Zombicide: Black Plague… Unsheathe Your Blades

Base Game Review

Player/s: 1-6

Play Time (Box): 60-180mins

Play Time (Goof): 90-180mins

Producer/s: Cool Mini or Not, Guillotine Games

Designer/s: Raphael Guiton, Jean-Baptiste Lullien, & Nicolas Raoult

I love Zombies. But you know, they’re so rarely done right. When you think about Zombies, what’s the first thing which comes to mind? Hoards of flesh eating, cannon fodder. By themselves, they’re frail, weak and easy to kill. En masse, they swarm like plagues of insects. Overwhelming even the toughest of survivors as they claw, bite and tear towards their next meal.

Segway – I’ve always been a roleplayer. When I first picked up the Dungeons and Dragons redbox all those years ago, I became enthralled with stepping into the shoes of heroes and characters which were so vastly different from me. Personally, I loved to have characters which I felt shared a single core attribute of mine, and explore those attributes in unique and interesting ways. I was in love with the immersion of it: the theatrics, the world building and even dressed up in costume. But as the years went on, my University days came to a close and I entered the professional workforce; I found I simply didn’t have time to craft epic characters and go on hours and hours of quests each week.

Enter stage left: The roleplaying game in a box. Premade characters within the tight constraints of a board game. They play in a shorter time (usually) and don’t require hours of setup before play. I’ve played games like Betrayal at House on the Hill, Arkham Horror and Dead of Winter which have the element of being a hero trying to combat the forces of darkness, but not in quite the same way as an epic fantasy adventure. I felt the urge to cut down swarms of foes, allies at my side. Zombicide Black Plague let me unsheathe my blades again and jump into the fray.

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Gameplay (10/10)

Zombicide Black Plague is FUN (in capitals, so you know I’m serious). It has everything I was after – fantasy heroes, epic powers and enemies to die while making me feel epic. Something I don’t think I’ve discussed in a review before, but screamed positive to me was actually the various ways you can set up each board. Combinations of nine double sided boards are placed together to form the playing area. This offers a ton of replayability, and even allows you to custom design quests and download player made content online.

The quest system in Black Plague keeps a goal in mind, with the heroes pushing to complete the objective. It gives you something to aim for amongst the chaos of the zombie swarms. I love this, especially when it climaxes in a struggle to the finish. Some of your party holding back the oncoming swarm as others race to complete the objectives. So many times we’ve known we’re going to die, you feel heroic as you face the endless horde… holding the line to your dying breath. This game has some fantastic adrenaline filled moments.

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I adore the threat level system in Black Plague. It gives players pause before stealing all the experience for themselves (well it should, you experiencing hogging bastards). You’ve got to make sure allies can defend themselves. It incorporates more of a team element into your decision making and builds on the cooperative nature of the game. And as your team gets stronger, the threat rises and keeps the challenge intense and growing.

As your character warms up, you unlock more abilities. And when you reach certain points, you can pick between which abilities to take. It’s awesome. Seriously, I adore this system. It could do with a bit better balancing for some of the characters. There’s abilities I’ll never take (coz they suck) but each character has at least one tough character development decision to make.

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The distinction between melee and ranged combat is really ingenious. Melee combat allows you a lot more control over which targets you pick to take down, whereas Ranged will keep you slightly safer as you move to keep away from enemies and fire into large crowds, but if there’s a fatty (the name of a Zombie… I’m not just being a derogatory douche) they’ll soak up all your arrows. Misses are also assigned to allies, which can make for some really tense calls. Maybe you need to take that Zombie out, but sending an inferno in there is likely to end up frying your friend.

Rushing through rooms while searching for equipment is cool. And the fact some items such as quivers work from the backpack slot is such an awesome idea…I just wish the search deck had more interesting things in it. After the first few rounds, you’re chucking out stuff for other stuff you’re not really going to use, while looking for the ever useful dragon bile/torch combo. The fact there’s a really limited about of weapons you can duel wield, and shields… I just… it could have been so much better.

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There is one thing I have to absolutely call this game out on. It balances horribly. Don’t say on your box you can play with two players and then have your players have to pretend there are six players by playing multiple characters. There are tons of ways they could have balanced this better – draw less zombie cards, increase the amount of actions of the characters, start with better equipment. Whatever way they could have gone would have been better than this.

