Arena Review: Zombicide

I’ve been actively trying my best not to get too taken over by Kickstarter campaigns. That would work really well, except for the fact that game designers keep releasing awesome products again and again. But when it comes to Zombicide, I really owe all of it to Tycho over at Penny-Arcade for adamantly pushing it in the spring. Who can say no to hordes of undead endorsed by Tycho?

SCIENCE! In the pursuit of ever greater levels of productivity, man has TWISTED both plants and animals to his own ENDS. In so doing, we have inadvertently changed ourselves… Now, SHAMBLING KILLING MACHINES roam the RUINS OF OUR WORLD. It is time to engage in… ZOMBICIDE!

Team up. Gear up. Level up. Take’em down.

Suggested ages: 13 and up
Number of players: 1 -6 players
Playing time: 60 minutes
Contents: Core Game 71 minis (32mm scale): 6 Survivors, 40 Walkers, 16 Runners, 8 Fatties and 1 Abomination, 110 mini-cards (42 Zombie cards, 62 Equipment cards, 6 Wounded cards), 9 gaming tiles, 6 dice, 6 Survivor Identity Cards, 24 advancement counters, 4 Cars tokens (police car and pimp mobile), 18 Noise tokens, 10 Objective tokens, 12 Door tokens, 6 Zombie spawn tokens, 1 “First player” token and 1 Exit point token
Kickstarter Bonuses included: 3 promo character survivors, 3 survivor identity cards, 31 additional zombies, 12 bonus dice, bonus Zombie cards and a signed lithograph
Retail price: $89, will be released in October

To say Zombicide exceeded expectations on Kickstarter would be a hilarious understatement. Of the original target of $20,000 to help assist in production of the game, almost $800,000 dollars were raised. As the stretch goals continued to grow, the incentives to buy the game grew and grew along with it. By the end of it, you were basically getting a full expansion to the game for free.

But even if you didn’t get the game off Kickstarter, there’s no denying the simple fact that this game is a lot of fun to play. A co-op game that borrows heavily from games like Left 4 Dead and Pandemic, Zombicide’s concept is very simple: there are a lot of zombies and very few survivors.

The gameplay is fairly simple with some minor RPG elements added in. The booklet included provides a handful of scenarios with various outcomes including missions as simple as: get from point A to point B, get one character to max level, tower defense and searching for survivors. Regardless of which scenario you play, the same core mechanics are always present.

The human controlled survivors work as a team to meet the various objectives. Each character’s turn initially starts with three actions (move, attack, search, breaking doors, trade, etc.). Actions are fairly intuitive, but the rules for ranged combat take some getting used to since bullets hit in the following order: other survivors, walkers, fatties/abominations then runners. The system is flexible allowing players to move multiple zones or attack multiple times when needed. All of the characters have minor differences allowing for them to work better in different roles. The figures themselves are all unique and very well sculpted.

The survivors all seem like a mish-mash of stereotypes, but it works well and makes them easy to identify (except the policeman who is dark gray and looks like a zombie). You’ve got the roller skating girl, a sneaky street tough, the goth chick, the weird accountant, a policeman, and the nerd.

Equipment is handled through two active slots and three inactive slots for storage. Combat is done using d6s and does a good job of balancing luck and skill since different weapons have different attributes. Some weapons, like katanas and crowbars, are silent while others, pistols, shotguns and fire axes, make a lot of noise.

Noise is physically represented on the board with noise counters and operates as the basis of zombie movement. Unless a zombie has line of sight, the horde will move to the nearest sound. It’s a simple way to keep the game moving (and allows for some interesting strategies as players can intentionally make noise to lead hordes away).

The zombies are split into four groups: walkers, runners, fatties and the Abomination. Walkers are your run of the mill zombies that only get one action a turn: move or attack, while runners get two actions. Fatties are bigger than normal (and include extra walkers) while the Abomination is a near unkillable beast that stalks the streets. Killing the zombies earns you experience points, which allow the characters to level up – but at a cost.

