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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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.

Loving The Evil Dead: Why Do We Like Nazi Zombies?

Gaming, at its core, is a matter of pitting at least two sides against each other in a test of tactics and strategy. Whether you’re playing chess or moving hundreds of miniature soldiers around on a tabletop battlefield, you have to pick a side. In most games, there isn’t necessarily a “good” side or a “bad” side. But then you get to Nazis and from there you go to Nazi zombies.

Nazis are the bad guys of the 20th-century, and Nazi zombies take their evil to another level. Maybe its because there’s no way anyone can feel badly about slaughtering a horde of Nazi zombies that makes them so appealing as a foe. There’s also a horrific visual impact of Nazi zombies, as well as some conjecture the Nazis actually had some relation to the supernatural. For whatever reason, Nazi zombies are swarming everywhere and have been creeping up on us for some time.

Nazis And The Occult

Beginning in the 1950s, a spin-off post-WWII historical narrative began to emerge involving the real or supposed fascination that Adolph Hitler and his Third Reich held for the occult. While the Nazi obsession with ceremony and iconography can’t be denied, most of the Nazi-occult conspiracy theories seem to be more about trying to explain how something as evil as Hitler’s Reich could be allowed to rise to power right in front of a watching world. Books, fictional movies and documentaries have delved extensively into this topic of Nazi fascination with weird science and magic. Numerous movies like The Boys From Brazil, Hellboy, Captain America and my favorite, Raiders of the Lost Ark, have all used Nazism and the occult as main plot points. Throwing the dark arts into the mix with the already-hated Nazi bad guys is just one more way pop culture has amped-up the inherent evil of Nazis and their doomed quest for world domination.

Nazi Zombies On Film

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About a decade after the first scholarship on Nazism and the occult emerged, George Romero launched the first wave of modern zombie films with his classic Night Of The Living Dead in 1968. Through a series of sequels and other Romero-influenced movies, the zombie genre slowly grew worldwide during the rise of horror and slasher films in the 1970s and 80s. The Nazi zombie movie subgenre probably arrived in 1977 with Shockwaves starring British horror screen veteran Peter Cushing in the role of a SS commander breeding Nazi zombies who attack a yacht’s shipwrecked crew. The movie began a minor trend almost exclusive to European filmmakers in the 1980s with the B-movies Zombie Lake and Oasis Of the Zombies.

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The second life of all things zombie came post-9/11 in a surge of movies, comic books, novels and the critically-acclaimed The Walking Dead TV show. Again, European movies led the way on the Nazi zombie theme with Horrors of War, Outpost and War Of The Dead. My personal favorite in the modern wave of Nazi zombie cinema is 2008’s Dead Snow, a Norwegian film that made the rounds on the art film circuit. The dark uniforms and red, white and black swastika armbands against the mountain snow makes for striking visuals, even more-so as the blood begins to splatter. The film is a tight amalgam of themes from the genre — cursed treasure, local legend and, of course, unsuspecting good-looking vacationers winding up smack in the middle of a battle to the death with Nazi zombies.

Next up on the still-growing list of Nazi zombie movies is this year’s Frankenstein’s Army, which offers a riff on the Nazi zombie theme with a heavy dose of classic horror, science fiction and even steampunk thrown in. Again, the makers of this latest entry in the Nazi zombie genre are European. I don’t think its a coincidence that most Nazi zombie movies have risen out of many of the countries once occupied by the Axis forces. Since many Europeans live most directly with the spaces and stories of WWII all around them, clearly the Nazi zombie storylines of these films are tapping into a vein of horror that still resonates today.

Nazi Zombie Video Games

As a kid, one of my earliest video game memories on my Apple II computer was Castle Wolfenstein. While there were no zombies in the game way back in 1981, the modern iterations of the Wolfensetin video game series have included zombies. Not only did the new Wolfenstein games help popularize the now-ubiquitous first person shooter (FPS) game mechanic, but they fired some of the earliest shots in the escalating video game Nazi zombie wars.  Call Of Duty has risen to become one of the most successful franchises in the FPS genre, and a big part of its success can be tied to its Nazi zombie expansions. I would argue that without Nazi zombies as targets, many more wary parents may have kept FPS games out of their children’s hands. Hurling grenades and unloading clips into crowds of Third Reich undead is something to which even the most cautious parents may very well have turned a blind eye.

