the little song in his head. This is the one, that his older brother used to whisper to him, when he was younger. But bet is a bet.
The sun had almost disappeared behind the roof of a nearby building, when it seemed to him, that the dirt on the neighbour grave moved. He rubbed his eyes. He was frightened by the rhyme, but he still did not believe in monsters. When he reopened his eyes, there was a hole in that place. Or was it there even before? He was not sure. And then he saw a man in a black hood, his face was lost in the gloom, but he could discern a slight green glow in his eyes. That was too much for Tommy. He quickly got up and ran to the nearest gate. Well done, because the man was a necromancer and this cemetery is his battleground tonight. Battle of the undead.
This short story officially welcomes you into the world without life, world of board game Grave Business. Its author is Andy Van Zandt and graphics were created by Chuck Whelon. This zombie game came to market last year thanks to the publisher Minion Games.
The game is hidden in a square box, with drooling king of the zombies in front. Background picture creates figures of necromancers arguing about their loot, which zombies found in tomb. This is the bigger picture of the whole Grave Business game. If you decide to buy it, you first have to pass through the instructions with black backgrounds, and six cardboard plates. Two are common – Cemetery and Mausoleum, the other four will be dealt to players.
In the list of push-out tokens, we will find chip, which is marking the starting player. All other components are also made of cardboard, whether they represent body parts of corpses (50 tokens), rewards and treasure pieces (47 pieces), forty zombie tokens ten of them for each player and seventeen parts of the body in four colors to make up a starting zombie army.
Now we can go to the cemetery to visit all the dead and undead, who are hiding there. The center of the table is filled by a common board with a map of the cemetery and second one with mausoleum picture. You will randomly divide four player boards among all rivals. Each player will represent one necromancer with a name. Owner of this board receives tokens of corresponding color with body parts pieces. They must be split by name, each pile separately shuffled and placed in a location with adequate tombstone names on player boards.
With this act, you have created a trio of zombies, each located under one of your tombstones. You can take now also action tokens for your decaying wards. Sort them out corresponding to the three zombies, that you have assembled and lay in front of you. They are available for actions, while the rest of them is layed aside, because you’ll have to earn them by playing well.
Before the match, you must make a common stock of pieces, that can be found buried in the cemetery. All common parts of bodies and treasures make up a great 97 square pile of tokens. Its place is near the common board.
You have two goals – either you manage to wake up your Master by collecting three remnations of his by the end of the game or you have to at least collect the most valuable body parts and treasures.
Each round is divided into four phases. The first of them is preparing of new unspoilt cemetery. You put one piece from the stock on every of sixteen available places on the cemetery to indicate, what is hidden in the grave as a reward. Images are revealed as they are dealt, so you know right away, whether a given site is worth digging.
Now you need to decide, who gets which part of the buried treasure. Players alternately put their rectangular action tokens on cemetery – either above the column or in front of a row, in which they are interested. There are pictures of brains on one side of these pieces. The more brains you spend on some coordinate, the greater is your chance of getting it. During the turns, you put the tokens there secretly, so no one except players themselves knows, how strong your zombie chip is.
Besides the basic game board, you can place pieces also on the mausoleum. This will start fight of the undead, or you can put one of your tokens on STEAL location on one of your opponents board. By making this decision, you suggest, that at the end of the round, you would steal a piece from his laboratory. The player, from who you are stealing, mixes all his tokens up and you randomly choose one of them.
Unlike steals, battles take place immediately, when you place your vassal to the mausoleum. You report at which player is your zombie attacking. Now they meet in furious combat of the undead according to the rules. If you can imagine battle of the undead, then you probably also know, how can such fight end. Some of the participants lose some body parts, ripping it off. If it happens (and it will happen), that sum of discarded parts of one zombies discarded is bigger, than half the number on the tombstone, this monster is dismembered. All its pieces are removed from the game.
Most important, however is the grave digging itself and discovering the treasures hidden under a layer of clay. Players are putting their action tokens as long until they have any left. They are trying to coordinate them to gain an advantage over rivals. The biggest fights are over most valuable trophies, but if you put the piece in line or column, its scope is valid for all four pieces in that row or column. Players can in addition lay a tile directly onto a specific location, if they have a great interest in this particular tile. In this case, you add one to the number of points for calculation of cerebral strength. But when laying on one specific location, zombie effort is active only in this field and nowhere else.
