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Monday, 8 May 2017

Review: Zombicide - Black Plague


Zombicide - Black Plague is a co-operative tactical combat boardgame by Guillotine Game. It is designed for 1-6 players and, as the name suggests, features lots of zombies and the killing of them in droves!

It retails for around £85 and has plenty of miniatures and other stuff in the box.
Zombicide has an older sibling with which is shares many of its rules, but Black Plague changes the setting from a contemporary modern age to a medieval/fantasy one.

The Game Box!


The opening text of the rule- and questbook really says it all. Zombicide is set in a grim medieval world, where hardships are endured every day. When Zombies, summoned by the evil necromancers in an attempt to conquer the land, come biting and ripping from out of the woods it is up to a group of survivors to fight back.

Death, injustice, plague, and war are common things these days,
but nothing really prepared us for... Zombies!

That pretty much sums it up. Zombicide is alot less about story and alot more about action. Each quest does provide a short description of why the survivors are there and what they are supposed to do, but it is easily skipped by those who are simply looking for the action of the game and doesn't really bring the game's background story to life.

Game Components & Build Quality

In the core set, you get 71 detailed, unpainted, plastic miniatures:

  • 6 Survivors (player characters)
  • 35 “Walker” zombies (slow and easily killed, but come in larger groups)
  • 14 “Fatty” zombies (tougher zombies that aren’t easily killed)
  • 14 “Runner” zombies (zombies that moves faster or attacks twice)
  • 1 “Abomination” (the worst zombie you can encounter - can’t even be killed by regular attacks)
  • 1 Necromancer (spawns more zombies and tries to escape the board to cause even more problems for the players)

My painted heroes

The miniatures come neatly placed in a plastic tray, that is also used to store them when not playing. There is no assembly needed for any of the miniatures in the box, so you are good to go immediately once you’ve opened the box. While that might often be the case with pure board games, it is still a plus in my book.

The miniatures are made of softer plastic, but just a few of the ones in my copy came bent, and only slightly so. In fact I didn't even bother fixing any of them with the hot water method.

The details on the miniatures are good. Not top of the line, but as good as can be expected in a boardgame with so many of them. If you play roleplaying games using miniatures, the contents of this box is almost worth it even if you don’t plan to play the game itself. As you can see in the image below, the scale is close to other 28mm miniatures, just slightly slimmer in most cases:

Reaper Warlord - Zombicide - Wrath of Kings - Zombicide - Age of Sigmar - Zombicide - Warmachine.

You get lots of cards in the box as well. Most are used for the random search system, and the also random zombie spawn system that the game utilizes. Six larger cards show each hero's characteristics. Each hero also has their own plastic tray, to keep track of their progress and wounds, and any items they gain throughout the game.

You get a handy plastic tray for each survivor.

Since Zombicide uses dice, you get enough of them as well - and of course tokens of different types to keep track of everything. The set also provides you with nine beautiful, double-sided boards, that can be assembled in different ways for the scenarios provided in the rulebook.

The Rules

Each game begins by setting up the board according to the quest being played. The players take their character and its corresponding plastic sheet, and divide any starting equipment between them. Everyone then places his or her survivor miniature on the starting grid shown in the quest, and begin the game by choosing which player takes the first turn in the game.

The first quest - Big Game Hunting

Every game round is divided into phases:

  1. Hero phase, where heroes makes up to three actions each. These actions include moving, attacking, (attempting to) open a door, activate an objective, search indoor areas for precious loot, or another action chosen from a short list. Once all heroes have spent their three actions, the phase ends and the next one begins.
  2. Zombie activation phase, where any zombies on the board activates according to their set behaviour. They will move towards any visible hero, and attack that hero if they activate in the same square. If there are no visible enemies, they will instead move towards the noisiest zone on the board. This is a cool aspect of the game, as each action a player makes either causes noise (shown with a token) or is silent. So players need to make sure they don’t cause too much noise unless they are willing to have a zombie horde making its way towards them. The downside to this is that it makes the game slightly predictable, since you always know in advance where the zombies will move and can plan accordingly.

Things could look better...

  1. Zombie spawn phase. All scenarios have places on the map where zombies might spawn every turn. In this phase, players draw a zombie card from its deck, and resolve what it says. At lower levels, just a few zombies will appear, or maybe a single “Fatty” zombie which is harder to kill, but once players level up (more on leveling up below), you will encounter lots more zombies, or even the bad boy itself - the Abomination!

Different cards have different zombie spawns

If a hero finds itself on the same square as a zombie, he or she can attack that zombie with a melee weapon. The weapon will show how many dice to roll, as well as the minimum number needed to actually hit any zombies. The weapon card also tells you how many damage points each hit does.

