Rebuild 3: Gangs of Deadsville

I got this game as part of a Humble Bundle a while back, and I really had no idea what I was in for. I’d never heard of the Rebuild series before, much less Rebuild 3. Apparently, I got lucky! Gangs of Deadsville is a strangely compelling little title that can suck you in for hours at a time effortlessly.

This isn’t immediately apparent from the start, as the game has a few factors working against it on a first impression. From the interface, it’s clearly a ported mobile game, or was intended to be a mobile game at some point. I personally find this kind of interface design a bit off-putting, mostly due to having played enough mobile games to know that they’re all money-grubbing garbage. Hey, call me biased! On top of this, the first mission doesn’t give you a good picture of the mechanics you’ll be working with. Aaaaaand it’s a game about a zombie apocalypse, which is such a tired premise at this point that it makes me yawn thinking about it.

Thankfully, this first impression both wears off quickly and (apart from the zombies) is not indicative of the kind of game you’re getting with Rebuild 3. The game has no artificial difficulty to incentivize a monetization scheme (or other similar nonsense) that I could find, for one thing, and has no other characteristics of mobile gaming apart from its interface design. But the icing on the cake is that there is quite a bit more going on in this game than you would guess from the first mission. By the time the game ramps up, it has more in common with a 4X game than anything else. Though the game plays out in real time, the game speed is highly adjustable and you can pause at will.

Rebuild 3 centers around reclaiming a series of cities from a zombie apocalypse. Each city constitutes a level of the game, and they generally play out the same way. Starting from basically nothing, you build up a cadre of survivors, take territory, scavenge for resources, research new tech, and engage in diplomacy or fighting with other factions on the map. The whole time, you’re also fending off masses of zombies which will gather and rush your borders.

Apart from your main character, survivors are dedicated to a particular job: defenders, scavengers, builders, engineers, and leaders. While your self-insert can level all of these skills and perform all duties, other survivors are only effective within their chosen field. You can change a survivor’s job at a school building, but they are only going to gain experience for their currently-active job, and they’ll start from level 1 in anything they haven’t leveled yet. The higher a survivor’s level, the faster they perform tasks. In the case of defenders, their level also determines their ability to fend off zombie hordes.

The game world is divided up into square tiles, with each tile having a building on it. Buildings can be lots of different types, and each has a special function. For instance, apartments provide housing for your survivors, farms provide food, etc. Once you reclaim a laboratory tile and do some basic research, you can change the building on a tile using a builder survivor, for a small materials cost. Accomplishing tasks in the game is done by clicking and dragging a survivor (or a stack of them) onto a tile, at which point a circular progress bar shows you how far along the task is. So, for instance, a typical base expansion is accomplished by first dragging a defender onto a tile outside your existing base, to kill off all zombies within that tile. Then once they’re done, you drag a builder there to reclaim the tile.

Zombies are continually building up outside your walls, and when they reach critical mass, they become a horde, which sits outside your walls with a special icon, and will randomly rush your base after that. So, you need defender survivors stationed around your walls to counter this, or you’ll lose tiles you’ve reclaimed. You can attempt to preempt the buildup by sending defenders outside to thin the ranks in tiles that are getting too “hot”, though this costs ammunition.

In order to get food, materials, ammo, and other items, you’ll want scavengers to go and pick tiles clean of resources. Scavengers can also farm and hunt to increase your food. Survivors can be equipped with a variety of weapons and items that boost stats and give them other benefits. You’ll also need to keep up morale, which can be done with bars and churches. Leaders can be stationed in these buildings to actively raise morale further. Leaders are also used to recruit new survivors you find outside of your base. Builders not only reclaim tiles, they also can chop wood in parks or forests, and build upgrades and new buildings in your base. Engineers are in charge of research and manufacturing, at laboratories and workshops respectively. Injured survivors recover faster at hospitals. There are a few other special buildings and types of tasks I won’t cover for brevity.

A substantial portion of the game is interacting with other factions in each city. This can be done through diplomacy, or military conquest and expansion. There is also a roving trader, Gustav, who offers a variety of services such as trading, events that influence morale, gambling, and other shady activities. You also have a chance to determine your city’s policies and governmental style from a surprisingly large list of potential options, which in turn influences some of your bonuses and penalties to various things in classic 4X style.

Though none of these mechanics are terribly deep when compared to big-name 4X games, there IS depth here. Even smaller choices like the direction you expand your city in, or what shape you make it, can influence your tactical options. Overall I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by Rebuild 3 in a number of ways. I recommend it with confidence to anyone who enjoys 4X and wouldn’t mind a stripped-down, faster-paced version of such a game.

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