Evil Undead, Bruce Campbell Not Included - Zombicide Black Plague Review

Oh look. . . more zombies. . . this is a genre that needs to be put on hold for a while as the board game market has gotten way too saturated with zombie themed games whether it's dripping or pasted on. There are other undead creatures in fantasy lore, I can't see why some of those can't be used! I mean seriously, how hard is it to use skeletons for example? You've got a medieval setting here with copious amounts of blood and violence, could you imagine the amount of hilarious Evil Dead 3 references in every game if you used skeletons instead? Missed opportunity there Eric Lang!

Zombicide is regarded as one of the major players in the genre however, though I wasn't a huge fan of the original. It dragged on for far too long for a dice chucker, had some ranged combat rules that made no sense whatsoever and felt like the same old post apocalyptic setting that lured you in with the prospect of admittedly, awesome looking miniatures.

Now we have Black Plague, which looks very much like the original except it's now set in a fantasy medieval world. Guns are replaced with bows, machetes replaced with swords and explosives replaced with spells. A standalone base set with some rule tweaks and upgrades, but keeping to what Zombicide was like before. However a few small changes can dramatically change how a game plays and I've heard a lot of positive responses for Black Plague. So let's see if the alterations made are enough to bring Zombicide up a few notches.


Designer: Guiton, Raoult & Lullien
Publisher: Cool Mini Or Not
Age: 10+
Players: 1-6
Time: 120-240 minutes
RRP: £79.99


If You Don't Know How Zombies Work, Watch More Movies!

If you've played Zombicide, you know what to expect. Zombies have broken out all over the land and it's up to your party of adventurers to fight them back while completing various quests along the way such as taking out necromancers and saving helpless villagers. To begin with you're stuck with the basics in swords and spells, but some quick searching will reward you with cool new weapons, protective armour and more impressive spells. Taking out zombies or completing quest objectives will also reward you with experience which can grant you additional special abilities. However be careful not to be a lone ranger as levelling up too fast will increase the amount of zombies to contend with and you need to work as a team to win, not to mention have some good luck with the dice!

Zombies come in various shapes and sizes taken straight out of the original game. The familiar Walkers, Runners, Fatties and Abominations are ever present, however there is a new threat with Necromancers, who increase the spawn rate of zombies and act as a new game-loss condition should the spawn rate get out of hand. Taking these guys out is critical to success, but of course they don't come out of the shadows alone and you've got plenty of other zombies to contend with. Many rounds of hacking and slashing and fireball explosions later and you will either be victorious or become tasty brain vessels for the unstoppable horde.

For Better. . . 

So what has changed for the better from Zombicide? Well the first major improvement you'll notice are the plastic player boards. Previously you had a card with these horrible clip things on it, they were tacky and the clips kept sliding and it was basically cheap. Here though, wow, these are a serious upgrade. Not so much in materials, it's still cheap plastic, but in terms of function I have never seen a better player board for a game of this nature. Pegs are used to track skills and wounds. Card slots are shown for each hand and belt space. The clip is replaced with a slider which isn't perfect, but much less frustrating and your backpack is now a set of card slots where you stand the cards up vertically so that you can easily see what's in use and what isn't. It truly is a terrific display of function over form and given that I've ragged on Cool Mini Or Not for thinking the opposite way all the time, it's so satisfying to see them bring in a genuinely cool idea.

The next change is a simple rules tweak, but it makes a huge difference in game play. Previously in Zombicide if you shot a ranged weapon into a crowd of zombies and friendly players you had to target the friendly person first with your hits before you took out zombies. This rule was beyond stupid and practically killed the original game by itself without a house ruling. Now the friendly fire is much more realistic. You aim at the zombies, you roll to hit and any misses rolled then impact the friendly player. Perfectly straightforward tweak and makes more sense thematically . I'm aiming at the zombie for crying out loud, only if I miss would my arrow risk thudding into the back of my companions head. . . never liked that dwarf anyway!

Or Worse . . .

The final big difference are the Necromancers. When these guys arrive, they bring not only more zombies, but also an additional spawn space. Then then proceed to simply waltz through the cities ignoring all heroes until they reach another spawn point and escape. A little weird thematically, but roll with it. Killing one will remove a spawn point of the heroes choice which is pretty potent, but if 6 spawn points end up on the table when they escape, the heroes automatically lose. Now I never saw this happen in any game so it's not a massive deal, but certainly the adding and removing of spawn points plays a big part in success or failure.

