New Game Weekend: Zombicide Black Plague

Zombicide-Blck-Plague Box

Like any zombie apocalypse horde, the Zombicide series by Guillotine Games just won’t die. Through four enormously successful Kickstarter campaigns, the Zombicide games have raised nearly $10 million since 2012 and have made the games among the most popular board game projects launched from the platform.

As a fan from the start with the first Zombicide, I backed Zombicide: Black Plague last year along with nearly 21,000 other devoted fans. After skipping the third round in the series, the reinvented game with a medieval fantasy theme and updated rules brought me back to the fold. Buying in at the Knight’s Pledge level, I wound up with an enormous pile of gaming goodies, including the base game, the werewolf-themed Wulfsburg expansion box, 40 extra survivor characters, dozens of additional zombies and all sorts of extra playing aids. With the base game blessedly shipping ahead of the 2015 holiday season, I was able to get this re-launch of the zombie franchise on the table over the past week.

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Contents of Zombicide: Black Plague

I cut my teeth on gaming with Dungeons & Dragons in the 1970s, so the theme of Black Plague and the basic dungeon-crawler play of the Zombicide series intersect nicely in this new game. Survivor player characters include a dwarf, warrior, wizard and archer which are right at home in the fantasy world of the game. As with the previous Zombicide games, the survivors work collaboratively to search the game’s map of heavy cardboard tiles for items such as weapons, shields, armor, spell scrolls, food and other special gear. After following turn actions of moving, searching, opening doors, rearranging gear and gathering objectives, zombie cards are pulled and the horde builds. As zombies are destroyed in combat actions, player experience builds which leads to more and more zombies swarming the board. From there, its a race for survival as each scenario’s objectives and win conditions are achieved.Zombicide Base

The new survivor’s dashboard introduced in Zombicide: Black Plague

One of the most welcomed innovations in the new game is the survivor dashboard. In a game with so many cards and experience, wound and skill tracks to manage for each player’s survivor character, having a tidy and intuitive plastic base is a huge boon to game play. A slot in the center holds the interchangeable character card, weapons and other items are held in  left and right ‘hand’ positions, five slots represent space for extra items in the character’s backpack and a sliding experience track traces along the bottom of the dashboard. An extra slot overlapping the character card allows for an extra quick-draw weapon like a dagger or a protective shield or armor.

Black Plague Zombies

New zombie figures include: Walkers (top), Fatty (bottom, left), Runners (bottom, center left), Necromancer (bottom, center right) and Abomination (bottom, right)

While regular zombie types of Walkers, Runners, Fatties and Abominations have carried over from the previous games, Black Plague introduces a new Necromancer zombie type with its own set of mechanics. When the Necromancer enters the board, an additional zombie card is drawn with zombies to accompany him. Additionally, a new spawn point is generated where the Necromancer appears and activates once the Necromancer escapes the board via the nearest exit. Destroying a Necromancer allows the players to eliminate a zombie spawn point. While a bit complicated at first, the Necromancer mechanic adds a new twist to the game in creating an additional moving target for the survivors to deal with while also completing their main objectives, avoiding being killed by other zombies and (hopefully) winning the game.

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Zombicide: Black Plague game in progress

Aside from the Necromancer, most rules have remained largely unchanged with some minor tweaks. Fatties are no longer accompanied by Walkers, making them slightly easier to kill but the Abomination is still a pretty tough foe with only a combination of a vial of dragon bile and torch able to eliminate them in a fiery combination. The jury is still out for me on the double-spawn zombie cards which can carry from one spawn point to the next in doubling and then re-doubling zombies coming on the board. This makes for a bit of a confusing mechanic which I wasn’t quite certain added much to the game.

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A lone survivor faces off with two walkers and two Fatties

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Survivors take out an Abomination with a dragon bile and torch combination

As with all the previous Zombicide games, the art and sculpting in Black Plague makes for a stunningly fun game to look at and play.The ten base scenarios included in the rules offer a progressive mini campaign of sorts, and additional scenarios are sure to come. With all the expansions and add-ons ready to ship this year, there’s going to be a ton of replay value with this game.

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A survivor leads a zombie horde through the medieval streets of Zombicide: Black Plague

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An enormous zombie horde from Zombicide: Black Plague

I had been feeling a bit played-out with the original Zombicide games based in more familiar contemporary environments of city streets, a prison and a mall. Black Plague’s reboot preserves the easily playable mechanics and engaging design in a refreshing medieval wrapper. Where the franchise goes from here either in additional fantasy expansions or in yet another thematic direction like a futuristic sci-fi realm remains to be seen. In the meantime, sword-slashing and spell-casting through the Black Plague zombie apocalypse will be a ton of fun.

