The Infection – Roll, write and fight – Board Game Review
Posted On January 23, 2024
The Infection, Roll Write & Fight is an upcoming Print and Play Survival and resource management Board game by Heavy Punch Games. This is a solo game, in which you play as a survivor in a city infested with zombies. You have to travel from location to location in order to complete an objective, killing zombies and gathering precious resources in the process. A game session takes about 20 minutes. Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/heavypunch/the-infection-roll-write-and-fight-print-and-play
Please note that a review copy was sent to me for free for this review.
A video version of this review can be found below:
The Infection is easy to bring to the table and to learn, with sessions that are tense, fun and short (about 20 minutes for a full game). It isn’t without flaws, in particular some balance issues with some objectives, and the map phase being just “filler”. However, the multiple objectives ensure a good amount of replayability for a game of this scope, and given how extremely satisfying some rounds can get, you’ll probably often want to come back for “just one more game” of The Infection.
If you’re a SOLO gamer who’s not completely put off by the Zombie trope, I strongly recommend this game for some lightweight fun.
Last but not least, with its various objectives and travel mechanism, Infection is begging for a campaign mode which I’m hoping either the designer or the community will create eventually (more on this below).
Initial Impressions, components and art
As far as print and play games go, The Infection has to be one of the easiest PnP games I ever had to print, sitting up there with Voyages. You literally only have a handful of pages to print, and, technically, nothing to cut unless your really want it to look a bit more professional. Once printed, You can either laminate the sheets, or, what I did myself, just slide them in a plastic folder. Once that’s done, bring an erasable marker, a few dice of different colors, and you’re all set.
I chose to use tokens instead of my erasable marker for resources and health, but that’s just personal preference. For resources in particular, I always think it’s more fun to use actual tangible bits, but you can use a marker instead of course.
I am split when it comes to the art. I think the art of the zombies, items, and icons in general do the job well. I am a bit less impressed by the locations. They do an ok job I guess, but feel a bit like forgettable 3D assets from a generic zombie videogame. The other issue is that some inaccessible places on the maps are represented by blank squares, positioned in a way that doesn’t seem to match anything on the background. In this map for example, nothing in the graphics justifies the blank space in the middle of the map.
I definitely see how this helps gameplay by making moves trickier on some maps, but I feel the graphics could have helped here (e.g. by putting a lake, or a big rock in there or something…). It’s nothing huge, but for a game that’s mostly made of these locations, I do feel there was a chance for better looking ones. (Keeping in mind that the copy I was sent might not be final). That being said, as I understand, the publisher/creator here is mostly a one-man operation. As always in this context, this is an understandable limitation.
Bottom line, the art on the game isn’t anything to call home about, but it does the job ok.
For my first playthrough, and after seeing some gameplay video online, I was thinking the game would be too easy and/or too much luck based. I was also not super attracted by the Zombie theme (I assume a lot of us have Zombie fatigue). But I got destroyed almost instantly in my first attempt, and realized the game had much more depth than I initially gave it credit for. This got me motivated to try again, and before I realized it, I had played 10 games in a day.
The Infection – Gameplay overview
In The Infection, you play as a survivor in a city infested with Zombies. You start the game with some limited resources (food, fuel, and search), and pick a goal for the game: acquire 5 tanks of gasoline, visit 6 locations, kill 9 zombies, or reach a specific location on the other side of the city.
Once you’ve chosen your objective, the game cycles between 2 phases: a phase on the city map, where you will use either food or fuel to travel from your current location to the next, followed by a phase in the new location, where you will have to fight (or evade) zombies in order to acquire more resources.
The travel phase is pretty straightforward and uneventful: you pick your next location (preferably near you), spend the required resources to travel the right number of spaces, done.
The location phase however is the tense part. There are typically 2 or 3 zombies on the map, and 3 resource tokens you’ll try to acquire. Whether you attempt to kill all zombies (and grab all resources for “free”) or just try to gather as many resources as possible before fleeing like the coward you are, will depend on your objective and your current health and items status.
At any point in time, the game lets you use “search” resources to craft items: typically weapons such as baseball bats, guns, knives… Which item you’ll want to craft will depend on the type of (randomized) zombies you have at your location, as different zombie types require different types of weapons to be dealt with. The types of items you can craft, and the fact that the items have a very limited lifespan contributes a bit to the “Last of Us” atmosphere of Infection.
As you play, you’ll quickly realize that Infection is above all a resource management game. Crafting items is expensive, but will be regularly required to kill the zombies. Your health itself can be a resource, a very precious one.
Rinse and repeat the travel and “boots on the ground” action phase, until you either complete your objective, die, or run out of resources.
The Infection: Roll, write, fight – Review
After playing about 20 sessions of The Infection, here’s what I think about the game:
Easy to bring to the table, easy to learn, rounds play fast and do feel like an action/survival game
good replayability thanks to the diverse objectives, especially considering the footprint/scope of the game.
More depth than one might initially think. The different objectives force you to adapt your strategy, the multiple weapons offer interesting crafting decisions
oftentimes a real feeling of being a survivor fighting for your life: grasping just one extra token of food just before escaping a location, or finding that last can of gasoline you were looking for, can feel super rewarding
All the building blocks are in place for The Infection to be the core engine of a larger solo campaign. I’m hoping a fan could easily create one and thinking the game could be easy to expand. New ennemies, new maps, new locations, new weapons,…
The 5 fuel mission is basically 100% luck in my experience.
Mitigation exists for bad dice rolls, but if you ever have to mitigate even a single roll, things aren’t going well for you.
