Wednesday 19 March 2014

Review - Zombicide


Published by Cool Mini or Not
Designed by Raphael Guiton, Jean-Baptiste Lullien, and Nicolas Raoult.
For 1-6 players, aged 13 to adult

Zombicide board game

I've been staring at my computer screen for 10 minutes trying to think how to tackle this review, and the difficulty I am having really defines how torn I am about this big, bloody mess of a game. You see, I am so torn about how I feel about this game, at the moment, I don't even know if this review is going to be positive or negative.

So, let's flip a coin...


I wouldn't be surprised if the coin landed on an edge, but it's "heads." So, let's start the review like this...

I love Zombicide.

I never got onboard the Kickstarter campaign that birthed this monstrous creation, but when I left my life of daily drudgery working as a magazine editor and became self-employed, the people in my office had a bit of a whip-round for me. Normally, co-workers tend to use that sort of money to buy a nice pen, or a carriage clock, or something; but my co-workers put one of my best friends in charge of the pot, and he used the money to buy me board game instead.

Seriously, the look on Ethel from Accounts' face was a picture when she saw that she had chipped in her good money to help buy a grown man toys.

So, anyway, Zombicide was a parting gift from my co-workers, and I have to admit, I was pretty damned pleased with that.

Zombicide rules
The Rules. Or a map of the London Underground. Not sure...

Anyone who knows me, knows I am a bit of a theme junkie, and Zombicide has got so much theme it almost drips off the box and makes an icky puddle on the floor. It has superb art, nicely sculpted miniatures, and detailed map tiles for creating a zombie-infested city block. When the game is sitting on the shelf, I want to take it down and set it up. When the game is on the table, I am excited to play.

In the first few turns, as the zombies begin to shamble into the rubble-choked streets, the adrenaline starts pumping and the game is an absolute joy. And, as the game unfolds, a real story develops as your small band of survivors desperately searches for supplies as the ravenous hordes close in.

You feel trapped. You feel helpless. You feel hopeless. You feel like you would feel if you woke up tomorrow and this was happening in real life, and that makes this game an absolute triumph.


I hate Zombicide.

It is a cluttered mess of a game, with shonky rules, repetitive gameplay, and incredibly violent box art.

Yes, I'm complaining about the box art. Honestly, it is an amazing illustration, and it perfectly sums up the tone and theme; but there are heads flying off, people firing Uzis, and a horribly detailed bit of a zombie's brains exploding. When the box is stacked on the shelf, you still see a gloriously disgusting picture of a zombie being shot in the face with a handgun, which is something I don't want to have to explain to my three-year-old daughter.

The base game includes six player characters to pick from, and this just isn't enough variety. Every game has to have at least four characters in play, and if you play a three-player game, everyone is supposed to control two characters each. Almost all of my games are three-player games, which means we always have all six characters in play. There is never any variation on the team, so games often end up playing out the same way, using the same characters to pull off the same tricks. Besides, I really hate controlling more than one character in this type of game, as I feel it makes it harder to have a connection with what my character is doing. While I am playing, I want to BE a character; I don't want to be an omnipotent force controlling multiple characters.

Zombicide characters
The gang's all here.

Then there are the crazy escalation rules. As you gain experience (from killing zombies and seizing objectives), more zombies (and more powerful zombies) spawn every turn, or whenever you open a door. I have found that this actively encourages players to avoid killing zombies, as the increase in experience can be catastrophic in the next zombie spawn phase. It also encourages players to run around opening every door to every house before gaining any experience points, as that way, every house is populated with very few zombies, rather than loads of powerful zombies.

Zombicide zombies
Zombies - You get two trays of these bad boys (and girls).
More Zombicide zombies
All in their little sleep chambers. Cute...

And the crazy rule where, if you fire a gun into a space containing heroes and zombies you have to allocate hits to the heroes before you can allocate any to the zombies, is such a gamey, artificial rule, it completely undermines that incredible theme.

