Zombiepocalypse makes what is clearly a lesson in genetics into an engaging race to save humanity. It’s one of several games in Game-Framed Math & Science, a project by Hostos Community College and Colmena Design working to improve student success. With funding from the National Science Foundation, the principles of “gamification” were applied to the classroom, and the results have been spectacular. Rees Shad, Humanities Chair at Hostos, writes that implementing the games doubled the number of students passing remedial classes and increased retention from about half to more than 95%, a rate unheard of in higher education.
The numbers alone are impressive, but the real success is in how fun Zombiepocalypse is to play.
The strong theme of Zombiepocalypse is the first thing that stands out when you play. A narrative outlines the dire situation: Zombies plague the world, and players must cultivate the flower of the Savior Plant to keep them at bay. There are three variants of the plant: Blood Red, Suffocated Blue, and Monarchical Purple. The first two are viciously toxic, while the last serves as a powerful zombie repellant.
In addition to its thrilling, chilling background, gameplay in Zombiepocalypse is fast and engaging. Using the board as a grid, players first take turns laying out single-letter “gametes” with dominant B and recessive b genes on two sides. Players will be quick to understand that having all of one will lead to a cat’s game, so more variation makes for more successful breeding of purple flowers.
Once the board is set up, players race through their decks to lay out blue BB, purple Bb and red bb flowers. Players must fill up each of the four squares; the player to complete the grid wins all the cards on the board. Then play resumes in this Speed-style game until players run out of cards in their deck. The player with the most Bb cards is declared the winner.
Playing Zombiepocalypse is a blast thanks to its speed and symbol-matching, but it is its educational value that cannot be overstated. Punnett Squares and gamete combination are foundational principles in the study of genetics, but they can also be very confusing to students facing them as new ideas. By addressing them through the game, students can shed the stodginess of the usual lecture situation and instead engage the abstract notions firsthand. Understanding genetic dominance after a few rounds of Zombiepocalypse, students will be prepared to tackle other examples from any textbook.
Zombiepocalypse is a game for two players. Thanks to its racing mechanic, games are very quick, lasting a few minutes at most and encouraging new play with high replay value. It is recommended for players aged 10 and up, although younger players will likely enjoy the symbol-matching in slower-paced rounds. Zombiepocalypse is a great opportunity for every classroom and parent with students in life science classes to foster engagement and excitement in what might otherwise be a dry, groan-worthy topic.