Friday, October 19, 2012

The Walking Dead: The Board Game

Please note that this is the rough draft for a review I wrote for Please check out the final draft of the review here.

Now, if you're a regular reader, you may be confused that I am reviewing The Walking Dead: The Board Game. "Didn't he just review that game not too long ago?" you're asking yourself right now. Such confusion is normal, since what I reviewed before was not The Walking Dead: The Board Game, but rather, The Walking Dead Board Game. You see? The other one didn't have the extra ": the". Totally not confusing at all. All right, all sarcasm aside, because the names are so similar, for ease of understanding and the sake of brevity, from here on out I will refer to "The Walking Dead: The Board Game" as "this game" and to "The Walking Dead Board Game" as "the other game". I don't know if it will help you keep things strait, but it does help me.
Similarities in the name aside, the other game was based on the TV show, while this game is based on the comics, and while there are some superficial similarities between the games, (like their names) they are in fact very different.

Like the other game, the broader point of this game is to gather resources and find a safe place to stay. However that's where the similarities end, really. The game board in this game is a much more open map with  hexagram tiles, contrasted with the simpler map that the other game had which is basically a square with a plus through it. Another difference is that the resources you gather in this game are there to help you in your quest, rather than being the goals, and the encounters are much more varied. While there is plenty of zombie-slaying, there is a lot more human interaction with the other players.
First off, the components. The components are pretty solid. There aren't any gimmicks like the mousepad/board of the other game.  Just good ol' quality cardboard for the board and tokens. Please note: There are a LOT of tokens. Keep some sandwich bags on hand... you're going to need them. The cards are a solid plastic, though a bit too glossy for my preference. They're not annoyingly glossy, though. In fact, I seemed to be the only person to even note it, so I'm probably in the minority there. Finally there are the dice. I'm no expert on dice materials, but they seem fairly standard. All in all, like I said, the components are solid.
The game is played with two to six players, each taking the role of one of the major characters from the comic. You start with your starting survivor, another random survivor, and one of each resource, (gas, ammunition, and food). Each survivor has one to three dice icons at the bottom of their card, these show how many dice, and of what color you add to your dice pool whenever you need to make a roll. There are four colors of dice, one is best for killing zombies, one is best for non-zombie-killing encounters, one is good for both, and one can generally only be rolled when you use up an ammo resource. This die will always kill one to three zombies, but you have a fifty-fifty chance of making so much noise that you then have to put a zombie counter on every hex surrounding the one your one. It's definitely a double-edged sword. Using up a food at the beginning of your turn heals one of your survivors of a fatigue (essentially damage/wounds), and using up a gas token allows you to either move an extra space, or move through a hex with a zombie token in it without stopping to fight.
On your turn, you can move up to three spaces away (Though using up a gas token will let you move an extra space). When you move, you put a zombie token on the hex you ended your last turn on, and if you run into a zombie token, you stop moving and must fight the zombies (unless you use a gas token to move past it without stopping). If you end your move on an empty hex, your turn ends. If you end on a hex with one of the resource icons, then you draw an encounter for each icon and resolve them in order.
Like with the other game, encounters are where the real meat in the game is. However, there is a lot more variety. In the other game, the encounters were by and large, just fighting zombies. Here zombies are only about half of the encounters. Don't think you can't worry about them though, if you don't have much in the way of fighting in your dice pool, you can very quickly accrue fatigue. Each of your survivors can take two fatigue without dying, but are goners on their third fatigue. Whenever you face zombies (either in encounters or as tokens) you roll your dice pool and if the number of zombies is greater than the number of "kill a zombie" icons that show up, your group takes the difference in fatigue.
The rest of the encounters contain a decent variety of challenges. While some are simple, such as needing to roll a certain number of specific symbols with your dice pool, or having/not having certain amounts of certain resources, others are more complex and require a certain amount of player interaction. Some, for example, require you to pick another player, and that player may then choose to voluntarily discard resources (or not) in order to force you to also discard resources. Hopefully you haven't pissed them off, because it can easily become a question of "do you hate me enough to spite me by hurting yourself?" More complicated, however, are the cards which essentially force the prisoner's dilemma on some or all of the players.
If you're not sure what the prisoner's dilemma is, well, it's somewhat complicated and hard to explain in a short amount of time. Basically, it deals with game theory and uncertainty in decision making. It's never a fun decision to have to make, and it will come up several times in a game. You'd better hope you can trust the other players. (And they'd better hope they can trust you.) You might just find something out about your friends. For example, I've learned from playing this game that my wife is never to be trusted with my personal safety. She's leaving me for zombie food the first chance she gets.
The interesting thing about encounters is that unless the encounter says otherwise, you still get the resources, even if you fail. That doesn't mean you won't suffer any ill effects, but it is a nice touch. Each encounter is very different, providing a huge variety of situations. heck, there are even a few encounters that are more beneficial to fail at. Not many, but a few.
Once you've gathered enough resources (and hopefully a couple more survivors, you can try scouting out locations. There are three public locations that anyone can scout out and everyone is also given a secret location that they may also scout out. Keep in mind though, there are multiple copies of each location, so it's possible to scout out a location more than once. You win once you have scouted out three locations, and each location you scout out makes the next location that much harder to scout. You scout a location out merely by entering that location and then attempting to fulfill its requirements. This often, but not always, requires you to succeed at a certain number of encounters, but just as often has different requirements, such as having no fatigue on your characters or having a certain amount of resources. This actually leads to some rather... interesting situations. For example, at one point I was scouting out a location that required me to succeed at an encounter and then have no fatigue on any of my survivors. I drew an encounter, and... the only way to succeed was by voluntarily adding fatigue to my survivors. The only way to succeed was by failing. In any other game it would have been incredibly frustrating. But for some reason it just seemed par for the course for the world of The Walking Dead.
Obviously there's a little bit more to the game than that, so definitely read the rule book, especially for the rules on teaming up with other players.
Well, I've provided a couple anecdotes, but how does it play? Very well. The rules are pretty easy to get down. The rules only look hard at first glance, but once you start playing, they're actually quite simple. A full game takes maybe an hour once everyone knows how it goes, so if time is an issue, you don't need to worry about that. But most importantly, it's fun. The variety of encounters and surprisingly large selection of survivors prevents the game from getting repetitive and keeps it fresh for longer. The game is very well designed and it fits The Walking Dead perfectly.

Bottom line: This game is a much deeper game that the other The Walking Dead game and it manages to achieve that depth without being complex. You'll never feel entirely safe since zombies are plentiful, but you'll be keeping an eye on the other players too, never sure if you can trust them or not. In other words, it it really captures the essence of the zombie apocalypse in general and The Walking Dead specifically. This game is a must-have for any fan of the comics. If you're not a fan of the comics, I would still suggest this game to you if you're looking for a new board game to play.

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