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Zombies! They Walk Among Us!
I swear, I am not actually a necromancer. I have never once crept out under the cover of a new moon to cavort with the remains of the recently deceased (no matter what that police report says). Honestly, with the amount of horror films I watch, I absolutely refuse to mess with the dead. Still, there's something about zombies that stoke my imagination.
Like most people, my love of zombies started after watching Dawn of the Dead and its sequels. Gotta love those old zombie movies (RIP George Romero). That initial connection with the genre only grew stronger with the resurgent popularity of the shambling horrors in the last decade (looking at you, The Walking Dead). This also happened to coincide with the beginning of my career as a board game hobbyist, leading me to become somewhat of an expert on zombie board games. So, in the interest of paying it forward, I thought that I'd write about some of the zombie themed games that I've played over the years. Hopefully one of them will jump out at you (pun intended).
The first zombie themed game that I played, bought by my parents, was The Walking Dead Board Game. If you've ever watched the show, chances are you can guess exactly what you are in for with this one. Each player gets to play as one of the characters from the show (Rick, Shane, Andrea, etc.) and must do their best to collect food, guns, transportation, and allies, as the Walkers close in around them. One of the game's coolest mechanics revolves around what happens when a character gets bitten. Instead of being removed from the game, the player gets to control the zombified version of their character, making life harder for the remaining players. I can't even begin to remember how many hours I sank into that game. Unfortunately, this title is long out of print, making it hard to find this old favourite.
Keeping on the rules-light side of the hobby, if you are looking for a quick game that plays in 15-20 minutes (depending on how risky you are feeling) with a simple but easy to understand rules set, Zombie Dice is a great game. Zombie Dice is a push-your-luck dice rolling game that will raise your blood pressure as you race against the other players to be the first to collect 13 brains. Be careful though, you can only roll three "shotgun blast" results before you find yourself in an early grave. I like this game because of how so easy it is to pick up and learn. All you need to do to succeed is just have luck on your side! The outcome is totally up to the dice and how much you're willing to push your luck.
I recommend Zombie Dice: Horde Edition for the best value. You get the base game plus a few expansions that add extra rules and complexity. These can be easily implemented after you get bored of playing the base game over and over again. Trust me, you will be hooked!
And, of course, I can't talk about zombie board games without bringing up Dead of Winter. This is one of the best games I can think of that really brings home the tone and themes that I enjoy so much in the zombie genre. If you have ever come into the store looking for a good cooperative game to play, one of the games that I always recommend is Dead of Winter. In this game, you are not only responsible for your own well being, but that of the people around you. You and the other players are in charge of a colony of survivors, remnants of the zombie apocalypse. With winter fast descending, you must do your best to gather supplies, reinforce your colony, and stave off the advances of the invading hordes. Easy, right? Unfortunately the addition of secret objectives (including a potential "Traitor" card) means that you are not always incentivized to act in the best interests of the group.
It's this fusion of mechanics and themes that makes me love this game so much. Dead of Winter has every element that you'd expect from a great zombie flick. You have the pressures of trying to survive in a society and keeping your colony afloat, all while suspiciously eyeing the people around you who you don't know quite well enough to trust. I have played in some games that had the "Traitor" cards and some that didn't, and the ones that I enjoyed the most were definitely the former. In a way it's is like real life survival. You never know who is going to back-stab you, or what their true motives are. In my opinion, Dead of Winter is one of the best zombie survival board games out there.
I recommend the Dead of Winter: The Long Night version. This version is a standalone expansion that adds new mechanics and options to those of the base game.
Another good zombie game that leans more on the pulpier side of the genre is Zombicide. Much like Dead of Winter, Zombicide is a cooperative game, albeit without a traitor, where each character has unique abilities that can help the group survive as they fight their way through an undead infested city. The tone of the game is much more reminiscent of grind-house zombie movies, focusing on over-the-top action and moment-to-moment combat, rather than the slow burning suspense of the zombie thriller (think Zombieland rather than the original Night of the Living Dead).
Instead of focusing on rationing supplies, maintaining morale, and the creeping existential horror of impending death, the game instead elects to drop a horde of miniature zombies on the board (often of several different, and increasingly dangerous, varieties) for the players to hack, slash, and blast their way through. It's cathartic, to say the least. Zombicide also contains a clever mechanical solution for what happens when you run out of miniatures to put on the board. If you run out of minis of certain zombie type the existing zombies of that type have extra movement and extra attack. So watch out!
There are several different versions to choose from, depending on which setting you most enjoy splattering zombies in. The version that I have played is Zombicide: Black Plague, which takes place in the middle ages, but any version seems just as fun. The game I played involved us running out of minis to use for zombies and having to scramble around to kill them and get to the finish.
This is just a sampling of some of my favourite zombie games. Zombie horror is a genre that holds a special place in my heart, so it has been a privilege to share some of my favourite examples of zombie themed board games with you.