Bullets and Brains is a zombie skirmish game from East Street Games. It’s set in the near future after some terrorist bio-weapon has turned most of the population into zombies – not exactly an original plot, but to be honest, with the number of zombie games around these days we’ve already heard most of them anyway…
Currently, the game comes as two starter sets, each of which contains a human gang and a set of zombies, One set is called ‘Alpha Squad’, the other ‘Civilians’.
Each set comes with similar components: 28 plastic multi-part zombies, a double sided A5 quick-play rule sheet, an A5 Zombie rule sheet, an A5 Humans rule sheet (specific to the faction), two scenarios (also specific to the faction) some dice and two or three token sheets.
The difference between the two sets is the squads themselves. The Alpha Squad, as the name might suggest, is a military unit. You get six metal miniatures in the set, with each character having its own stat card.
The Civilian box set comes with eight metal miniatures – again, each with its own unique stat card. Each character has a different combination of abilities. As you might expect, the military unit is better equipped than the civilians, with more ranged weapons.
A zombie game wouldn’t be half as much fun if the ‘good guys’ couldn’t be turned in zombies themselves, so in each box set there is also a ‘zombie version’ of each metal character figure. When a character succumbs to the zombie horde their miniature is replaced with a zombie version of themselves.
The basic rules cover a single, double-sided sheet of A5, with extra rules for each faction on their own A5 sheets, which includes special rules for abilities and some faction specific rules. For example, the Civilian gang can forage from crates, and so can gather equipment – anything from bandages and antibiotics (useful for fighting the infection that turns you into a zombie) to those staple zombie killing weapons: the chainsaw and the shotgun.
The game is played on a 4’ x 4’ table, and is scenario driven. Each box set comes with two scenarios. The human player’s aim is to complete their objective in the scenario, the zombie player simply to stop them doing so.
Gameplay is straight forward. The turn sequence is I-go-U-go, with the initial first turn being decided by a dice roll. Each player activates each of the models he controls in turn, and may perform two actions. The human can perform any action, in any order. These actions are move, shoot or interact (such things as opening a door, or searching a crate). Zombies can perform a move action, followed by an attack action, if they have a target (in that order only).
The humans are deployed on the board at the start of the game. The zombie player deploys a number of ‘event’ counters around the board. These are triggered by proximity to a human model, and tend to make bad things happen. There are also four zombie spawning points placed on the board. Zombies are spawned at these points if attracted by noise.
In each scenario, the human player has a major and secondary objective to perform and must then get to the extraction point (the opposite corner of the board from where they deployed). In these scenarios, these objectives must be completed within eight turns. The objectives usually include killing zombies, which can be done silently in close combat (but at risk of getting infected) or killed by ranged weapons, which creates noise and can attract other zombies. The scenarios for each group are different – the Civilians tend to be a bit more ‘sneak around’ whilst the Alpha Squad is much more ‘zombie take down’ – as such they produce very different games.
Combat is also straight forward: Models have a ‘Hit’ and a ‘Def’ statistic. To hit, roll equal of higher that the ‘Hit’ stat of the attacking on 2D6 (rolling over the stat may decrease the targets ‘Def’). To inflict a wound, roller equal or higher that the ‘Def’ stat of the target model. Human models have five wounds, zombies two.
As well as the starter sets, there are some extras currently available: crawling zombies, resin spawn points (to use instead of cardboard counters) and some resin dumpsters – the start of some scenery for the game. The resin spawn points are especially nice models.
The plastic zombies in the starter sets are the 28mm multi-part sprues made by Studio Miniatures. You get 28 of these (7 sprues) in each box.
The metal miniatures are generally well sculpted, but have something of a comic-book style to their features – especially the zombie versions of the characters. They are also pretty large: certainly heroic 32mm size
The game is not without its faults. Some might argue that the card components are not of high enough quality – whilst the stats cards are nice enough, the counters comprise of sheets of printed cards which have to be cut out with scissors, and these are quite thin.
From a scenario point of view, there is an argument that there are not enough zombies deployed at the start of the scenarios, which can make some of the scenarios easy to complete. However, this is easily rectified by simply starting the game with a number of zombies already deployed on the board. Also, it’s apparent that these boxes are the starter boxes for a bigger game – some rules (such as the decoy action) are missing from the quick-start rules. The website would seem to indicate that a bigger rulebook is coming.Some people might also complain about the limiting factor of the stats cards – each model has a stat card, which is needed to play the game, and there is not a generic stat card available. Since the website already mentions expansions, you can imagine that some of these will be in the form of other factions, which would include their own stat cards for the game. Considering just how many zombie and survivor miniatures are available on the market, this would seem a sensible thing to do from East Street Games point-of-view to try and create a market for their own figures. However, this could be a two-edged sword – and whilst the figures produced for the game are nice enough, there are several manufacturers who produce better in the same genre.
Producing a new zombie game is something of a challenge in what has become something of a saturated genre in the last three or four years. Gameplay is pretty simple, so it does make for a very quick ‘pick up and play’ style game, which may be where it’s appeal lies… The box price of £45 for a set of rules plus 40 – 44 figures also offers pretty good value. Though it’s down to personal preference of game style, as I said the Alpha Squad box is, for me, the clear favourite, as it gives the opportunity to play game whose sole objective is to try and take down an ever-increasing zombie horde – always good fun.
Zombie games are something of an acquired taste and certainly not to everyone’s liking. Bullets & Brains does provide some good entertainment at a reasonable price, but more support, especially in the form of extra scenarios, is required.
Disclosure: A review copy of this game was provided by the publisher