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Giving Thanks With Gaming

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A week from now, Americans will be sitting down at Thanksgiving and joining with friends and family around tables in shared gratitude. Actually, Thanksgiving put this way sounds like what I do every week with dice, cards and game pieces instead of turkey and side dishes.

The time after Thanksgiving dinner was traditionally a time for games at my grandparents house when I was a kid. After the dishes were cleared, some of my uncles would sack out on the couch in front of a football game on TV but I always lingered at the table where the real games were happening. My grandmother, great aunts, aunts and mom would hold court at one end of the room-length table with a few rounds of Bridge and family gossip. At the far end, some other aunts and uncles hauled out a well worn Scrabble board and played a steady game of vocabulary one-upmanship. Some of my cousins would spread around on the hallway floor for games of War, Parcheesi and Hi Ho! Cherry-O. As the eldest of my many cousins, I always sat at the big table for dinner and there I mostly remained watching the adults play their games.

This year I’m particularly grateful to be hosting my brother and his family for our holiday shared meal. My brother is my oldest gaming partner dating back to the 70s and 80s when we first discovered oddly-shaped dice and little metal miniatures to paint. We are both fortunate to have wonderfully understanding wives who who have partnered with us in raising a second generation of tabletop gamers, and all of us will be present in Brooklyn for Thanksgiving this year.

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After dinner games

Our tastes in games range wider than the traditional board and card games favored by the older generations in my family. Even so, getting four adults and five kids (boys and girls ranging in ages 10 to 16) all engaged in the same game today remains a challenge. Our interests and commitments vary, but here are few which have worked for our family’s diverse audience over holidays past.

  • Dixit makes for a light but engaging game right after dinner with the various family members pairing off into story-telling and story-deciphering teams. This is a great multi-generational game to play since the kids can just as easily out-baffle the adults by using the key game component they always carry — their imaginations.
  • Guillotine switches the tone and ratchets up the humor for the Francophiles and budding historians with a twisted sense of humor. Nothing says family time at our dinner table like the beheading of aristocratic one-percenters during the French Revolution, all played with goofy cards. It might be a bit too off-color for some families, but all our kids dig this one.
  • For the classically-romantic, multiple hands of Love Letter makes for a royal crowd pleaser as cards are quickly played in a quest to win the heart of the fair princess. Lest that sound overly mushy, there’s a ton of game wrapped up in just a few cards which easily play anywhere. The Batman version will also make a first appearance this year, switching up courtiers with DC Comics heroes and super villains.
  • One Night: Ultimate Werewolf seems to fit the natural progression from dinner into evening. My extended family can be a bit on the boisterous side, so squaring off as villagers versus a werewolf threat in tense 10-minute games. I’ve heard from a lot of people who love playing this one with family around the holidays, since it inevitably brings out the liars and agendas in the crowd.
  • As the evening rolls on well past dessert, a couple pots of coffee and a few drinks, some of the kids and adults will inevitably drift away from the table. For those of us who remain, a rowdy round of our favorite Letters From Whitechapel makes for a grand late night hunt for Jack The Ripper. Set on the dark streets of Victorian London prowled by cops, prostitutes and a famed serial killer, a group of players team up to hunt for Jack as he secretly makes his way home. If the theme doesn’t seem to fit the holiday spirit for you, think of it as a way for you and your family and friends to work together in one of the better cat-and-mouse games I’ve ever played.

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Black Friday games

The Friday after Thanksgiving is a day off for many, and hoards of Americans are up early, out the door and racking-up credit card debt with overly-publicized Black Friday shopping. Since I do everything I can to avoid the masses over the holiday weekend, the Friday after our family feast presents a rare full day to be filled with gaming. This year it’s also my visiting brother’s birthday, and celebrating the day is a great opportunity to pull a few a few of the larger board games off my shelf. I usually max out at about 2-3 players in these games, so having up to five players around the table will be a treat.