The damage is very important in Zombicide, because the each zombie type takes a different amount of damage to kill. A standard walker might require a single damage to take it out, while a fatty can only be killed by weapons that does at least two points of damage for each hit. Ranged weapons work the same way, but can be used from one or two squares away, making them the safest bet… unless there are friendly players on the attacked square, that is. If a ranged weapon misses its target, and another survivor is on the same square, that survivor will be hit instead! We’ve have plenty of discussions on the risk/reward and lots of fun outcomes in our games when firing into squares occupied by both heroes and zombies. Guillotine Games made this a very easy to use, but still challenging rule for ranged weapons. The same also goes for any other type of ranged damage, such as spells.

Should you really throw that fireball right now, Baldric?

When the zombies attack during their own phase, the players simply picks a hero on the same square and assign a damage point to it. That's it, as simple as that, and as you can tell, very deadly! Each hero only has three wounds, so unless you’ve found some armour by searching the houses on the map, you really need to stay away from the zombies. Some heroes might have skills that grants them a save roll, or adding to one if they have an armour equipped, making them the natural tanks of the game.

Leveling Up
The survivors will gain experience points and level up throughout each scenario, either by killing zombies or completing objectives. Guillotine Games has made the leveling system a challenge in itself, because as soon as a survivor reaches a new level, the zombie difficulty rises. The players need to micromanage who completes objectives and kills zombies to make sure no player is left behind in levels when the danger rises. Whenever you level up, you will gain a bonus - either a new skill or improving your melee/ranged/magic skills in some way. While this system works well in itself, very well I might add, there is one really dull thing about it - whenever a scenario ends, each player becomes level 1 again for the next scenario. There is no campaign experience whatsoever. I really think Guillotine Games made a miss with this. A true campaign experience in a zombie-infested world such as the one Black Plague provides would be a blast to play through, especially if more thought went into the storyline as well.

The Bosses
There are two types of bosses in Zombicide, each providing a different challenge for the game:

The first of these is the Abomination, the biggest and baddest of the Zombies. When he appears on the board through the random zombie spawn deck, the players are in trouble unless they have the proper tools to deal with it. You will need to have found a potion of “Dragon’s Bile”, and a “Torch” and use them together on a board square just as the Abomination stands on that square. While you can also kill the Abomination with a Damage 3 weapon, that might be even harder to obtain as it also requires one of the survivors to reach maximum level for his unique skill that turns Damage 2 weapons into Damage 3.

The Necromancer and the dreaded Abomination!

The second boss in the Zombicide starter set is the Necromancer. Whenever he appears, he will bring a second zombie spawn point with him. From then on, there will be even more zombies spawning every turn! Unlike the other zombies, the necromancer isn’t particularly interested in fighting the survivors, but instead tries to make his way towards the closest exit on the board. Unless he is killed on his way there, the spawn point he brought will become permanent, and he might even force the players to automatically lose the game! Needless to say, the necromancer will always be a high priority target for the players, and makes for some exciting game changing moments.

Both of these bosses provide great and diverse challenges and dangers for the heroes. And since they both spawn from the standard deck of zombies, you can never know when and where they will appear on the board. Good stuff!

Gaming Experience & Replay Value

We have played this game with three, four, five, six, and even seven players (I once took the role of the zombies and just made their moves all game long). The game does include optional rules to have more than six survivors on the board, so you can actually play the game with even more players if you want to - and have additional heroes bought for the game. I do believe the sweet spot for this game is three players, each controlling two heroes each, or four players, having two additional heroes they play collectively. More players than this and the game risk dragging out too much due to tactics discussions, and also makes players wait too long for the others to activate their heroes before you get to actually play your own. It is worth noting, however, that even with the maximum numbers of players we have had plenty of fun playing Zombicide. It’s just that after these games we’ve all felt the need to have a break from the game for a few sessions before playing it again to not risk getting burnt out from it entirely. Since survivors die so easy, it's also an issue with many player - if you're unlucky enough to get killed early on you're in for a long wait until the game is over.

The replayability of Zombicide is really good, since the zombies spawn randomly, and the necromancer and abominations always pose an unpredictable threat. You can easily go back and replay a fun quest whenever you want - all heroes start at the first level whenever you play the game anyway.


The Good
Beautiful miniatures. Fun co-op gameplay. Easy but solid ruleset. Good replayability.

The Bad
Zombie moves are predictable. No true campaign where one game matters for the next. Can take too long to play with many players.

Final Grade
8 / 10

Zombicide - Black Plague is an excellent gaming experience; a tactical zombie survival game to play alone or with a few friends for a great time.

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