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Thursday, 31 October 2013

The Walking Dead Board Game

Given the popularity of The Walking Dead comic book and television series, and of combining zombies with board games, it is no surprise that there are not one, but three games based on The Walking Dead. Z-Man Games publishes The Walking Dead: The Board Game, based on the comic book series, while Cryptozoic Entertainment publishes The Walking Dead Card Game and The Walking Dead Board Game, both based on the television series. It is the latter board game that is being reviewed here.

Designed for between one and four players or Survivors, aged thirteen and up, it is a light, fraught game in which the Survivors must visit four important Locations and get back to Camp, all the while fending off Walkers – as the zombies are called – and scrounging for guns and tools that will aid in their survival. Each Survivor will need to be resourceful, carefully husbanding his guns, his baseball bats, and his Allies if he is to achieve his aims. Loose too many Allies and a survivor may be the next to fall to the bony strength and the flesh-rending teeth of the Walkers. When that happens, the Survivor is not only dead, but rises as a Walker himself and will hunt down the remaining Survivors!

Initially, The Walking Dead: The Board Game is won by the first Survivor to visit all four Locations and return to Camp. When two Survivors get turned into Walkers, the players split into two teams – Team Survivor and Team Zombie (why Team Zombie, ‘zombie’ not being a term known in the setting of The Walking Dead?), and the game becomes a co-operative. If Team Zombie manages to kill the remaining Survivor, then it wins, but if a single Survivor manages to get back to Camp having visited all four Locations, then Team Survivor wins – even if there is just one Survivor remaining!

The game consists of the Game Board, six Character Cards and six Survivor Game Pieces with Bases, two Walker Game Pieces, sixteen Ally Tokens, forty Scrounge Cards and forty Encounter Cards, thirty Walker Cards, sixteen Location Cards, four Badges, and a single six-sided Die. Everything is done in full colour using stills from the television series. The Game Board is done in cloth and is more of a ‘play mat’ than a board, and is marked with a track around the edge, connecting the four Locations – a Police Station, the Center for Disease Control, an Abandoned Car Lot, and a Department Store. Four tracks lead from the Camp to each side of the board. Sewers connect one adjacent sides of the board, though only Walkers can use them. The Scrounge Cards represent items and events that will help a Survivor; the Encounter Cards represent Walkers and Events that will beset Survivors; and the Walker Cards are used by players whose Survivors are killed and rise up again as Walkers. The Location Cards are awarded to Survivors who visit each place and the Badges indicate which side a player is on – Team Survivor or Team Zombie.

At game’s start, each player selects a character card, either Rick, Lori, Shane, Glenn, Andrea, or Dale, and a corresponding playing piece. Each Survivor has a single ability that he can use once per game. For example, Rick can re-roll an attack with a +2 bonus and Shane can steal Scrounge Cards from other players, both once per game. Each Survivor also receives five Scrounge Cards and two Ally tokens. The Scrounge Deck is filled with ten cards per Survivor. If this runs out, the only source of Scrounge Cards is the discard pile and whatever each Survivor has in his hand.

On his turn, a Survivor rolls the die and moves that number of spaces, in any direction, and resolves certain actions on the space he landed, typically by drawing an Encounter Card. Most spaces are blank and will result in a single Encounter Card being drawn. Others give the Survivor a bonus in the subsequent Encounter, give him another turn, a Scrounge Card, or No Encounter. Most Encounter Cards force a Survivor to fight a Walker, but others do things like force a Survivor to discard Scrounge Cards due to personality conflicts.

Whenever an Encounter Card indicates that the Survivor has been attacked by Walkers a fight ensues. This has the Survivor roll the die and expend Scrounge Cards, mostly weapons to add a bonus to this, to beat the Strength of the Encounter Card. Walker Strength on the Encounter Cards varies between five and ten, with Scrounge Cards giving a bonus of between one and six. A roll of a six always wins, but if a Survivor loses, an Ally is lost, or if he has no Allies, then he is bitten and will rise as a Walker on his next turn. Winning an Encounter allows a Survivor to take a Scrounge Card, if there are any left.

As soon as a Survivor reaches a Location, he stops and draws not one, but two Encounter Cards, which he has to deal with in order. If the Survivor deals with both, he receives the appropriate Location Card. This gives him a permanent bonus. The Police Station gives an attack bonus, the Abandoned Car Lot a movement bonus, the Department Store an extra Ally if you visit it first, and the Center for Disease Control more Scrounge Cards, either two new ones, or one from the bottom of the discard pile – the latter is useful if you know what that card is and useful later in the game when the Scrounge Cards have been all taken.

Should a Survivor die and rise as a Walker he receives all new Walker Cards. His task is to chase down the remaining Survivors and kill them if he is to win. The Walker Cards allow a Walker player to increase his movement, cancel an Encounter card drawn by a Survivor and play a Walker Card that the Survivor must fight, cause a Frenzy and increase the Strength of a Walker on an Encounter Card, and worse, cause an Ally to be Bitten! and be discarded. If the Survivor manages to beat a Walker Card played on him, then not only does he beat the Walker Card, but also the Walker player as well! Unfortunately, you cannot keep a good Walker down and he will rise again in the nearby sewers.

Additional rules allow for solo player, but the main alternative is a four-player Team Game. This has the game start with the players divided into two – Team Zombie versus Team Survivor, just as if two Survivors had died in the standard game. The Survivors only need to get to the four Locations between them and only one of them needs to make it back to Camp to win.

Best played with four players, The Walking Dead Board Game is not a great game, but it is better than you think. It is hard for the Survivors to win and everything they do is challenging as they must carefully husband their Scrounge Cards before they all run out. It is not a challenge to learn and play and it involves more luck than skill, making the game suitable for play by fans of the television series who are not seasoned gamers. The latter are unlikely to really enjoy the game because of the lack of challenge for them and the degree of luck. That said it captures the desperation of the television series, more so if the players know the series and play to the characters on their card.