The phrase "beer and pretzels game" is meant to indicate any sort of tabletop pastime that's low-concentration (thus the beer) and an easy mechanic (thus the pretzels). Basically, anything you can do for half hour while eating the bar snacks and waiting for the party cleric to arrive (he's always late).
These games have turned into a complex industry of their own. Munchkin, for example, is the "classic" of this genre - a card game pastiche of role-playing packed with in-jokes and easily playable in fifteen minutes. Except, of course, being geeks, we demanded expansion after expansion, special dice, engraved counters and an infinite number of holiday-related bonus packs that all make things more complicated. Why have an easy game when we could have a hard one?
We'll get to Munchkin in a later review. This is really about Zombie Dice - a true beer and pretzels game from the publisher of Munchkin, Steve Jackson Games.
Zombie Dice is, if you'll excuse horrendous pun, dead easy. You, gentle reader, are a zombie. You're trying to eat tasty human brains (as one does). There's a tube filled with dice. You rattle three of them on the table. The results tell you how many brains you've eaten (the brain symbols), how many run away (legs) and how many plugged you with a shotgun (a shotgun). You roll over and over again until you're shot three times. The goal is to gorge yourself on as many meals as you possibly can before you get shot (and lose all of them, what with being re-deaded). After any roll, you can stop and "bank" your brains - demonstrating a sort of caution generally thought absent in the undead.
The mechanic is made slightly more strategic by the fact that there are three types of dice: green, yellow and red. Red dice are weighted towards shotguns, green towards brains. Brains and shotguns get put aside after every roll, so, at any given point, you have a fairly good idea of what dice are remaining in the tube. If you've been lucky enough to cash in on a lot of green brains, you should be aware that you're holding a tube that's weighted against you. On the other hand, if you've rolled some of the red dice early, and you're still standing, the odds favor a more aggressive strategy...
That, in two paragraphs, is it. You roll dice until you're dead and/or sated, pass the dice to your neighbor, and hope desperately to be the first to 13 (or so) brains. The strategy is basic risk management - if you're a talented ex-mathlete (sigh), you can figure out the odds, but, really, it is just about getting an instinct for squirreling away enough brains to stay ahead of the competition.
You can play with a near infinite number of people, but the more folks there are, the gutsier you'll need to be. In a six person game, it was rare to get more than three goes. Someone out there will get a good streak of 6-7 brains - you might as well push it and see if it can be you.
As far as the beer and the pretzels go, this is a low-concentration, high-reward game that gives you just enough time between turns to go get more crunchy snacks from the kitchen. If the game gets a little shout-y (and the dice occasionally wind up on the floor), that's part of the fun. This is a quick, dirty and fun little game, cleverly washed in zombie-chic. For a tube of dice, the price isn't pretty, but this is the sort of game that'll come out over and over again.