July 24, 2013

Zombicide: A Brief Review

Last night, at long last, I gathered a group of friends and we opened up Zombicide. The game was one of the initial Kickstarter success stories, raising $781,597 against a $20,000 funding goal (3900% of target ain’t bad).

Here are my thoughts.

Components: The components are top-notch. Detailed plastic figures are included for the human survivors (all individuals) and the various zombie types: Walkers, runners, fatties, and abomination. The plastic is tough, harder than the D&D figure style. The common zombie type even featured three or so different designs, so  a horde of “walkers” didn’t look identical to one another—a nice touch.

The board components are gorgeous, and the cards, although small, are full color and nicely illustrated. The entire game carries a distinctive, humorous style that helps set it apart. This is a game that’s about bashing in zombie skulls and not about greater World War Z –style politics or issues.

Grasp: Complexity is medium, or on the lighter side of medium. You won’t have much trouble grabbing the basics, though some rules require repetition to get down solid. The rulebook, which is pure eye candy, could have been clearer about a few things however.

Gameplay: Gameplay was fairly fast. Rules for trading equipment and building weapons help to encourage cooperation; the survivors that work together stand a better chance of success. We often traded battle plans in an attempt to inflict maximum damage on the undead or “clear out” a particularly crowded intersection. 

Theme and atmosphere: I found the theme a bit lacking at times, despite the art. All the proper notes were touched on, but at the end of the day the theme felt thin compared to, say, Last Night on Earth. Shooting a target didn’t particularly feel like shooting a zombie, but just shooting an opponent. The zombie could have been criminals or bandits or goblins … it didn’t really matter. The theme is purposefully light-hearted, but it still felt thin. Horror effects or random events with proper description might have added to the experience.

Final thoughts

We played once, and we had to cut out game short after about two hours, so my reflections are based on but one experience and one game scenario. That said, Zombicide is an enjoyable game. Based on my limited experience (and I intend to play the game more in the near future), I prefer Last Night on Earth in terms of theme but Zombicide is a fun romp.

I like the fact that no “bad guy player” or referee is needed, but that means the accompanying problems are there. The rules address this by having the zombies hone in on audible and visual cues, but it was still confusing at time determining where so zombies went.

I also found the game kind of easy, even when the danger zone amped up. The zombies hit characters in their zone automatically, but because they follow an attack-move pattern rather than the reverse, there’s rarely a situation where a character gets boxed in. Indeed, we had four survivors with only one wound after two hours of play, despite the presence of 40+ zombies on the board. I never felt panicked or threatened or cut off—which I feel is vital for the zombie experience. After all, a good zombie movie doesn’t feature heroes on a hilltop sniping zombies in the distance, it features heroes that barely stay out of the zombies’ grasp. Would the threat level have increased? It seems so at the rate things were progressing and after a while the zombies really litter the board. But again, we reached the “orange” danger level and I still didn’t feel a real sense of urgency.

I’d rate Zombicide the following:

Components: A
Theme: C
Gameplay: C+
Overall: B–

If you’re looking for a deep experience, dislike cooperative affairs, or dislike the zombie genre, it isn’t for you.
If you’re looking for a lighter affair and just want to put down some zombies after long day, you’ll probably like Zombicide. The art design is fun, and the game doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s probably one of the better zombie-themed board games out there.
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