Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead board game from Z-man games review

I like Zombies, even though it seems they have been "done to death" (see what I did there) with everything having a zombie theme these days.  When it comes to Zombies they come in two main sorts, the classic Romero ort (my favourite), slow and shambling, or one becoming more common now where they are fast moving.  I grew up on Romero Zombie movies, Night of the living dead, Dawn of the dead (my top zombie film of all time the original 1970s one that is) Day of the dead etc.  So when I first heard about The Walking dead TV show I was intrigued.  After research I found it originated in comic form, but I have never read them, heard of them or seen them before.  After watching it when it came out I was hooked on it, if only there was a game about it... and well there was....

Robert Kirkman's the Walking dead from Z-man games is based on the comic series as opposed to the AMC TV show, but the world is the same, hordes of walkers shambling everywhere and a struggle to survive.

The game recommends 1-6 players so that's good that it can be played solo, and a game time of around 30-60 mins, which seems about right from what I have played so far.  The age suggested is 13 plus, though if your young one is brave enough for the subject, and can read well enough for the encounter cards (or have them read to them) then they can join in.

The art style matches the comic from my research, though some may find it a little dull, and colourless I think it suits the world and theme well.

What's inside the box then?

we have the a4 sized rulebook, which is full colour, though of course being the walking dead, the colours are muted rather then bright. and a set of different coloured 6 sided dice.

The dice have different faces on them, zombies which are used in combat, hats which are more action based, and a wildcard RV symbol.  Different characters have different set ups of dice they use, and some dice are more weighted one way or the other to combat, or actions, or both in the case of the blue "Hero" dice.  I love the art on the cover of the rulebook, it mirrors the iconic image of the show to me.

The book is easy enough to follow, with a quick play set of rules and a full game set, and plenty of diagrams to help explain
I have punched out and bagged up all the tokens, as there is a lot, hundreds in fact.  The main player characters are represented by card stands, which are of ok quality, though I do wish they where miniature models though.  You get a stack of Strain tokens, which are issued as wounds.  If you have survivor takes 3 wounds they die.  You get a token for each of the Followers, who are characters that can join your party as you explore the world.  You get tokens to represent the resources you can collect, which is gas (petrol for us in the old world) ammo, and food.  Then the biggest stash of tokens are the zombies, they have a zombie symbol on the front and a random number on the back which represents the number of zombies in that horde.  They are to be drawn and placed randomly, so just blind pulling from the bag works quite well.  There is no box control at all with the game, and so many tokens its important you bag them up to stop them getting mixed up or it will take forever to sort through and set up, I used freezer bags, I will transfer them to clip bags, but it just shows anything can work in a pinch.
 Next we get some cards, plenty of them.  They are glossy and feel nice, but are thin, though I have had no problems with that.  You get an encounter deck, this is the main deck you will be drawing from in the game, and working to complete the challenge on each card.  When you go to scout a location or move to a space with some food, gas or ammo on you must draw an encounter card. There is a huge variety of different challenges, some involve fighting zombies, so in the example above you would need to kill 4 zombies, or survive the attack without being killed.  So you would roll your dice pol and for each zombie face or sometime zombies x2 face you kill a zombie, so the more dice you have the more power you can lay down.  IT tells you what happens if you succeed or fail.  For each zombie left alive after the roll you suffer a fatigue you must distribute to your party and/or yourself.

Some like shooting frenzy are quite random, to succeed you must have 4 or more ammo in your stockpile, if you pass you can keep the card and play it later for a benefit, but if you fail you lose your ammo.  These can make having a stockpile of resources very important.  These are only a few, there are ones that effect other groups (players) or you may gain or lose followers to your party, there is a large variety which is good, as it will mean you will never really get the same encounter on the same space which increases replay ability.

 Next we have a location deck.  At the start of the game 3 of these are placed at the top of the board, and one secretly given to each player.  The goal of the game is to be the first player to successfully scout 3 locations, either ones from the top which are replaced when completed, or some combination of them and your secret one.  On the card it tells you some extra conditions if they are the first, second or third location you have scouted, and some can be much harder then others, so you need to make sure you can meet those requirements before you attempt the encounter card for the space.

