Friday, 2 November 2012

Review: Zombicide

There are many regrets one can have in life. Not having the guts to punch a school bully in the nose, I did by the way, then his four friends jumped me and I got a bit of a kicking! Not talking to that smoking hot girl at the bar, because well, you know... look at me and then look at her!!! Plus not being able to get in on the Zombicide Kickstarter action, damn it! That's probably the worst one for a geek like me. I watched the first of Cool Mini or Not's Kickstarters religiously from the off. I probably checked back more often than those of you who had actually pledged. Unfortunately I was completely and utterly broke at the time of that campaign, and had been hit by so many unexpected one off bills that my meager funds were depleted even further. Life can sometimes be a really, really cruel experience you know, because literally two hours after the Kickstarter had finished somebody purchased a whole heap of painted mini's off of me and I was more than flush enough to have funded the Kickstarter... oh cruel fate why do you mock me so? So I guess I missed out on all the free stuff and special miniatures, but hey, at least I get to play the game now. Right? Any way here's the games video from the Kickstarter campaign.

Product Description

The Game comes with 71 plastic miniature, there are six handily colour coded Survivors, which leaves you with 65 zombies of varying types. These are 40 Walkers (normal zombies), 16 Runners (48 hours later zombies), 8 Fatties (erm... fat zombies) and 1 solitary Abomination (think the Tyrant out of the Resident Evil games). You also get 9 large double-sided map tiles, if you're familiar with Super Dungeon Explore you'll know what to expect. You also get 110 mini-gaming cards, the same sort of small card you get with Fantasy Flight Games stuff, there are 42 Zombie Cards, 62 Equipment cards and 6 Wounded cards. There are 6 Survivor identity cards, to help keep track of your survivors progress and 6 red D6. You also get a plethora of the usual chits and gaming tokens. There is quite a bit of 'stuff' in the box.

You get a hell of a lot.

Gameplay 8 out of 10

So what of the game? I think it's fair to say that us gamers love to 'hype' new product. We get overly excited about new stuff and want the next big thing... well... to be the next big thing. Zombicide is the current 'hype' boardgame of choice out there. Listen to podcasts and read your Blogs, and there's undeniably a lot of buzz around this product right now. It's probably just following on from the buzz created by the highly successful Kickstarter campaign Cool Mini or Not ran. There is however only one of two ways this sort of hype goes in my experience:

  1. The product manages to just about live up to the hype, and people are only satisfied.
  2. The product fails to live up to the unrealistic hype and people are dissatisfied.

Obviously option two is a continuous variable depending on how much the product misses the hype by. So as I opened the Zombicide box it had an awful lot to live up to. Unrealistic amounts really when you consider it's just a boardgame.

So how close does the product come to living up to it's own hype? Well that depends on what you were getting hyped about. The art direction and components like the miniatures are easily as good as I expected them to be. Some of the best gaming pieces I've seen in a boardgame. No question this game looks pretty when it is all laid out. So on the style thing it shoots, and it scores. But, what of the mechanics? Well... they're OK. It's not the worlds greatest game ever, and I guess I didn't expect it to be. Zombicide is about throwing hordes of zombies at the players and giving them the tools to wipe them out, well, hopefully wipe them out. The game actually comes with 10 scenarios, and although ostensibly they offer different challenges and things to tackle, or problems to overcome, like being confined, the truth is the game never really feels any different, no matter what mission you are playing, or how many people are playing.

The tiles are really colourful and characterful.

I guess my first reservation is about the scaling of the challenge. Most games struggle with this conundrum. How do you get a game to offer the same pitched challenge when playing with 1 player through to 6 or more? There are various mechanics that are often employed, normally drawing the amount of bad guys based on the number of adventurers. However, Zombicide decides it's not down with that method. Oh no, Zombicide throws all 6 survivors down on the board regardless of how many players there are, you just have to control more than 1 if there's not enough of you. Then it just keeps the challenge of those zombies the same. The game in effect has one difficulty setting. I've heard people say that the game gets harder with the more people you have playing, because the player who gets to go first changes every turn. So theoretically that means that the person you need to go first might be going last. That can make things awkward but I don't feel it ups the difficulty. No, it just ups the level of communication needed between the survivors, and the levels of co-ordination.

The rulebook is clear and colourful.

