It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what the game “Zombicide” involves – killing Zombies. The original Zombicide came out a few years ago and was set in the modern-day, fighting your way around shopping centres and the like. Zombicide Black Plague takes the basic concept and drops it back into the Middle Ages, borrowing some tropes from generic Fantasy to give this game a thematic refresh and a fun new twist.
What’s it all about? What are we doing?
Zombicide Black Plague puts players in control of Survivors: ordinary folk who have suddenly found the world falling apart around them, with armies of zombies appearing out of nowhere. Playing as a Blacksmith, a Fighter, a Wizard, or even a Nun, each quest gives the players a scenario to take on and a series of objectives to meet before the zombies overwhelm them.
Each turn your character takes actions (initially 3, but rising as the game progresses), to move around, find better gear, and fight zombies. Then the zombies have their turn: every zombie in the same space as a character attacks them, and all the other move towards the noisiest survivor(s) in the area. Once all the zombies in play have moved then fresh zombies are spawned out of the box – But, there are wild cards in the spawn deck which can re-activate the zombies already out there, so the thing which you thought was a safe distance away might suddenly be chewing on you.
Whereas the Zombies are quite happy eating you alive, you’ll need weapons to fight back, and there are a variety of these in the game, all following a fairly simple, clear set of symbols to show their power.
What’s in the box? All the Zombies!
Zombicide Black Plague isn’t cheap by any means – the core game has an RRP of around £80, so one of the first things you’ll want to look at is what you’re getting for your money. Fortunately the answer is “A Lot”! The box for Zombicide Black Plague comes with a well-designed insert to maximise storage, and it’s absolutely chock-full. First and foremost, there are lots of miniatures, representing 6 “Survivors” (the characters controlled by players) and many, many zombies. The zombies divide into basic walkers (35 or of these in 5 different poses), runners (14 in 2 poses), fatties (again 14 in 2) and 1 each of the rarer abomination and necromancer. The miniatures come unpainted, in grey plastic for the bad-guys and brown for the good-guys, but the sculpts are good-quality with a high level of detail for those who like to paint their miniatures, and the box-insert is very well-designed, so you don’t need to worry about them getting damaged.
A lot of people will pick up games like this purely for the miniatures, using them in other table-top games, and there’s certainly plenty of scope for doing that. This is a full game still rather than just a box of miniatures, so let’s think about what else is in there.
Nelly (one of the 6 Survivors) at the start of the game
Each survivor you play during a game will come with their own character dashboard, on which you can keep track of their experience, abilities and equipment. These are clever little things: they are well-designed and fairly robust, giving you a nice, simple way to keep track of lots of bits of information in a fairly intuitive way. The only slightly fragile-looking element is the black plastic XP tracker but replacements of these are supplied with the game, so no worries there.
The game also comes with 9 double-sided tiles from which you form the game board, tokens to mark doors, noise, objectives and spawning points, and a large glossy rule-book. There are also two decks of cards, one to control the spawning / activation of the zombies and one representing the equipment you can find as you explore.
Overall the component quality is every bit as high as you’d expect from a game with this price-tag: there’s no sense of anything having been skimped on. If I was being picky, I’d prefer the equipment and spawn cards to be a fraction larger (At roughly 1”x 2”, they’re a bit hard for my clumsy hands to shuffle) but if only every game I got suffered from nothing worse than this…
If I hadn’t been sent a review copy of this it’s probably a game I would have overlooked, based on cost alone, and I would have been missing out.
How does it play? The apocalypse is here!
Each time you play a game of Zombicide Black Plague you pick your band of survivors (typically they suggest you use all 6, but you can slim the party down for a slightly harder, slightly quicker experience), and you pick a scenario for them to take on. Aside from the tutorial there are 10 scenarios ranging from 1-3 hours in length (Approximately) and with varying degrees of difficulty. Typically you will need to claim certain objectives, kill particular zombies or reach marked exit spots, and generally survive the swarms of zombies that come to get you. In most of the games we’ve played so far we’ve found that these time-frames are a bit optimistic, and if you’re planning on discussing your moves with other players, expect to spend more like 2 hours than 1 on the early scenarios. In time though this will probably speed up.
The Walkers are on the left, the Runners in the middle, and the Fatties on the right
There are 3 basic types of zombies in Zombicide Black Plague: Walkers (1 action, 1 hit-point), Runners (2 actions, 1 hit-point) and Fatties (1 action, 2 hit-points).
These are all fairly straightforward and intuitive and the gameplay mechanic reflects the feel you’d expect from each type.
The box also comes with one figure apiece for Abominations (massive zombies immune to most standard forms of damage) and a Necromancer (boss villain, puny in himself, but bringing a new army of zombies, and liable to escape to nasty effect).
You resolve the effect on the card equal to the highest-level survivor in the group
Aside from picking up weapons which allow you to roll certain numbers of dice to do varied amounts of damage to zombies, the main mechanic in this game, which gives it its unique RPG-style feel, is based around character-levels and XP (Experience Points).
