Rebuild, which is on sale this month for just $0.99, is a city-builder game with a couple of twists, a Sim City-inspired game with RPG elements and a zombie theme where your nascent city comes under increasingly frequent and intense attacks from marauding zombie hordes. After a game or two of getting my clock cleaned while I learned aspects of the game that the tutorial didn’t cover, I found it very addictive with sufficient challenge on the third level (of five) or higher.
In Rebuild, you begin with a four-block territory within a larger city that has been decimated by zombies, and your goal is to retake thirty or more city blocks and form a new government of non-zombie types, a process that involves balancing resources across multiple simultaneous demands. (There are other story-based victory conditions as well, but they’re not made explicit at the start.) You must add recruits from survivors hiding out in unclaimed blocks, feed your people, keep them happy (with churches, bars, or the occasional find of whiskey or chocolate), clear out nearby blocks by sending in soldiers, and defend your home territory from regular zombie attacks. Choosing which city blocks to claim can depend on your needs at the time – you need at least one hospital to treat injured or diseased citizens, a school to increase citizens’ skills, sufficient housing for everyone, farms for a regular food source, a laboratory or two to research new technologies, and more.
The role-playing element comes within your specific citizens, each of whom has a name and ratings across up to five separate skills: combat, leadership, building, scavenging, and science, up to a maximum of 10 in each. You can increase a citizen’s skills by arming him/her with a weapon or tool (or, occasionally, a dog), and skills increase with experience in the field. The upshot is that you must choose the right citizens for each task, including which ones to leave at home on “guard duty” for the semi-unpredictable attacks from outside zombie hordes, and which ones to put on indefinite tasks like farming, bartending, or preaching, or on long-range tasks like lab research.
Rebuild’s main twist, which wasn’t clear until I’d played it a few times on the “challenging” (moderate) difficulty level, is that the risks associated with those zombie attacks increase as the game goes on: They become more frequent, as often as every other turn, and the “danger” (risk of injury, death, or loss of city blocks) increases as you go further into the game. There are some ways to compensate, such as researching and building watchtowers, bunkers, and turrets to use around your city’s borders, but you have to start working on those much earlier in the game. Once the attacks speed up, keeping your people happy becomes more difficult as well, even if you’ve kept them fed and are using bars and churches. Striking the right balance across workers isn’t complicated, but you’re making fresh decisions every turn or two on who to send to which job.
The in-game information is solid once you know what you’re being told. I found that keeping the Danger rating, which updates with every worker assignment, at or under 25% was enough to keep my city growing without incurring much risk of loss of life or territory. The top info bar also tells you how much food you’re saving or losing in each round and your citizens’ happiness, which you’ll need to keep above 50% to finish the main goal of drafting a new constitution. Rebuild also allows you to take five citizens from one victorious game into another game at a higher level, which I think is probably critical to winning the most difficult (“Impossible”) level, because it lets you hit the ground running and train new recruits more quickly.
There are three other ways to win Rebuild, plus one win-by-losing storyline, but that’s more along the RPG lines and involves somewhat less of the city-building aspect that I most enjoyed about the game. The graphics are outstanding and the app ran smoothly most of the time, although I did experience two crashes, so I recommend using the manual save feature on top of the autosave feature to ensure you don’t lose any hard-won progress. For a buck, it’s a no-brainer.