It's cool to see a protagonist for the zombie horde this time as opposed to "there's zombies around, deal with it", but I was a bit disappointed in how they moved about and ignored heroes. It's like those old school computer games you played when you had to survive against a generic force for a while until suddenly the enemy you're after wanders across the screen with a crescendo of 8-bit sound effects. They might as well be waving their hand as they walk past like it's some children's parade.


Or Unchanged? . . . 

One of the biggest gripes I had about Zombicide was the game length. Each game would easily go over 2 hours if you didn't die in the first few turns and many games with lots of players could easily double that and surpass it even. I've seen a Zombicide mega game with max players take over 5 hours, I am not joking here. That is too long for any dice chucking game outside of Talisman and even then I only put myself through that because of amusing banter and nostalgia.

Now the length has been cut down here, but that's like saying you're cutting down on the size of a potato by peeling its skin off. The first game played was a good 3 hours with players on a medium level quest. That is definitely shorter than previously, but still just far too long. Now I know the length of the game doesn't bother a lot of Zombicide fans so if it didn't phase you before, you're going to be feel right at home here. With repeated plays you can bring the length down, but discussions over a players turn will extend the length of any co-operative game.

And on that note, it is still a good plus point for Zombicide that the co-operative nature is strong here as before. Players are actively discussing tactics on each turn and anybody who dares to be a lone ranger in this game, prepare to be zombie chowder very quickly. Team-work is required to effectively succeed and you'll commonly get little 2 or 3 man squads going for the various objectives. Of course the dice can still mess you over frequently so you need to accept the luck factor going in.


The miniatures themselves I have to at least mention still look as good as ever, (but they'd better for that whopping price tag), however why change the style of heroes and the weapons, but leave the zombies themselves unchecked? It seems a tad lazy to stick with the same ones as before, though at least the Wulfsburg expansion throws in some wolves and a werewolf abomination which is pretty cool, albeit another chunk of cash paid for the pleasure. No doubt this is simply baiting for multiple expansions down the road, but if Left 4 Dead can bring in multiple unique and interesting zombie variants, then why can't Zombicide? I'm telling you, they should have have used skeletons, though "Skelicide" doesn't have the same ring to it.


Verdict


There are some key improvements here that have made a big difference to how I feel about this version of Zombicide over the original. The setting alone is more appealing, those stupid targeting rules have been streamlined to make more sense now and those new character boards are one of the best designs I've seen in a player aid to date. The co-operative feeling is still as strong as before with lone rangers quickly regretting their decision and alpha player issues are infrequent. These differences alone would make me select this version over the original any day.

However there are some issues with the previous version that haven't changed enough. The biggest one being the time length. Each quest will state anywhere from 45 minutes to 150 minutes, but every single Zombicide game I've played involved taking at least 2-3 hours at least for easy/medium quests. Now even though this is much shorter than the original used to take, this is still too long for a dice chucking luck based game for me. In addition I feel that some more interesting zombies and items could have been devised instead of using the same enemies as before (bar the necromancer) and simple "re-hashes" of previous items.

If you're new to the franchise and want to try it, I think this is hands down the best one to get for the streamlining and "shorter" game length. For veterans of old, there is very little here that's new and different, but you'll enjoy it I'm sure. However if you didn't like the original Zombicide, I doubt this is going to convert you over because the core concepts are very much the same.

If you are interested in this game you can find a copy at your friendly local gaming store - http://www.findyourgamestore.co.uk/


YOU WILL LIKE THIS GAME IF:


You like the original Zombicide - you'll either like it the same or better, no doubt.


You were frustrated with those targeting rules - line of sight and friendly fire makes sense here.


You prefer the medieval fantasy setting to the over-used post apocalyptic theme.



YOU WILL NOT LIKE THIS GAME IF:


You want a quick zombie fest - the time length is still very long despite an improvement.


You aren't into games with a lot of die rolling or randomness.


You own the original Zombicide and you're hoping for a brand new reimplementation.

0 comments: