Wot I Think: Zafehouse: Diaries

By Robert Florence on January 15th, 2013 at 5:00 pm.


Hey yo, okay, that’s enough with the zombies now. That is ENOUGH with the zombies. Sure, I like zombies. You like zombies. We all like zombies. But you know what? I see zombies more often than I see most members of my family these days. I think we’ve pretty much had it with the zombies for a little while, popular culture. Let’s have a break from the zombies, hm?

Okay. One more. Fine. This one is called Zafehouse: Diaries and it has a Z in the title because it’s always Z for Zombies theze dayz. It’s like Z is the Nike swoosh for zombies or something. It’s a brand thing. If you see a Z, you know you got some Zombies. It’s why all those zebras got together for a re-branding conference last October.

Okay, so here’s the deal. When you start a game of Zafehouse you choose which story setting you want to play. One has you trying to survive while searching for details of a rescue team’s arrival, the other has you trying to scavenge parts for a vehicle that can get you out of town. Both play in a similar fashion – you will have five characters who can be commanded to carry out actions. You will then progress time, and your results will show up in the diary.

The game is presented through nice, clean static screens. The main screen is a map of the town, while clicking on a building that contains your characters will open a clipboard from where you can create commands. There’s the diary, which narrates your latest hopeless attempt at survival. And then there’s this little relationships page, showing how all the characters feel about each other. Here you can see the game deciding that the version of me I created is probably a racist.


Yeah, see, here’s a positive thing about this game – it’s mainly about the relationships between the characters. The game is so simple (essentially a choose-your-own-adventure with some extra choices and a lick of strategy) that you really need this added dynamic of character tension. If your characters hate each other, they won’t work well together. They might even get violent with each other. And seriously, making this bunch of arseholes get along is probably your biggest challenge in the game. (Well, until you make the wrong choice in some random event and have your entire party instantly destroyed. Yeah, that happens. Supafun.)

Okay, so – let’s say you have all your characters in a house. All you’ll see are some little tokens representing each character on the map screen. You can click and drag these little tokens around the map, sending them to other buildings with orders to investigate or breach or assault. You won’t see much more happening than that. And that’s fine, because inside the diary the story is progressing every time you click the little digital watch that advances the clock.


This is pretty realistic, actually. It’s the end times, and I want to play a fucking BOARD GAME. As you can see, I’m getting no joy from all these miserable goons. I think after this happened I sent Geoffrey and Brandy out to breach another building with only a hammer to defend themselves. I did this because they refused to play games with me, and also because I don’t like the look of Geoffrey.

Everyone has occupations, and these occupations will affect the characters’ skills. Geoffrey was a fireman before the diarocalypse happened, I think. So he was handy at breaking down doors with axes. Shawn was a chef, so I kept telling him to make the dinner until we ran out of food. And being a writer, I was good at modifying spanners.


Can you even begin to visualise what that spanner might look like? I don’t think even H.P. Lovecraft himself could conceive of anything so terrible as this Terrifying Spanner. And yeah, then my character decides to modify a fucking SPONGE? No wonder I couldn’t find anyone to play chess with me. My guy’s in the middle of a nervous breakdown. “Here, Geoffrey, take this sponge! Now go assault the police station!” (To be fair, modifying a sponge creates a Sparkling Sponge that is better at cleaning up corpses oh what the fuck am I explaining this nonsense for?)

Now, when your characters aren’t busy searching or barricading or fighting zombies or making dinner, then they start to occupy themselves with some random bullshit. I’d like someone out there to explain to me exactly what was happening at this point in my diary:


Uh-huh.

You can try to make your characters like each other better by spreading rumours. You can only spread one rumour at a time, so it’s important to prioritise relationships. I wanted my two good fighters to get along, so I spread a rumour that one of them was a charity worker and that eased some tensions. You can’t hate a good guy charity worker! Of course, with every rumour comes the risk that some of the other characters hate charity or poor people or whatever. Those Tories get everywhere. And then your good-intentioned rumour might just send you spiralling into some more drama that sees good people getting hurt:


I mean, what is this? Hate Rab Florence: The Game? Except in a game this time?

