Monday, October 27, 2014

If I Stumble... - "Zombicide"

Even though I credit Zombies!!! for helping me get back into gaming, a recent replay forced me to realize that the old boy has gotten rather ripe. Looking to replace it with something a bit more contemporary, I decided to research the 2012 Kickstarter Zombicide. In doing so I came across Rodney Smith's "Watch It Played" video and then bought it almost immediately.


So what makes Zombicide so good? Well, here's the fast movin' version of the game's premise directly from publisher Guillotine Games:

"Zombicide is a collaborative game for 1 to 6 players, for 13 years old and up. A game lasts for 20 minutes (beginner board) to 3 hours (expert board).

"Each player controls from one (for 6 players) to four (solo game) 'survivors', human beings in a zombie-infested town. In fact, 'survivors' hastily change to 'hunters' to smash zombies through and through. However, the team must constantly keep the balance between survival and slaughter: as the zombicide's going on, the 'Danger level' is going up and infected are growing in numbers. Any misstep can turn to disaster.


"Zombicide is a fun and easy game with cool minis in an archetypical, popular and comics-inspired environment. Ambiance is constantly kept between 'beat'em up' and 'survival horror' as characters keep on turning from preys to predators. Humor and gloom happily marry in a zombie-fest.

"Find weapons, kill zombies. The more zombies you kill, the more skilled you get, the more skilled you get, the more zombies appear. The only way out is
Zombicide!

"Play 10 scenarios on different maps made from the included modular map tiles, or create your own.
"

Want the classic, olde-skool, George Romero, slow-shamblin' pitch for the game? Then tentatively click on the following link to blow the head clean offa the rules.

***

CHARACTERS/COLORS

Andrew...Ned (Red)
Chad...Wanda (Green)
Me...Phil (Gray)
Jeremy...Doug (Blue)
Matt...Amy (Purple) 
Mike...Josh (Orange)

SCENARIO: 02 Y-ZONE

MEDIUM DIFFICULTY / 4+ SURVIVORS / 60 MINUTES

"The living are losing ground. The pockets of
resistance fall one after another, and our CB radio,
once bustling with messages, is now silent. We must
leave. The zombies are growing in numbers, and our
supplies are getting scarce.
I could kill for some toothpaste."

OBJECTIVE:

Reach the Exit Zone shown on the map with all Survivors.

SPECIAL RULES:

The Objective token represents a medicine cabinet. The Survivor who takes it immediately loses a Wounded card.

***


Starting in the upper right hand corner of the map we decided to throw caution to the wind and smash in the closest door, exposing a nest of re-animated vermin lurking within.

 
I did my best to spawn-camp next to the closest zombie arrival point while everyone else tried to make some inroads through the building.


While my team-mates did a bang-up job (pun intended) clearing out the north building, I nearly got ganked holding the line after the Zombie threat outside suddenly surged. Thanks to Matt's agile intervention I only suffered a single wound before retreating inside to join my beleaguered compatriots.

We searched that place from top to bottom. Andrew / Ned found a sweet Chainsaw and Matt / Amy sniffed out a handy Shotgun and a Scope. Woot! 


We'd soon find a pressing need for this hardware! By the time we re-emerged from the building as a united front, the streets were positively rife with Walkers and Fatties!   


Since Matt's Amy had also taken a Wound while rescuing me we let him have the contents of the Medicine Cabinet. Then Andrew gave me a Hockey Mask to insulate me against a second deadly bite. Around this time we really began to exploit the Line of Sight rules, creating two lethal kill zones along the "X" and "Y" axis of the board. 

Unfortunately, just when we thought that we had things locked down, an Abomination and a slew of Runners appeared from out of nowhere and charged at us. Silently we hoped that our collective firepower would be enough to stem the tide of the inevitable onslaught!


At the last minute we managed to cobble together the only weapon in the game powerful enough to kill an Abomination: a Molotov Cocktail. After Andrew took out the thing with a well-placed biff, we coordinated an effective defense, beating back the horde and corralling a single Runner and a Fatty into one Zone. By then I'd picked up a long range Rifle and I was using it to great effect, clearing out several of the zombies that were hobbling after us. This gave us the luxury to search the bejesus out of the Medicine Cabinet building for any item that might even vaguely be able to help us during our final push to the Exit.


