Adam Hardin
United States
McKinney
Texas
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While I am relatively new to boardgaming, and still have a very (very) modest collection, I have found BGG to be an invaluable resource when deciding how to allocate the limited time and money I have devoted to the hobby so far. The reviews, in particular, have been helpful in steering me in the right direction. My wife and I are fans of The Walking Dead and of pure co-ops, so when we discovered that Cryptozoic had made a game that ticked both boxes, I was eager to check BGG to see what others thought. Despite finding just two reviews, I decided that the potential was too great, so I took the plunge and made my first relatively-blind game purchase. After a dozen plays, I felt that I should give back to the community that had given so much to me, so I registered with the intention of increasing TWD:TBD's review section by 50%. Hopefully, when faced with a tough decision in the future, someone else will find this review as helpful as I've found so many others. But enough backstory, and on to brass tacks!

The Components
The following components are included in the game:
4 large cardboard location tiles
4 resources decks (equipment, ammo, allies, and food) with 25 cards each
1 event deck with 48 cards
1 "ulterior motive" deck with 9 cards
6 cardboard character tokens with four plastic bases
6 cardboard character cards
various double-sided cardboard chits ("1" on one side, "3" on the other) representing the different resources and HP.
1 cardboard round tracker with tracking token
1 cardboardboard "Leader" badge
1 rulebook
4 dice (three standard white d6, one slightly larger black die with the numbers 1-3 each listed twice)
various small ziplock bags for storing tokens

The cardboard used in the components is thick, rigid, and seems relatively durable. After over a dozen plays, I have yet to notice any damage to any of the pieces, although they don't get handled very much during gameplay. The dice are standard size, but quite cheap- they're a very lightweight plastic that bounces more than it rolls, and the numbers are painted rather than engraved. If you have any spare dice, I'm sure you'll want to swap them out, although there's no easy replacement for the black die unless you don't mind just subtracting 3 every time you roll a 4, 5, or 6. The cards are glossy, but quite thin, and are showing a tiny bit of wear around the edges, although nothing too egregious. The plastic bases for the character tokens are snug enough that they can cause damage when slipping them on and off, and it bothers me that there are only four- there is easily enough room in the insert to store all six characters with bases attached, which would eliminate the need to constantly remove and reattach the bases. Some might have an issue with the double-sided resource tokens (and the possibility to confuse a 1 with a 3 or vice versa), but I always just keep my 1s in separate piles from my 3s and it's never been a problem.

In all, I would grade the quality of the components themselves at a solid B to B+. Other than the dice and the bases, everything is a good enough quality to be essentially invisible while playing. Components that I never think about past the initial unboxing are, in my opinion, well-made components.

Really, my biggest gripe with the game concerns the box insert, which as far as I'm concerned is terrible. It's a thin plastic insert with a felt-like finish which is pretty functional, but the cut-outs for storage are an issue. They included three cutouts for the decks (one for the event, and two for the four resource decks), but the cutouts are not deep enough, so the top few cards stick up over the edge and will easily slide out (especially if you riffle shuffle and the deck starts to develop a slight bend). That, to me, seems unacceptable- there is plenty of additional unused depth in the box, and they could have easily added more to the card cutouts to solve that problem. There is an extra large cut-out for the location tiles which is satisfyingly deep and which contains a notch so you can slip a finger in to grab the tiles. Set in the middle of that cutout is a smaller cutout for the character cards, but this cutout lacks the finger notch, which means removing the character cards typically involves trying to wedge the leadership badge around the edge and wedge out a few cards at a time. Luckily, some of the characters are clearly inferior to the others, so I rarely have to try to dig out the bottom cards (more on that in a bit). If the components grade out at a B to B+, the insert grades out at a D to D-.

A Quick Overview of Play
I'm not going to repost the entire rulebook (although I could, because the rules are pretty quick and uncomplicated), but I figured I'd give a quick overview of the game.

To set up, the four location tiles are placed randomly in a square pattern, and one resource deck is placed at each location. Players choose a survivor, and dice are rolled based on the number of survivors to populate the board with zombies.

