Editorial | 3/27/2013 at 10:43 AM

Tabletop Co-Op: Zombicide

Death by plastic

Once again, it’s time for us to delve into the world of tabletop gaming. We’ve seen the rise of cooperative concepts in video games in recent years, and there is a similar pattern in board and card gaming. Today, we’ll consider one of the most popular board games released last year, the highly thematic and gorgeously produced Zombicide.

In recent years, the undead have all but taken over the pop culture landscape. The Walking Dead is one of the hottest shows on television. Left 4 Dead and Dead Island, as well as the famed zombie maps in Call of Duty, make a strong showing for the risen dead in video games. And in the realm of board games, zombies are similarly popular, across a variety of titles including Last Night on Earth and Zombie Dice. Zombicide joins this latter group, bringing a new cooperative experience to your tabletop gaming time.

Game play is fast paced and visceral, and the horrific theme of the game really comes through. The components are excellent, particularly the dozens and dozens of zombie miniatures. Throw in high replayability due to a variety of scenarios and the easily tweakable difficulty level, and you have a box full of undead co-op goodness for any group of zombie fans.

The most striking aspect of Zombicide is the high quality of the included miniatures. The base game includes 71 miniatures, including six heroes for the players to control. Publisher Cool Mini or Not clearly knew what they were doing when designing these glorious bits, and seeing the assembled zombie horde is impressive every time. Several different sculpts are included, giving you a wide variety of brain-craving baddies to shoot, slice, or blow up. There’s definitely a lot of cool plastic stuff in the box, making it nice for all gamers but especially those who enjoy painting miniatures.

Hero characters are similarly well sculpted in colorful plastic, and include several of the classic tropes of zombie fiction as well as some obvious nods to famous characters. One hero is the spitting image of Die Hard’s John McClane, and one exclusive character is clearly based on Danny Trejo. An office nerd dual wielding Uzis, a katana-equipped femme fatale, and a fast food waitress on roller skates armed with a chainsaw are other interesting heroes that round out the mix. These heroes have a lot of character, and each of them have different abilities that give them advantages in the game, like extra movement, better weapons, or the ability to sneak past zombies in a pinch.

Turns move quickly for the heroes, who can use their allocated actions (few in number at the beginning of the game, but more later on) to move, use weapons, or search for new items. All manner of weapons can be found, from melee (fire axe, machete, and crowbar) to ranged (shotgun, pistol, and rifle). You can also find ammunition to make your guns more efficient, or obtain protective items like a hockey mask (a nice touch for any horror fan). Survival items like food or water are required to complete certain scenarios, so a big part of the game is knowing when to search and when to move on and fight.

Once all the players have taken their turns, the zombies attack (if in the same space as a hero) then move. Walkers and fatties (which are more difficult to kill than standard zombies) move one space, while nimble runners advance two. Lastly, new zombies are spawned from certain areas around the board. Early on in the game, only a few show up each turn, but as characters earn experience, more and tougher zombies spawn each time. At high difficulty levels, the mighty Abomination, immune to every weapon save the molotov cocktail, can appear to make the heroes really sweat it out. The relentless spawn and advance of the horde is exciting and you truly feel the pressure of staying alive long enough to complete your mission. It’s just like being in a zombie movie!

Zombicide originated on Kickstarter last year, and is one of the most successful launches via the crowdfunding platform to date. The original base set is available online or at your friendly local gaming store, but as of this writing, another Kickstarter is in place. Dubbed Zombicide Season 2, the project is composed of two parts: another base game set in a prison, and a smaller expansion called Toxic City Mall with new tiles and minis compatible with either base set. These look to be worthy additions to the Zombicide experience, particularly the intriguing new sculpts of the miniatures.

Some gamers might be getting weary of the zombie trend, but there’s no denying that the tale of a small group of humans struggling to outlast a horde of undead attackers is highly thematic and cooperative. Zombicide is an excellent game, from the easy to learn rules to the appeal of the components to the high degree of replayability. If you are looking for a good tabletop game, like co-op, and aren’t queasy about shotgunning a shambling walker in the face, give Zombicide a try.