In Zombicide: 2nd Edition, 1-6 players take on the role of Survivors of the zombie apocalypse. Working together, they must make their way through the 25 missions of varying difficulty. Along the way completing objectives and, of course, killing zombies. With each kill, their Adrenaline Points rise. They’ll get stronger, but the zombies will be drawn to their actions, coming in greater and greater numbers. Can the Survivors make it out alive, or as some zombie’s lunch?
Back from the Dead... Again
Like it or not, Zombicide is an insanely popular series. Since its first incarnation in 2012, it has seen two further seasons in the modern setting. In turn, this spawned Zombicide: Black Plague and Zombicide: Green Horde, which gave zombie slayers a medieval fantasy setting. Then Zombicide: Invader took things into outer space. Each iteration has also had huge amounts of expansions, add-ons and what-not. And now, with Zombicide 2nd Edition, CMON are taking us back to earth and its original, modern-day setting.
Each version of Zombicide has learnt from and built upon its predecessor in terms of rules, mechanics and quality of life adjustments. For the sake of this review, I will be comparing Zombicide: 2nd Edition to the last modern-day setting Zombicide - Zombicide: Rue Morgue.
Firstly, I should point out that I’m a huge fan of Zombicide. Rue Morgue was the game that got me into the board game hobby. It regularly features in my game nights and I’d argue that it’s a great gateway game. I’ve used it to introduce several new people to the hobby whose previous gaming experience was purely videogame based. That said, Zombicide isn’t infallible. I’ll remain impartial for this review... or until CMON send me some freebies (that’s right - I’m totally for sale).
What’s in the Box?
Much like every CMON game, the box is brimming with stuff. You’ll get 88 unpainted but beautifully sculpted miniatures. Comprising of 12 Survivors (six adults and six children) and 76 glorious zombies in various forms, from standard walkers to runners, fatties and four dreaded abominations. Along with the standard stuff (dice, coloured bases, tokens, equipment cards, double-sided game tiles, and the always useful rulebook), you’ll get six lovely Survivor dashboards. These are lovely plastic trays where you can place your chosen Survivor’s ID card and the equipment (and wounds) they pick up along the way. It also comes with coloured coded pegs to keep track of chosen skills from levelling up and health. These are a very welcome first for the modern-day setting.
Survivor Dashboards aren’t the only new addition, CMON have included several QOL improvements. Positions of objectives, weapon crates and locked doors are printed straight onto the nine double-sided game tiles, which saves players from glancing back and forth from board to book, making sure everything is in place.
Survivor ID cards now have a description of each characters unique talents on the back, once again saving players from referencing the rulebook.
Although slightly unsettling, there are now child Survivors. They have one less health than their older counterparts, but each has the “slippery” ability, which allows them to walk through groups of zombies and avoid being overwhelmed.
The only way to defeat an Abomination is to use a weapon of 3 damage or a Molotov. Previously Survivors would need to search for a bottle and a rag to create a Molotov. Now the Molotov comes ready-made, although you’ll still need to search for it.
The shooting order has also (finally) changed. Previously, if a Survivor were to shoot into a group of zombies that contained a Survivor, the targeting priority dictated that the Survivor in the group would be shot at before the zombies. It was a terrible rule that truly outstayed its welcome (or was instantly house-ruled). Now shots that miss must be re-rolled to see if they hit the Survivor. This is pretty much what everyone did as a house rule.
Cars vs Helicopters
Rue Morgue featured a helicopter, but Zombicide: 2nd Edition brings back the cars of the previous two seasons. Personally, I preferred the helicopter. But as you needed to use a Survivor with the pilot ability, it did limit character choices on certain missions.
Not everything CMON have added is to make the game easier. There are optional rules for seasoned zombie slayers which increases the difficulty. Abomination Fest allows for multiple Abominations to be on the board at one time. Dark Zone rules make searching buildings even more daunting as rooms without light (once again, handily illustrated on the game tiles) reduce visibility to zero to one range, and accuracy rolls for ranged weapons must be 6 for a hit. Meaning a Survivor will have to go in swinging to defeat any undead assailants - unless they’ve been lucky enough to find a flashlight.
