Many of you have played at least one of version of Zombicide by now, so you know whether you like the basic premise of the series from Guillotine Games. Run around a board made of up different tiles, complete objectives, and kill lots of zombies along with way. Currently, tabletop gamers have their pick of Zombicide, Prison Outbreak, and Rue Morgue (plus a few expansions), each bringing something a little different to the table. If you’re like me, I always felt each one was simply an iteration of the last, not degrading the experience but also not pushing it forward in an overly-meaningful way. However, after having a chance to sit down with a non-final version of the game, I’m happy to say I think that’s all going to change with Zombicide: Black Plague.
The name of the game is the same, but the rules, setting, and experience have all changed (in both large and small ways). First, let’s just judge a book (or game in this case) by its cover. Black Plague drops the modern setting of its predecessors for one of magic and fantasy. If you remember, Season 1 of Zombicide was the beginning of the outbreak, so in Black Plague, we’re getting a completely new storyline.
This time around, the world has fallen into chaos as Necromancers summon the undead to wreak havoc upon the word. Think the end of last week’s Game of Thrones but with less snow. The zombies are familiar. You’ll see Walkers, Runners, Fatties, and the Abomination. The Abomination is beefier this time around, taking three damage to destroy. Unfortunately, besides a certain character, the only way to do that is through carefully planning and setting a trap of Dragon Bile and a torch (it’s basically fantasy napalm).
The Necromancers are represented by an included miniature. Game play wise, when the Necromancer is put on to the board, a new portal opens that zombies can spawn out of. Once spawned, the Necromancer’s goal is to make it to the nearest zombie spawn portal to escape back off the board, thus making his portal permanent. During the couple of games I played, it was exciting to suddenly have a Necromancer running around the board that we had to deal with or suffer the extra portal staying open. It forced us to stay on our toes and abandon strategies we had lined up, making up new ones on the fly.
Be it one, two, or three portals pumping zombies out, we had plenty to fight, which means I should tell you about some of the new player friendly rule changes I noticed. One of the big ones is ranged combat. The untrained survivors in the earlier games couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn without shooting their friend standing next to it first. But in Black Plague, shooting into a zone with other survivors doesn’t prioritize survivors. Thank god. Apparently, life in the medieval ages valued a little range combat training.
The survivors of that time were also heartier. Now they can withstand up to three wounds before dying and don’t have to discard equipment. This offers a great balance of keeping you in the game with a fighting chance, but still lets the zombies be a major threat (as I learned when several Runners caught up to me). Beyond the extra hit points, you can improve the chances of staying alive with armor. Survivors can equip an armor card in to their body slot, giving you a chance to roll a die to ignore hits. Combine armor with the ability to choose which survivors in a zone take the damage (even if it goes over their three wounds), and you have the potential to make a tank of sorts.
Armor isn’t all you’ll be carrying around. Thanks to some really cool dashboards (that you can see here), your survivor ID card, left and right hand items, armor, back pack items, and experience/Danger Level are all tracked nice and neat. This is one of my favorite additions to the game. While not necessary, it gives the game a real polished, organized, and almost old school feel that I love.
Speaking of items, gone are the guns, knives, baseball bats, and other modern trappings. Now, survivors wade through the undead with longswords, crossbows, and magic spells. That’s right, Harry (I’m sure one of our reader’s has that name), you’re a wizard (or might be if you play Baldric). Magic functions like most ranged weapons, but you just feel cooler using it.
In fact, “cool” is the word I’d use to describe the time I spent with Zombicide: Black Plague. I’m a fan of the previous games, but this just seems more fun, exciting, and smarter. At this point, I expect what I played to be pretty close to the final version, but we’ll see for sure when it comes out. The game launches on Kickstarter June 8. Keep an eye on the game over at Guillotine’s Facebook page.
This preview is based on a prototype copy of Zombicide: Black Plague. All pictures are of the prototype, so final product will vary.