Is that a bad thing? Yes and no depending on the mood of the group. For me personally when playing a zombie game, I just want to play and react. I want to feel like I'm trying to survive the zombie apocalypse. At times, with all the chatting and planning going on, Zombicide sometimes felt like we were playing the mechanics of the game. Like when you finally work out to spawn the zombies in the furthest away rooms first, when entering a building to reduce the risk of getting potentially fatal surges from the Zombie deck. These mechanical intrusions are only very brief, but for me they were enough to stop me feeling like I was taking on hordes of zombies, and instead feel like I was playing one giant puzzle game with a zombie veneer... albeit a very stylish zombie veneer. When it works and there's a few of you playing, I've found 3 the optimal number, there's enough need to co-operate to make the game feel tactical, but not so much that the mechanics of the game intrude on proceedings.

But, the game is heaps of fun nevertheless. Of the games that I have played so far this week, Zombicide is the one that has provided the most smiles, laughs and fun. No question. Sure we've enjoyed Last Night on Earth, arguably more so than Zombicide, but that was in an intensely competitive way. Zombicide has involved more joshing around and fun, because you're all working together, and when one player isn't pulling their weight they become the brunt of 'friendly banter', and when somebody somehow decides they're going to wipe out the Zombie apocalypse on their own the jokes start flying again... leave some for me. Whereas Last Night on Earth has an adversarial element, zombies!!! has a competitive edge, Zombiecide is fully co-operative. You all win and lose together. So it offers a slightly different vibe to the other games I've played this week. Mr Chaos Space Marine commented while we were playing Zombicide that it felt like playing Zombies!!! but zoomed in closer to the map.

The survivors not only look different, they're handily colour coded.

I sort of get where he's coming from, the whole game makes you feel like you are in a city overrun by zombies, a bit like Zombies!!! does. But, whereas zombies shows you the entire city, Zombicide zooms in on just one of those city blocks, and has the far more detailed gameplay elements to go along with that closer proximity to the action. I personally feel that Zombicide has a number of elements that make it more akin to playing a computer game. Firstly the emphasis is very much on the zombie slaying action. The core mechanic of the game is scavenging for useful weapons, and then killing zombies like it's going out of style, indeed in my last review game before I started typing up my thoughts we killed exactly 147 zombies in that game. That's a lot, and has the zombie kill count way out in front of any of it's competitors. So if it is slaying you want this could be the game for you... but be warned, at times it can get monotenous. The second thing that makes it feel like a computer game is the XP, or as I call it, 'the kill bar' which upgrades your survivors based on their kill count. Sure the XP system that rewards survivors with extra abilities if they kill enough zombies makes you want to go out and bring the pain, but this is then tempered somewhat by the fact that if you do, you'll be increasing the amount of zombies you have to kill as the game gets harder based on the kill count of your highest survivor.

A typical double page spread.

And then the mechanics of the game pop back to the surface again. You'll often find yourselves NOT killing zombies with certain characters until some of the others have caught up, to keep the game and the zombie horde manageable... and that goes against the spirit I feel the game was trying to invoke. The game gives you the tools to slaughter zombies as much as you like, and yes it rewards you for it, but it also punishes you, arguably a good risk reward mechanic. Except it's so transparent it's hard not to play the mechanic, rather than play the game. Racing off too far ahead of the main group with one or two survivors can cause some serious issues, as the weaker survivors are still there, and the game is still 'balanced' to a group full of 6 survivors. So if the majority of them aren't ready for the level of zombie onslaught unleashed, the game can end quite brutally. So you hold back as best you can, until your colleagues are up to speed. It's not truly awful, but it is noticeable at times and again the illusion of the game is shattered. However, as a mechanic I approve of it as it keeps the game in check and forces you to work together, it's just... I don't know, it felt off message at times, and it felt 'gamey'.

There are other things that remind you that you are playing the mechanics of the thing, the sound tokens for starters. You start trying to trap zombies around corners from you in again a very 'mechanical' way, creating sound that takes them one way during one turn, and then takes them back again the next turn. I know managing the automated zombie hordes in many games works in a similar way, and the whole 'bait' and 'trap' thing is so well ingrained in the zombie mythos that to not have had this sort of mechanic would have been weird, I just don't know. It works perfectly well, but again rams home the fact that it's all about the mechanics. I personally would have liked way more randomness and odd behaviour from the zombies from the Zombie deck of cards you pulled to see what was happening with the horde. It would have kept us on our toes a bit more, because at times we just felt too comfortable... and I'm not sure whether you should ever feel comfortable when playing a zombie game.

