Imagine a Monty Python-esque world where the cries of ‘Bring out yer dead!’ are taken literally and before you have time to spell ‘zombies’, you’re overrun by the buggers.
That’s the overall feeling I get whenever I play Zombicide Black Plague because although it’s a game about fighting endless waves of the rotting ramblers, it’s hard to feel scared when your champion is a sword wielding nun that can throw a flask of dragon bile, ignite it with a wooden torch and take out an entire swarm at once. Not that they don’t return twice as big and even badder but that’s half the fun.
An Introduction to Zombicide Black Plague
In a game that reminds me (weirdly) of the old TV cartoon Dungeons & Dragons, you and your friends control a band of somewhat stereotypical heroes (A dwarf, a fighter, a wizard, etc.) that are fed up of just sitting around eating drumsticks, washed down with flagons of ale, and have instead decided to go and do a bit of sightseeing, in a medieval town that has more than a mere rat infestation.
Whilst in town, the adventurers are given a specific task (or tasks) to achieve, like slaying an abomination or finding a survivor or an object, and this usually involves slow and steady planning: who will go where, trigger what and grab which objective, all the while trying not to attract too much attention.
The game however has it’s own agenda and sets upon you with endless spawns of zombies, all controlled by the game's ‘AI’ which is nothing, if not assertive. As quick as the end of first round, zombies begin to spawn and come looking for you and this continues until you’ve completed your quest or have become an eat all you can buffet.
But while most of the game involves a delicate balance between adventuring and crowd control – draw a necromancer and the game turns on it’s head and becomes a frantic, reckless pursuit as he scurries to the nearest exit and letting him escape results in a failed mission.
So zombie killing is inevitable in Zombicide and in what could be described as an ‘adaptive’ difficulty level, the game reacts to your zombie-slaying by ‘upping’ the difficulty level through the use of spawn cards.
Kill up to six zombies and you’re fine but seven will nudge you up a level into the yellow bracket, meaning spawn cards will now draw zombies at a different rate. Hit 19 and you’ll be in the red bracket and that’s where all hell breaks loose, which is not to say it hasn’t already as one thing you’re never short of is a zombie or five to kill.
This means two things:
- The game will almost always be battle heavy
- The game promotes teamwork
Both of which work well in Black Plague, the latter being key to completing many a quest because, as much fun as being a tank/Rambo undead-zombie-mower-killing-machine is, all that really achieves is making everyone else snacks, on a rampage to find gear, in the hope of lasting another round - kinda like that one guy in Star Trek that no one has seen before but everyone knows is never coming back.
That is, of course, unless you’re playing solo – and that’s entirely possible too. And fun, especially if you like to play your console games on ‘hard’.
The production quality of ‘Black Plague’ is outstanding, from the beautifully illustrated chunky box filled to the brim, to the fantastic miniatures that are crying out to be painted, to the cards that are well illustrated and easy to read, to the plastic hero boards that have built in kill counters and grooves and slots for all the cards to sit in comfortably and slide out easily.
All of this helps immerse you in the game rather than fidget about trying to organise your ‘stuff’ round after round when all you really want to do is roll dice, find loot, rack up a kill streak and high five the other players when you pull off a particularly tough mission – and I’m only talking about mission one.
All in all there are 10 missions in the core box with more to be found in expansions. One thing to mention regarding missions is that each is standalone and can be replayed as often as you like but even though it’s an RPG, your stats and gear don’t carry through from mission to mission (unless you’re crazy and don’t have time for rules – in which case, go for it!) and whilst it takes a little while to grasp the rules, once you have them – it’s really simple to teach others, so games can begin as soon as you’ve setup and everyone has chosen their favourite character(s).
Which brings me to my only real (but very minor) gripe. All the characters can wield any weapon with only the third weapon, or armour, being character specific and providing bonuses. I would have liked to have seen characters having more specific, class based weapons. That said, it would make ‘searching’ harder and thus the overall game harder but it would have felt truer to the RPG element. So I consider ‘Black Plague’ is more of an arcade game with RPG elements rather than a true RPG.
Oh - and the fact that an abomination, the strongest zombie in the game, can only be killed in one of two ways – neither of which is easy and both of which I’ll let you discover on your own. I managed to spawn two in the first play-through – with only one being an actual objective.
Immerse yourself into the world of Zombicide Black Plague and you’ll be rewarded. I really love the cat and mouse element that the necromancer brings to a game as well as the feeling of hacking down a crowd of zombies, with your friends cheering you on.
Personally, the teamwork and interaction of your friends all pulling together for the sake of the mission makes ‘Black Plague’ what it is and I find it best as a co-op game (which, surprisingly, was a big hit with my non-gamer friends, male and female alike) even though you can solo it.
One of my friends was so pulled into the game that about halfway through a mission, and a bowl of Cheesits, she was possessed with a blood-lust, chopping at everything she could and I still chuckle at the memory of ‘Yelly Nelly takes down a runner with her trusty sword without busting a seam of her habit.’ This from a girl who’s most exciting board game to date had been a particularly heady game of ‘Minions Monopoly’.
In her own words: ‘This game rocks!’