Even though we'd come close to losing the game within the first few turns, we were now moving together as a cohesive unit, covering every side-street and concentrating our considerable ranged firepower wherever needed. 


Employing this nigh-incongruous amount of teamwork, we made a final, desperate push towards our final goal. En route, Andrew and Chad cut a deadly swath through anything that dared to stand in our way with a gloriously nasty assortment of deadly melee weapons. The rest of us employed a lethal combination of Rifles, Shotguns and SMG's to thin out the back ranks while covering our own asses. 


This strategy sustained us right up to the home stretch. To make sure that Jeremy / Doug, Matt / Amy and Mike / Josh had a chance to catch up to the main group, I lagged behind and cover them with my Scoped Rifle. Given that my Experience level now provided four lethal Actions I really wasn't worried, even as two Runners charged into my space towards the end of the turn.  


But, in the grand tradition of all great horror movies, happy endings are few and far between. During the Zombie Spawn Phase the worst possible card (literally) was drawn: "Just When You Thought Things Couldn't Get Any Worse!" which gave the Runners an extra turn! To make matters worse, everyone else had already left the board, leaving me alone with these juiced-up undead Usain Bolts.


Since the Mission's Victory Conditions clearly indicated that all of us had to get off the board through the Exit we had to admit that the game was lost, just a few short spaces away from deliverance!

DEFEAT!

***

REVIEW

PROS
  • Look at this game. Just look at it!  This is, by far, the nicest-looking game in my entire collection. The double-sided Game Tiles feature impeccable artwork and the highest quality craftsmanship. The miniatures are, without a doubt, some of the best I've ever seen. All of the tokens are made from the same heavy stock as the board and the Zombie / Equipment /Wounded Decks are durable and gorgeous. The Survivor Identity Cards are also beautifully illustrated and easy to read.
  • Except for a few debatably-odd rules (see CONS below) the game's instructions are, for the most part, clear and logical. If you don't believe me then play this and Zombies!!! back to back and see which rulebook you find yourself referring to the most. The mechanics covering noise is a good example of design elegance appeasing thematic requirements.
  • Zombicide isn't so much concerned about the minutia of combat as it is about creating a frantic, tactical game of desperate survival. I discuss this "elephant in the rules" in more detail down below, but overall I think that the designer's motivations were sound.
  • The myriad of different equipment and weapons creates a nicely-varied experience every time you play.
  • Ten well-thought-out scenarios also add to the game's considerable replay value. This doesn't even include the metric shit-ton of free Missions available to play online. Kudos to Guillotine Games for their tremendous support and bonus points for including both the difficulty level and approximate play time in the descriptor of every Mission
  • In another great example of design innovation the Experience Point / Danger Level mechanic provides the perfect difficulty scale. 
  • Not only do the Survivors look wildly different from one another their initial skills and in-game customization makes each one feel really distinct.
  • The Number of Actions and Damage Value to Destroy rules makes all four of your mouldering foes feel thematically appropriate without laboring under a ton of complicated rules. 
  • You want a genuinely scary game that actually amps up the blood pressure, then look no further then Zombicide! If your heart isn't racing by the end of the game then you're probably as dead inside as them thar reanimated corpses!
  • Some games tub-thump the importance of cooperation but it's essential in this one. I can't help but wonder what would have happened if just one of my gun-toting counterparts had stayed behind in order to cover my escape just like I'd done earlier. Assholes.        
CONS
  • Word to the wise: if you're teaching the game make sure that you explain the abstracted and simplified Zombie attack and Ranged Combat targeting priority rules first. To get my A.D.D.-addled friends into the action right away I unwisely decided to teach these rules as they came. As soon as I did this I was assailed by persistent cries of "Whattaya mean I gotta hit my team-mates first when I fire into a melee?!?" and/or "Zombies always hit and steal an Item automatically when they attack?!? WHAAAAAAAT?!? This is horse-shit!!!". But let's face it, folks: the former rule is in place to give players a reason to find the parts for the Scoped Rifle and pick certain skills while the latter exists to make the game move quick while underscoring the importance of taking out Zombies before they get to you. Having said that, these are still two pretty bitter pills to swallow, so potential Zombicide boosters really need to underscore the logic behind the design. When I ran Mission 7 "Grindhouse" this past Saturday night I addressed this in detail up front and everyone had a blast with it. 
  • Even though I understand the logic of those two particular rules, a few more things feel unnecessarily fiddly and/or clunky to me. Seriously, isn't the game challenging enough without a rule that adds extra zombies to the board when they can't split up evenly? Or the fact that all zombies of a certain type get a free activation whenever you run out of their miniatures? Manhole cards seem unnecessarily cumbersome. And, as evidenced in this session report, the cards that grant a bonus turn to all Zombies of a certain type can sometimes result in a cheap loss.
  • I absolutely fucking despise those god-damned plastic clip-on Experience Trackers. Since a similar moronic system was used for Betrayal at House on the Hill, I knew that they were only going to cause unnecessary wear and tear on the Survivor Identity Cards. In a vain effort to avoid this I downloaded the official companion app but since they hadn't quite gotten all of the bugs out of it at the time I was forced to use the physical components. And, yep, just as I'd feared, the tops of the Cards were all scraped and dinged up by the end of the game. Given the otherwise impeccable production design of the game I have no friggin' clue why this system was used. P.S. the app works fine now and I highly recommend that you download and use it.
***
Comparing Zombies!!! to Zombicide is a study in ten years worth of board game evolution. Even though I like the adversarial qualities of the former, the later is a much more fulfilling experience. I prefer the cooperative nature of Zombicide, the intuitive, stream-lined rules, using a host of different equipment, the ever-changing Mission-based goals, the distinct Survivors skills, the engrossing components and the four different monsters to fight.

