New Game Weekend: Zombicide

My weekend of gaming started with a regular meeting of the Metropolitan Wargamers club where new members — including myself — were inducted. With a couple dozen guys in attendance, it was great to look around the room and feel the fellowship with a group with decades of gaming passion in them. I’m looking forward to years to come with these guys and the inevitable newcomers who find their way to the club.

After the meeting, groups split off into a variety of board and miniatures games. I teamed up with four guys for my first playing of Zombicide. Anyone with a pulse knows zombies have been a huge trend in the culture for a few years now with the popularity of the The Walking Dead TV show and comic book series, as well as countless other books, movies and video games. Tabletop gamers haven’t been immune to the trend with a variety of popular zombie-themed miniature and boardgames rising in popularity. I’ve enjoyed playing Zombies!!! and a few of its expansions with my kids for a couple years now, and Last Night On Earth has become a mainstay for zombie gamers.

Zombicide is the latest to break into this gaming trend pitting survivors against undead hoards. The game was launched via a Kickstarter campaign just about a year ago that brought in over $750,000 from over 5,000 backers. In March of this year, the first expansion set for the game — Zombicide: Season 2 — raised an additional $2.250 million from nearly 9,000 funders. Needless to say, in a year’s time Zombicide has ridden the zombie wave to incredible heights of popularity with a rabid fan base.

My first run through Zombicide was a tough introduction to both the goofy fun and extreme challenge of the game. Each player takes the role of survivor of the zombie apocalypse with its own card outlining their particular abilities and a personalized miniature. A streetscape of wonderfully detailed and gory cardboard tiles is laid out according to one of the ten scenarios included in the base game. To complete the set-up, areas are predefined where zombies enter the game, doors are set in buildings, objectives are placed, and, depending on the scenario, special pieces such as a police car is strewn throughout the town. Over 60 zombie miniatures in four varieties — Walkers, Runners, Fatties and the Abomination — start the game at the town’s edge, just waiting to sink their teeth into a juicy survivor.

Players work collaboratively using a base three actions to move, search and/or fight zombies both on the street and in buildings. Searching allows a player to draw cards to find weapons, ammunition, gear and other special items which increase their chances of surviving the zombie onslaught to come. Since each player starts with only a frying pan as a weapon, searching for weapons is a focus from the start. Players manage what items they carry in their hands or on their person, and players may also choose to trade or simply give items to their compatriots to increase the group’s overall chances. Certain items are used in combination, adding a scavenger hunt aspect to the game. For instance, a scope added to a rifle creates a more accurate and deadly long-range weapon, and a can of gasoline combined with some empty bottles makes for a devastating molotov cocktail.

It’s when the zombies start filling the board at the end of a round of turns by the players that collected weapons and other gear become critical. Melee weapons like baseball bats, axes, machetes and chainsaws are used for close-quarters fighting with zombies while ranged weapons such as pistols, shotguns and submachine guns come into play with longer ranged combat. Certain characters or weapon types allow for weapons to be used in each hand, doubling the survivor’s visciousness when tangling with the undead. In other cases, powerful weapons like shotguns or a molotov cocktail are critical when trying to destroy more powerful zombies like Fatties or the enormous, shambling Abomination.

As the turns elapse and zombies are killed, the players advance in experience which gains them the bonus of extra abilities. The downside from this gain in experience is that zombies begin coming onto the board in greater numbers. Because of this, players need to work together to balance the team’s experience level against the amped-up presence of zombies. Zombies move en masse toward noise created by gunshots or doors being broken down, so players also have to make smart decisions as a group on when to take a chance in making noise and attracting the growing hoard of zombies. Getting attacked twice by a zombie means almost certain death for any survivor on the board.

The rules to Zombicide are pretty simple, but the game gets wild very, very fast as the streets and buildings quickly fill up with the undead. It’s one of the better collaborative boardgames I’ve played in recent memory. Players working in tandem or even sacrificing themselves for the greater good gives the game its spice and replay value. In my first game, three of the five of us were felled quickly by the zombies while the other two players managed to trick out their survivors with a plethora of weapons and fight on.

The combination of beautiful design (only improved by painting the miniatures as in the photos from today’s game above), simple rules and pretty steep odds stacked against the players has made Zombicide popular. We were kidding around during our game that if a real zombie apocalypse were to come, sticking close to our fellow members of the club might just mean the difference between life and death. After a couple hours running and slugging away at zombies in Zombicide today, that notion seemed more real than just mere joking speculation.