So everyone already should know that I love zombies. Zombie comics, zombie movies, zombie games—all zombies, all the time. One of the first games I ever created was a zombie game. So, I love zombies.
Thus, when Zombicide came along, I was hooked. Yep, a toy box game, with zombies—you have me already. Forking out the cash, I brought the game home, read the fairly easy-to-learn rules, and set it up for a game with me, the wife, and my daughter (a young zombie fan herself). An hour later, we all groaned as the zombies crushed us.
Zombicide is a cooperative game where players try to survive the zombie doomsday and live another day. The game is scenario-based, with each scenario offering different layouts of the game boards and different victory conditions. The main goal of each game, though, is to survive, collect needed supplies or objectives, and then (usually) flee the game board. All the while, the zombies just keep coming, appearing in newly opened buildings and walking onto the game board through entry points set all over the place. As the game progresses, more zombies arrive until the whole place is a giant zombie convention and the players are hard-pressed to do much other than be zombie snacks.
Game play is easy to learn, fast, and full of choices. Players need to cooperate together if they want to beat the game, and some may have to die to allow the group to win.
And there we have the first problem with the game. If you are playing a game with a lot of players (and you will need a lot of players if you want any chance of winning) and someone has to have their character killed off to allow other players to survive, the sacrificed player is out of the game. That’s no fun. The game is designed for this choice to be made far too often. So what if the group wins the game if to do so some players have to bail out after a few turns in so the rest of the people around the table can continue to have fun? In a cooperative game, everyone needs to have fun and have things to do; but one or more players sometimes ends up camping out in one location to ensure that a set action is completed or, in the case of Zombicide, has to sacrifice themselves to allow others to continue to play. Either way the fun is limited for a select few while others get to play and enjoy the game. Too often have I seen this in cooperative games and it’s a failure of good game design in my view.
There are a few other issues I have with the game: mainly logic problems. The game allows for the characters to progress to higher skill levels, and thus become more adept at dealing with the environment and zombies, but as they grow more powerful, the system is set up that this means more zombies arrive. In other words, as you get better at beating the zombies, more show up, making it more difficult to win the game. Not just a few more zombies—a ton more zombies start arriving, making the game very difficult to deal with. In addition, as the characters become ever more skilled, the zombies now begin to take more actions, allowing some zombies to fly across the game board and over running player characters before they can even react.
So, the logic of the game is that to beat it you have to keep your players as low a level as possible for as long as you can; otherwise, you will lose the game real fast. Now that would be fine, but in a game that is designed to let you kill zombies, that makes no sense. To smash zombies and have fun doing it, but by doing that you prevent yourself and the group of players from winning the game… well, that’s a logic problem.
Another problem is the use of guns. If a zombie is in the same space as another player character, you have to shoot the player character first; then, after that character is dead, you can shoot the zombies. What? This just makes guns useless. A better solution to guns being “too powerful” would have been to either have them less available or their use more difficult. As a designer, if you don’t want guns to be so effective, then design the system so they are not as useful or more difficult to acquire, but don’t make their use a liability—that’s just bad game design.
As a toy box game, Zombicide comes with a lot of stuff and this may well be its saving grace. The game comes with a lot of city tiles big enough to make a great tabletop environment, and with lots of buildings and rooms within the buildings to be useful in other games as a setting for an RPG or tabletop miniature game. The box also offers a ton of plastic figures, all well designed and of variety, all of which can be used in other ways, again in a zombie-based RPG or miniature system.
Cost? A hefty $90, and with tax you are looking at a cool $100 bucks to get into this game. There are all sorts of add-ons as well with new characters and new expansions with new figures and tiles.
Final results on a scale of one to five stars? I give the game a good 3 Stars. Not a home run by any stretch, but overall a playable game if you ignore some of the logic issues. It’s a high buy-in, and the game play can be exciting, but also limited for some players if they sacrifice themselves for the group.
So game play 3 Stars, but it drops to a 2 overall with the flaws in design, but a great 5 Stars for components and their re-use, and so a final score of 3.5, which I dropped to 3.
You can find this game and all its expansions at Guilotine Games’ web site.