Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Tabletop Tuesday! The dead are walking...

Hello and welcome back to another Tabletop Tuesday!

Formerly a weekly post about tabletop gaming, Tabletop Tuesday has been resurrected. Older posts can be found under the Tabletop Tuesday tag, also linked at the top of the page.

Though this series is now a biweekly post, from now through Halloween we'll be showcasing a variety of zombie-themed games through a series of weekly posts! Last week's game was Munchkin Zombies, an adventure-themed card game where the players are the zombies.

Today's game is The Walking Dead by Skybound and Z-Man Games.  As a fan of both the Walking Dead comics and TV show, I was curious to see how the series would translate to a board game.

Hit the jump to read more!

Game: The Walking Dead
Manufacturers: Z-Man Games & Skybound
Ages: 13+
Players: 1-6

The Walking Dead is made by Z-Man Games, publishers of Pandemic, and by Skybound, the makers of Superfight! and Red Flags. As such, I'm not surprised that one of the things I really enjoyed about this game were the mechanics. This game combines elements of board exploration and resource management found in other games, such as Catan, Risk, and Pandemic. Players must strategize their movements and Resource use, while managing a group of Survivors and racing other players to the finish.

How to Play:
The rules for this game are pretty extensive, so I will try to summarize them as best I can to give you a feel for the game without diving too far into a step-by-step how-to.

The Walking Dead board game is played in turns. Each player begins with a Starting Character and a Follower. The goal of this game is to explore the board by gathering Resources, fighting Zombies, and scouting Locations. Once a player has successfully scouted three Locations the game is over and that player has won. The game can also end if all player characters die.

The board is filled with four types of hexagonal spaces: blank spaces, Resource spaces, Character starting spaces, and Locations. Players start on their Starting Character space and move through the board in any direction. Each player may move up to 3 spaces on a turn, ending their movement early if they land on a Location or Resource space.

Different spaces on the game board

The game comes with four types of dice, which are colored coded. Blue dice are Hero Dice, red dice are Warrior Dice, and green dice are Scavenger Dice. The lone black die is the Ammo Die; all sides on this die represent winning hits against Zombies, but the BLAM! sides also attract Zombies to the player's location.

On the dice are Hat icons, indicating successes at actions or tasks. There are also Zombie icons, representing Zombies killed when the dice are rolled in an encounter or Zombie fight. And there are blank sides on the dice. Blue Hero Dice also have a side with an RV icon, which can be used as a wild card to represent a win.

All four dice types are pretty similar, but the different types influence your odds of success at different tasks - for example, the Warrior Dice have more Zombie icons, while the Scavenger Dice have more Hats - one is better at killing Zombies, while the other is better at collecting Resources. The dice are used in varying combinations that depend on your Starting Character and number/identity of your Followers. Just like in the comics, different characters are better at different tasks.

This game is played with four decks of cards:

Starting Character Cards - There are six Starting Character cards based on some of the main characters from the comics. Each player gets one Starting Character at the beginning of the game and the card explains special abilities and how many of each dice type to roll for that character. Players need to take care of their Starting Character, because while you can lose Followers, if your Starting Character dies, you lose the game.

Follower Cards - Followers can contribute resources or special abilities, and give a player more dice in their dice pool. This information is listed on the Follower cards. There is no limit on how many Followers a player can have in their group of Survivors, but they are susceptible to Fatigue and Death just like Starting Characters.

Location Cards - To win the game, a player must successfully scout three Locations. This deck of cards represents these Locations and what a player must accomplish to scout them. On each card is the name of a Location, seen around the board, and a list of three sets of tasks. These tasks differ depending on if a player is scouting that place as their first, second, or final Location.

Though there are Locations all over the board, the only ones that can be scouted are those on the three Shared Location cards. These cards are kept at the top of the game board and represent Locations that can be scouted by any player. Once a Location is scouted, the card is replaced with another from the deck.

In addition to the Shared Locations, each player is given a Location card at the start of the game - this is a Secret Location that only they can scout (though another player might have a card with the same Location in their hand). Players only receive one Secret Location each game.

Encounter Cards - Players draw from the Encounter card deck whenever they land on a Resource space or Location. The number of Encounters that must be completed to clear that space depends on the number of Resources represented or how many a Location card requires; players will sometimes have to clear two or three Encounters in a row before they can finish clearing a space.

The Encounter deck is quite diverse, and includes fights against varying numbers of Zombies, tasks to acquire Resources, and special inventory cards that a player can save to steal Followers, swap out an unpleasant or difficult Encounter card, or other tricks to help them out later in the game. The majority of these cards require a dice roll to succeed; successes give players Followers and Resources, losses lose them and grant Fatigue tokens. It is important to closely read these Encounter cards - surviving a Zombie attack is not the same as killing the same number of Zombies!

Along with the dice and cards, there are small tokens used to keep track of where Followers are located on the game board, the amount of Fatigue a character has accrued, and the presence of Zombies on the board.

Fatigue - losing fights against Zombies results in Fatigue, which can be spread across a player's characters. If any character, Starting or Follower, gains three Fatigue tokens they die and are removed from the game. Fatigue can be removed by spending Food Resources at the start of a turn.

Uh oh! Two Fatigue tokens on a Starting Character! Better use some Food and get rid of those!

Zombies - as players move their characters across the board, they are left with a trail of riled up Zombies in their wake. If a player wants to move through a space where a Zombie token is located, they must flip the token over and kill the number of Zombies represented on the token, using their dice pool.

And finally... Resources. Resources can be collected by completing Encounters and landing on Resource spaces. These are tracked by players on their Base, using tokens. A players Resources can be spent throughout the game to remove Fatigue (using Food), add extra movement to a turn (Gasoline), or add the black Ammo Die to a player's dice pool to help kill Zombies (Bullets).

Okay, I know it seems like there is a lot to keep track of with this game, but once you get going The Walking Dead is a lot of fun to play and has a pretty good flow.

The rule book is pretty straightforward, but there were some instances when we were unsure of what the card or rule text really meant. For this reason new players should carefully read the rules (all twelve pages of them) before playing. We did this and still had two or three instances where we had to pause and debate the meaning of an Encounter card or rule ("What does empty mean? Just unoccupied or also blank?")

So far we've only played The Walking Dead as a two player game and have had a lot of fun. The box says the game usually takes about 30-60 minutes, though it took us about twice that for our first game.

One thing I really like about this game is the replayability. There are options for a cooperative version of the game... and a solitaire version! These additional ways to play increase the replayability of the game, and are something I value in a game since we are a two person household and can't always invite friends over for a game night.

The artwork for this game is derived from the original comics series. The content of this game, such as locations and characters, is also taken from the comics. TV-show-only fans will not recognize some of these characters or know their backstories, though this should not detract from those fans' enjoyment of this game.

The suggested retail price for this game is $39.99, but because this game has been out for a few years you can usually find it on Amazon or at retail stores for $25 or less. We bought our copy on clearance at Barnes & Noble!

Based on the discounted price of the game, my enjoyment of the source comics, and the variety of game styles or "modes" I would highly recommend this game to anyone who is a fan of zombies or strategy games that include exploration and resource management, such as Pandemic or Catan.

The Tabletop Tuesday series is my own personal hobby - I do not receive any compensation for these reviews. 

Thank you for reading!

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