Believe it or not, sometimes a video game just doesn’t scratch the right itch. With some friends around you, sometimes you want something a bit more face-to-face than sitting next to each other all focussed on the TV. So how do you combine your enjoyment of gaming with a different kind of social competition? Simple – you break open a board game. We’re not talking about Boggle or Scrabble though… how does surviving a zombie break-out sound? With Crypozoic’s The Walking Dead game, that’s exactly what you can do, and there’s quite a lot to look forward to.
Based on the hugely popular and incredibly successful AMC series, The Walking Dead has you trying to keep yourself alive while trying to gather resources, visit various areas and returning to camp without succumbing to the approaches of various zombies. Having read huge numbers of the Walking Dead comic books, and having played through both series of the Telltale games, this sounded very appealing to me, and even though I haven’t watched more than a handful of episodes of the TV show itself, this didn’t prove to be any kind of disadvantage. And while the game mechanics themselves boil down to slightly luck-based dice rolls, the way you interact with the game itself and other players makes this a very exciting and tense experience.
The good news for those not familiar with the board game scene is that this is pretty easy to get the hang of. While some board games need hours to learn the rules, TWD can more or less be learnt as you play, meaning you’ve got more time to enjoy the game and not worry about picky details. It’s tricky to win, in fact you’ll find that the zombies will overcome you and your friends before you can make it home, but for a game which is meant to simulate the idea of a zombie outbreak that doesn’t seem overly harsh, especially if you’re expecting things to be quite difficult. One of the issues is the fact that resources are a little thin on the ground, much like in the comics/games/TV shows themselves, but you just need to learn how to manage things in order to leave your chances of survival as high as possible. Your biggest enemy though will end up being your friends – once they get overcome by a zombie it’s not game over… they just become a zombie fighting against you. It’s a very cool twist.
The game starts with each player (any number between 1 and 4 – that’s right, you can go solo if you’re having a night to yourself) choosing a character between Rick, Lori, Shane, Glenn, Andrea, or Dale and getting hold of a couple of Ally tokens, playable when things get a bit messy in order to save your skin and keep fighting despite losing to a walker. You’re also given some Scrounge cards, which can be played before each dice roll and can affect the outcome of what happens next, such as using a gun to increase your chances in case you end up meeting some bad things round the corner. Playing before the roll has its own difficulties; with Scrounge cars being quite low in numbers you run the risk of wasting a useful resource if you don’t land in trouble after the roll. Similarly though, if you choose to keep hold of your cards then you might end up overrun when you end up face-to-face with a pack of peckish undead.
But the main idea of the game is, having started in the central camp location, to reach all four corner areas – Police Station, Center for Disease Control, Abandoned Car Lot, and Department Store – and “win” them by surviving two encounters per corner. Bearing in mind a single encounter can be a tricky proposition, a double encounter is a huge challenge. Once all four corners are in the bag you make a last dash back to camp where you’ll finally end as the winner. There’s a lot of encounters to survive, a lot of luck to hope for and the threat of your friends turning against you, but when it all falls into place it’s a big achievement.
Being bitten though does turn you into a walker (although as only two players can do this, the third to get bitten has to sit out the rest of the game) at which point the rules change and you have more control, with your dice roll denoting not the exact number of spaces to move, but the maximum number. It’s a fun change which means losing the game doesn’t make it any less enjoyable, you just get to attack your mates instead of helping them. With two out of four players bitten, it also flicks over to Team Zombie vs Team Survivor, where the remaining survivors can help each other out by sharing resources and try to fend off the advances of the two “human” zombie players. Between all of these variations, the game is never the same twice, and while some might bemoan the idea of dice rolls being crucial both in terms of movement and encounters, it most definitely keeps the game accessible for new players and very easy to learn.
And yet, despite all this stuff being pretty cool, the one thing I loved the most about The Walking Dead was that you could play it solo. Because the fighting takes place against opponents drawn from the encounter deck you can head out into the wilderness without any company and try to grab all four corners without being overrun by the walkers. It’s a tall order, but you also don’t get other players turning into zombies and trying to attack you, so it balances out nicely. I had a good few games of this by myself and, as with the multiplayer game, each run through was different thanks to the luck element as well as using different characters each time.
If you’ve read the whole review then, chances are you’ve already figured out what I think of The Walking Dead as a board game. But if you’ve skipped the main info and want a final word, then here goes: The Walking Dead is a great game. Whether you’re playing by yourself or with a few friends, there’s enough variety and changeable situations to mean you won’t get bored for a good while, and the reasonably simple rules mean you wont have to sit for hours before a game trying to work out what to do. If you’re after something a bit different to do, and especially if you’re already a fan of the franchise, then this will definitely be a worthwhile purchase.