I didn’t feel like my travel choices on the map were particularly meaningful, and felt the map is just here for flavor in its current state. Too bad because I think it has more potential.
I finished multiple locations by simply outrunning a single zombie long enough to gather all resources and escape. Those rounds were not particularly fun and felt like a Benny Hill skit.
The Infection is super easy to print, super easy to bring to the table, and super easy to play once you’ve grasped the rules. But despite being so easy play, it has surprisingly more depth than I initially would have guessed.
In particular, the different missions definitely force you to adapt your gameplay. I would say the most straightforward mission is probably the “kill many zombies” one: killing all zombies at a given location is often the most obvious way out. It gives you experience, ensures you’ll retrieve all resources, and, in this case, also happens to be what you need to do as your main objective.
But other objectives can be a bit more subtle and change your choices, in particular when you don’t have the right weapon to kill a given type of zombie. Maybe you’ll just want to gather 1 or 2 resources then run away. I certainly appreciated the gameplay giving me this kind of agency in my choices, that I initially didn’t assume would be there.
Not all missions are equally fun though, and I’ve basically given up on the one where I had to gather 5 tokens of fuel. In almost 10 attempts with that mission, I’ve only succeeded once, and that boiled down to luck of the dice, in particular with a specific location that spawned no zombies (two rolls of “3”) and had 2 cans of gasoline. In other words, a free round, which won me the game but didn’t feel satisfying. The only other time I came close to succeeding that mission was also thanks to luck (but that luck ran out quickly). I might be missing something but I feel this mission is brutally unfun and luck based.
There is some luck involved with dice rolls in Infection, but don’t get me wrong, it can be mitigated, in particular by spending search resources. Another way you can sometimes mitigate your luck is by sacrificing a bit of luck. Sometimes getting hit one time just before escaping might be better than having to craft a weapon. Last but not least, crafting the right weapon for the right situation can vastly help. Will you craft a baseball bat, pretty much guaranteed to kill that puker, or the more versatile and durable hammer, which has a higher risk of a bad die roll?
The problem is that resources in the game are extremely sparse: it generally takes 1 or 2 resources to travel to a new location, which in return will give you back at most 3 resources. So in the best case you’ll end up with one more resource than you started with. In a more average case, you’ll need to at least spend two resources to craft a weapon that will be depleted by the time you’ve killed two zombies. In most locations, your resource run is basically a wash.
Bottom line, you’re constantly scraping for resources, and if on top of that you have to use some to mitigate your dice rolls, you’re probably not headed toward victory. Under the hood, The Infection is a pretty well designed resource management game. An intense one.
In missions where gathering resources is not the primary objective, this tension on how to use your resources, and choose what to craft, is very interesting. It’s absolutely not a huge brain puzzle like in games such as Under Falling Skies (a game where you really have to think where to spend your dice) Or Robinson Crusoe (another game where resources are constantly lacking), but it helps making the challenge interesting, and gives The Infection its awesome survival game feeling.
This also leads to the occasional satisfying round. If you reach a location, where the right resources are waiting for you, and the randomly generated zombies are vulnerable to the weapons you happen to have in your backpack… man does it feel like you’ve struck gold! Spend one resource of fuel to come to a location, get out with 2 more experience points and 3 resources? Yes please! When you go through such a succesful run, and compare it to another one where you barely got out with your life, that feeling of actually being a survivor fighting for their life is really reinforced. There’s great emergent storytelling here.
For the “not so fun” aspect of free runs, I have found myself multiple times in a situation where it was just me and one last zombie on the map, and where I could easily evade them forever until I collected all the resources before leaving the location. (This was particularly true after getting enough XP to upgrade my movement to 3 per round). Ensued a series of “Benny hill” like chases which where the right thing to do in order to win, but from a gameplay perspective where not particularly fun. It felt like I was gaming the engine.
Another point that was a bit disappointing to me was the travel map itself. While on the surface it looks like it’s full of possibilities, in practice the right choice is almost always to go to the closest location in order to spare resources. The map gave me the illusion of travelling wherever I want, but in practice resource limitations constrained me to a mostly linear run every time. From a thematic perspective it works, but I wish the map contributed a bit more to the gameplay. One idea would be by providing more points of interests than just locations ? Or a campaign mode with multiple maps, see below.
Eventually, after playing about 20 games or so of The Infection, I was ready to put the components back in my drawer, feeling content. The Infection is the kind of game I will enjoy bringing back to the table once a year or so for a few hours of solo fun, or occasionally with my morning coffee.
As I reflect on the gameplay for this review, I feel like The Infection is a game that has all the mechanics in place to be the core engine for something bigger. With its multiplicity of missions, experience points, items crafting, and the travel mechanism, I feel like it’s begging for a campaign mode. The campaign could have multiple missions in different places of the map, maybe different maps or cities to travel to, experience or upgraded items earned between missions, and so on…
It turns out The Infection has a bigger brother board game in preparation by the designer, which potentially looks like the campaign game I’m thinking of. But even with that other game in the picture, I still think a lightweight campaign mode could easily be added to The Infection Roll and Write, and I’m hoping it could be a stretch goal for the Kickstarter campaign, or something a dedicated fan could eventually bring to the community.
Conclusion / Should you pledge for the Infection Kickstarter ?
In conclusion, the Infection is a very competent action/survival/resource management game that’s easy to print and easy to bring to the table. It’s not without flaws, but with short and intense sessions of about 20 minutes, You’ll definitely want to come back for just one more game whether you win or lose. If you’re looking for a well designed Solo game, and are not tired of the Zombie trope, I’d say you can confidently give this Kickstarter a chance, especially considering the announced price of $6 for the Print and play files.