As your character does things (mostly killing zombies) they will move up in power level, from Blue, to Yellow, to Orange, and finally to Red. As your survivor reaches a new level, they will gain new abilities AND the effects that spawn cards have on zombies will change, generally getting worse as things progress. This will mean that you don’t get too badly swarmed early on, but the better you are, the more zombies will come to get you, so not much chance of cruising in the late stages, as can be the problem with some games of this type.
This is all the gear you have on turn 1
At the beginning of a game all your survivors will have zero XP and only their starting ability (along with some low-power basic gear). As noted above, at this stage, most spawn cards will chuck out only a walker or two, maybe a fatty if you’re particularly unlucky, so you need to balance killing the zombies that are out with looting rooms for better gear. By the time you’ve killed a few dozen zombies and given your character their extra powers a single short-sword probably isn’t going to be able to keep you alive. It also means you need to keep an eye on how your survivors are progressing relative to each other – if one survivor has made it up to the red level, zombies will spawn at the most punishing rate, even if the other 5 are still finding their feet.
Thematically Zombicide Black Plague feels great. I’ve not done much zombie-related gaming in the past, but seriously, what’s not to like about a Nun with a greatsword charging round beheading fatties whilst the wizard and the blacksmith shuffle along idly, desperately trying to find a weapon that does 2 damage? The fact that most zombies are slow and unimpressive does a good job of making them look like they don’t need to be worried about, but once they reach critical mass, you can easily find yourself being overwhelmed.
The same again? Probably not!
If you find this in the first room you break into, you’re going to have problems…
There’s a lot of different elements to Zombicide Black Plague which will ensure that it plays differently every time. Aside from the fact that there are 10 different scenarios, there’s a lot of variety in how the zombies spawn, and the dice-based nature of combat will also ensure that no two games are ever the same.
The gear that you pick up as you hunt for better weapons will vary each time: there are only a few copies of each weapon or item in the deck, so searching for weapons is all pretty random.
You also have choices in the power-upgrades you give your characters: starting power and yellow-level are automatic, but you chose one of two at the orange level, and one of three powers at red level, so today Ann might be taking 6 actions and using them all for close-combat, whilst tomorrow she could be using spells to smite the zombies.
For all this though the one area where this game does seem to be slightly limited in scope is with the Survivors. The problem is that Zombicide Black Plague only comes with 6 Survivors, and if you follow the rules as printed, you’ll always be using all six Survivors every time you play.
Nelly is now fully leveled-up,and well-armed. Although quite close to death
You might group them differently as you try to accomplish different objectives but you’re still using the full pool of characters in every game. The six different paths you can develop your character along diverge mostly towards the end of the game, and in the first few scenarios, you probably won’t even get most of your characters to the Red level.
Cool Mini Or Not push their games pretty heavily through Kickstarter and there are A LOT of Kickstarter exclusives for Zombicide Black Plague which gave players options for additional Survivors. Obviously this is something not on offer to those of us coming to the game now. The good news is that the first retail expansion has just been released and the “Wulfsburg” expansion for Zombicide Black Plague gives you – amongst other things – 4 new survivors, which immediately takes the combinations for a party of 6 from a fixed 1 to over 200 possibilities. In terms of different survivor parties alone it’s remarkable just how much variety it does add (it also adds new equipment, and wolves, but more on that if I ever do a review of the expansion).
Zombicide Black Plague – Go out and get a copy now!
As I noted earlier this was a game I had previously filtered out – I’d never seen it played, and the sheer size and cost had left me unwilling to invest the time and money needed, sight unseen.
Unless Sampson (orange base) can open that door, Silas (red base) is in serious trouble…
Having played it, I’m so glad I did: I honestly can’t remember the last time I was this excited about a new game. Cool Mini or Not have produced some really nice components to bring Zombicide Black Plague to life, and Guillotine Games seem to have a solid rules-system behind it which has a great flavourful feel. Whilst I haven’t played the modern-day version, all the comparisons I’ve seen have been favourable, talking of Zombicide Black Plague as a cleaned up, more engaging version of the original.
As one friend commented when our Elven Archer was trapped between two advancing hordes of zombies, the fact that you’re using miniatures rather than tokens really does bring the peril to life, and the component quality is great across the board. With games taking anywhere from 1 hour to 4, this certainly isn’t a filler, but if you can find the time to bring it to the table then it definitely repays your effort.
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I'm an avid board and card-gamer, still trying to figure out where Board Gaming fits into life as the dad of a very grabby toddler.
I enjoy thematic games (Fantasy, Cthulhu, etc) and play a lot of cooperative games, along with a bit of competitive gaming (currently Legend of the Five Rings) when I can make it out of the house.
When not playing games, I can be found doing a mundane office job, or working on my own Blog, Fistful of Meeples.