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Subject: Undead Again ... A review of Zombicide: Black Plague rss

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Scott Sexton
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Summary: Zombicide: Black Plague (ZBP) is the caffeine powered re-implementation of the Zombicide system set in a medieval fantasy world. At its heart though ZBP is a Gauntlet like experience that offers a simple take on the Ameritrash co-op combat genre, trading depth for streamlined game play. While not perfectly balanced, the game does offer a well orchestrated ramping up of player power and challenge over the course of the game.

I won't bother with a game play summary or rules break down, because there are several videos out there that do an excellent job with that.

My perspective: My game group for this game is my 10 year old twins (son & daughter). Both are experienced gamers who tend to favor co-ops and ameritrash games. They both are veterans of Mice & Mystics, which they loved. I am an omnigamer who looks for great experiences, especially games that tell good stories. Also, understand that I am playing ZBP with a Kickstarter copy with all the exclusives added in. I don't feel as if not having all the exclusives is a deal breaker for this game, although you will want to get your hands on as many of the retail expansions as you can. Diversity is your friend in a game like this.

What I like about ZBP:

1- Great looking game with awesome table presence! This almost goes without saying, but ZBP looks amazing on the table. Every single component from the plastic player boards to the game tiles and minis ooze's awesomeness. This is important for a game like ZBP, where part of the appeal is the visceral experience offered by the game. ZBP nails presentation like few games have or ever will.

2- Simple streamlined rules. For a game like this, you don't want to be bogged down by the details of nuanced rules. You want to jump in with both feet and start killing zombies. My kids especially LOVED the fact that there was almost no learning curve to the game.

3- Fun tactical decisions. A common criticism I've heard about ZBP is the lack of tactical depth, saying that most decisions are no-brianers. I think there is some truth that ZBP doesn't offer as many challenging decisions, but I think this critique sort of misses the point of what ZBP is trying to accomplish. ZBP wants players to focus on the fun action of killing zombies without being bogged down with a rich tactical rule set. It is an interesting design choice, especially when most Ameritrash games opt for offering more complexity to the tactical decisions as a way of making the game "more fun".

4- Excellent pacing to the game that ramps up to a tense conclusion (mostly). ZBP's experience/leveling system is a brilliant way to control how the game ramps up the difficulty. At the beginning of the game, players are at their weakest, but you aren't overrun with zombies either. By the end of your game, you may have a supremely powerful character or two, but the zombie hordes will also be swarming all over the game board (which is a sight to behold). This ramp up of difficulty is very satisfying and while I suspect there is some room to "break" the game, for more casual players (which is the ZBP audience) this plays out amazingly well.

5- Excellent diversity of playable characters. I love being able to play games that offer character diversity. Better yet, I like to see positive depictions of women in games. There is very little in the way of gratuitous depictions or overt objectification of women as things in ZBP, which is a huge breath of fresh air given the game's fantasy setting. Most women wear setting/combat appropriate attire and are capable and powerful avatars.

What I didn't like about ZBP:

1- Lack of a rich narrative. ZBP has a pretty bare bones story it is telling. There is no campaign story really, just some fluff text at the start of any given scenario game. I want more story in my ZBP. C'est la vie.

2- Adding all of the expansions and extras feels a bit, awkward and can result in wild swings in difficulty (or lack thereof). To add an expansion is very easy. Most of the time you simply shuffle cards into your various game decks and add minis when appropriate. One problem with this though is the wonky rules governing the Necromancers' ritual ability and the auto-loss condition due to excessive spawn points. I've house ruled out the ritual ability and am quite happy I did so, however, I know that purists will be upset that the game can have insanely random spikes in difficulty when adding necromancers (those who refuse to house rule games may be upset to learn that the printed game may need some slight rule tweaking -- and honestly, what fan of Ameritrash games hasn't felt the need to house rule from time to time). I personally enjoy the sandboxish feel of tweaking your decks with all the expansions. It allows for greater game variety and allows players to explore various options with the game.

3- The base game just isn't enough. With only 6 survivors and only a basic set of zombies, the game tends to get repetitive, quickly. Players should prioritize any expansion that gives them more vault cards, NPCs, and survivors. Depending on what tickles your fancy at that point, I strongly suggest getting the crowz, dead-eye archers, Wolfsburg and extra abominations. All of those add considerable variety to the game that just feels missing in the base box.

Conclusion:

I am exceptionally happy with my kickstarter copy of ZBP. My kids love the action packed combat mixed with the fun of leveling up, and strait forward rule set. I enjoy the tactile and visually pleasing elements of the game. It can be a challenge for me to find a game that both my kids and I enjoy, so I'm always ecstatic to find something that works for all three of us. Yeah, this isn't the most brain burning co-op I've ever played, but it offers just enough puzzliness so that I'm not bored to tears. At its worst, ZBP is the board gaming equivalent of eating junk food from the local fast food chain (and who doesn't enjoy the occasional greasy cheese burger). At its best, ZBP makes for a nice next step for kids into the wider world of tactical combat games after they gotten their fill of Mice & Mystics. For me, I'm just happy that its a game I can get lost in with my kids for a few hours.
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Peter Cooper
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Thanks for this. I agree, except that I don't have a kick-starter copy and I am champing at the bit to get the first wave of new stuff next week.
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John Di Ponio
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Great review Scott. I agree with what you have posted. I would have liked to see a bit more of a story and or campaign. I haven't fiddled with the add-ons as of yet but plan to incorporate some to see how it increases/decreases difficulty.
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Bobb Beauchamp
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Excellent overview of the Black Plague experience.

Our first encounter with the Z-Cide system was Prison Break, and while that was fun, the base game didn't really draw us back in after a few games. I partly blame the setting...not that into modern zombies.

