Zombie Summer

This game was played with just two players. The genre was to be a high school slasher horror flick, and the action set in an old abandoned mining town a few miles from where the kids lived.

The action started with a car-full of kids arriving at the town in an old convertible owned by Rick. In the car was Bobby, captain of the football team, Rick, a rebel without a clue, Lisa, a cheerleader type, and Wayne, an unpopular kid who Bobby had invited along because he owed Wayne for doing his homework.

The kids had a bottle of booze, and were a little drunk to start off, with the exception of Wayne who kept his wits about him. They got out of the car, and headed into a nearby house, which was in a dilapidated condition. Bobby and Lisa started making out, and Ricky hitting the bottle pretty hard. The kids hear a noise coming from a closet, and, upon investigation, are scared witless by the grizzled old man that lurches out of it at them.

Turns out that it’s just old Zeke, a miner who never left the town after it was abandoned. He confronts the characters, telling them to get out of “his” house. Apparently he feels that squatting here makes it his. He also says that they should get out of town. The kids, however, just move to another room, and continue partying.

After a bit, there is more noise out back. Figuring that it’s Zeke again, Wayne and Rick decide to check it out. They discover an old shed out back with the door open, and peer inside. They note that there is a shaft leading down into the ground with a ladder protruding from it, and what look to be a pair of human skulls on the ground.

The first complication then occurs. Just as they turn around, a walking corpse, dripping in some black goop attacks them, knocking down Wayne, and taking a big bite out of Rick. Just when it seems that the kids have had it, a blast goes off, taking off the Zombie’s head. It’s Zeke, with his trusty shotgun, just in time to save the kids.

The boys ask him about the shaft, and he relates that it leads to some of the mineshafts that riddle the town. He tells them yet again that they should leave, “before it’s too late.”

But do they? Of course not. They go back into the house to tell Bobby and Lisa that they are going to investigate the shaft. Bobby decides to come with, but Lisa doesn’t want to go. Rick says he’s “not feeling well”, and stays behind.

Upon returning to the shed, it would appear that Zeke has gone down the shaft. Wayne and Bobby follow, and investigate the shaft. They go a ways, and hear a shotgun blast ahead of them, and sounds of a fight. They proceed forward and after a bit discover Zeke’s body, horribly gnawed and definitely dead. They decide to press on, taking the shotgun with them along with shells they get off Zeke’s body.

Meanwhile, back in the house, Lisa is investigating the upstairs, and finds a bureau with a mirror, and a nice old brush inside. She decides to pretty herself up. After a moment, she notes Rick coming up behind her with his hands out. Lisa warns him that she thinks he’s cute, but that she can’t risk losing Bobby. Just before Rick sinks his teeth into her. As a result of the complication, Rick kills Lisa easily.

Back in the mine, after a bit Wayne and Bobby come across some of the goop on the floor of the mineshaft. They are panicked when it starts to move, and tries to crawl up Bobby’s shoes, starting a complication. Bobby lets loose with a shotgun blast that begins a cave-in, in which Wayne barely gets away. Bobby is caught under a rock, on the other side, and Wayne can hear his screams as the goop covers him.

Unable to return to the surface the way he came down, Wayne starts searching about. He quietly finds the source of the zombies after a bit, a huge pool of the black goop filling an entire cavern, with hundreds of bodies floating in it. In the following complication, using his wits, Wayne figures out quickly a way to dispatch the creatures. He uses the mine’s still functioning electrical system to electrocute the goop, which bursts into flame. Wayne runs as the mine fills with flames, and barely makes it out of the main entrance alive.

Wayne returns to the house to find his other friends dead and lifeless. With nothing left to do, he takes the keys from Rick’s pockets, gets into the convertible, and rides off into the sunset. Presumably a more self-confident individual than before.

Featured Effect: Two-Player Play

No doubt about it, it’s a bit harder to play Universalis with only two players. Not so hard as to make it impossible or un-enjoyable, however. I’ve played with two players on a few occasions, and the sessions go fine. But fewer players means that the creativity is split less ways, and the synergistic effects show up less.

What you have to look out for are the moments where you’ll both be out of ideas. As such, it’s good to have a source from which to draw. Try playing in some setting that you both know really well. When you feel a slowdown occurring, just look to the setting, and inject some character, creature, place, whatever, from it. If you don’t use a preplanned setting, then rely a lot on the clichés of the setting and genre selected. If it’s fantasy, for example, have a dragon show up. Out of the blue.

Randomness is OK in Universalis to an extent. When you throw something in, just work out through play the reason for the interjection. You still want to create a story. But don’t let the worry of unexplained events slow you down. They will probably get explained later, or perhaps not. Which is not the end of the world. In fact, if you play a multi-session game, those loose plot angles give you something to work into in follow on sessions.

If you just accept that slowdowns in play may happen before hand, and relax about it, that can help get through these slowdowns. Nothing exacerbates a block like this as much as pressuring yourself too hard to come up with something. If you just wing it, and have fun, the pace will be fine; making Universalis perfectly suitable for two players

—-Mike Holmes


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