So yesterday was Zombicide. I have had the box for about two years now, and have been slowly painting the minis. The minis are done, and we took a break from our RPG’ing and Car Wars, and decided to take this out.
I played Zombicide when it first came out. I actually bought the first box, played it, then traded it to a friend. After a while, I got another first box for an amazing deal, and didn’t open it up for about a year and a half. About six months ago, I opened up the box, and started painting the minis.
As far as the game play goes, meh. It is ok. There are better tactical RPG games. However, the game is pretty simple, and you can have fun if you are playing it with friends. When you remove the graphics and other stuff from the rule book, there are about five pages of rules. That’s not bad. This is essentially a party game with coolish minis. I talked about the minis in a previous blog post. They are OK, but not awesome.
There are some broken aspects to the game. First, you can’t take your improved character from one game to another. This is not unusual for tactical RPG’s. For instance, my absolute favorite tactical RPG is Mansions of Madness. MoM has the same problem. However, Cool Mini or Not has fixed this… kind of. I bought the $25 box which provides six new minis for the base box, along with a card system to be able to progress your characters from one game to another. It isn’t fantastic, but it does solve the player’s desire to continue playing their cool characters that they invest time in.
Another major flaw in the game is shooting into the crowds. The rules dictate that if you shoot a ranged weapon into a crowd of mixed bad guys and your own team, you hit your team first. Now this is probably a method by the maker to keep the game balance, but it really sucks.
On the zombie’s turn, if the zombies start their turn in your space, you automatically get wounds. Two wounds, and you are dead. No saving throw. The nice thing about this rule is that it makes you think long and hard about what you are going to do each turn. If you end your turn in a square with zombies, and you borked your weapons rolls, you are screwed. With additional $100 box sets, you can get the Zombivor rules, and have another way to play an undead you. I am reserving judgement on that, since I haven’t purchased those boxes, and don’t know how the rules play.
The rulebook is poorly written. Some of the rules are not defined, rather you have to read through the examples to see all of the rules. A good rulebook has 100% of the rules clearly written, and then the examples are used to explain some of the more complex rules. The rulebook is actually written where some of the nuances, and many of the outright rules must be interpreted from the examples. This is not surprising. I have been playing games since 1978. I was talking with a coworker who I play games with, Shari, and she showed me a picture of her where she dyed her hair blonde. She said something like “this is me as a blonde” I responded, pointing at my own head, saying “this is me as a grey”. I get it, I am an old fart. Maybe I am not yet an old fart, but I am on my way. This blog is about the only thing I do on newfangled computer thingies at home. At work, I manage a group that works on servers, server apps, PLC’s, Ethernet communications, radar vehicle detection systems, OTDR’s, fiber fusion splicers… you know, relatively high tech. I was deep into that stuff until about two years ago, when I became a manager, and now I am deep into spreadsheets, work assignments, budgets… I can do high tech, but I really like low tech, paper books, paint brushes, I really am old school.
The point I was trying to make before I digressed was that I have been through lots of generations of board games and RPG’s. Something closing in on 40 years, and a lot more money than I would care to consider… I have seen very few well written game rule sets. The Zombicide rules are no worse, and not much better than many other games I have played.
My main complaint about Zombicide isn’t the game. It is the company that puts out the game. They put out Kickstarter only content. This means that if you come to the game late, you will never be able to get some of the cool sculpts, cool people or other cool stuff. I get it, they want to find a way to jack up each Kickstarter into the $2 million plus range. That is fine and dandy. I just don’t think that it is a good practice to do this. After all to get the cool Kickstarter only stuff for each of their Kickstarters, you need to drop several hundred dollars each time they have a project. I am really not excited about spending $200 or $300 on a single Kickstarter project to get the goodies.
I choke at a few that I have spent $100 on to get a really cool book. Runequest 2.0 reprint by Chaosium was that way. In order to get the cool book (as skinny as it was, mumph, grumble), along with reprints of the first five modules for it, it was a cool $100 plus shipping. Now, I played Runequest 2.0 waaaaaaaaaaay back when, and LOVED it. It was so much better than D&D 1.0 (Runequest 2..0 still is better than 5.0 in my opinion). I had a bias in the old D&D 1.0, 2.0 and forward. My bias was that it was a fun game, but it had Gary Gygax’s fingerprints all over it. Gary Gygax was a genius, he gave us a mainstream game that you could find in almost every small town, in America. In my home town, which had no game store until my senior year of high school (1986), we had D&D modules and books available at Hallmark in the mall, two drugstores, the bookstore and a few other places. D&D was accessible. You could get modules, books, player character sheets, DM Screens and other stuff, all from TSR. The problem with TSR was that Gary wanted control over the content. Frankly, I found the content mostly “meh”. Now, the Village of Hommlet, the Giant series… those were awesome and fun. But there were other people who were creating awesome content that wasn’t TSR. My parents would let my brother and I drop by American Eagles when we went to Seattle. I purchased things like Grimtooth’s Traps, you know, not TSR stuff. At American Eagles, I discovered Call of Cthulhu (Horror? What?). I discovered games like Traveller, Harn, RuneQuest, GURPS, Palladium fantasy…. The only problem was that no one else in my hometown had these games. If they had a game that wasn’t D&D, they had Boot Hill, Star Frontiers, or some other TSR product. Now Star Frontiers… that was an awesome game – especially for a TSR product.
