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Board Game Review: ‘Zerpang!’

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Ages ago, the great koan posed, “Which is cooler, ninjas or pirates?” The eternal question lingers to this day, though it is often only considered by the wisest philosophers. Meanwhile, Whirling Derby Games has upped the ante on that question with Zerpang! adding zombies, elves, robots, aliens, and gunslingers to the mix. Players choose their class and battle for supremacy.

zerpangboxZerpang! packs a great deal into one dense punch. Overall, the game shapes up as a position-garnering game, like Chinese Checkers or Go. There are a few terms to learn such as “Home Base,” “Gate,” and “Great House,” but a quick run over the rules will catch players up that these represent spaces on the board. The core play is simple: add new pawns to the board, move pawns, carry out combat, and draw cards.

The greatest strength of play in Zerpang! is that each class holds different winning conditions. Some of the classes must possess different positions on the board: the ninja occupying Great Houses at the edge of the board, pirates by the central “Buried Treasure,” and gunslingers with both. The other classes carry different wins, such as the aliens “abducting” opposing pieces, the zombies mutating and infecting others, and the elves simply out-lasting everyone.

Along with their winning conditions, each class has special powers. The deck is primarily constructed for pirates versus ninjas, giving a great many “Ninjutsu” and “Pillage” special actions. Other cards merely list “Points,” which drive the game by allowing actions like bringing on more pieces, more movement, or increasing the numbers during combat. Combat is straightforward: both players pony up points until one runs out of cards or concedes. Special cards spice up the fights.

With so many possible actions for each turn, what initially seems like a rendition of Chinese Checkers can go just about anywhere. The themes are strong with aliens capturing people, gunslingers throwing out cards in straights of great power, and various crews of pirates roaming, not to mention the interaction between players backstabbing or making temporary alliances against opponents in the lead. Games are packed with laughter as players frustrate plans or make epic moves by wielding a hand of carefully collected cards. The rules suggest that the player to go first is “whoever can do the best impression of their chosen Class.”

zerpangboardZerpang! carries a solid mechanic, though the rules can be confusing at times. Some portions mention cards being allowed by all while others make them class-specific. The question of hand-limits arises as well. elves, unfortunately, are unable to leave their Home Base, making them a redundant player, though house rules could quickly bring them into the action, frustrating the plans of mortals as the ultimate anti-player.

Zerpang! is a game for two to six players (though really five active players) for ages 12 and up, fitting for the potential complexity of the cards. Games typically last one to two hours, though it can be a chaotic game with a final time-limit of three hours for the elfin victory. Strategy is key to victory, but luck of the draw plays a big part assembling a potent hand.

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About Jeff Provine

Jeff Provine is a Composition professor, novelist, cartoonist, and traveler of three continents. His latest book is a collection of local ghost legends, Campus Ghosts of Norman, Oklahoma.
  • Jeff Provine

    For a clarification, Zerpang! is for two to six active players, with Elves serving as a seventh more stalwart player.