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Pros: ++Quest System, ++Customisable Characters, +Multiple Board Configuration, +Threat Level System, +Melee Vs Ranged, +Searching for Equipment

Cons: –Horrible Balance, -Needs More Interesting Equipment

Theme (10/10)

When the Zombie miniatures come out in force, you can feel the intensity of the group as they claw towards you and your friends. When you’re playing a game and there’s not even room enough to fit them all on a tile, and then when you slay wave after wave, you feel godly.

At the start of the game, you look at Fatty’s as a real concern. You have to keep them behind you as you search for a weapon to take them down. And at all times, Runners are a real threat. But as you slowly build your way to dealing with them more efficiently it becomes a thrill to cut them down.

You know, I came around on the whole door thing (an odd sentence, I’ll grant you). There’s a part of Zombicide which I felt was a bit silly when I first started reading up on the game before making my purchase: you don’t get to automatically open doors. Every door in the universe is apparently bolted shut. But when you think about zombie movies, there’s always the one or two moments where the zombies are closing in and the heroes are trying their hardest to get to safety. This game replicates those moments really well. And when you have to take a few actions out to try and get the damn door open quickly so you don’t get hit from all sides, it’s actually quite thrilling.

One thing I’m super disappointed about is the strange reset your characters go between Quests. If I was a hero fighting abominations strong enough to punch a hole through my chest, never mind the Necromancers literally able to summon legions of the undead hungry for my brains, I’d carry more than a common short sword around. If I find a shield and some armour, I’d be mad to take it off and leave it behind before walking into town where there is guaranteed Zombie carnage. We came up with our own stories as to why the game runs this way – the new skills are more your character warming up to the fight, and they’re so selfless they give their items to other survivors and arm the citizenry. But we really shouldn’t have to. If you’re going to have an overarching story, include rules for a campaign setting.

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Pros: ++Zombie Horde Feels Overwhelming, ++Excitement, ++Feelings of Epicness, +Doors (not the band)

Cons: –Strange Character Resets

Production (10/10)

The absolute best thing about Black Plague is the miniatures. I talked about it above but it’s worth mentioning again, the zombie horde feels so massive and intimidating; and because of the high quality it lends itself to the immersion. And the fact each zombie type has a number of models while retaining obvious identifiable features makes me an incredibly happy gamer.

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The player trays are a great production element. They keep the game moving smoothly, everything visible and well organised, and they allow you to have a sense of carrying everything around with you. I wouldn’t have minded a few colours other than baby poo, but it’s a small complaint.

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The vaults are a really cool addition to the game. Essentially they’re the one/two rooms in the whole map which wont spawn zombies, they have really powerful weapons in them, and they connect vast distances on the map. But lets go back to the ‘really powerful weapons’ comment. There’s only two vault weapons in the whole game: the inferno spell, and the Orcish crossbow. So when you collect one, you know what the other is going to be. It really kills some of the intrigue. I think there should have been at least four vault items in the core box. It feels like a real let down and feeds back into my earlier complaint about not enough item variety.

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The artwork has a very comic book vibe. It’s consistent and vibrant enough while keeping a dark overtone. I’m really impressed. Each of the character’s personalities come across on their character cards, and the weapons are easily identifiable. I’ve been able to teach this game a number of times by just pointing at the cards, and people have generally understood quickly enough so mechanics didn’t get in the way of the strategies or gameplay.

Pros: ++Miniatures, ++Artwork, +Multiple Sculpts Per Zombie Type, +Player Trays, +Vaults

Cons: — Needs More Vault Item Variability 

Conclusion

When I started to write this review, there were a few things which stuck out to me as problematic. I wanted a bit more from this game, and yet I absolutely adore it. I had to really think – why do I love this game so much? And the answer kept coming back to the feelings you get while playing. The excitement, the epicness, and the fear.

I give Zombicide: Black Plague:

10/10

While it has its issues, Zombicide: Black Plague just does so much right it deserves the high score. If you’re looking for a zombie game, you can’t get much better.

I got my copy from Good Games Fraser Coast

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