Anyhow, my point is that while D&D was accessible, but much of the TSR material was somewhere between meh and bleh. After creating the three core books, they had a dry spell for new books, then it appears that TSR figured out that if they put out a new hardbound book once a year, they could keep dollars funneling into the company. When I took my hard earned cash and bought Unearthed Arcana, I was so pissed off about the quality of the crap and errors in the book, I stopped buying D&D books. I mean Arcana was just reprints of the Dragon articles, and a lot of stuff that needed massive errata sheets. Then they started putting out “new” content like the Monster Manual II. Did anyone read that piece of shit? Really, we need 30 pages of stupid geometric douche bags from another dimension…
What were they, Morons, Rhomboids, Hemoroids? What the fuck were they thinking? “Dudes, we need another 30 pages of pap and crap to fill the book. Someone come up with something quick”. Some intern looks at the polyhedral dice and says “What if we add legs, arms and a face to these bad boys?” And a pathetic crappy legend was started.
Now what the Monster Manual II SHOULD have been would have been to take the basic monsters and give them depth. For instance simple Ghoul could have had a half dozen subghouls defined, showing things like ghouls from different cultures. Do that for the major monsters.
And don’t get me started on the Manual of the Planes, Oriental Adventures or the other books which were shat (I think that is the past tense of shit) out of TSR’s machine to keep kids buying the books every year. I say “shat”, but I don’t feel that really defines the type of runy bile filled corn enhanced crap that TSR published towards the end of the 1.0 run.
Gary Gygax, being the genius he was (and I mean that in complete respect for the man, no snark here) wanted to convince you that you could only play D&D with TSR sanctioned stuff. I remember their Grenadier minis would say that they things like:
Really? Official AD&D shit? They had similar bullshit on their modules and books. Now I get it, but as a teen and preteen, this just rankled me. Gary Gygaz was a genius. The rest of the TSR juggernaut were good at putting out content, but this just did’t sit right with me. Why the fuck couldn’t I use my hard earned money and go out and buy something from another company and use it with D&D? I get it, I am making a mountain out of a molehill, but this type of BS just doesn’t sit right with me.
Anyhow, I have managed to get way off the topic of Zombicide. We sat down and played the game yesterday. Two players (Shari and Collin) had never played it before. The rest of us had played it, but it had been several years (Gavin, Brian and me).
We ran through Scenario 0, the learning scenario. Bad things happened, but not too fast. The learning scenario has two tiles. We were required to get from one tile to another tile without becoming dead.
Everyone picked their character. I wanted to play Wanda, the roller skating waitress. Shari played Amy, the sword dealer of death. Brian played Ned, who appears to be a homeless person. Collin played Doug, who appears to be a copy of Michael Douglas’ character in the movie Falling Down. Gavin played Phil who appears to be a non-copyright image of Rick Grimes from the Walking Dead.
So the learning episode is a good one to start out with. It allows the players to learn the basics, such as searching, movement, discovering nastiness in rooms, combat and avoidance. The learning episode works well, since only four or five zombie cards are used. This means that it is pretty tame, but that didn’t stop Collin from getting a wound. We found out later that Collin was pretty good at getting wounded.
As we leave the first room, it takes several turns to get everyone out, and more zombies start at the spawn point and move towards the group. Noise is our enemy. Guns make noise, so do fire axes opening doors.
What to do? What to do. Should we go into the house, or kill zombies? What to do, what to do? We go into the house and finish the scenario, so we can get onto bigger, nastier scenarios.
So Gavin goes in and discovers more nastiness.
One of the unsatisfying things about Zombicide is that when you resolve your goal, the game immediately ends. There is no survive until the end of the round. This means that you can push on when all things are bleak just to get the final thing, and leave your self open to being killed, because as soon as the final goal is reached… the game is won. Even though we are uncovering lots of stuff in the rooms, all we had to do was get into the final room and use an action to grab the token with the red X. We did this, but the zombies would have killed us if we played until the end of the round.
Now that we have finished up the basic game, we are onto Scenario 1. This one uses nine map tiles, and has multiple objectives. We need to go to enough objectives to find a bag of rice, a bottle of water and a can of food, then escape to the lower left hand corner of the picture, where you can barely see the black on yellow exit point.
Things get hairy pretty quickly. I go one way, the rest of the party goes another. They enter one of the buildings, and find that there are lots of nasty things inside the building. Also, each objective gives the player who turns over the objective marker 5 points. This means that Brian got us up in the yellow pretty quickly. Being in the yellow also meant that we pulled an abomination really early in the game.
Now, pulling an abomination early is a big deal. In order to kill a walker or a runner, you need to have a weapon that does one damage. You know, pistol, fry pan… In order to kill a fatty, you need to have a weapon that deals two damage in one blow. That means that a pistol or fry pan won’t affect a fatty. However, a fire ax will. I think a shot gun also does. In order to kill an abomination, you need to have a weapon which will deal three damage. Not three sucessful hits with a one damage weapon… one hit from a three damage weapon. It can take a while to find a weapon which could kill an abomination. We didn’t find it at all during this game, so the abomination was a real problem.
Here I am trying to keep alive and find stuff. We use the extra clips for experience points to note the rooms where we have already explored and seen how many zombies are inside. That way we aren’t asking if we have explored a room or not. I bought a couple of packages of extra clips, and in a couple of the expansion packs, you get more…
While I bravely hide, the rest of the party goes out to deal with the nasties. I have a fire ax, and one wound at this point. No one else in the party has any wounds. The rest of the players have a plan. They are looking at all of the bad guys, and know how they can get through all of them. It will take some specific timing and abilities to get around, but they are on their way to clear out a path to the exit, now that all of the objectives needed are taken.
Everything goes swimmingly, until…
EXCEPT! on the zombie spawn turn, someone turns over a spawn card, saying that the walkers get another activation. Collin gets munched. As Ron White says ” ’cause I don’t know how many of them it would have taken to whip my ass, but I knew how many they were going to use.”
Now Collin has a good history of death in zombie games. He takes it well, as well as can be expected anyway.