02 March 2021
They won’t stay dead!
In rural Pennsylvania, 1968, film-maker George A. Romero effectively created the zombie movie with Night of the Living Dead. Through its striking, black-and-white images of shambling, flesh-craving, reanimated corpses (which were only ever called “ghouls”), the film pushed the horror genre into a new era, leading to a string of sequels, a multitude of imitators and, eventually, the arrival of festering zombies on our tabletops in countless games, from Chainsaw Warrior to Dead of Winter. It’s surprising that it’s taken so long – more than half a century, in fact – for the O.G. zombie flick to receive a big board-game adaptation. But what’s less surprising, and certainly welcome, is its ultimate realisation has been pulled off by the guys behind the current king of undead-slaughter/survival games: Zombicide.
Raphael Guiton, Jean-Baptiste Lullien and Nicolas Raoult’s Night of the Living Dead sticks closely to the movie, with artist Karl Kopinski translating its monochromatic look and ’60s styling via some impressive and faithful imagery. The scenarios, meanwhile, are attentive to the film’s plot, starting with the gathering of the key survivors at a remote house as the living dead start hammering at the walls. The difference being, everyone in the film was destined to die (spoiler!), whereas the aim here is to make sure everyone lives.
Zombicide’s rule-set and mechanisms apply well to Romero-world, with only a few tweaks to the original game. These are more a matter of streamlining than anything, perhaps with an eye on more casual gamers drawn to the title by its movie branding. Noise tokens, for example, are gone; those relentless, ever-swarming zombies – sorry ghouls – are simply attracted to the most crowded zones.
The most interesting addition is one that gives the action a bit more pep, at the expense of the movie-related survival-horror atmospherics. At certain trigger points in each scenario, characters can flip their ID cards from “Romero Mode” to “Zombicide Mode.” This amps up their abilities and turns them into more effective undead-killing machines, with the artwork changing from black-and-white to Technicolor, and the miniatures switching from film-faithful sculpts to more heightened variations. Check out Helen, for example, now swinging a pair of katanas.
However, certain other effects negate Zombicide Mode – such as when a “Relative” ghoul is revealed from the Ghoul Deck. So you can suddenly find yourself denied your new superpowers in potentially sticky situations.
It’s a fun, playful mechanism, but it does pull you away from the gritty, downbeat ‘truth’ of the film. Similarly, given the importance to the plot of distrust and discord between the survivors, the fact that there’s no betrayal element (even optional) feels like a minor oversight.
Still, it’s a high-quality product, complete with peg-festooned character dashboards that make solo-play multi-handing a breeze (the game requires all six characters to be in play, no matter the player count). Exactly what you need for those long, lonely locked-down nights during the zombie apocalypse...
If you’ve never played Zombicide before, this offers a great introduction to the game... Especially if you’re a fan of the original zombie movie.
And if you’re a Zombicide completist, this is one of the best-looking iterations yet.
Designer: Raphael Guiton, Jean-Baptiest Lullien, Nicolas Raoult
Time: 60 minutes
This feature originally appeared in Issue 52 of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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