The zombie figures are a huge appeal of this set. With the core set including 40 walkers – with five different designs, 16 runners – with two designs, 8 fatties and 1 Abomination, you can get a very nice horde of zombies stalking the streets. The only really trouble out of the box is that all of them are the same shade of gray plastic; it would have been nice if the runners were a different shade since it can be hard to tell them apart.

At the end of each round, Zombie cards are flipped for each designated spawn point on the map similar to games like Pandemic or Forbidden Island. These cards are marked with four colors: blue, yellow, orange and red. These colors correspond to the highest character level in the game and the higher the level, the more zombies. This dissonance between leveling up and worse enemies makes for some interesting choices.

The cards are miniature sized, like Arkham Horror, but have some issues. For the Zombie cards, there are some that seem downright unfair – like the Abomination appearing at the lowest level. Another issue is that two of the cards reveal manhole covers, but they are way too easy to overlook in the heat of battle. A better visual cue besides a gray circle would definitely help. It’s also really frustrating when the walkers get to take three turns in a row and your entire team is devoured whole.

The rest of the game looks great. The nine double-sided city tiles are giant and look like a zombie-infested city. This allows for a decent amount of customization as players can make their own scenarios. While the tiles don’t offer a whole bunch of unique options, it is enough to enjoy the game. Doors can be placed anywhere as well thanks to small door markers. Car “units” are also included, along with rules for how to drive them over hordes. It’s really satisfying to drive down a street filled with zombies, turn suddenly and shoot the last one down with a shotgun. That being said, cars make it nearly impossible to lose a scenario since they can move long distances and can wipe out hordes without too much trouble.

The rule book is decent, but feels like it could have used one more round of editing (which is made more apparent by the fact that the online one and the physical one don’t match up completely). It’s especially bad when some of the promo character abilities aren’t even included in the rule book – or anywhere in the set! A character ability cheat sheet would have been greatly appreciated as well.

As a whole though, I have had an absolute blast playing this game. The co-op is something I love and the randomness of the game means you won’t end up with one person controlling the whole group. Half the time, you don’t know what the right call is. It’s unpredictable which is exactly how the game should be! The worse offender though is the ordering of the scenarios in the book, because the learning curve between missions 0 and mission 1 is terrifying.

For those who got the game on Kickstarter, a whole bunch of extras have been included with the initial shipment. An extra tray of zombies were included (20 walkers, 6 runners, 4 fatties), an extra Abomination, 12 custom dice and three additional survivors! The zombies are great since the rules of the game state if you would place a zombie of a certain type and can’t, all zombies of that type get an extra turn. Plus it’s just awesome to be facing down a horde of nearly 100 zombies as your team tries to figure out how to escape.

The new survivors all look suspiciously like characters from pop culture. El Cholo totally isn’t Machete, Nick can’t be Bruce Willis in Die Hard and Dave the Geek might be Wil Wheaton’s arch nemesis. While it’s really fun to play with these characters, I really hope they don’t end up getting sued – especially since future figures continue the pop-culture trend. Yeah, there are still nine other promo figures included in this that will be shipped out later (and another 8 if you ordered additional ones).

The extra dice look great with the digits being replaced with bullet holes. The one and six have been replaced with a Molotov cocktail and a zombie head, but no one seems to agree on which is 1 and which is 6. We said cocktail is 6 (good!), zombie is 1 (BAD!). One set is black and red, while the other is glow in the dark and red. They’re a nice upgrade from the basic red and white dot dice. A signed lithograph is included as well.

Zombicide is exactly what I look for in a co-op game. I want something that balances strategy with chaos because sometimes you don’t want to have everything under control. That moment when you realize too late that the last zombie killed pushed you up to the orange level and then you end up facing 20 more zombies is so satisfying. But the sign of a good game is I want to keep playing – even if the zombies win.

Pros

  • Excellent production values
  • SO. MANY. MINIS.
  • Left 4 Dead in board game form
  • Bunch of customization options
  • Driving around in a pimp mobile and killed hundreds of zombies

Cons

  • All zombies look alike (Not zombie-racist)
  • Scenario learning curve is harsh
  • Ruling issues abound, clarification needed
  • Cars are broken
  • If you didn’t pre-order, you aren’t getting all this awesome stuff
  • Lawsuit imminent