Playing the Game
The 25 missions will see 1-6 players taking control of six Survivors (unfortunately CMON are yet to introduce a scaling system for less players). They’ll be tasked with various objectives, which range from collecting items, creating blockades to killing a certain amount of zombies. Most missions have multiple objectives that must all be completed before heading to the exit.
On a players turn they have three actions (more can be earned by levelling up), players can do a combination of move, search, open doors, pick-up, shoot, melee or use a special skill. With the exception of ‘search’ players can use the same action more than once per turn. Most of these actions create noise, which is used when moving zombies. Collecting or completing objectives nets Survivor experience points (now called Adrenaline points, to be more thematic), with enough Adrenaline Points players can level up their Survivors and acquire new skills, these can be simple skills like “run” which allows a character to move two/three spaces per move action rather than one. Or they can allow players to add +1 to each dice roll when using a certain weapon. Regardless of the skill, most are invaluable when facing down hordes of the undead.
Combat comprises of selecting a weapon, grabbing the required amount of dice displayed on the card, rolling and seeing how many of those dice count as hits, once again, this is dictated by the weapon card. Walker and Runner zombies can be taken out by weapons with one damage, Fatties can only be taken down by weapons with damage of two or more and Abominations need five... or a Molotov.
Take a Breath
Once all players have carried out their three actions or decided to rest. It’s the zombie turn. This involves one player moving zombies either to a Survivor that a zombie has a line of sight on or, in the event of no line of sight, towards the area with the most noise. Then a player draws a card for each zombie spawn point on the map, starting at a pre-defined zone one and move clockwise. Rue Morgue used dice to decide where zombies would spawn, but this way allows for slightly more tactical play.
The zombie spawn cards tell players to spawn what zombie type and how many depending on the highest players level. Occasionally a player may draw an activation card, which can mean all walker types zombies gain an additional one-off action immediately. Or players may draw the newly introduced “Rush” card, which works like a standard spawn, except once the zombie type and numbers have been spawned they immediately activate. This can cause chaos, especially if it happens to be a Runner Rush, as those guys move two spaces at a time.
The game then returns to the Survivor turn and continues this way until either all objectives have been completed and all Survivors have escaped or when one Survivor is killed. Yep, all it takes to lose the game is for one Survivor to lose all three health points (two in the case of a child survivor) to die.
Although Zombicide: 2nd Edition is a vast improvement on previous titles and the need for tactical thinking has been somewhat increased, especially with the Dark Zone rules, at its core Zombicide still is very much luck-based. The game can change dramatically with a bad dice roll or an unlucky zombie spawn. Each mission comes with a difficulty rating and an estimated runtime. Sadly, due to the luck-based nature of the game, these are extremely arbitrary. One mission was estimated to take 45 minutes. My team managed it 15, thanks in no small part to lucky zombie spawn card draws. Another was estimated at one hour. However, we spent nearly two as an Abomination spawned within the first two rounds and caused non-stop trouble.
So if you weren’t a fan of the previous Zombicide titles, chances are this one won’t change that. CMON have released expansions for Zombicide: 2nd Edition, in the form of Zombicide: Washington ZC and Zombicide: Fort Hendrix. These add a legacy feature where choices affect the story and Survivors carry on from mission to mission with their equipment (provided luck is on their side). So maybe that could sway you.
Warts and All
However, if like me, you love Zombicide, warts and all, then you will adore Zombicide: 2nd Edition. The luck-based system absolves players of any wrong-doing or error. This in turn makes for a light and enjoyable gaming experience. Survivors feel much more balanced this time around. Each one has a great skill set and is more than capable of handling themselves in the zombie apocalypse. An early Abomination spawn can hinder your game, but it makes finding the elusive Molotov that much more satisfying. The art is more striking than ever. CMON have outdone themselves once again with the quality and detail of the miniatures. The Survivor Dashboards are a welcome addition. Each of the quality of life improvements makes the game a more streamlined experience. And, ultimately, it’s great to see the original cast of iconic Survivors back on the table.