The only thing more dangerous than a necromancer is a necromancer with a business plan. Putting those monstrous creations to good use to build yourself an army to take you to wealth, Grave Business allows players to take on such a role by sending forth Zombies to do their bidding. Collecting treasure and constructing more zombies are among the many tasks your minions can do as your riches build in your vault, but be careful, as these items can be stolen by opponents’ zombies! Produced by Minion Games in 2011, Grave Business is a colorful board game for 2-4 players. Game play lasts approximately 45 minutes, and rarely goes over an hour. There are monstrosities to build, so let’s get down to business…Grave Business.
Out Of The Box
A large stack of chit boards await inside the packaging, and once they are sorted out make a lot more sense. Inside, you will find a Graveyard board, Mausoleum board, 4 player boards, and a Start Player marker. Among the chit boards you will find a total of 50 Corpse Piece tiles (normal, Zombie Fights Back, and Remnants of the Master), 47 treasure tiles (normal and equipment), 40 player-colored zombie tokens, and 68 player-colored corpse pieces tiles.
The Graveyard and Mausoleum boards are placed within reach of all players. Each player chooses their Necromancer Player boards and their according player-colored zombie and corpse pieces tokens. Zombie token pieces in this starting pile have names on each zombie part, and are placed face down in their corresponding zombie headstone on the player board. Their constructed zombie tokens are pulled from the complete zombie stack to do your bidding. The rest of the Corpse Piece and Treasure tokens are shuffled upside down and placed next to the Graveyard board. The player who last visited a haunted house takes the first player token, and the game begins!
Playing The Game
Game play is generally 6 rounds, with 4 steps in every round. At the beginning of every turn, the first step is that the Graveyard must be reset. This means that tiles are chosen randomly from the shuffled treasure/zombie pieces tokens pile and placed right side up across the board for a total of 16 tiles. Included in this pile are the 3 pieces of The Master. If a player has all 3 of these pieces in their lab at the end of the game, they immediately win, regardless of their opponents’ treasure counts.
The next step is to place zombies. Zombies can go in many places, and your strategy will determine where you place them. Each zombie has strength in both Brains and Bones, so these are placed upside down so that opponents do not know how strong your placed zombies really are. Placing a zombie on an outer Dig Row! space means that they will be fighting to claim items in that row indicated by the arrow facing the inside of the board. Zombies can also be placed directly on a grave space if a player really wants the item on that space. In this case, a zombie exerts its Brainpower +1, but for this space only. At the top left of each player board are 2 spaces to Steal from the Vault or the Lab, and zombies placed here will do just that, and steal an item from one of those locations. Zombies may also be placed on the Start Player Marker, which allows the player to take the marker and look at the strength of a hidden zombie. Lastly, a Zombie may be placed in the Attack! space of the Mausoleum board, which we will discuss further down.
Next, the zombie actions must be resolved. For digging up graves, turn all zombies brain-side up and count up the strength in each row, and the player with the greatest brainpower among his own zombies in a row will claim items in that row. If two opposing zombies are being compared for a space, the Zombie with the highest brainpower wins the item. If the brainpower is tied, the next factor is the bones, and the zombie with the most bones wins it. If there happens to be a tie, neither zombie picks up the tile, and it is put back in the shuffled pile. Any zombie placed directly on a grave space gets their +1 brainpower when resolving this space. Any corpse pieces received are placed in the Lab, and all treasure items are placed in the Vault.
For zombies placed on the Steal! locations of other player’s boards, all items in that location are placed face down and shuffled, and a tile is stolen and placed in that player’s respective board space.
When fights break out, there is a temporary pause in the game. If player A has a zombie in a dig row where player B wanted to place one, player B will place a zombie brain-side up in the fight space of the Mausoleum and choose another zombie to fight. That zombie is flipped brain-side up as well. The defender then turns over a tile from the top of that zombie’s headstone pile and places it in the headstone shadow. Damage to zombies is permanent, and each tile’s number indicates how much damage that zombie has taken. If a tile is flipped and says Zombie Fights Back, the attacking zombie must do the same process. Equipment may be placed on zombies, which instruct players on how to resolve them when they are flipped. When the defender is the last zombie to take damage, it is removed from its original placement on the board and lays in the defender space in the Mausoleum. If the defender is not the last zombie to take damage, it stays in its original placement.
The last step in the game is to manage your zombies. If at this point in the round a zombie has taken damage equal to or greater than half of their space’s printed number, that zombie is dismembered and its pieces are removed from the game, making it no longer usable. Alternately, if you have enough corpse pieces with a printed cost equal to the cost of another zombie on the player’s board, you may then construct that zombie and use its corresponding zombie tile to continue your quest for wealth. In addition to constructing zombies, you may also take Equipment tokens picked up throughout the game and place them face down onto an existing zombie’s headstone pile, so that when they are damaged, the equipment triggers first. The only difference in this step for a 2 player game is that new zombies cannot be constructed until the end of the 2nd round.
The game ends when there are not enough pieces to fill all 16 spaces during the Reset Graveyard step. As mentioned before, if a player has all 3 pieces of The Master in their lab at this point, they win immediately. Otherwise, these pieces have no point value and treasure/corpse piece scoring is counted up. All values on treasure and corpse piece tiles are counted up from the Lab and Vault locations, and the player with the highest total wins the game. In case of a tie, the player who has the highest combined value of all zombies that are currently active takes the victory. Still tied? Those players go into business together and create an unstoppable zombie force.
Once the rules and pieces have been sorted out, I think the game goes quickly and can be picked up just the same. I do feel that the game is a bit unorganized in its setup. While strategy plays a vital role in this game, it is easy to become overwhelmed if you are ahead as your opponents are likely to gang up on you in the way of stealing or fighting your zombies. I think that younger players will enjoy this more than older ones given the overall simplicity of the game. Grave Business retails for $44.99, although I’d have to recommend doing some shopping to pick it up a bit cheaper, as I don’t believe I would pay that much for this game. If zombies are your thing, this worker-placement game might be right up your alley, but be sure to come with a business plan.