Base BP was way more fun, but it became insane with the KS add-ons. With just a few tweaks to your zombie deck, you can tune the difficulty level to whatever suits your playgroup.
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Tyrell Wood
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Thanks for the review. My only disagreements is the Necro Cabal rule. I like the rule. Every game I have played where we were at the point that they could walk off and we lose, we were so overwhelmed by zombies at that point in the game that it was a relief to start a new game sooner. I do agree that you have to have expansions with this. It just needs the mix up. Do you really think Crows are necessary? I am not sure I like them. Just curious.
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Scott Sexton
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tyrellrwood wrote:
Thanks for the review. My only disagreements is the Necro Cabal rule. I like the rule. Every game I have played where we were at the point that they could walk off and we lose, we were so overwhelmed by zombies at that point in the game that it was a relief to start a new game sooner. I do agree that you have to have expansions with this. It just needs the mix up. Do you really think Crows are necessary? I am not sure I like them. Just curious.

There are two things I dig about the Crowz:

1- They split, a lot. This creates quite a bit more chaos on the map, which for me is fun (using sound to play around with them presents and interesting wrinkle in the game's puzzle).

2- They are kind of like the antithesis of the Dead-eye Archers. They are most effective on maps that don't have lots of straight paths (buildings effectively giving them cover) and offer interesting twists for your tower maps.

I'll be the first to admit that YMMV. Something I like to do is randomize whether we use Deadeyes or Crowz or Wolves. Having just one of the three in any given game gives each game a bit more flavor.
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Mauricio Zebel
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Hey Scott!!

Just a question, when you recommend getting expas that add more NPCs, would you add Notorius Plagued Characters??

Thanx!!
 
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Brian
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Lohael wrote:
Hey Scott!!

Just a question, when you recommend getting expas that add more NPCs, would you add Notorius Plagued Characters??

Thanx!!
Notorius Plagued Characters is both the weakest zombies and the highest rewards to the players. As such it has the net effect of making the game slightly easier. That said it is fairly important to control the difficulty as everything else (crowz, archers, abominations, wolvez, etc) makes the game harder.

I suggest getting NPCs, but not as your first zombie add.
 
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Scott Sexton
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Melriken wrote:
Lohael wrote:
Hey Scott!!

Just a question, when you recommend getting expas that add more NPCs, would you add Notorius Plagued Characters??

Thanx!!
Notorius Plagued Characters is both the weakest zombies and the highest rewards to the players. As such it has the net effect of making the game slightly easier. That said it is fairly important to control the difficulty as everything else (crowz, archers, abominations, wolvez, etc) makes the game harder.

I suggest getting NPCs, but not as your first zombie add.

Like all good things in life, ymmv.

I threw mine in right away along with extra Necromancers and abominations. I am adding either crows OR dead eyes after that in order to not overwhelm the kids. The NPCs IMHO are pure fun, even if they make things slightly easier.
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Mauricio Zebel
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Thanx to both of you!
 
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Brian
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scottatlaw wrote:
Melriken wrote:
I suggest getting NPCs, but not as your first zombie add.

Like all good things in life, ymmv.

I threw mine in right away along with extra Necromancers and abominations. I am adding either crows OR dead eyes after that in order to not overwhelm the kids. The NPCs IMHO are pure fun, even if they make things slightly easier.
The extra Necromancers and abominations are great first zombie adds to play off the NPCs! The access to vault weapons helps a ton with the Abominations and leaves the game a little more challenging but not crazy over the top.
 
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Thaddeus MacTaggart
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Nice review!

I agree the game feels a bit unorganized and chaotic, with hardly any tips on how to use add-ons and to keep the game balanced. Some heroes are way stronger than others, and so are some zombies way tougher to fight than others. Add some very easy and a few more challenging missions .. the game can go anywhere from a walk in the park to a near impossible challenge. Or speaking in old 3D shooter terms: randomly between rookie level and nightmare.

That said, we really like the game. But sometimes it feels something is missing. Like a good campaign mode, preferable with some sense of progression in-between-missions for your heroes. And also more campaigns. With the hero progression within missions and some story arc the game would lend itself to using a few more RPG elements than is the case now. I also have the idea the missions could be made far more varied and interesting than the ones we have now.

A minor gripe I have is that your heroes may have their specific skills and specialities - but in the game you just use the best weapon you can get. Your first priority is to get weapons that can kill fatties. In every mission your first objective is to be able to do 2 damage as fast as possible. Because no matter how many dice you may roll (10 dice swordmaster with great sword), if you can do just 1 damage per hit you will eventualy get overrun by fatties.
Weather that 2 dmg weapon corresponds with your skills isn't all that important. Which more often than not results in survivors with melee bonusses using spells or characters with archery skills using dual hammers. The next mission it may be the other way round, depending on what upgrades you draw.
Not really immersive. Your survivors don't really get their own feel or style that way. I think that is a pity.

If I could wish for one thing it would be a comprehensive campaign encompassing say 5 chapters and 70 missions that make extensive use of the expansions. Something like Diablo or Baldur's Gate or whatever. With a specific zombie deck per mission so you can have an area with a lot of crows and rats (ruined cities chapter) or archers and wolves (the northern forests), the Ghost Lands (spectral walkers), the orc steppes (orcs) and such. And ending in the last chapter in a grand finale with multiple necromancers and dragons.
And some sense of progression between missions and chapters. For instance that heroes keep 1 weapon between missions and can start with as many starter weapons as they want. Or that they start the last few chapters with their extra slot weapon granted.

All in all I agree with the average 8/10 rating the game has.
 
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