Board Game Review: Zombicide: Black Plague

Black Plague by Cool Mini or Not follows on from the very successful existing Zombicide games and pushes it back to a more fantasy based mythical setting. While most zombie style games are based in modern times with modern weapons and modern equipment, Black Plague mixes the tired zombie formula with magic, longbows and explosive dragon bile (yes, really) to make it feel like something genuinely new and interesting again – an impressive feat considering how overused zombies have become. First impressions were pretty good, but it took a few playthroughs with various numbers of people to realise the game isn’t actually “pretty good”… it’s a fantastic experience.

I wasn’t expecting to get a strong grip on the rules as quickly as I did, but it actually turned out to be far simpler than I thought when I first saw the rule book. Each round is split simply into the players taking their turns and the zombies taking theirs. The straightforward nature of each turn means it’s very easy to learn the rules and figure out the basics of how to move around, interact and attack whatever might be hunting you down. There are however, as you’d expect, dozens of tiny specific rules that may only occur once or twice per game if at all, but between beautifully crafted cards and an excellent rule book explaining it all intricately you’re never likely to feel lost. As a result of this the game is extremely easy to pick up and play, but with the available challenges ranging in difficulty, and the more challenging proving to be a very daunting prospect even for the more seasoned player, there’s an awful lot of playability straight out of the box. Probably just as well really, considering black plague commands a price tag just shy of £80, which means you’ve got to be confident that you’re getting your money’s worth when you’re buying this.

Our heroes, ready to kick some zombie ass...
Our heroes, ready to kick some zombie ass…

Setting up the game is an absolute doddle and simply involves following the steps in the rule book which outline exactly what you place where for the relevant scenario you’ve selected. Several scenarios are included in the box, and it’s not at all difficult to make your own missions up once you’ve managed to beat all of those included. The included missions range from a basic tutorial mission for 4 players or more right up to the 6+ player hard missions which will need exceptional teamwork (and a small amount of luck) if you’re going to succeed. Each one uses a different setup in terms of the basic layout tiles, with several double sided squares which can be combined in hundreds of different ways. Add in the various objective markers, zombie spawn points, doors and vaults and there’s no end of ways to play; you can even dream up your own winning objectives to hit for your team of six players to aim for.

The Abomination is a tough cookie - this is probably a good time to run away...
The Abomination is a tough cookie – this is probably a good time to run away…

Saying that 6 players are needed though isn’t strictly speaking true. What’s far more on the money is that you need 6 characters on the board, and considering the game is quite happy for one player to cake take control of several characters at once, Black Plague scales all the way down to a single player controlling all six characters by themselves if that’s the situation you’re after. You’d think that this would water the game down and make it less enjoyable or fun, but that’s actually not true either. I played a good few games by myself starting at the easier challenges and working my way up and still managed to very much enjoy the games I played. Obviously playing with a few friends will make it more enjoyable, after all trying to get your head around the inventory and progression of 6 characters is far more challenging than doing it just for one, but it’s very comforting to know that even if you can’t reliably gatherer a team of 6 players together you’re still be able to enjoy Black Plague in exactly the same way with a smaller group. Work together as a team with other players though, and you can be strategic in slightly different ways that you might not always consider by yourself. Do you have one group of two or three people who chases around trying to eliminate the zombies from the board while everybody else searches the buildings, or does everybody have the same idea of focusing on getting their own strong arsenal of weapons and armour together and only worrying about the zombies as and when they appear?

Black Plague (2)

Realistically it depends on what your main mission objectives are. We found success with various methods on some scenarios which fell totally flat on others, and that’s something I really enjoyed getting to grips with. There are moments when only teamwork will do the trick: with the Abomination zombie totally untouchable by normal weapons or spells you need teamwork to get the relevant items together in order to create a dragon bile fire, destroying everything in the space it happens. If a Necromancer spawns and manages to escape the board, more zombie spawns points are left behind meaning more chance to get overrun later on – you’ll be wanting to organise your team to make sure that doesn’t happen. At every turn there’s a reason to be working as a finely oiled machine, and with the more challenging levels it doesn’t take a lot to screw up and soon get swamped by creatures who fancy your left arm as a small snack.

There is some individuality involved though; your character has its own strengths which you can start to choose from as you gain experience points by completing objectives and killing zombies. Weapons become more powerful, spells become better, and you’ll get more action points to spend on moving, searching and attacking on each turn. You might decide to follow a specific route you’ve decided on from the beginning, or it might transpire that your strongest weapons decide how to progress, or the state of the game and health of your fellow players. There’s no end of variables, making each game different, dynamic and challenging in totally different ways.

Your character's progress is mapped wonderfully on the plastic dashboards.
Your character’s progress is mapped wonderfully on the plastic dashboards.

As you’d expect if you’ve heard of Cool Mini or Not everything in the box is of an exceptional quality, there are dozens of zombie miniatures, the characters are wonderfully detailed and the board and cards are impeccably put together as well. It might be pushing on £80, but when you open the box and see what’s inside you can feel the quality and the expense oozing from every angle.

But for that money you don’t just want good quality components, you want a game which you’ll spend hours on end playing, multiple nights of fun gaming by yourself or with friends, and not worrying about things feeling samey. Zombicide Black Plague does all of those things; even at the price tag it’s sitting at, I can’t recommend it enough. If you’re looking for a fresh take on the zombie genre, and want a game to impress friends with some awesome looking minis, you can’t go wrong. This is fantastic.

Zombicide: Black Plague
Available Now, RRP £79.99
Find your local stockist here

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