There are no "scenarios" or such in The Best Defense- instead, the goal of every game is simply to survive for 12 rounds, with any variation coming solely from the cards you draw and the rules you choose to implement. In each round, one survivor is designated the "leader". The leader gets to unilaterally decide where every survivor moves to (although in some game modes he can solicit input from the various survivors), and on their turn, non-leaders receive a chance to "defy" the leader, discarding a food token to move to a different location, instead. Each survivor has an option to draw a resource card from their current location and/or trade with another survivor at their location. At the end of each survivor's turn, they must play event cards- the leader must play both events, while all other survivors only play one. After each survivor gets a turn, combat is resolved, with survivors using weapons and ammo (if they have them) to roll dice, killing one zombie for every multiple of 5 rolled (i.e. a total of 20 = 4 zombies killed). After the survivors kill all they can, the remaining zombies strike back, hitting any survivors at their location (survivors have 5 HP, so they can absorb some blows before going down). If zombies are at a location with no survivors present, they instead eat away at the resource deck. Survivors lose if any of the resource deck runs out of cards. As an optional rule, all survivors can lose if a single survivor dies. Otherwise, when a survivor dies, the player draws a new survivor and puts him into play the next turn.

That's pretty much it. The game consists of 12 rounds (or less) of moving to a location, searching for resources, spawning zombies, and protecting decks. It's not a particularly complicated game to pick up, and after a single playthrough you should be able to handle the entire game without checking back to anything other than the quick reference guide on the back of the rulebook.

Theme
TWD:tBD was obviously built as a tie-in to the AMC Walking Dead TV show, and Cryptozoic makes the most of the relationship. Every component features images from the show. Odds are good that most people who purchase the game will be fans of the show, so this seems like a wise move. Many of the event cards reference episodes in the show (such as "Barn Walkers Attack"). Those that don't often earn fun nicknames. For instance, the ally tokens all feature a picture of Carl, so we call them "Carls" (as in "I draw from the Carl deck, and receive two Carls"). One event card forces you to discard one food token for every ally token you possess. We call that the "Carl Ate Your Pudding" card, based on a scene from the show. Game mechanics aside, little elements like that will surely make the game more enjoyable for people who are familiar with (and fans of) the source material.

Speaking of mechanics... at its heart, TWD:tBD is a game about survival, and when everything works well, I think it pulls off that theme quite well. You don't really win the game as much as you survive it- usually, by the end of the game your team will be beaten up, running low on resources, and watching the zombies overrun your home. It's not a game which often ends on a high note, which I think is a great feature. The source material is very dark, and few good things happen, and in that respect, the game stays true to the source material.

One of the biggest complaints is going to be the abstraction of the zombies. For a game about zombies, you actually see surprisingly few of them. The zombies on the board are represented with double-sided tokens with a "1" on one side and a "3" on the other. Combat resolves with you flipping and removing tokens, which breaks immersion and sometimes makes the game feel more like a math puzzle than a life-or-death battle. I understand the desire to keep costs down, but the cardboard tokens could at least have more prominently featured a picture of a zombie (the current picture is small and you won't even notice it's of zombies unless you look carefully, as the artwork is clearly designed to draw focus to the "1" or the "3"). If you have another zombie game (such as LNoE or Zombicide), "borrowing" some miniatures can make a big difference in atmosphere. Alternately, my wife and I will sometimes replace the zombie tokens with sour patch kids and create a house rule that "you kill it, you eat it". It turns the game into a game of "eat or be eaten", which might not really fit the source material, but it sure adds to the fun.

Mechanics and Replayability
Component quality and theme are nice enough, but at the end of the day, a game lives and dies by the quality of a mechanics. If a game isn't fun to play, all the theme in the world won't get it to your table. If the mechanics are a blast, people will gladly play games with bad, boring, or poorly made components.

Unfortunately, game mechanics is the area where TWD:tBD is most lacking. On setup, you're supposed to randomize the position of the four location tiles, but this randomization process is really just for show; since the locations are essentially arranged in a circle, there literally only three different ways to set up the board. Even worse, three of the four locations are functionally identical (the prison allows you to ignore the first three zombies, thanks to the thick walls). This means that the only- literally the ONLY- consequential piece of information determined during board setup is "which tile is diagonal from the prison" (and therefore takes two moves to travel between them). Randomization is nothing more than a waste of time designed to increase the appearance of replayability (without actually increasing replayability).

