10 August 2018
It was the best of Grimes, it was the worst of Grimes
Zombies on both the tabletop and screens big and small are as common as the non-living dead nowadays, but there remains a particular appeal to the distinctive corpse-infested world of comic-turned-TV show The Walking Dead. With no shortage of ways to watch rotting flesh-munchers get brained, it’s the perpetual drama of its still-living leads that keeps the series from stumbling over and becoming dinner for the deceased.
The Walking Dead’s latest stab at the tabletop makes an admirable attempt at putting the focus on this emotional conflict over stabby-shooty murdertime. No Sanctuary sets up a series of scenarios, based loosely on episodes of the TV show, that must be tackled as a group of its characters – it’s worth mentioning here that this is very much a game set during early seasons, thanks to the resurrection of some of its long-dead characters.
The scenarios themselves are pretty barebones: a short introduction paragraph sets up the general narrative, but there’s otherwise not a lot of extra storytelling as you move around the grid-based map tiles, searching buildings, dispatching walkers and trying to avoid succumbing to the pressure of survival. Characters perform a combination of actions and manouevres, with actions requiring dice rolls to dictate how successful they are and whether the survivor is exerted or stressed – both of which can ultimately lead to death and failure for the group.
What makes this conventional premise that much more interesting and engaging is the simulation of the group’s internal dynamics. Every round begins with the current leader selecting an event card, which offers up a side objective for the turn. If none of their companions perform the instruction, the leader gains a stress token, which can eventually force them to give up their position. The event cards also use a colour-coded system to designate a particular play style – or ‘approach’ – for that round, from normal to cautious and reckless. Players play similarly coded cards from their hand to gain advantages (and disadvantages) for a particular approach, but if they fail to align with their leader’s command it again increases their stress. Too much stress can lead to moments of group tension, sapping the morale keeping them going.
The need to manage your hand of cards to progress through each mission’s set of objectives while taking heed of how your actions will affect the rest of the group makes for an effective way of capturing the opposing nature of The Walking Dead’s survivors – especially as each character has a unique deck of cards and ability reflecting their personality, whether it’s Merle’s impetuousness or Rick’s cool-headed diplomacy.
Unfortunately, the game buries its best feature under otherwise run-of-the-mill gameplay, a frustrating rulebook that overcomplicates its straightforward concepts and a woeful level of production that can’t live up to the fitting treatment of its characters by the mechanics. The map tiles are immediately prone to warping, the scenario sheets are little more than thin paper, the tokens are visually bland and the artwork too often strays into a weird uncanny valley between photorealism and caricature. Even the miniatures – usually a big draw with a licensed game like this – are of seriously poor quality with flimsy bases. That’s without mentioning the pathetically tiny threat and morale tracker tokens, which we almost immediately lost – easily done when they’re little bigger than the full stop at the end of this sentence.
No Sanctuary has a few promising ideas going for it, and its unremarkable gameplay is solid and functional enough to pass the time between episodes of its source material. But it’s not even the best Walking Dead adaptation out there and, if you can bear to leave the world of Rick Grimes behind, it’s nowhere near the front of the pack when it comes to the entire flock of zombie games.
The way that leadership affects the group’s dynamic is engaging, and it’s fun to see the characters’ individual personalities well represented. Beyond that, though, the shoddy presentation and otherwise commonplace gameplay means there’s little flesh on the bones.
Buy your copy here
Designer: Brady Sadler, Adam Sadler
Artist: Giorgio De Michele
Time: 45-120 minutes
This review originally appeared in the May 2018 issue 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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