The heft of your chainsaw is starting to sap your strength. Your clothes are bloody. You look around, and see 5 people… nay, 5 survivors who have had your back through countless ordeals. Your ragtag group realizes that this alley is a dead end. You turn to face the coming horde…
Cool Mini or Not and Guillotine Games
Designed by: Raphaël Guiton, Jean-Baptiste Lullien, Nicolas Raoult
Time: 60 minutes
CoolMiniOrNot has been tearing up Kickstarter. Zombicide was their first campaign, and set a funding standard that they keep blowing out of the water. Regardless of how you feel about KS, zombies or miniatures, you cannot deny that this game proved that Kickstarter is a viable resource for tabletop gaming. But is it any good? Let us find out.
Zombicide is a cooperative game that takes little bits of RPG, Miniatures and classic board gaming and blends them together into a very enjoyable (and sometime tense) mix of zombie smashing goodness. Each player takes on the role of a survivor who is trying to work with the other players to save their collective skin from the ever increasing tide of zombies.
Each survivor has a miniature, and corresponding character card that keeps track of their experience and items. For every zombie a survivor kills, the survivor gains one experience point. At different levels, the survivor gets different abilities and actions to use during their turn… but at the cost of increasing the danger level: the difficulty of the zombies that are spawned. On their turn a survivor gets to perform some actions, varying from attacking a zombie, searching for gear or moving around the map.
How are you going to kill zombies? With all of the different weapons and items that you are going to scavenge for. There are melee weapons, guns, supplies, ammo… and the elusive gasoline and glass bottles needed for a nice cocktail. Each weapon has an associated range, number of dice that are used to attack, die number to hit, and damage done. The combat is very intuitive: you pick your target, you roll dice, figure out how many hits you get, and kill that many zombies.
This game is full of zombies. When you open the game box, the first thing you are faced with is a giant box full of zombies! 65 to be exact, in a plethora of types and sculpts: normal walkers, simple, easy… but a lot of them; runners, they can close the distance to a survivor faster than you can reload your sawn-off shotgun; Fatties, who can only be taken out by a higher power weapon and lest we forget the Abomination.
One of the beautiful mechanics of the game is how predictive the zombies are. As you take your turn, you know where the groups of zombies are going to move, so you can try to plan ahead. If you have played other cooperative games, you will recognize the card driven artificial intelligence of Zombicide. After the survivors get a chance to do their actions, the players draw a zombie spawn card for every zombie location. Depending on the danger level, a certain amount (and type) of zombie appears. Then the zombies march on and attack whatever survivors they can.
Each game of Zombicide is playing out some scenario. The scenarios range from a helpful introductory tutorial, to kill 300 zombies and stay alive to searching for supplies and escape. There are 10 great scenarios included in the game and a very prolific community online churning out new ones. Guillotine Games website is constantly adding user and designer created scenarios, so there is always something new to play. Many of the missions play out very differently with repeated play. I have played the ‘City Blocks’ mission at least 6 times and it was just as fun the 6th time as the first time.
These scenarios greatly influence the game play time. Some scenarios are shorter than others, while some take a while to trudge through the horde. I would say that, in general a game will take 1.5 to 3 hours, greatly depending on play style.
CoolMini did a great job with the production of the game. All of the components are top quality, good cardboard bits, and sturdy boards. My game boards have withstood many games and are still pristine. Let us not forget the miniatures. The suspension of disbelief in the game is easy to achieve with a board covered in zombies. Before I played this game, I thought that the addition of plastic miniatures to a board games was superfluous. Zombicide showed me how wrong I was. The zombies and miniatures are great.
It should go without saying that the theme is pervasive. You are going to feel like you are a survivor fighting zombies, plain and simple. When you are cornered, with only one action left, and Doug is packing dual SMGs, you are going to feel the weight of the dice, you are going to get excited. The mechanics complement the theme very well. The whole concept of noise, both thematically and mechanically, is beautiful. The danger level idea is a little weird thematically. Often the choice is made for one character to avoid killing any Zombies so that the group does not spill over in to the next level. It just does not feel thematic, but from a game play perspective it is spot on. Interestingly, loving the zombie theme is not necessary to enjoying the game. I have played with gamers who are ‘meh’ about zombies and still loved the game.
The re-playability is high: both from the out pouring of scenarios, to the wide variation in survivor abilities. Playing Wanda feels very different from Ned, each giving a very different experience. Playing with different groups, Zombicide it works very well as a 2 and 3 player game. I have played solo, which was fine. While larger groups are fun, it can get a little unwieldy; however, if you have 6 people who are all invested in the game, it is going to be a zombie killing festival of delight.
The gem of this game is its appeal and accessibility. This game appeals to zombie fans, but it also appeals to all forms of table top gamers. The leveling up and the item collection will appeal to RPG players (along with the ad-hoc story telling… apparently Wanda and Josh have a thing for each other), the movement and attack appeals to miniature gamers (not to mention plenty of plastic to paint). And hobby gamers find it simple enough to enjoy as a cooperative game. For you video games out there, it is a great table top version of Left 4 Dead. In general the rules are not all that complicated and remarkably intuitive, the game play is streamlined very well, and the components are great. It is a very playable game.
Now, before I am accused for being overly positive, it should be noted that there is very little depth in this game. It is fun, it is thematic, but people are not going to spend lots of time explaining the winning strategy. This may be a turn off to gamers who are inclined towards heavy ‘brain burning’ games. The objective is simple: kill zombies. The only production issue that has come up is the size and weight of the cards. I am not really a fan of small form factor cards, and their finish and weight make them easy to slide around. And as with most cooperative games, the ‘Alpha Gamer’ can ruin a game of Zombicide. If there is someone to orders the other players around, it is just no fun.
In summary, Zombicide is one of my favorite games from the past year. While it may be a little pricey, the quality of the components justifies the buy. If you are at all interested in the zombie genre, or are just interested in a good thematic cooperative game, I highly suggest picking up a copy.