After the locations are set up, each deck is randomly placed on a location. This adds a tiny bit more variety, but not much. The only useful variables during this step are "which deck is in the prison" (and therefore protected by the prison walls), and "are the ammo and equipment decks adjacent or diagonal" (diagonal means you'll have to use two moves to get ammo once you draw a new gun).

That's it, you go through that entire process, and those are the only impactful variables- which deck is in the prison, and are the ammo and equipment decks adjacent or diagonal. Honestly, rather than bothering to waste your time randomizing, I'd recommend you just decide what kind of difficulty you want. An easier game will have the equipment in the prison (because that's the deck you'll want to draw from the most) and the ammo adjacent (so you can load your guns faster). A harder game will have either food or allies in the prison and ammo and equipment diagonal from each other.

Unfortunately, "The Illusion of Variability" is a theme that runs through the whole game. For instance, look at the characters. Each character is completely identical to every other with one exception- each gets a very minor bonus when they are the leader. In a 4-player game, each player will get at most 3 turns as the leader, meaning 75% of the time, character is irrelevant. Leader bonuses are much more important in a 2-player game, where they'll be in effect 50% of the time. Unfortunately, the leader bonuses are poorly balanced against each other. The three male characters are clearly superior to the three female characters, which I find rather unfortunate- I like to play with diverse character representations, but to do so in TWD:tBD, I have to knowingly handicap myself. Also, the male characters' abilities make great thematic sense. Rick makes everyone better in combat, Glenn scavenges for ammo, and Daryl hunts for food. The female characters feel much more thrown together. In the show, Michonne is a zombie-slaying badass. In the game, she lets everyone make a very weak attack without using a weapon. Maggie is allowed to give resources to a survivor who is not on her square, representing her character's ability to... I don't know, exactly. Worst, Andrea has the ability to heal one character for one HP, which is redundant (Daryl's ability to hunt for food provides more potent healing), and makes no thematic sense at all. Really, the healer ability should have gone to Herschel, but I suppose the developers wanted an even number of male and female characters (something I have no problem with), and so they shoehorned a leader ability onto a character for whom it made no sense. If nothing else, let Maggie get the healer ability to represent what she learned from Herschel, and give Andrea the ability to be a terrible judge of character or something.

For more instances of the "Illusion of Variability", look at the resource decks. The food deck contains 25 cards. 10 of those cards say "gain 1 food". 9 of them say "gain 2 food". 6 of them say "roll the black die and gain 1-3 food". That's the entire deck- you're either getting 1 food, 2 food, or rolling for 1-3 food. In the ally deck, you've got 12 cards that give you an ally, 8 cards that give you 1-3 allies, and 4 cards that give you a "special ally" (i.e. you get 1 ally and another temporary bonus, such as the ability to roll an extra die in combat that round). The last card says you can't be killed in combat that round, which is going to be useless 99% of the time, because you aren't going to move to a location where you're at risk of getting killed and then hope you hit the 1-in-25 chance you draw that particular card. The ammo deck varies only in which type of ammo you're drawing (handgun, rifle, shotgun, or crossbow), with one token "misfire" card thrown in for good measure (i.e. no ammo drawn that turn). Also, this isn't a huge deal, but I'm annoyed by the fact that there are cards like "Lots of handgun ammo" that let you roll for 1-6 handgun ammo. Ummm... if I roll a 1, then it wasn't really "lots" of handgun ammo, was it? I'm pretty sure Rick knows enough about handguns that if he finds a single bullet he's not going to say "hey wow guys, I just found a lot of handgun ammo!". But I'm digressing.

