New Game Weekend: Zombicide Season 2: Prison Outbreak

ZPrisonboxIt’s hard to escape zombies.

The Walking Dead TV series just wrapped its fifth season this past week, and my entire family huddled around the television to see where the story would leave us until our favorite survivors of the zombie apocalypse were back again. Until then, there’s a spin-off series called Fear The Walking Dead premiering this summer which tell the tale of the beginnings of the zombie outbreak from the perspective of a different group of survivors in Los Angeles. There’s also the original monthly Image Comics series (currently at 139 issues) I’ve been reading for more than ten years now for a story that both parallels and differs from the story the TV show portrays. There’s certainly plenty of zombie stuff out there to keep me going.

zombiboxAbout two years ago I also got hooked on Zombicide. Lots of people caught the bug, judging by the continued success of the game. The first game launched based on a nearly $800,000 Kickstarter funding campaign in late 2012. The following year, Zombicide Season 2 brought in over $2.25 million on the funding site. This past summer, Zombicide Season 3 topped that number with nearly $2.9 million raised. The maker of the game, Guillotine Games, has also maintained a steady flow of additional special edition products, a companion app, free customizable game resources and dozens of scenarios available online. With the new Zombicide Season 3 just being shipped to players worldwide this month, there’s even been hints at a Season 4 which throws back to a Medieval-themed zombie outbreak.

ZprisonminisSurvivors, berserker zombies and zombies miniatures from Zombicide Season 2: Prison Outbreak

The base game has been a big favorite at my house for a couple years, and this past week we added Zombicide Season 2: Prison Outbreak to our home collection. As with the original base game, Prison Outbreak is big heavy box of zombie gaming goodness. Nine game two-sided game board tiles, about 150 cards, over 100 tokens, dice, Survivor player cards and 90 miniatures pack the box with components oozing in great design.

IMG_5680 “The Break-In” tutorial scenario from Prison Outbreak

This time around, the game adds a bunch of new aspects to play. Firstly, the miniatures come with some differences for both the zombies and survivors. Berserker zombies, cast in a muddy brown, bring a new aspect to the undead horde with Walkers, Runners, Fatties and an Abomination which must be attacked at close quarters in melee combat. This means more risk for players having to get right into a messy scrum with Berserkers using baseball bats, nightsticks, hatchets, hammers or saws, leaving ranged firearms for the original zombies molded in grey plastic like the base game.

IMG_5710The zombie horde in the “Find The Keys” scenario from Prison Outbreak

With the game amped up with more danger, the players too have received an upgrade with the possibility of coming back as Zombivors. Yeah, that’s an undead player which comes with an extra model and reverse side to the Survivor identity card. After a player is hit twice and killed by a zombie, the Zombivor comes on the table and the player fights on and may take five more wounds before truly being dead.

IMG_5708Grindlock goes toe-to-toe with a Berserker Abomination in “Find The Keys”

Things happen a lot faster in Prison Break as players are forced to quickly rack up zombie kills, pushing the experience level up in the game and spawning more and badder zombies onto the board each turn. To help out, a lot of new special skills have been added to the Survivors, allowing players to draw zombies toward them with “Taunt,” rescue other survivors from neighboring spaces with “Lifesaver” and a bunch of other new abilities once a player turns into a Zombivor.

IMG_5711The Survivors poised to make their escape in Zombicide Season 2: Prison Outbreak

The combination of new weapons and skills balances nicely with the new threats from Berserkers in Prison Outbreak. Playing through the first few of the ten scenarios supplied in a storyline campaign, we’ve quickly found a good combination of using skills to draw zombies into close combat with characters armed with hefty melee weapons like the concrete saw while defending with nightsticks and riot shields. In a pinch, a molotov cocktail can still take out a mass of undead in one throw, but the game only amps up with so many points scored with one huge kill. Balancing skills, finding the right weapons, getting them into the best Survivor’s hands, timing when to kill and when to elude zombies, and making the decision to allow a character to die and resurrect as a Zombivor all makes Zombicide Season 2 an enormous amount of high-stakes fun over and over again.

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Retro Gaming The 70s & 80s: Choose Your Own Adventure Books

       

This week there was news the Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) book series is to be developed into a film series by 20th Century Fox. Launched in 1979, the series was enormously popular throughout the 80s and 90s, sold over 250 million copies and is still published today. The movie announcement got me thinking about how these books played yet another part in my personal growth as a gamer.

The CYOA series follows the form of a gamebook which allows a reader to participate in how a story unfolds through a a variety of choices made along the way. To a young kid, the CYOA books shared a lot in common with my role playing game interests. Each book presented a fantastically-themed self-contained adventure, International travel, outerspace journeys, crime investigations and sword and sorcery tales filled the pages of each paperback, and collecting them was part of the fun. Choices made while reading each story could take you to more than 20, 30 or 40 different endings to the book, making for a lot of re-reading value in seeing how things might turn out differently each time.

The CYOA mechanic provided the feel of a solo game for when no one else was around with which to play something a bit more complex like D&D. Looking back from today, the structure of jumping back and forth through the narrative is akin to the experience of clicking through hyperlinks online. Even videogames today like 2012’s award-winning The Walking Dead series from Telltale Games share in the basic chapter and choices format people of my generation grew up on.

There’s no telling what shape the proposed Choose Your Own Adventure movies series will take, and it may prove to be yet another Hollywood move to attempt to cash-in on a known property. That said, it’s interesting to see just one more way these books continue to ripple through the culture over 30 years later.

Collector’s Note: The Choose Your Own Adventure series is still published today and can also be picked up fairly easily used starting at about $3-5 each on eBay. For true collectors, first editions from books early in the series can go from hundreds or even over a thosand dollars from rare book dealers like AbeBooks.

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.