  • Civilization: The Boardgame is one of the granddaddys of civilization-building games. The game built on the innovations of the original Civilization games with a progressive “tech-tree” mechanic where technologies build within a historical timeline over thousands of years. Players march toward victory through different paths of warfare, culture and technology, allowing each player to work to their strengths and interact with human history along the way. With the Fame and Fortune and Wisdom and Warfare expansions, more possibilities and a fifth player are added into a game which stretches across the eons and a few hours of play.
  • Slaughtering the undead through an apocalyptic wasteland again doesn’t sound very holiday-like, Zombicide is a great collaborative game of survivors versus mobs of zombies. Like my formative dungeon-crawling adventures with Dungeons & Dragons in the 1970s, Zombicide follows a party as they collect weapons and other survival items, level up in ability and accomplish missions. The game quickly goes from bad to worse over a couple hours, and working together as a group is the only way of surviving.
  • One of my favorite multi-hour games is Arkham Horror, based on the Cthulhu Mythos of H.P. Lovecraft. This is a big, beautiful game set in a sleepy New England Town inexplicably invaded by netherworld beasts. Adventurers team up, acquire weapons and magical items and seek to destroy the beasts who threaten the world with dominating insanity and destruction. Events, monsters and player characters all come with a deep narrative that unfolds throughout the game, taking this game off the board into a terrifically eerie role-playing experience.
  • While not a long time commitment, the card-driven Marvel Superheroes Legendary is best played in a big group of superhero players teaming up to foil the evil plans of an arch nemesis. Another collaborative game, Legendary really “feels” like a comic book to me with various hero characters growing in power and skills which play off the other characters on their team, whether it be the X-Men, Avengers or Fantastic Four. My brother and I have been huge Marvel Comics fans for decades, so getting into a game which has characters leaping from the page to the table is still as much of a thrill for us in our late 40s as it is for our kids.

Every family has their holiday traditions, and each generation builds on these and creates their own new traditions. Games remain a constant thread for my extended family through the holiday run from Thanksgiving through Christmas. The themes, mechanics and mechanics may have changed over the years, but at the root of our gaming is the chance to spend a few hours playing with those closest to us. This Thanksgiving, step away from the screens, clear the table and find your own gaming tradition with your family and friends.

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.

Come Play Zombicide With Me At Brooklyn Game Lab April 29th

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I’m thrilled to be lending a hand hosting an evening of Zombicide at Brooklyn Game Lab in two weeks on Tuesday, April 29th, 2014.

Since opening a few months ago, Brooklyn Game Lab has been grabbing a lot of press as the latest space in New York City to take hold of the recent boom in tabletop gaming. Through its innovative afterschool programs, the Lab has provided space for children to not only play games but to stretch their minds in developing their own ideas into playable games of heir own. When the kids head home, the Lab has been filling up evenings and weekends with adult gamers on theme nights, singles mixers nights and a recently-packed International Tabletop Day.

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Zombicide: Season One base game from Guillotine Games

To kick off the summer, Brooklyn Game Lab (353 7th Avenue @ 10th street in Park Slope, Brooklyn) is hosting a night of the incredibly popular Zombicide board game from 7-10pm on the 29th of April. Admission for the evening is just five bucks, and I’ll be there to help run a couple simultaneous games of survival and zombie carnage.

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Zombicide survivor and zombie miniatures

I first played Zombicide about a year ago, and I can’t wait to drag some more people into this easy-to-learn and gorgeously-designed game where either everyone wins or everyone loses. Released in 2012 via a Kickstarter from Guillotine Games, Zombicide and its subsequent Toxic City Mall and Prison Outbreak expansions pits up to six survivors against a growing zombie horde. Players collaborate as they kick in doors, search for supplies, arm-up with a variety of weapons and mow down scores of zombies. If you’re a zombie fan, a game fan or just fascinated at the prospect of meeting some people and battling through the zombie apocalypse for an hour or two, you should definitely come by the Brooklyn Game Lab.

For more info on this an other upcoming events, check out the Brooklyn Game Lab calendar.

Warfare In The Age Of Reason: Battle of Moys 1757

moysfullA c. 1790 map of the Battle of Moys, September 7, 1757

This past weekend at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY, there was some focused excitement around around two big boardgames. One group of players was huddled around an ongoing campaign using the very popular Zombicide and its new expansions. Another crowd anxioulsy anticipated the arrival of the newly-released Designer’s Edition of the old Steve Jackson Games sci-fi battle classic Ogre which comes in a monstrous 30-pound box overflowing with huge game maps, 3D models and more than 500 cardboard playing pieces.

At the back of the club, four of us had a go at a game of more traditional historical miniatures wargaming our club was founded on nearly 30 years ago. After a long hiatus, our club President had decided to blow the dust off his “Warfare In The Age Of Reason” rules from Emperor’s Press and host a few of us for a learning game of the Battle of Moys from the Seven Years War. After so many hours spent with World War II miniatures gaming with Flames of War, it was great to dig into a period ruled by wigs, muskets and traditional European battlefield tactics.

moysdetailMap detail of the area of the game scenario

The Seven Years War was a different kind of world war from a very different era. Fought throughout Europe, along the West African coast and in the colonial outposts of India, the Philippines and the Americas, the war raged from 1756-1763 between various kingdoms and alliances competing for land and trade worldwide. By the fall of 1757, several major battles had already been fought including the Prussian defeat of Austrian defenders at the Battle of Prague in May 1757 and the Austrian defeat of Prussians in answer at the Battle of Kolin a month later.