The equipment deck is the only one of the four resource decks with any variability at all. About half of the cards are gun cards, which vary only in what type of ammo they require and how many dice they let you roll (handgun = 1 die, rifle = 2 dice, shotgun = 3 dice). Another handful of cards are special weapons (melee weapons that don't require ammo, or a crossbow which has a chance to get its ammo back after firing). Then there are 8 utility cards that provide some sort of bonus, such as the ability to relocate to a new space at any time, or the ability to re-roll one die. So, as a positive, half of the equipment deck is interesting and varied. Of course, as a negative, there are four resource decks and only one of them is half-interesting. And the one interesting deck isn't particularly well balanced. The handguns are barely a step above useless for zombie killing (remember, you need to roll a 5 to get a kill, and handguns will average 3.5). It lets you kill a straggler or two, but is useless against packs of 3 or more. The machete and lead pipe will, under ideal circumstances, average a roll of 7. The rifle will also average 7, the shotgun will average 10.5, and the katana is a total wildcard (it lets you keep rolling until you roll a 1-3, then add all the totals together). On average, the katana will give you a value just a hair under 7, but "on average" glosses over some pretty wild swings- half the time, you're not killing a single zombie, while 1% of the time you will score a 25+ and wipe out five zombies with a single shot.

Beyond the resource decks, you have the event deck. 18 of the 48 cards take the form "If you are at location X, draw a card. If you are not, add 1-3 walkers to location X", with another 7 taking the form "If you are at location X, add one walker, if you are not, do something much worse (add 1-6 walkers or discard resources)". That's 25 out of the 48 cards, or more than half of the deck that essentially just boils down to "be at the right place and nothing bad will happen". There are a few other cards that follow a similar format (if condition is met, do something good, if not, add 1-3 walkers). Add in five more cards that simply force you to roll a die and add 1-6 walkers, and the overwhelming majority of the event cards are going to be bland, flavorless cards that just tend to blur into each other.

Add to this the fact that most survivors (except for the leader) only play one of the two cards that they draw, and these bland, flavorless cards will typically wind up being the preferred play, since the unique cards are often substantially more punishing. For instance, one card will add 4-12 walkers to the board if no survivors have died yet (which is every time if you're playing the variant where you lose if a survivor dies). That card will never, ever, ever get played unless the leader draws it and he has no choice. If it does get played, a series of bad rolls can pretty much end your gaming session before it starts. On a particularly unlucky combination, I once had to add 9 walkers to a single location in a single turn, which pretty much spelled a guaranteed "game over" in round 2. The "1-6 walker" cards simply present too much variance in terms of potential outcome- they can either be pushovers or game-enders depending on the dice roll. I'm all for a bit of luck in a game, especially a pure co-op like this, but the swings are far too wild for my taste.

Those swings are exacerbated by player count, which can have a dramatic impact on game difficulty. The biggest way it impacts difficulty is in the number of event cards played per character per round, the percentage of event cards that will get played from the deck, and the percentage chance that you'll be "forced" to play one of the truly terrible events. For instance, in a 2-player game, you will play 3 event cards per round (2 from the leader, 1 from the non-leader), for an average of 1.5 per survivor. 75% of the cards will get played on each trip through the deck, and there's a 50% chance you'll be forced to play one of the nightmare cards. On the other hand, in a 4-survivor game, you play an average of 1.25 event cards per survivor per round, only 62.5% of the event cards will get played on each trip through the deck, and there's just a 25% chance you'll be forced to play a nightmare card. That makes 4-player games substantially easier, even before you add in the fact that 4-survivor games mean you have a lot more HP to soak up hits (20 total instead of 10 total), you have a lot more draws at the equipment deck to get some good weapons, and you can put a lot more damage down at a single location. If you ever get 10 zombies at one location in a 2-survivor game, there's pretty much no chance for survival. In a 4-player game, you can easily work your way back from it (with the right combination of weapons, you can easily kill 6 zombies a round, distributing just 1 damage to each survivor and clearing the location in two rounds).

And don't get me started on the "single-survivor" variant they have included in the rulebook. It is blatantly broken, an absolute cakewalk that I suspect received little playtesting. In the "one survivor" mode, you play just 1 card per round, you are never forced to play anything, and you won't even see half of the event deck. I understand that this variant was included as a "nice bonus", but I would have rather they just not included a single-survivor variant instead of including such a poorly designed one. With house rules, a single-survivor game can be interesting, and of course as with any pure co-op solo players can simply play a larger game and handle all of the roles themselves, so there really wasn't an excuse for that poorly-thought-out inclusion.