Zafehouse: Diaries is a challenging, interesting zombie game. I really wanted to like it, because I think the intent is there to make something different. It just feels very thin. The idea is great – there’s the beginnings of something here, for sure – but it isn’t fleshed out enough to feel like you can actually get your teeth into the mechanics. The presentation is so minimalistic that you really need a greater amount of depth to feel like you’re doing something worthwhile with your time. There needs to be more of everything. We didn’t all get obsessed with games like Championship Manager back in the day because they looked clean and simple, we got obsessed because they were deep and smart and they gave back what we put in.

This just feels like an early game concept with some neat ideas and a slick interface. If you had played it in your browser, for free, you’d maybe feel a little bit of excitement over what it might become down the line. You’d certainly want the developers to continue with the evolution of their project. I’ve worried about the fact that a “negative review” might hinder that progress. I hope not. I’d love to return to the game in a year and see that it’s made good on its potential.

But paying for it isn’t something I would pencil it into your diary just yet.

Now, would any of you like a game of Chess?

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40 Comments »

  1. Zunt says:

    That reminds me of the old play by mail games of the 80s and 90s.

    • Zunt says:

      Now it’s reminding me of Big Brother.

      “10:05 pm. After arguing about race with Geoffrey, Rab has drunkenly tried to make pasta and sauce. He now has small cuts and tears.

      10:25 pm. A zombie has got into the back yard, where it has got stuck in the hot tub. The housemates are trying to get Rab to remove it with his Sparkling Sponge as it is getting in the way of their ferky-foodling.”

    • alicaben says:

      upto I looked at the check for $6122, I have faith …that…my mother in law could actually making money part time from their laptop.. there best friend has done this 4 only about nine months and just cleared the dept on there cottage and bourt a new Land Rover Defender. this is where I went, http://NYcareerTrends.qr.net/j5KL

  2. AmateurScience says:

    I took me a distressingly long time to figure out this wasn’t a new board game. I are distressed.

    Also could this game be an early front runner for the 2013 Unnecessary Colon award?

  3. Elmar Bijlsma says:

    Sure I’ll play chess with you.
    Say, did you know Geoffrey looks the way he does because he fell face first into a bag of kittens?

  4. SkittleDiddler says:

    Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz…

    (the game not the review)

  5. Ian says:

    Man, I hadn’t checked the Zafehouse website for updates in yonks.

    I loved Zafehouse 2 but it didn’t have much replay value.

    • Ian says:

      And now I’m disappointed because it definitely doesn’t seem worth a tenner based on this.

  6. The Army of None says:

    The spanner menaces with spikes of sponge!

  7. screeg says:

    How come you included four screenshots of text and none of the map?

  8. Bhazor says:

    Ended up with small cuts and tears.

    It always ends in tears.

  9. The Random One says:

    Modifying a sponge? In front of everyone? Haven’t you the slightest self control?

    It’s kind of sad that the recent glut of games that brought new life to the zombie genre also caused the old and tired zombie games to rise out of their graves, rotten and moaning, like a bunch of mummies.

  10. plugmonkey says:

    I’m not bored of zombie games. I’m bored of games about killing zombies. The more games that come out that actually try to make use of the interesting parts of zombie fiction, the better.

    • HighHill says:

      I love myself a good zombie game! The more zombie games that come out the better!

      The zombie apocalypse setting offers all these exiting possibilities that most people can easily relate to through all the other fiction, games or movies they have experienced.. The survival, the psychological aspects, etc. I think it’s an excellent foundation to build a great game.

      I don’t even have to feel bad for killing them in the thousands!

  11. InsidiousBoot says:

    Enough with the zombie games, I want a zombie simulation. Else I’m not entertained.

  12. golem09 says:

    I want the CK II team to make a zombie sim like this. Could be great.

    • Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

      Day 7: I shall press my de jure claim on the house next door. I will be recognised as the Earl of Acacia Lane. My brother Martin keeps looking at me funny, so I have married him to a zombie, to both remove him from my court and form an alliance with the zombies.