If you wanna play a game this Halloween season that'll legitimately make your heart pound by simulating the desperate chaos of a survival horror scenario, then you can't do much better then Zombicide.  

The game scores five pips outta six with a tilt up towards towards an Abomination's eye-line.


***

Wanna prove the old adage that you don't need to be faster then the zombies, just faster then your slowest friend? Click on the ghoulish image below to order a copy of Zombicide and give this blog an unnaturally long life!

Monday, October 13, 2014

"What's In The Box?!?" - Episode Three - "Wiz-War"


As I recounted in my very first entry, I went through a lamentable period in the late 80's / mid-90's when I considered board gaming to be a childish pursuit and, as such, I drifted away from the hobby. Mercifully, thanks to games like Magic: The Gathering, The Settlers of Catan, Shadows Over Camelot, and Zombies!!! (yes, I said Zombies!!!, fuck you) I eventually rediscovered table-top gaming and I haven't looked back since.

Unfortunately, the damage had already been done. During this period (which I now refer to as "The Dark Times") I missed out on a slew of awesome board games. This includes, but certainly isn't limited to The Fury of Dracula (1987), HeroQuest (1989), Warhammer Quest (1995) as well as the third edition of Talisman in 1994 and the fifth iteration of Wiz-War in 1995. By the time I set my sights on acquiring these Ameritrashtreasure classics, many of them were already languishing in out-of-print purgatory.

But thank Moloch for amazing companies like Fantasy Flight, who've allowed so many of these great games to rise phoenix-like from the ashes to once again captivate and entertain crusty old grognards such as myself. They've already done due diligence with sweet new editions of DungeonQuest and two other Jolly gems Cave Troll and Drakon so color me delighted when they brought back Wiz-War in 2012.

So impressed was I by this new take on the classic game that it inspired a new episode of "What's In The Box?!?".

NOTE: In addition to taking a close look at all of the components, I also include a brief capsule review of the game.


***
 Looking to creatively murder your friends using such diverse spells as "Fireball", "Slow Death" and "Five Fingered Fist Blast To The Cake-Hole"? Click on the image below to learn more about Wiz-War and give this blog some much-needed Victory Points in the process!