Dead Weight: Parkour vs. Zombies - Alpha Prototype

It's been a long, long, long time since I've touched Dead Weight: Parkour vs. Zombies. Actually, it goes farther back than that old post. I first posted about Dead Weight back in 2006 on my old Luchacabra blog. Every October since then, I tell myself I'll put out some kind of playable iteration of the concept, whether that is a story game, board game, whatever. People still ask about the IP's status.

Well, by gum, I told myself on October 1 that this is going to be the year. Aaand of course October 30th came around again this year and I had a long, rambling document and a deck of custom cards quickly topping 150+!

Clearly, I just need a minimum viable product using the most basic of components possible. Thus, we have this bleeding alpha prototype I hastily wrote up in about an hour. It's a barebones roll-and-move press-your-luck set-collection game.

It's the zombie apocalypse. Parkour runners race through a ruined city trying to retrieve supplies for their home base. Carrying those precious supplies can end up slowing you down. And of course, those supplies only matter if you can make it back home. Did I mention the zombies?

Keep a supply of ZOMBIE tokens available.

Each player needs a d20 and a pawn representing their runner.

The group shares a single deck of regular playing cards, representing the supplies gathered along the way.

The group shares a single track with spaces numbered 0 through 50. Place your pawn on the 0 space. You can find a printable board below.


The game takes place over two phases, each broken up into several turns. In the first phase, the runners leave home to find supplies in the ruined city. In the second phase, the runners turn back and race home, trying to make it home first despite being weighed down by those very supplies.

Everyone takes turns simultaneously. On your turn, roll your die. You now have two choices.
  • You move your pawn forward that many spaces along the track.
  • Or you can roll again, which leads to two possible outcomes.
    • If your new result is equal or lower, a zombie is following you! You must move your pawn that many spaces. You also gain a ZOMBIE token. Your run is over.
    • If your new result higher, you move your pawn forward that many spaces instead... Or you can roll again, and again, and again, as long as your new result is higher.

When all players have completed their runs, check the current standings and follow these instructions.
  • If you are in the highest numbered space, draw three cards.
  • If you are in the lowest numbered space, draw one card.
  • If you are in between, draw two cards.
  • If you gained a zombie token this turn, draw no cards.

DEAD WEIGHT: Reduce your dice results by 1 for every CARD or ZOMBIE token in your possession. So, if you rolled a 15, but you're carrying three zombies and five cards, you would only move 7 spaces.

When a player reaches the 50 space, the first phase ends. Runners cannot move past space 50.

All rules are the same as the first phase except that you in each turn, you must now move your pawn backwards along the track, toward space 0.

When a player reaches the 0 space, the second phase ends.

Once the second phase is over, tally the score for your cards.
  • For any cards in a sequence, sum up the numbers on those cards and score that many points. Aces count as 1. Face cards count as 0, but may be used as wild cards to replace a missing number in a sequence.
  • For any cards of the same suit, sum the numbers on those cards and score that many points. Again, aces count as 1 and face cards count as 0.

Lastly, subtract a number of points from your score equal to your current position on the track.

For example, if you have  6♣  5  4♦  3♦  2  A, you would first score 21 points for the seven cards cards in a sequence. Then you would score another 14 points for the five cards that are all and 7 points for the two cards that are . You have a total of 42 points.

If you ended the game on space 17, you'd subtract that many points from your total score. Thus, you'd actually only end up with 25 points.

Consider each two-phase set as one "night" of running. You may play through several nights. At the beginning of each new night, reshuffle the deck and return the meeples to space 0. Tally the scores from each night for your final score.

The player with the most points wins! 


  1. Okay, so with the current rule set, the only decision that the player has to make is to push his luck and hope for a higher roll, which is a very easy choice when the first roll is <=10.

    Hows about the ability to use the items gathered to either gain personal advantage or to "screw your neighbor"?

    This could be based on suit. A club is a weapon that kills a zombie. A heart is something that allows you to transfer one zombie to another player. A diamond allows for extra movement, and a spade slows down another player. In any case, spending a resource causes a loss of the resource, and you may even wish to have an activation roll (a d20 has to roll LOWER than the value of the card plus ten (so a face card has a 50-50 chance, a 5 has a 75% chance, with a 10 being a certainty).

    Just some thoughts.

  2. I kinda want to play this right now, and feel like it'll scale well to more or less players.

    I think you could add more to the push-your-luck vibe if the cards you gathered has potential uses, but if spent didn't count toward your total. Not necessarily every card -- somethings like canned food might not help much, but ammo or an energy bar might help you mid-run. It could be another suit-based thing, and could be random or depend on the rank of the card you draw, since you're looking to keep the prototype slim.

    Given the "and a zombie is following you", seems like you could add more to the game board than just the player track.

    The die decision could use some more theme. Rolling low means you slip, run into a wall, or something that fucks up your parkour flow, rather than just a mechanical decision.

  3. I'm okay without an activation roll, but simply spending the card would be an interesting choice to make. Hm!

  4. Yeah, this was very much "as little theme as possible to get a solid mechanical core" type of post. I think spending cards for mechanical effects is a nice thematic gesture, like throwing canned food at a zombie to get them off your tail.

    A Twitter follower suggested custom boards for different cities, each with easier and more difficult routes, but which could yield better cards. (Draw x, Keep Y)

  5. The forward and back on the track thing is nice, and in general I dig the direction you're going here.

    That said, Dead Weight as a setting, for me, would be less about winning a race as it would be about not losing it, and moreover would be something where the survivors of the z'pocalypse are in cahoots with one another for survival: a cooperative game, rather than a competitive one, where you're gathering resources (that your community consumes at a steady rate each Night, likely built out of the sum of the resource-needs each player's character represents), and trying to make sure *everyone* doesn't lose the race (vs. the zombies, rather than each other).

  6. I was thinking the same as Fred, though I suspect that's a very different game from a mechanics standpoint. And one I would be even more interested in playing.

    And from a "traitor" standpoint, "being bitten" could serve as that if you're looking for that element in a co-op game.

  7. One way I've done "team MacGuffin" trope was in Pop n' Locke's heist system. Translating that here would be something like...

    "The first phase ends when the group's total distance equals X." In other words, if Ryan is at space 30, Fred is at space 20 and I'm at space 25, the total distance is 75. We can't turn back until that number reaches 100.

    Thus everyone is trying to push that total distance as much as they can, without putting themselves at too much risk in doing so.

    If there are rules for sharing, like dropping an item on a space so that another player can pick it up, all the better.

  8. We can also start looking at various decision points as they intersect with the theme:

    Spaces closer to home have been picked clean by you runners in the past. You won't get shit from there. So you want to get out to the further spaces, but it's more dangerous out there.

    There's safety in numbers, but that also means you're only as fast as the slowest person. So, there's a possible decision point there about staying with someone who rolls shitty so you're both protected.

    Day & night -- time. Part of the reason you're running rather than slowing marching forward with a bunch of armed dudes. You need to get stuff and come back quickly, before nightfall.

    Taking time to look for stuff means slowing down, means not running. So, "do I run past this warehouse or do I stop to look for stuff?"

    (Caveat: just spitting out ideas with the loosest of mechanical backing.)

    - Ryan


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