Guillotine Games in conjunction with CoolMiniOrNot
1 to 6
> Gorgeous miniatures and artwork
> Simple accessible gameplay without compromising on depth
> Variety in play-through is excellent
> Artwork discrepancies can be a little jarring
> Random search mechanic can leave players with next to useless equipment
Zombies are big, trending like mad in all shapes, sizes and medias; movies, video games, books, comics, even television is getting in on the act with big budget series The Walking Dead. Table top gaming hasn’t been immune (we all know the virus has no cure!), with the undead cannibals being main actors and bit players in every genre from TCG to war games. So why is Zombicide special enough to stand out from the shuffling, decaying crowd? Well, let me tell you all about it, just as long as you promise not to take a chunk outta my brain…
Zombicide is the brain child of designer team Guillotine Games and was released following a massive Kickstarter campaign by CoolMiniOrNot. At $781,597 and 5258 backers, it was clear that Zombicide had a lot to live up to.
Opening the box, the first thing I spotted was the number of bits you get. Zombicide isn’t cheap, retailing at around £60-70, but here is the reason. The parts list is huge, with 71 miniatures, 110 mini cards, 9 modular game boards, rulebook and stacks of tokens, player boards and dice. All of it is heavy duty and built to last. The cast on the miniatures is clear and well-detailed enough that it could be painted if you become so inclined, and the variety of the zombies means the board will not look like the dance line in a Michael Jackson music video; in short it’ll will look the part of a shambling horde of Zed heads all closing on the earnest survivors.
Next is the artwork. In separate parts, it looks gorgeous. The portraits of all the survivors and zombies are comic-book style drawing and colouring with thick black outlines and a grungy palette; this is extended into the card art works and the main box cover. The board pieces however are more of a photo-realistic style, with everything carefully shaded and inked in such a way that looking down, you get the feel of a real cityscape that’s seen a lot of bloodshed in the last 24 hours. Unfortunately, the two styles don’t quite marry up with the result of a mild jarring effect when you look from rulebook to board and back again.
But enough on the pretty, what about the gameplay?! Zombicide is fully co-op, with full AI written into the rules to govern the zombies. The rule book is well written and easy to follow, with plenty of gameplay examples to assist in understanding. Each player gets a figure and a player chart to log their progress. Each turn a player has three Actions they can take, ranging from moving and opening doors to searching for new equipment and shooting bad guys. This sounds simple, but there’s enough variety to keep the game flowing at a good pace without feeling like you’re on a railroad track of ‘Move, Shoot, Repeat’.
Each survivor has unique abilities at the start, including ‘Slippery’ (can move away from Zombies without penalty), ‘Starts with a gun’ or ‘Free Search’. The survivors are all riffs on common characters seen in zombie culture. Ned is the survival junkie, a mash-up of Rorschach and a loner hick, Wanda is a chainsaw wielding roller waitress (oh my!) and Phil is the tough-guy sheriff looking to clean up the town. This adds an element of familiarity and tongue-in-cheekiness that gives you a hint of how seriously this game takes itself, whilst not losing the grittiness of the Z-apocalypse theme. What’s more, as you kill stuff, your character can level up, gaining new abilities and bonuses (more on this later).
Games are set up according to whichever map you choose from the rulebook, ranging from a 20 minutes introductory game up to a 3 hour epic survival-thon for the expert players. Each map features a set of the modular game boards, spawn points for the zombies and objectives for the players to reach or collect. More advanced games also include cars and more exotic weapons like Ma’s Shotgun and the Evil Twins. The variety of games is insane; with the ten maps that come in the base set rulebook, the range of boards, survivors and equipment available, plus the capacity to write your own campaigns and one-off scenarios means players can literally play a different game every time they pick Zombicide up. This again ties into the value for money, which this game has in spades.
The zombies themselves come in four flavours; walker, runner, fatty and abomination. The walkers are the bog standard shuffler, getting one Action per turn and just appearing in droves. Runners are the 28 Days Later variety, having two Actions per turn and quickly becoming a head ache for the players. Fatties are chunky zombies, making them harder to kill (if your weapon can only do one point of damage per hit, you can’t kill a fatty – ever). The abomination is even tougher, and generally requires the intervention of a molotov cocktail to take down.
Zombies will spawn at the pre-set spawn points every turn, based on a deck of Zombie cards. Each card is tiered based on the level of the highest level character in the zombie party, with the higher tiers sending in more deadly Zed-heads or bigger groups. This presents the players with a strategic quandary; does the guy with the big gun kill everything, levelling up quickly but causing the bigger zombies to arrive before the rest of the group have caught up, or do we all take turns killing stuff and risk being overrun (you start the game with a frying pan, so, ya know, not great zombie killing stuff). This system of levelling the survivors and the zombies leads to some tense moments as the board slowly begins to fill with undead hordes.
One element I thought was incredibly well done was the Noise mechanic. Taking some actions, such as breaking a door or using a gun generates Noise, represented by tokens placed at the feet of the offending survivor. During the zombies’ turn, their movement is governed by what they can ’see’. If they see multiple survivors, they move towards the ones that made the most Noise. If they can’t see anything, they will again start stumbling towards the source of the most Noise. This introduces another set of tactics for the players, with hit and run being used to distract the zombies and funnel them away from critical objectives. Just hope you’re not the one on bait duty!
In a little break from my normal MO, I’d also like to talk about the support for this game outside the base set, which in a word is fantastic. The Guillotine Games website comes with a slew of tools for map editing, free missions and even new survivors to play.
So a novel take on a rather bloated genre, that’s fun, accessible and well supported. Zombicide has enough complexity and variety for the hardcore gamer, but doesn’t exclude with its simple ruleset and clever AI, and it looks cracking on the table top. A must have for the zombie enthusiast and gamer alike! Now to stock the cupboards, board the door and sharpen that machete!
Images courtesy of Guillotine Games and Jacob Kerr. Please note that the green zombies featured are from the Toxic City Mall expansion.