By having the locations drawn randomly it again increase the replay aspect of the game as they will be different every time you play.

 Then we have the Hero cards for the 6 main playable survivors.  They each have different combinations of dice, and a special ability each.  For example Glenn lets you change a hat into a zombie once a turn, handy if you are in a fight, he also lets you collect an extra resource of the type you are going for if you roll a hat, making him an adaptable character good for scavenging.  Rick gets tougher and rolls an extra dice if Carl is in the party, and also can take an extra fatigue (wound).

You can randomly deal these or pick your favourite one to play.  Each character has a fixed starting point on the board, which is not too much of a problem, as the locations you must scout are drawn randomly each turn.

Lastly we have the followers deck.  Each player begins with one randomly drawn follower, and you may be able to get more followers throughout the game from encounters.  They each have a dice they add to your main pool to roll for encounters, and some also have additional abilities, such as Maggie who removes a fatigue from a member of your party when she joins, and adds a red and a green dice to your pool.  Carol adds a blue and a green dice to your party and lets you re-roll a red dice one per turn.  The more followers you have of course the more your dice pool increases, so they are very useful to have, and of course the more damage the group as a whole can take.

Each player gets a card to organise his followers, place his main player card and keep a track on his resources, I like this, its nice and simple and keeps thing tidy.  the resources are useful, at the start of a turn food can be eaten to remove fatigue, 1 fatigue for each piece of food.  Ammo adds the black dice to your pool, which is used in combat, this dice has a higher proportion of zombie kill markers on it, including the dreaded blam.... Blam still kills a number of zombies as displayed, but also the noise of it draws walkers, so you must place a face down walker token on every space surrounding you making it a risky proposition, but in theme as that much gunfire does draw the walkers to you.

The board has space at the top for the 3 locations you are looking to scout, and shows the starting places for all the characters, and which spaces have what resources in.  It also displays the locations.  In the centre is Atlanta which can only be entered and exited at the arrow points making it tough to get around in.  I like the notes made on a board, it makes it look like a mpa the survivors have been using.

Here is my player card set up after a couple of encounters, I haven't gained many resources yet, but I do have a strong dice pool.

in your turn you must move... but you can move either 1, 2 or 3 spaces, and you leave a zombie token on each space you vacate, though of course with the numbers down you never know how many there will be there.  This also leads to the possibility of trying to block off other players by leaving a trail of Zombies around.  You do also have to be careful to leave your self space to get by and back again, unless you want to try and fight your way through, but the board can very quickly increase in zombie numbers.  When you land on a location you must try to scout it by completing an encounter.  if you fail you are allowed to stay there to try again, but only on locations, not on resources.
As you can see here int his encounter I gathered my pool, and thought I best spend an ammo for a black dice to be sure, and lucky I did as otherwise I would not have beaten the zombies, though of course with BLAM it led to other issues......

 Now I am surrounded, so I have to guess and go, and hope I can get through the Zombies.  I could use gas though to move over a space with zombies in without fighting them, or to move an extra space.
 As you can see my party has grown, but some have suffered wounds.
 Even with a large dice pool the results are not guaranteed, so I failed this encounter.

The game continues until one player scouts 3 locations. 

I really enjoyed the game once I had a handle on it, yes of course any dice game can be random, but with resource management, and some good followers you can get powerful, which stays in theme, more people to cover your back, but as above, you can still fail encounters. 

There is strategy in multiplayer, are the other players going for the same locations as you? should you try and block them with zombies, or focus on a different location.  There are game modes included to play cooperatively as well, which is a nice touch, and also solo which I really appreciated.  I enjoyed solo mode the best, me against the board, it felt right, and played fast, so its a great game to whip out for a group, or just for you to enjoy.  It may not be as tactically deep as say Imperial Assault, and there is a level of randomness with the encounter cards, but then I think the world of the Walking dead is pretty random, who knows what will be left, or around in the wake of it.

Its a good game for fans of the show, though the characters only really reflect the equivalent of early season TV ones, its a good game for solo gamers, or for a group, as it is not that hard to teach.