Players will solve all sixteen coordinates one by one and each take his prey. Tile is won by the player, who has the most brains combining row, column and specific location brain tiles. In the case of a tie, you must count number of bones on the cards for each drawn player. If the draw persists even then, neither side will get the piece and it is put back into the drawing deck.
All the loot you collect goes into your laboratory. This is the place, where you can at the end of each round build new zombies, revive them as a skillful necromancer and sent them into battle for future rounds. Total of its body parts must be greater, than the number on the tombstone – in this case, the zombies can be built and brought to life.
In addition, you can at this point of turn equip your subjects with an item. You lay it on top of a pile on the tombstone. Next time someone attacks this zombie, you turn this piece instead of regular body part and carry out its effect. This can help you defend against attacks, when your opponents remember which monsters are armed, or at least damage the enemy, when being under attack.
If there is not enough of tokens to replenish the cemetery at the beginning of the next round, the game ends immediately. If a player gathered three remnants of the Master, he managed to revive him and wins without any other questions asked. Otherwise, the players add up values of all pieces in their vaults (treasures) and body parts in the laboratory. Necromancer with the highest score is the winner.
Grave Business brings its players no rest. The topic is really necromantish and all the attacking, tearing of bodies and commissioning new ones is great fun. At least regarding to its theme. This also rules out a younger audience, because this game is not really suitable for small children. Due to the theme and images, we recommend the game only to children older than thirteen years, just as shown on the box.
Unfortunately, the game includes a nonstopping swaping of tokens. We are not talking about setting the cemetery at the beginning of each turn, this can be easily and quickly dealt with. But when keeping your plans, you find yourself constantly shifting with tokens. However, the most time stretching is theft event. Before this challenge, player must shuffle his chips from the lab, which he must separate back after each robbery. Theft can get you valuable prey, such as the remains of the Master, so this is an important part of the game.
In addition, when playing with more players, the evaluation of individual rounds can stretch a lot with all the distributed pieces and comparing their values. The game becomes a little confusing in full player numbers, but retains its greatest charm – zombie matches!
It is the most fun, whe have experienced in Grave Business matches, that comes from the fighting. You can disable the battles in the game, to make the game more available to newcomers, but you are losing a major detrimental action, that delivers the right necromantic juice to the game. At the same time, however, these attacks can be quite random, because the outcome decided by the rotation of tombstone pieces. If you want less chance in the game, official rules recommend to play with all pieces uncovered. But the author warns, that matches can take up to double of the standard time, when playing the open variant.
Despite the seemingly simple topic of putting pieces on the game board, essentially worker-placement, the game is quite complex. Its the existence of supplementary rules, namely stealing, fighting and construction of new zombies and lots of different pieces, that need to be managed. New players will have to try hard for first few matches, until their necromancer role fits in their hand.
Most of the strategy is, of course, done in digging graves. Yet you can never be completely sure, that your get your desired piece. Their suitability for you is identified only by its number, because the higher the number, the body part is a bit better conserved. Yellow are then clearly distinguishable artifacts, which you can equip to your warriors at the end of turn. Fights are often decided with bone shootout. But if you plan well and cleverly scatter your pieces, you can have a good chance to get great loot. Yes, there is plenty of stratégy there.
The theme is treated to an A grade. Zombie fall apart, when they get too much damage, but can be easily replaced with others, which you can assemble from collected body parts. Necromancers have it simple, when it gets to building an army. They do not have to convince anyone. Undead do not higgle with anyone.
But the construction of new wards is governed yet by another difficult decision. With extension of your subject numbers, you lose some victory points at the end of the game, which are awarded for the body parts in laboratory, where monsters are created. So you have three choices –careful play few zombies and good defense, assault with focus fully on getting the remains of the Master or the golden mean – occasionally revive some new monsters, but always think about back door with the victory points.
Grave Business offers adult subject with some random play. Sometimes you feel, that the game involves a lot of chips shifting. Despite these objections, Grave Business makes for a really interesting game full of hidden conflicts and necromancer entertainment, that can attracts a lot of people. We recommend it to sorcerers and all beings from the dark side of the world. Other players must decide on the basis of their love for bringing the dead back to life.
+ maintaining consistent theme
+ secret voting for open rewards using rows and columns
+ bringing new zombies back to life
+ items, which can be equipped to your zombies
+ attacking opponents, dismembering of zombies and stealing
+ game variability
+ every player has his own unique character and zombies
- rather complicated attack rules
- theme inapropriate for children
- too much juggling with tokens