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Board game Review: Zombicide Black Plague

Posted by Sian, Jan, 2016.

Kickstarter backers for Zombicide: Black Plague, have enjoyed an early Christmas treat of the core box for the boardgame. Marcus was one of the backers and couldn’t resist opening the box and having a go. Of course this means I had to play and thus we have a review…

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Scenarios for Zombicide: Black Plague usually entails 4-6 characters which can be controlled by as fewer players as you wish. It is even possible to play alone, but as we all know, board-gaming is more fun with more people. All characters are placed on a starting square and have exchangeable coloured bases which are useful for keeping track of who’s who. Player character figures are generally a different colour to zombies which move, attack or are placed on the board every successive round. Objectives may concern killing certain zombies or searching for certain items before end game. 

The tiles can be arranged to form ‘the board’ which resembles a different part of town in each scenario. The detailed artwork on the tiles is admirable and this helps players envisage their town of ruin. It is easy to distinguish between streets and buildings and this is important for determining when players need to draw cards when they ‘search rooms’ as an action. Alternative actions include moving between zones, opening doors, trading items and attacking zombies. Players have 3 actions during each of their turns. 

The item deck provides a range of items suited for characters specialised in melee, ranged attacks or spell-casting. However, the luck of the draw may mean that characters suited to melee may become equipped with a cross-bow or even spell scrolls. There is no penalty for this flexibility enables players to enjoy personalising and using their characters as they wish.

Generally, most zombies only have 1 hit point whereas ‘fattys’ have 2 and ‘abominations’ have 3. Zombies with 2 or more hit points cannot be killed with most starter weapons, thus there is incentive for players to draw from the item deck. Abominations are harder to deal with as general weapons or magic scrolls cannot deal more than 2 points of damage. 

A torch and dragon bile primarily need to be sourced from the item deck. It is definitely satisfying when the board is set up so the dragon bile can be set alight to kill the abomination. This often is one of the objectives for the game. However, beware that one of the player characters may be sacrificed in the process.

The most innovative and integral feature of the game, which distinguishes Black Plague from earlier versions of Zombicide, is the plastic dashboards for each character. This provides a special interactive element to the game. Players can use markers to keep track of their hit points as well as skills as they level up after gaining experience points. There are also slots for active equipped items in each hand and for non-active items, kept in a backpack. This organised aspect helps with progressive game playing where time is not wasted with misplaced cards.

A concept which can be hard to grasp, concerns the game spawning zombies with each successive round. Zombie cards are drawn from a separate deck. The experience level for player characters sets the threshold for the number of zombies which need to spawn when each zombie card is drawn. This is generally simple to understand, but more complex game mechanics may come into play when more than one ‘double spawn’ cards are triggered. This can be particularly complicated when there is a necromanacer and more than three spawning points on the board. However, there shouldn’t be any problems as long as some players understand the logic and rules for this aspect of the game. 

Overall Zombicide: Black Plague has been delivered to a professional quality with plentiful visual appeal. The plastic character figures are beautifully designed and tempt me to paint these in the future. The medieval theme is fun and I can imagine that this would capture the imagination of Dungeon and Dragons players who may have not been enchanted by earlier Zombicide games. The character dashboards enhance the playability of Zombicide and I can no reason why this innovative feature wouldn’t influence the development of future board games. 

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