Ultimately, using the same six characters, and understanding how zombies become more powerful as characters level up, has meant that every game I have played ends up pretty much the same way. In the first few turns, the fast characters rush around and open doors, thus ensuring only a few zombies are present in the houses. Everyone searches until they get some good kit, and they actively avoid killing zombies or picking up objectives as much as possible, as this would raise experience and cause problems. Then everyone gets into position to snatch objectives, and the kid in the hoodie who has the ability to sneak through spaces containing zombies goes after the hardest to reach objective.

So, every game starts to feel a bit samey. The heroes do bizarre and unthematic things, and by about half an hour in, I am ready to pack up the game and do something else. The mechanisms of the game have ground away the theme, and I am all to aware that I am playing a game, doing something mechanical, rather than experiencing a gruelling experience in a zombie-infested city.

Zombicide boards
A nice place to visit.

Then I put the game on the shelf, and I take a long look at that awesomely awful box art, and I get this twinge... I want to set the game up again. I want to play again, because maybe next time things will be different. Maybe next time the theme won't evaporate. Maybe next time I will feel as enthusiastic at the end of the game as I do at the start.

Because I don't hate this game. Not really.

I mean, I do. It's awful.

But not really.

What it comes down to is I like the theory better than the application. In fact, this is currently the only game I house rule.

Want to know what my house rules are?


When you shoot into a space containing heroes and zombies, hits cause a wound on a zombie, and misses cause a wound on a hero.

Any ranged weapon can be used to make a basic close combat attack (to avoid friendly fire).

You can select the turn order the heroes move in.

And that's it.

Those three little changes allow my group to enjoy the game a little more, but I would be lying if I said Zombicide was a big hit for us.

Zombicide - Phil
This guy looks familiar...

Zombicide is a beautiful game (in its own way), and I do have a strong desire to play it. It is easy to learn, and it does create a sense of palpable dread and growing despair as you play. I can see why people enjoy it as much as they do, and I would never suggest someone is wrong for thinking it is an entertaining way to spend an afternoon; but for me, the reality of every game never lives up to the potential.

I think, ultimately, if you put a gun to my head, I would have to say I do not like the game. Which is a shame, really.

I can only imagine what Ethel from Accounts would think if she knew that.


  1. Great review. Pretty sums how I feel. It's just too wonky and fiddly to love, but you want to love it.

    1. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. The game was definitely a disappointment for me. People tell me to buy more heroes and an expansion, because things get better; but considering my feelings on the base game, I really don't see that chucking money at the problem is going to solve anything.

  2. Have you got the aswer?, I like zombicide and I want to play it, I really want to play it, but when i play it lacks somethin, I feel like you felt or like you feel, I wanna play it but improved...

    1. I'm afraid I don't have the solution. The few house rules in my review made it a bit more tolerable, but the rules of the game just sap the fun right out of the theme. I now own Dark Darker Darkest, which is my go-to zombie game. It is not a perfect game, but it is more interesting, and has better tactical options; so Zombicide has been shelved indefinitely and will probably end up leaving my collection when I finally have the heart to admit it just isn't good enough to be there.

    2. I dont want to... I wanna use it, What would you say is the most anoying thing about zombicide?, what is the bigest failure?

    3. The biggest failure? All of the rules...

      Seriously, the rules just don't work for me. As I said in my review, the way gaining experience is penalised, the crazy "friendly fire" rule, and the lack of variation in viable tactics are major issues.

      I also don't like the limited choice of heroes, and constantly shuffling zombies around, which gets quite tiresome.

      Maybe you could use all the bits with the "All Things Zombie: Better Dead Than Zed" rule set?

    4. oh, do you know where can I get that rule set?

    5. Hmm. The company that makes it is Two Hour Wargames. But it looks like they have (literally) just signed a deal to make the rules into a board game with Lock n Load Publishing. You may be able to find someone who has the PDF rules on BoardGameGeek.


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