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Leo has had a couple of bouts with video game addiction, which we pretty actively stomp on, but it doesn’t make any of us happy to have to ruin his excitement, even if it is about something completely stupid. Last year in the JCC after school program he was exposed to Plants v. Zombie, and since then it has come up on occasion as something he wants to play. Recently, in a moment of stupidity, I gave in and got him the iPad PvZ2 game. Unfortunately, he was immediately hooked — like when crack addition is depicted on TV! — so that all he thought about, spoke about, depicted in his drawings, etc. was PvZ.

Now, PvZ isn’t the worst game in the world; it’s pretty clever, and at least it’s not shooting people with guns and having their blood splatter all over! But the level of addiction that Leo exhibited was hard to control, and when we tried taking it away he would become quite emotional. We would have ended up taking it away anyway, but instead I decide to try to redirect his interest into something slightly educational, to wit:


To make a long story short, we invented a dice-based analog to PvZ that has pretty much the same strategy components, but with a whole lotta ‘rithmetic (and some probability) along the way! Moreover, this game is interactive, so kids can play it together, or you can play it with your kids.

(I even convinced Leo to write-out the instructions quasi-neatly!)


The basic idea is that you get one of those large random die collections, which are cheap, and actually fun in-and-of themselves. (Every home should have at least 50 random die!) The zombies are played by icosahedral die. A standard 6-sided die is the zombie creator. The plants are played in various complex ways by the other various-shaped die (see below). The sun (which is the giver of points to grow new plants) is also a die (ten-sided works well, preferably with 00 10 20 …), and so on.


[The game in some random state of play: Energy score pad to the left. Sun is the yellow transparent die top right. “Lawn mowers” are the playing-card dice on the left margin of the field. Plants are purchased from the top row — ex. “PS” = Pea Shooter” (costs 40 energy) — When a plant is purchased and placed, a new one of that type takes the old one’s place at the top row. The green die next to the sun is a sun flower (SF). I think that this multiplies the energy you get from the sun … or something. I have to admit that I wasn’t quite clear on the slightly random rules that Leo made up for the various plants! Right side is the zombie creator die (white 6-sided) and several waiting zombies (icosahedra). There’s also a pea shooter there (for an unknown reason).]

The rules we ended up with were slightly random, aside from the principle that the larger the number of sides on the plant-die, the more powerful, and of course more expensive, the plant.

Game play is in four phases:


  1. Create or move zombies. Roll the zombie creator (6-sides). 1-3 any zombies already on the board move (person playing the zombies can distribute the movement as desired). 4-6 a new zombie is created: Roll the  chosen zombie (icos die) to assign that zombie’s health level and place it on the board. If there are no more zombies that can be placed, when the last zombie is removed from the board, the gardener wins.
  2. Roll sun and plant player (aka. gardener) collects energy from the sun.
  3. Gardener buys and plant plants, subtracting from energy in the obvious way.
  4. Plants attack. The specifics of attack mechanics is different for each plant. For example, the PvZ Pea Shooters are played by 4-sided pyramidal dice, which are simply rolled and then the sum score is distributed subtractively among the zombies on that row, as desired by the gardner. And so on. Any zombie that reaches zero is removed from the board. Usual rules apply for zombies that reach the gardner’s side: First one gets run over by the lawn mower, after that zombies win.

That’s about it. You can make it as simple or complex as desired by modifying the plant rules. For example, our game had a black six-sided (standard) die that stood in for fertilizer. It was pretty expensive, but it multiplied the strength of a plant attack, so that if the plant roll was, say, a 4, and the fertilizer roll a 5, then the total attack was 20. You can expand upon the rules as desired to push the players into more and more complex math.