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ZOMBICIDE

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Designers:
RaphaŽl Guiton &
Jean-Baptiste Lullien &
Nicolas Raoult

Publisher:
Cool Mini or Not
2012

No. of Players:
1 - 6

EVALUATION

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Literature, movies and boardgames all have in common that they follow modern trends, and one trend which has been quite strong in recent years has been the dawning of a "Zombie Apocalypse", the downfall of civilization due to some strange disease which turns humans into mindless monsters. This epic fight of a lone survivor actually can be traced back to Richard Matheson's novel "I am Legend" which was published 60 years ago in 1954. The book has notably influenced the Zombie-genre, and it has found two major movie adaptions. Charlton Heston was lead actor in "The Omega-Man" in 1971, and in 2007 Will Smith faced a depopulated world in Hollywood-blockbuster "I am Legend". However, the genre has seen an additional, decisive boost by Robert Kirkman's ongoing comic book series "The Walking Dead", and especially the TV-adaption of the series which premiered on AMC in 2010 became the most-watched drama series in basic cable history. As it seems, it was especially Kirman's series which has made Zombies presentable in recent years, and so it's no wonder that Zombies are a recurring subject in some new games.

This introduction should give you the necessary background for my review of Zombicide, a cooperative game where a small group of survivors struggles to keep alive in face of an ever-growing Zombie-horde. In essence, the game resembles a First-Person Shooter which has been turned into a boardgame, and indeed the game mainly focuses on killing as many Zombies as possible. At the beginning of the game the players choose characters (survivors) and a mission, and the modular gameboard then is prepared as presented in the mission briefing. The players begin the game with a rather basic choice of equipment, namely a gun, a fire-axe, a crowbar and several cooking pans which serve as makeshift handweapons. These items are randomly distributed among the survivors, and so it's clear that the players strive to find better equipment during the course of the game. In addition, each survivor also has a unique starting skill, and more skills can be gained by leveling up through killing certain numbers of Zombies.

With these preparations finished, the players begin their mission, and usually the mission goal will be connected with the survivors reaching some remote regions of the gameboard in order to perform some kind of special actions. During his turn a player has an allowance of three actions for each of his survivors, and these actions may be spent on various activities like moving, shooting, melee-combat, opening doors, boarding or driving a car etc. Especially at the beginning the players will perform a lot of search-actions in the buildings, since they will try to find better equipment which may help them on their mission. New equipment cards come from a random deck containing a quite various choice of cards, ranging from food to automatic weapons (yeah!) or even a wandering Zombie (argh!).

When all survivors have finished their turn, new Zombie cards will be revealed for each of the "Zombie Spawn Zones" which were listed in the mission briefing. New Zombies will appear as listed on the cards, and in addition all Zombies which have been placed in previous rounds will receive a move action, moving them towards survivors in sight or - if no survivor can be seen - towards the group of survivors which has made most noise (by shooting, smashing doors etc). If a Zombie starts its turn on a space with one or more survivors, it will not move but instead it will attack, dealing one wound to a survivor of the players' choice. This may not sound too bad, but nonetheless a wound should be avoided whenever possible since a survivor is out of the game when he receives his second wound!

The rules for the handling of the Zombies are pretty straightforward, and the players can easily manage all necessary Zombie actions without an impact on the gameflow. To my mind, this is rather important for a game like Zombicide since it draws a high degree of attraction from its gameflow. Having complex rules and tables dealing with the artificial intelligence soon would be perceived as being an unnecessary burden, an experience I found nearly intolerable in Zpocalypse, a different Zombie-game which clearly suffers from a less-than-perfect set of cumbersome rules (The authors of that game actually had the cheek to invite the players to test and change their "sandbox" rules, a horrible way to camouflage built-in deficiencies). Mind you, depending on the chosen mission a game of Zombicide can take two or three hours to finish, but if both games are compared Zombicide is the clear winner because the rules focus on keeping the game quick and action-packed.

However, this doesn't mean that Zombicide can be played without discussions and careful planning. Several types of Zombies exist in the game, and when shooting at a space filled with Zombies the players have to observe a target priority list which can be a real pain. Thus, the "normal" "Walker"-Zombies will be the first target, followed by the big "Fatties" and - if present - the fearsome "Abomination". The latter are tougher and the players need to find stronger weapons in order to defeat them. Behind all of them hide the "Runners", a nasty kind of Zombies which gains two actions, making them a rather unpleasant menace. In addition, the presence of survivors on the target space makes shooting impossible, requiring the players to resort to melee actions where the targets can be chosen. All combat is resumed by rolling a number of dice as listed on the players' weapon cards, and hits then can be assigned following the target priority list (shooting) or freely chosen (melee). Underestimating the danger of the last-targeted "Runners" can result in grave consequences, and in addition the players will be hard pushed to find suitable weapons when an "Abomination" joins the fray.

To make things worse, the game gets more and more difficult the longer the players take to finish the mission goals. Whenever a survivor has killed a certain number of Zombies he will be allowed to level up and gain a new skill, but the negative effect will be that the number of newly spawned Zombies corresponds to the level of the most experienced character. Thus, the number of appearing Zombies is bound to increase, and the situation gets especially nasty if the players run out of miniatures. If Zombies of a certain kind are no longer available in the stockpile, all additional cards listing the appearance of this kind of Zombies now will result in an additional activation of this type of Zombies. Once this threshold has been crossed the situation will quickly get out of hand because of an ever-quicker Zombie-stampede, and this may happen sooner than expected because Zombie cards are not only drawn by the end of a round but also when a new building is first entered by the survivors. The bigger the building, the more cards are drawn, and so the players do well if they succeed in opening large buildings at the earlier stages of a game.

The three Zombicide-campaigns on Kickstarter have been extremely popular, beginning with a respectable $781,597 collected during the 1st Season in May 2012 and culminating in the crazy amount of $2,849,064 raised during Season 3 in July 2014. These campaign have been cleverly marketed by producer COOLMINIORNOT, giving the Kickstarter-backers lots of exclusive extras like special survivors which (by chance?!) resemble movie actors in famous roles. However, despite my general fondness of Kickstarter-projects I have to emphasize the fact that the attractiveness of Zombicide for me is not caused by all these neat extras, but indeed it is rooted in the perfect design of the game's mechanisms and of all playing components. With all the miniatures and playing materials the game itself cannot be called a lightweight, but in terms of rules and gameplay it manages to entertain with an easy but challenging playing system which has enthralled me, my wife and fellow gamers for many gaming sessions. It is one of these rare games where the players are hanging at the edge of their seats, with everybody applauding the well-executed actions of some survivors and moaning to the mishaps of others. Players who are not put off by the setting and the luck-based general orientation of the game will experience a stunning playing atmosphere, and the addictiveness is increased even more by the fact that new types of Zombies, survivors and gameboards have been added during Seasons 2 and 3. Wait and see - a lost mission will leave all players longing for an instant replay!


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