Near Moys in modern Poland on September 7th, 1757, a 26,000-man Austrian force led by General Franz Leopold von Nádasdy moved toward routing an isolated and retreating Prussian force half its size commanded by Lieutenant- General Hans Karl von Winterfeldt.  A small group of advance Prussian troops were posted on the Jäkelsberg outside of Moys but the majority of the army lay encamped at a distance. Rather than attack at first light of dawn, the Austrians waited for the Prussians to complete their breakfasts and morning drills before moving columns of Grenadiers on the defending Prussians. As subsequent Austrian waves pushed onto the heights, Hussars met the retreating Prussians. Surprised by the Austrian attack, Prussian leadership rushed reinforcements from nearby Gorlitz to the fight, briefly retaking the Jäkelsberg. The battle for the raged back and forth, but by mid afternoon the Austrians had deployed lines of regulars in the neighboring plains and forced an eventual Prussian retreat.

IMG_2537Austrian Grenadier columns enter the field toward Moys

Our game began with advancing Austrian Grenadiers and artillery moving in column on the central Jäkelsberg objective hill. With short firing range for small arms, there were a couple turns of movement and positioning from column into line as the Prussians remained stationary in their positions on the hill.

IMG_2539Prussians on the Jäkelsberg spot the advancing columns of Austrians

The Austrian medium cannons also began the game out of range, necessitating them to spend a turn moving and getting into position to fire on the Prussian lines.

IMG_2556Austrian guns deploy on a hill near the Jäkelsberg

By the third turn, the lines of advancing Austrians began softening-up the Prussian left and center with musket volleys as cannon likewise opened fire. On the far side of the hill, Hussar cavalry raced to the flank and skirmishers moved toward the right lines.

IMG_2555Austrian lines advance on the Jäkelsberg as guns fire

With things on the Jäkelsberg heights looking bad for the Prussians, fresh columns of Austrian regulars advanced on the field in turn four and immediately broke toward the open fields on the far side of the battle.

IMG_2557Fresh Austrian columns arrive

On the Jäkelsberg, the Prussian cannon position was overwhelmed by advancing Austrians and the remaining Prussian infantry lines were closed in on three sides.

IMG_2558Austrians take the Jäkelsberg to the left, form lines to the right and fresh columns arrive at the rear; Prussian reinforcements arrive in the distance

With the Austrian objective of taking the Jäkelsberg nearky achieved by turn six, over a hlaf-dozen late-arriving columns of Prussians began arriving on the table in the distance. To the right rear of the Austrians, a Prussian cavlary contingent also arrived and moved to flank the deploying Austrian lines in the field.

IMG_2559As the Austrians overrun Prussian positions to the left, my son’s reinforcements arrive at the edge of the field

The Prussian cavalry made a move to charge the fresh Austrian arrivals in the rear, and one column quickly moved to defend in square formation. Cannon blasts from the Austrian guns routed the Prussian cavlary, driving them toward retreat off the board. By the seventh turn, the new Prussian lines were marching toward the Austrians who were already massig several ranks deep. With the Jäkelsberg held by the Austrians and their lines likewise controlling the open field, we called the game with a repeat historical victory for Austria.

ageofreasonrulesThe Battle of Moys was my first time playng with the popular “Warfare In The Age Of Reason” rules. Having not played a pre-20th-century miniatures game in quite some, I loved the tactics of movement, fire and charges. In the period and game, fighting occurs at very close range, making movement and protecting flanks and rear key to victory. Forcing your opponent into disorder or routing becomes as important as the number of casualties inflicted.

I found the rules to be simple, with the move order determined by drawn cards. Dice throws for morale checks, arms fire and charges all occur with a simple mechanic of adding or subtracting the number of dice according to the position and condition of your forces. Fighting in close quarters causes the battlefield to quickly shift throughout the game as lines and columns ebb and flow for position on the board.

With the fairly large scale Battle of Moys under my belt, I’m looking forward to studying up on the “Warfare In The Age Of Reason” rules and Seven Years War period a bit more. The 18th-century tactics,  colorful troops and special rules according to nationalities and fighting quality provides for a ton of unique fun in a vast world war period I look to get back to again very soon.