      Day 9: The Pattersons next door have raised their levies and are resisting my occupation. I called for aid but the zombies did not honour our alliance.

      Day 10: My son and, sadly, heir Billy is a lazy imbecile. His older sister Catherine would be a better heir, but I cannot change the rules of succession. If I kill him and he walks among the hungry dead, does he remain my heir?

  13. zeekthegeek says:

    Is anyone else more sick of people who say they are sick of zombies than they are of zombies themselves? Cause I am.

  14. I_have_no_nose_but_I_must_sneeze says:

    I laughed until I was covered in small cuts and tears.

  15. Lucas Says says:

    Modifying a sponge killed me. What could you possibly be modifying it for? To fight through tough Ztains?

  16. pottering says:

    OK, this made me think : “Crusader Kings 2, but managing Z.Survivors and Bunkers instead of Nobles and Estates”.

  17. cptgone says:

    i agree it’s an interesting and original game.

    managing the survivors’ relationships is somewhat frustrating to me though, partly cause one can only use rumours (and those can be spread only once each in-game day), and partly cause they deteriorate so easily (up to the point where survivors inflict serious wounds upon each other).

    and when i send survivors to breach a house, i can only hope things go well, as i have no way of telling what chance they have (apart from an estimate of the number of zombies inside). even well armed and equipped survivors sometimes get slaughtered on such occasions. it feels a little at random, and the player has no control over the outcome.

    i don’t regret buying this charming little game, but then again i got it in a cheap bundle.
    i hope the devs don’t get disheartened by the lack of coverage, and do make a sequel.

  18. DavidK says:

    Hi all, Dave here from Screwfly. Thanks for the review, Rab. Adding content has been our priority since we launched (and we’ve added loads of content over the past few months).

    Any RPS readers out there worried about the price, head over here in the next 24 hours and use the code WOTUTHINK for a 50% discount.

    The manual and the various Let’s Plays out there are also good starting points.

  19. ockhamsbeard says:

    The thing is, all these bizarre sounding vignettes – the exercise, the chess, the sponge – are what made the game interesting for me. They’re not pre-written cards drawn from a deck, they’re procedurally generated by the complex underlying system. And once you’ve played long enough, the dynamics of that system start to be revealed. Then it feels like you’re playing in a living world, with rules that make (post-apocalyptic) sense, and you can intuit your way through the game rather than ‘gaming’ it. That gave ZD some originality points in my book.

    • Gap Gen says:

      I kinda like insane procedural stuff like sponge modding. I’d rather have something interesting and a little wonky than something that works because it does nothing new.

  20. davidkidd says:

    Hi all, Dave here from Screwfly. Thanks for the review, Rab. Adding content has been our priority since we launched (and we’ve added loads of content over the past few months).

    Any RPS readers out there worried about the price, head over here in the next 24 hours and use the code WOTUTHINK for a 50% discount.

    • CletusVanDamme says:

      Oh snap, I bought at full price based on this review just after it went up. If only I’d waited!

    • RagerX says:

      I just bought it. Thanks for the deal. I liked the demo and already voted for it on Steam.

  21. Noodlefighter says:

    Wow Zombies are becoming the new freaking modern warfare that everyone will try to milk

    • Gap Gen says:

      I dunno, didn’t zombies as a gaming trope predate modern gunmen?

  22. Metronome49 says:

    Ah, I heard about the premise of this game from a Project Zomboid podcast and decided to pick it up and I regret it. It’s a really cool idea and has good moments, but it wasn’t worth the $15 I think I spent. Sometimes it’s really hard to feel like any decisions you make matter very much. One time I was near the end, with all my crew in good shape, and I was sending them all to breach the house next door, but I missed switching the toggle from investigate to breach, so they all went from a zombie free safehouse to look in to the window of the house next door and came back to the safehouse full of zombies and they all died. So frustrating. It’s fun, but I wish I didn’t pay what I did.

    • cptgone says:

      i suppose your safehouse wasn’t barricaded, as that never happened to me.

  23. brotherthree says:

    How did I miss this back in January??

    God damned hilarious, need more wot I thinks that are this good.