It was about halfway through one of the “epic” missions, when I knew I was hooked on Zombicide. On the surface, I was staring at little plastic figurines, but in my mind, I was in the middle of a zombie wasteland, trying to get to the final objective in the city, and then make it to the helipad to escape on the chopper. My survivor, Phil, and my friend’s survivor, Amy, were the only two that were still alive in our mission, armed with only a chainsaw and a handgun, we put the fate of the mission in a few rolls of the dice. This is just a single example of how a typical game of Zombicide can turn into pulse-pounding fun.
Zombicide is a board game that originated on Kickstarter, made by the folks at Guillotine Games. Likened to Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2, it is a co-op tabletop game that pits a group of friends against hordes of zombies. Players assume control of one of six survivors, each with their own abilities, and are tasked with completing a set of objectives, then making a mad dash for the exit. The game accompanies between one and six players, and the sheer breadth of available missions is astounding. Each mission offers a different style of campaign to be conquered, as well as lengths of time to complete. Combat is simulated in the form of dice rolls, introducing an element of chance in the game, which can quickly affect a team’s strategy, enforcing the saying: “No plan survives contact with the enemy”. After each turn, new zombies are spawned, determined by a combination of the highest living survivor’s danger level with a random draw from the zombie deck, for each spawn zone. One bad draw can derail a campaign before it even gets going.
The game has a ton of replay value, and never showed signs of becoming stale. If I failed a mission, I found myself immediately formulating a new strategy, or just hoping the luck of the draw and rolls of the dice would be more on my side the second time around. Being able to choose a campaign that fits a teams’ time window makes the game extremely versatile. A group of friends can quickly go through a specific mission’s rules, and get a campaign going in a matter of minutes. The missions consist of between 2 and 9 tiles that make up the game board, as well as pre-placed objectives, noise tokens, zombies, cars, and objects. Each mission starts off with a story primer, explaining what the survivors have been through, and what they are trying to accomplish. These missions range from a supply raid in an office building, to looking for the last drop of gas on a highway. The reasons help frame the survivors’ position, and help the players fall into their characters. On more than one occasion, I wasn’t thinking about how to move my survivor’s figurine from point A to point B, but instead I was trying to figure out the best way for me to get to the car on the corner of the block, and see if its gas tank was empty or not. On the surface, each mission looks straightforward and simple, until the campaign gets going, unexpected challenges arise, and game plans are thrown out the window. The potential combinations of spawns and dice-driven combat keep things fresh; ensuring that no two playthroughs of a mission will ever be the same.
The combat system is especially enjoyable, forcing players to roll dice to determine whether a zombie is beaten or not. A single bad roll can force a team to have to think on their feet, and come up with a new strategy on the fly. When attacking a group of zombies in a zone, a player rolls a specific number of dice, determined by the weapon they are using. They must roll the number called out on the weapon card, or higher, for the attack to hit. Melee weapons can only attack zombies in the same zone, while firearms can attack zombies up to a pre-determined number of zones away, as long as those zombies are in the survivor’s line of sight. Some survivors have abilities they can unlock as a mission progresses, granting them an extra die during combat, or lowering the value required for a successful attack. These dice rolls are big sources of suspense throughout the game. They are especially fun for the entire group, when a player is, say, attacking a massive horde of zombies with a chainsaw (five dice), or trying to mow down a group of zombies with dual-wielding SMGs (six dice), to create a path to victory. Although only the person on the attack rolls the dice, like a game of craps, each roll includes the entire table, as everyone either benefits or hurts from the result.
Zombicide’s ability to exercise a group’s imagination is the biggest thing it has going for it. The game is engaging, and it feels like a team effort to complete one objective after another. During one campaign, we had two groups of survivors who had split up; one group raiding buildings, looking for the security key for the exit, and another was performing crowd control, driving a car, and crashing into one zombie after another. Before a turn, when things were looking bleak, the two players who were keeping the horde of zombies at bay both announced, “We ride together, we die together.” They were fully absorbed into their zombie-killing personas. This element made completing a campaign an extremely gratifying experience, but it always left me wanting more. I often found myself looking for another quick mission to set up, immediately after finishing a two-hour grind. The game’s replay factor is through the roof, with countless missions to work through, and any number of players being able to participate in a game. One person can play all six survivors at once on a rainy day, or a group of three can each assume control of two survivors, there is no real required number of people, which results in a tremendous amount of versatility.
After my initial love for Zombicide moved out of the honeymoon stage, I found myself realizing that I had tiles and figurines strewn all over the place. The game requires a decent amount of space. As a 9-tile board can cover an entire gaming table, I had to pull over other chairs and stools just to set the spare zombie figurines on, so they wouldn’t overflow onto the mission in-progress. Some missions only require two, three, or four tiles, but only playing these missions significantly limits the upside of the game. While it is a relatively small complaint, gamers playing in tight quarters may be somewhat inhibited in what they can experience. The rules come in, what feels like, a small novel, and are extremely complex. The first time I played a mission, it took 45 minutes to go through the rules one by one, and we still found ourselves referencing the rulebook frequently. The length and complexity of the rules makes it tedious for new friends to join, as they cannot simply pick up and play. In addition to the complex rules, there is a decent setup time for each mission. Starting with everything in the box, it can take 10-15 minutes to set up a mission, including finding specific tiles, zombies being placed around the board, objectives being put down, doors located, etc. Once all the setup has been completed, there is still a chance the game’s cards will be stacked against the group from the outset. An early Abomination draw within the first few turns can all but end a game before it even starts.
The game as a whole creates a great team-based atmosphere, and facilitates all members of the party to cooperate to solve the goals laid out. The mechanics are incredibly innovative in terms of experience points, combat, inventory, and health, and having the sheer breadth of variety in the game is a big plus. In the sea of zombie games and references that make up today’s pop culture, Zombicide stands out as a breath of fresh air, putting players in the shoes of survivors just trying to make it, day-by-day.
Whatever your plan for the zombie apocalypse is, this is one board game you don’t want to miss.