The Walking Dead is not without its strengths. I find the leader mechanic to be a welcome change in a pure co-op environment that often lends itself to one player telling everyone else how to play. By passing the responsibility, everyone shares an equal burden in planning the strategy, especially if you play the advanced game modes where players cannot discuss their event cards before movement has been performed (highly recommended, in my opinion). I haven't yet found another co-op that solves the "Alpha Player" problem quite as elegantly. In addition, the game provides "ulterior motive" cards, which give players a secret side goal that they can achieve for a "partial victory". Personally, I don't like them- the idea of "partial victories" seems bizarre and not in the spirit of a pure co-op, and what does "partial victory" even mean? "Well, sure, you all got eaten by zombies, but at least you managed to horde a huge amount of food first, so you kind of still win!" Still, while they're not my cup of tea, it's another interesting mechanic that I could see someone else enjoying a lot.

Final Thoughts
If you get lucky with the draws (all of the horrible cards get pulled by non-leaders, who can simply ignore them, and the good weapons aren't buried at the bottom of the equipment deck), and you get lucky with the rolls, you can easily just steamroll through all 12 rounds at full health and full ammo with minimal damage to the decks. If you get unlucky, you can essentially find yourself with a guaranteed loss within the first couple of rounds. When all of the rolls and the card draws fall just right, TWD:tBD can be a tense thriller of the game where everyone is on the edge of the seat carefully rationing out every single resource and trying desperately to make it to the final turn. Unfortunately, in my experience, the game only hits that "Goldilocks zone" (not too hard, not too easy) about 33% of the time (with another third being walkovers and another third being lost causes). While the potential payoff is great, and I've had some very memorable game sessions, it comes too infrequently for me to recommend the game to anyone but the most die-hard fans of the franchise. If everyone else wants to play, I will do so without complaining, but I'll do so knowing that the odds are I'm not going to wind up enjoying it.
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sacha cauvin
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Nice review.

Somehow i Still really enjoy this game solo or with friends. While we wait for the Woodbury expansion (its on the way now)we have added a House rule:
When a character dies he drops his gear where he has died, So instead of drawing a ressource card you can pick up one dropped item.

Also we always play with no communication between players, it adds a lot of tension And drama.

For solo play, always play the two event cards...things get very very tough.

Now Woodbury should add more options, cards And a fifth player,the governor.
 
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Mitch Lavender
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Nice review. I picked this up at a Target store just today and looked it over. Love TWD, but I'm glad I didn't buy it.
 
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Aaron Edwards
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Thanks for the review. I too have seen this on sale at Target a few times and was tempted by the theme. But it seems that, as I suspected, it's probably just a slightly better than average mass market game, which means it's a sub-par hobby game. Think I'll steer clear as well.

Edit: Oh, and welcome to BGG.
 
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Adam Hardin
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McKinney
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general hoth wrote:
Nice review.

Somehow i Still really enjoy this game solo or with friends. While we wait for the Woodbury expansion (its on the way now)we have added a House rule:
When a character dies he drops his gear where he has died, So instead of drawing a ressource card you can pick up one dropped item.

Also we always play with no communication between players, it adds a lot of tension And drama.

For solo play, always play the two event cards...things get very very tough.

Now Woodbury should add more options, cards And a fifth player,the governor.

Your "dropped gear" house rule sounds like a fun one, and it would fix the problem of newly entering characters being seriously undergeared, but I typically play hardcore. If someone dies, it doesn't matter if they drop their gear or not, because it's an automatic "game over".

The Best Defense is actually a decent solo game. Any pure co-op can play well solo if you're willing to play everyone's roles. In a game like Sentinels of the Multiverse, I hate playing that way, because there are just too many decks and cards to keep track of. Ideally, I want to play with someone else so that I can plan my turn while they're taking theirs. With a game like The Walking Dead, though, each player's turn is so simple that playing multiple survivors is a quick and easy feat that adds barely any complexity over playing a single survivor. Of the co-ops I own, if I'm going to play one solo, it's going to be this one... I'll just be playing it with several survivors.

My problem is with the built-in rules for solo with a single survivor, which I maintain could not have been playtested much, if at all, because it's immediately apparent how broken they are. There's no difficulty at all. My very first playthrough was a solo/single survivor playthrough to learn the rules, and I thought for sure I had to be playing it wrong, because there was absolutely no sense of urgency.