Nazi Zombies Tabletop Games

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With the 21st-century rise of all things zombie, tabletop games have also become infected with the undead. Zombicide, Zombies!!! and Last Night On Earth are among the host of gamer favorites pitting the living versus the unliving. Naturally, Nazi zombies have found their way to the tabletop, too. Two popular games — Dust Tactics and Incursion — take an alternative history approach to incorporating zombies into Axis powers. Among all the futuristic technology available in the miniatures game Dust Tactics are squads of zombie soldiers which prove to be fast and incredibly deadly in the game. Similarly, the game Incursion include zombies in the living arsenal created by evil Nazi scientists.

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Beyond packaged boardgames, wargaming has followed the zombie trend. The “weird World War II” genre of miniature and RPG games offers some monstrously fun modelling and play possibilities with such things as bizarre zombie battlescapes, fantasy technology, magic-using stormtroopers and lycanthropic soldiers in a WWII alternate universe. Weird War II: Blood On The Rhine from 2001 was one of the early RPG systems incorporating zombies and occult alternatives to the WWII time period. Nazi zombie miniatures in both 15mm and 28mm scales are now mainstays in online gaming forums and at regional conventions. Rules systems have been written to accommodate the Nazi zombie craze and players regularly create house rules for other regular WWII-themed games such as Flames of War and Bolt Action.

Nazi zombies have their own history now, rising out of theories of Nazi-occultism and then mined as the nightmare bedtime story for European horror filmmakers for nearly four decades. As the ultimate in evil, Nazi zombies now lurk in every corner of popular culture, much of it overlapping with the gaming hobby onscreen and on the table. Debates will continue to rage between the historical gaming purists and those who love their Nazi zombies. Honestly, playing with Nazi zombies has become just too fun to ignore and the horde just keeps coming.

Favorite Kickstarters of the Month (August 2013)

These days it seems like a month doesn’t go by that some Kickstarter horror story makes the rounds. Projects vanish, people lose money to scams or entrepreneurs running Kickstarters go belly-up with their success. This past week, the owner of a successfully-Kickstarted game called Corporate America wrote about his experience. The piece gives a solid, balanced look at the real economics behind running a Kickstarter game campaign. It’s a good read and worth bearing in mind while taking a look through the game campaigns I’ll be watching this month.

duelA Duel Betwixt Us: This two-player card game pits two 19th-century gentleman in a game of manly combat. By using their workers, each player is able to mine for ingots used to create weaponry and armor for combat. Once ready, a player selects a duel and then brings their arms, armor and stack of dirty tricks to the fight. The very Victorian artwork reveals a hilarious game of codpieces, drunken miners, oddball weaponry and double-crossing at every turn in the quest of woman’s favor.

incursionIncursion: Released by Grindhouse Games in 2009, Incursion is yet another take on an alternative post-WWII world where Nazis and Allied forces persist in protracted combat as a Doomsday Device threatens world destruction for all. This sci-fi-fuelled game is full of fantastic weapons, evil scientists, daring heroes plus zombie Nazis and combat gorillas. This second edition and expansion of the game adds all sorts of plastic miniatures to the game, new missions and rules for three players.

freedomFreedom – The Underground Railroad: I grew up in Western New York, a hotbed of the Abolitionist movement and gateway to Canada for escaping slaves. Academy Games is adding the story of the Underground Railroad to their Birth of America Series of games that has already covered the American War of Independence and the War of 1812. There’s a lot of real history packed into this intense strategy game as players take on the role of allied abolitionists alluding slave trackers while escorting escaped slaves north to Canada along eight routes. Historical events and people shape the game along the way, making this game a really fascinating vehicle for retelling the story of the Underground Railroad.

TemplarTemplar – The Secret Treasures: I’m a fan of a number of the Eurogames produced by Queen Games, and Templar looks to be another fun hit. The game plays on two boards, a “harbor board” of warehouses and the other a detailed floorplan “abbey board.” Moving between the boards, players seek to find and hide treasure relics throughout the abbey by playing different character cards. Characters like the Prior, Abbot or Spy act to either aid or foil the Templar’s plans.

zerohourZero Hour – Survivor Horror Card Game: Aside from the occasional run-in with some zombies, I’m not generally a horror gamer. Zero Hour could change that. Play begins with 30 children stranded in the woods after their bus driver dies. Soon, weird things begin to happen in the woods, pushing each child closer and closer to insanity. Somehow, the children have to survive the night until the zero hour at dawn. The gothic design and theme of the entire game makes this look to be creepily attractive. A bonus part of the campaign is a tall plush Slenderman doll, certain to please the darkest child within you.

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.