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How to survive a zombie apocalypse (with Nerf blasters)

Think you can outlive hundreds of ravenous zombies? Team CNET did. So its members threw themselves into the deep end with the humans-versus-zombies survival game Zedtown to prove it.

Imagine, if you will, 600 fresh-faced survivors about to willingly subject themselves to a full day of zombie apocalypse.

Don't worry, though. They're armed with Nerf blasters.

Shark Moonbeam, Ebony Falcon and 35mm (we weren't allowed to pick our own callsigns) of Team CNET headed into the zombie wasteland a few weeks back for Zedtown: Twin Cities, a six-hour humans vs. zombies survival game held outdoors at Macquarie University in New South Wales, Australia. Humans vs. Zombies nerf wars have been a staple on US college campuses since around 2005, but the Australia-based Zedtown has been running local games annually since 2012.

We took it, if not ourselves, pretty seriously.

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Ebony Falcon (center) decided he didn't need knee pads, relying instead on the cushioning provided by track pants. Shark Moonbeam (left) and 35mm did not trust their cartilage.

Dave Cheng/CNET

The six-hour event is like a huge game of tag, only once the human players get tagged they're zombies for the rest of the event. Shooting zombies with a Nerf dart sends them back to a zombie starting zone before they can resume chasing down humans.

Zedtown has a companion Web app for these events. Its best feature is a slowly ticking slider atop the screen showing how many humans have been turned to the side of the walking dead.

For those of you who have been or will be lucky enough to participate in Zedtown, here are a few lessons we learned from our experience.

Lesson 1: Backups are a must.

It's fitting that our first lesson of the day is one that tech nerds and gamers should hold near and dear.

About two hours into the game we were standing on a hill beside our base, overlooking a series of knolls. We'd nailed a couple of missions given to us by our faction leader, having reclaimed fuel cans to power up our base. The app was telling us there weren't more than a few dozen zombies. Things seem relaxed. Breezy, even.

Faint calls of "zombies" started echoing from a distance. We decided discretion was the better part of valor and regrouped at our base. Unfortunately, the budding zombie horde had the same idea.

Dave Cheng/CNET

It was at this time we faced three hard truths:

1. Running from zombies is hard.

2. Reloading Nerf blasters while running from zombies is harder.

3. Nerf blasters jam. A lot.

Thankfully, we were all strapped with as many Nerf blasters as we could carry. There was a whole mess of rapid shooting until blasters jammed, leading us to swear at said blasters before whipping out side arms.

Backups save lives.

Lesson 2: Have someone cover you, for real.

With just over half the game time gone, we ventured back out into the wild. That's where, at 5:02 p.m. local time, one of our number, 35mm, met his fate. The next lesson is a little iffy. It's either "don't split up" or "don't trust Ebony Falcon to watch your back."

"Moonbeam needed to rejig his loadout so I grabbed the Falcon for a good ol' zombie hunt," said Dave "35mm" Cheng, bitter squad leader. "We spotted one of our former friends, now a zombie, roaming the hills. Empowered by the courage of the undead, he managed to swoop in and bowl me over. I had to use a pair of binoculars to spot the Falcon, who was meant to have my back but had perched himself a very safe distance away."

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This is Ebony Falcon's very distant view of recently downed teammate 35mm, whom he was assigned to protect.

Daniel Van Boom/CNET


Lesson 3: Hiding keeps you alive, but it won't win the game.

Two of us were still up, and we consolidated with some other fragmented groups of survivors. We thought we were fine. Then the sun went down.

Once that happened, it was a whole different ballgame. Humans, once flush with braggadocio, were reduced to either zombie chow or cowering in dark corners from a zombie horde hundreds-strong.

Groups of undead marched through the campus, menacingly chanting "one of us, one of us" as they encircled and took down isolated survivors.

The app told us that with around 50 minutes left, only 100 or so humans remained. This was perfectly fine for the two members of Team CNET who were now zombies (Ebony Falcon was taken during a particularly cinematic car park encounter), but for Shark Moonbeam, the one remaining survivor, it was sub-optimal.

As the clocked ticked to zero, Shark Moonbeam managed to stay hidden from the horde, but rather than finding the evac point and being rescued, he was hiding among the bushes lining a dry creek bed. It was a really good hiding spot. But it didn't get him out of Zedtown.

Final score: 0.5 survivors out of 3 players. FAIL.