The small gaming cards that

I have seriously given the score for gameplay in Zombicide some very careful consideration. I can not deny for one second that the game is an absolutel hoot to play with friends, and that you'll most likely have a riot with it. It's arguably worth the asking price for the miniatures alone, so the fact that there is a competent, and above all else, a fun game attached to it as well is somewhat of an awesome bonus. I just question whether the game has much more to offer than what I've already seen in its current guise. Already we've worked out, which survivors you need to advance quickly for specific missions. The fact there are only 6, and also always 6 survivors means there's no 'group building' experimentation to be had here either. During the Kickstarter they released a number of new survivors to the mix and I hope those actually come out for general release because they might spice the game up a bit and give the survivors some choices and the game some added longevity. It would also add in that group building element I feel the game is currently lacking.

The other key point to make about the kickstarter is that many pledges got extra trays of zombies. This makes the game considerably easier, because if you run out of a zombie type to spawn onto the board, then those already out on the board get a free move. That can be devastating. So having more zombies definitely makes the game easier, trust me I've tried it with stand ins. In fact the best way to turn up the difficulty and moderate the challenge I've found is meddling with the pool of zombies. Increase the pool if you want an easier time of it, decrease the pool if you want the game to be much harder. So in a way it is good that the mechanics of the game are so transparent as it does allow you to tinker with them to suit your own playing style and group dynamic. Guillotine Games are also supporting Zombicide with free resources post launch already as well, which is highly commendable. There have already been a number of really useful articles in Ravage Magazine (which I'll be covering soon by the way) and on their own website they have a number of extra downloadable resources, including new scenarios. So ultimately I feel safe in the knowledge that the game will be supported long-term, and you know what, it's not a bad game at all.

Detail 9 out of 10

Firstly there is no denying that Zombicide is a highly stylish looking game. Like its Cool Mini or Not stablemate Super Dungeon Explore before it, Zombicide exudes character and has an artistic style that is uniquely its own in the marketplace. That needed to be said. I know the miniature designs aren't to everybody's tastes, but I love the Gallic mercurial French comic book flair to them. They look like they've been pulled straight off the pages of a comic book. The art direction is not only splendid it is also highly consistent across all of the components. It does help to create this almost comic book, and graphic novel like feel to the game. The tokens, the game board tiles, the whole thing is seamless in its look. Considering much of the atmosphere of any boardgame we play comes from the theater of how it looks this is certainly a very strong suit for Zombicide. If you have a playing surface big enough (you'll need a decent sized kitchen table) then the game does look resplendent when it is all laid out and ready to party. The tagline on the box is "Team up. Gear up. Level up. Take 'em down" and when a game is set up ready to play it really makes you want to live up to that.

Quality 8 out of 10

First things first I didn't expect anything less from a game that is being distributed by Cool Mini or Not. With games like Super Dungeon Explore and the soon to be released Sedition Wars in their stable it came as no great surprise that the miniatures for Zombicide not only look good, but are really well constructed too. I have no idea as to whether this is the same material the Sedition Wars miniatures will be made out of, but if it is I'll be happy. I think it is a form of PVC plastic, and while that means it has the bendy rubbery quality to it that many boardgame components have, these miniatures also feel a bit firmer and are more likely to retain the shape that they should. I have looked for mould lines very, very carefully, and although I have spotted the odd faint line on one or two miniatures, across the 71 miniatures you get in the box that is very impressive. I might just have been lucky enough to get a very good batch, so I've scooted around the old Internet to see what other people think, and they pretty much backed up my own assumptions that for the miniatures at least, the quality of the casting is pretty damn high.