Your house rule where you play both event cards would certainly fix the problem of the game being too easy, but it seems to me that would make it too hard. Personally, I house-ruled it so that I can choose to only play one event card this turn, but if I do, then I must play both event cards next turn. It certainly makes for some interesting decisions when you draw a bad-but-not-cripplingly-so event card and have to decide whether to play it or pass and take your chances next turn. Ultimately, though, the ability to use the same leader ability every turn still changed the game too much (Glenn, for instance, never needs to draw an ammo card... ever. And Rick pretty much has a permanent ally in play). So my preferred method is a 2-3 survivor game. I also deal all event cards face down and move everybody before I reveal them to simulate the "advanced" game mode.
 
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Adam Hardin
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Oph1d1an wrote:
Thanks for the review. I too have seen this on sale at Target a few times and was tempted by the theme. But it seems that, as I suspected, it's probably just a slightly better than average mass market game, which means it's a sub-par hobby game. Think I'll steer clear as well.

Edit: Oh, and welcome to BGG.


That actually sounds about right on the money- above-average mass market game, below-average "hobby game". It's not terrible, and while I'm sure I could have done better things with the money, I don't really regret the purchase. It's an easy game to talk people into playing. I've gotten some really good, tense, memorable games out of it. Ultimately, though, they're the exception and not the rule.

Also, thanks.
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Matt Hyra
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Nice detailed review!

As for solo play, one important rule got left out of the rulebook:

If there are 5 or fewer Walkers in play, you must play BOTH of your Event cards. If there are 6 or more, play just one of them.

I didn't test the solo personally, and when the people who did gave me their notes, I managed to miss/lose/forget that one when I wrote the rulebook. Then the editor and other readers didn't notice it was missing. Fun!

It will be added into the German edition and any new English printings.

Thanks,
Matt Hyra
Cryptozoic R&D
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Adam Hardin
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Matt Hyra wrote:
Nice detailed review!

As for solo play, one important rule got left out of the rulebook:

If there are 5 or fewer Walkers in play, you must play BOTH of your Event cards. If there are 6 or more, play just one of them.

I didn't test the solo personally, and when the people who did gave me their notes, I managed to miss/lose/forget that one when I wrote the rulebook. Then the editor and other readers didn't notice it was missing. Fun!

It will be added into the German edition and any new English printings.

Thanks,
Matt Hyra
Cryptozoic R&D


That's actually a pretty clever rule, and would do a ton to restore balance to single-survivor gameplay. In my experience, the key to a tense game is keeping the number of events per survivor per turn somewhere between 1.3 and 1.5. I think that rule would get you right in that sweet spot, and would even serve as a sort of built-in governor (as in the type that regulates the speed of engines, not the type that keeps human heads in aquariums). When things get out of control, it would slow zombie spawns down. When things get too quiet, it would speed them right back up again. Certainly more clever than any of the random house rules I tried to patch it. Honestly, it might even intrigue me enough to break the box back out and give it another go.

Also, I'm very happy to hear that the rule set (A) really and truly is not functioning as intended, and (B) became broken strictly through oversight / human error (happens to the best of us!) and not because a developer was simply trying to pad content without testing it first (a much graver foul).
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James

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I think the review is fair, and always appreciate someone taking the time to get their thoughts out to all for view- well done sir!

However, I do think this is a vastly underrated game- especially with the addition of the governor expansion... It sets up quick, plays quick and it a ton of fun...

Our group did add CHIBIs to the game (pictures will follow in the gallery) and that has made it a ton better :)

It is not the most strategic of games, but I have other for that.

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Grand DM
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I love the game and have logged many hours into it with various groups of friends. I find Woodbury however somewhat lacking in a game with less then four players. As walkers build up it seems almost impossible to waste time venturing to Woodbury.

Finally the large caches of ammo, etc in the Woodbury event cards should have been a sure thing. Rather then rolling a d3 you should just get 3. But I guess that is what house rules are for!
 
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André Heines
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Sounds like the game is like the show - surviving is mostly based on luck, not wits or solid planing.
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