There are however a lot of card components to this game as well. Lets get the bad out of the way first shall we? Well it's not really bad, more mediocre. The player character and profile cards are flimsy. They are not on the same thick quality card that the tokens and map tiles come on. That is disappointing as mine have already started to bend and become slightly tatty. This isn't aided by the plastic clip on zombie kill meter marker that goes at the top of the card. Personally I've stopped using them because they were chewing the card up. A nice idea badly implemented. the games playing cards too don't feel all that sturdy, true I think they're more than suitable for their purpose, but hey, it's my job to nit pick when reviewing a product. They're not looking damaged yet, but I do have a feeling that they will do shortly as shuffling them is starting to cause some issues. But what of the chits, tokens and game boards? Well they're superb, they really are. They're on nice thick sturdy and durable card, and the artwork is very well reproduced.

Price 7.5 out of 10

First things first, I know there's a fair amount of stuff in this box, and I'm not going to grumble at the RRP of £69.99, mainly because a lot of retailers are shifting it for circa £60, and there are a few places you can pick it up for £54.99. Don't get me wrong I think the game and the components you get inside the box, 100% make it worth it, but it is quite clearly the most expensive game I've reviewed this week. That does have a certain downward effect on it's price score. whereas I'd say go buy the likes of Zombie Fluxx, Zombies!!! and maybe even Last Night of Earth, the price of Zombicide does mean it has entered that sort of territory price wise where you have to be really certain you'll like it. But, more importantly that you will get your money's worth. I personally think most people will, besides, let's face it you are getting a veritable boatload of miniatures for that price, and they're good looking miniatures too.

Overall 8.5 out of 10

For me Zombicide is a very different beast to yesterdays offering, Last Night on Earth, but that's a good thing. I have my concerns about how the game plays mechanically, but I can not deny I've had an absolute hoot playing it with my friends. As a reviewer I have to ask myself this question first and foremost, "have I enjoyed playing the game?" and with Zombicide the answer is an unequivocal yes. Emphatically so. It does now vie with Gears of War for my friends gaming attentions when they pop round. Trust me that takes some doing! Will it have the staying power and longevity of something like Last Night on Earth? Who knows, but Guillotine Games have a great foundation to build on after their insanely successful Kickstarter, plus if they keep on putting up free scenarios they'll be very popular with me! So yeah, I've gone through 'Zombie Week' it seems without giving away an Approved by Cats award. I really thought I would you know, Last Night on Earth came close, very close in fact, but was let down by the paucity of scenarios in the core boxed set. Zombicide too misses out ever so narrowly, it's Achilles heel is the nagging doubts I have surrounding longevity of the core boxed set, and the fact that at times it can feel like you are playing the game mechanics, rather than just playing a game. Yet, if you want to kill lots of zombies and look cool while doing it, Zombicide is undoubtedly the game for you. Peace out!


  1. I love this game, but you already know that ;). I wasn't able to get in on the kickstarter for this game either, so I share your geek regret.

    I was able to get into the Sedition Wars kickstarter however....looking forward to your review on that game.

    1. The thing you'll have to watch out for with my Sedition Wars review is that I might be somewhat biased... I have been heavily involved in play testing that game from the start. I'm really looking forward to seeing what the plastic version of their stunning mini's look like.

      As to Zombicide, yeah I'm a fan of the game, I have enjoyed it. I just feel that it's sometime really difficult to see past the fact that I'm very clearly playing the mechanics as it were.

  2. Ye gawds but I am kicking myself for also being dead broke when this KS was ongoing.... O well, Sedition Wars will have to sort me out instead.

    Really good review, thanks.

    1. Yeah, I was so gutted when 2 hours later I was so flush with cash I would have theoretically been able to have brought one of the paint the town pledge options. Honestly, life sometimes sucks.

      I', only really annoyed about missing out on the extra characters and zombies, because honestly I think the game would be massively improved by these options.

    2. The Extra Zombies & Heroes do really a difference, both in ease of play (as you discussed with the extra Zombies) and fun. Our group is constantly fighting over who gets to play with Bruce Willis or Donny Trejo.

    3. Hi Emily, I thought as much to be honest with you. I mean who could resist playing Zombicide with Machete? Awesome stuff. :)

  3. Yep missed the KS as well.

    You might like to check out the app, possibly an improvement on the components?

    And your anti spam thing is a tough challenge in itself. The alternative, the voice, does sound rather zombie like.

    1. If there's an app I'll look into it.

      If by spam thing you're talking about Captcha, yeah I'm sorry. They're a pain in the ass, but I've found it necessary with the amount of spam I've been getting recently.

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