Zombicide: Black Plague - Doth Mother know thou weareth her brains?

Zombicide, a game that is considered one of the biggest success stories in the industry, has rolled out multiple Kickstarter projects that have racked up higher and higher funding levels each time with the last one, Zombicide Season 3: Rue Morgue, weighing in at a whopping $2.85 million. It’s a perfect example of an Ameritrash game with its ease of play and high quality material that has been expanded upon with each new season. This time though, Guillotine games, the creators based just outside of Paris, France are looking to put a new twist on their smash hit game.

Black Plague harkens back to a more ancient time, one of sword, sorcery and high fantasy. Gone are the debris littered streets and ransacked malls of the metropolis, to be replaced by the winding streets of medievil-esque villages, nefarious castles, haunted forests and more. In this new iteration of the popular series players will be able to control mighty heroes or ordinary folk with extraordinary destinies as they attempt to push back the undead invasion that is ravaging their kingdom.

Many have speculated that this new project is simply a reskin of the classic zombicide game and questioned just what it’s going to bring of interest to fans already heavily invested in the previous games.

So is it then?

Short answer: No.

Long answer: Read on…

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Better call the accountant

Whatever newfangled components the folks at Guillotine are planning on bringing to the table for this iteration, one thing that won’t change is their highly appreciated Kickstarter formula. Fans can expect business as usual when the project goes live next month (June 2015) with the same combination of base box plus stretch goals galore with buckets of zombies, heroes and the like as well as more add-ons then you can shake a wizard’s staff at and some nifty KS exclusives. We’ve also been ensured that the many “cameo” characters will be making their return. Personally I’m hoping for Monty Python’s Black Knight and maybe Ash from Evil Dead 3!

50 Shades of zombie.

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You can count on exactly the same quality and quantity of models as in the previous games however there will be no more coloured plastic! Heroes will be produced in a light grey with different colour base socks to tell them apart whereas the bad guys will be a darker grey. The models themselves look a lot more detailed and exciting then their modern day counterparts but this is no doubt due to how adventurous the designers can be with clothes, weapons and armour in this kind of setting.

Draw me like one of your French games.

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You can’t have a Zombicide without the art of Nicolas Fructis who has really pulled out all the stops this time. As pretty as I found his modern tiles, his fantasy ones are beautiful! Guillotine have really emphasised on the archaic nature of medieval construction with winding, cramped streets, smaller zones and a more hectic layout for the interior areas. It may not look like it but despite all this the system they used to determine the amount of zones per tile as well as the interior/exterior ratio is identical to that of the classic Zombicide game, it really is just the layout that has changed to become more serpentine and torturous. This makes the maps in Black Plague very Labyrinthine and the players’ progression through the streets a lot more convoluted. Cutting through the different buildings is therefore generally a much quicker option if time is of the essence but we all know what lurks behind the doors of Zombicide...

DefaultCome hither to me Brethren!

Guillotine realized that a more heroic approach was needed for Black Plague concerning the players’ actions and resilience. The mathematical resolution of “well if there’s 2 zombies left then I’m dead” in the former games is definitely very simple to understand and implement however it is not the most exciting.

They started by giving all the heroes an additional hit point for a total of 3. Not that much of a change you may say, it just means that the game needs 1 more zombie to kill you, however, if you combine it with the next new addition: Armour, it all starts to make sense. Armour is a new type of equipment that gives you a 3+, 4+ or 5+ save on a D6 (therefore giving you a 75%, 50% or 25% chance to ignore the attack).

Not only are your heroes beefier now but they also have the possibility of passively mitigating damage which is a huge thing for Zombicide and should result in players taking more risks and performing more adventurous actions compared to the very conservative style of play favoured in the older game.

Something evil this way comes.

It’s a good thing our heroes can take more of a beating now too as a new type of villain can be seen leading the hordes of undead. The Necromancer is a very important part of Black Plague, both in its narrative and game play. In the storyline, the origins of the necromancers are a big part of what the players are trying to discover and on the board they represent an urgent threat that the players have to deal with or face the consequences.

A necromancer counts as a Zombie and when he is spawned through drawing the appropriate card from the spawn deck he immediately places an additional spawn marker in the zone he just appeared in meaning twice as many zombies now spawn from that zone.

After appearing the Necromancers focus is not on fighting our heroes but rather fleeing from them and he will head towards the nearest spawn zone. If he escapes there is no further effects however the additional spawn point remains in play. If the heroes manage to track him down and end him however then they get to choose any spawn point and remove it from the board.

These additional spawn points have a snowball effect on the amount of zombies in the game which could already cause some big issues for the players but the worst part is that if a Necromancer escapes and there are no spawn points left to place then the players immediately loose.

There are 6 spawn points in the box and missions start with between 2 and 4 in play so players do not have a lot of room for mistakes, especially in the larger scenarios. Killing him has a very positive effect on the game however as heroes can use their reward to control the flow of zombies in certain areas of the map, alleviating the pressure on certain objectives.

This new character therefore encourages/forces players to stay mobile and, in a lot of cases, split up and rush to opposite sides of the board in order to address different threats, something that was almost unheard of previously.

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Not some Conjurer of cheap tricks

Magic spells are another new type of equipment card in Black Plague and like all weapons must be equipped in order to be used (and you can dual wield them of course!). The types of spell vary from your basic Fireball to more the more exotic Chain Lightning and there are also support spells such as invisibility which makes zombies ignore you for a turn, acceleration which makes you move faster or heal, which does exactly what it says on the tin. It should be noted that ALL heroes can use magic and even if there is a "mage" character, it just means that he is better with it than his companions. These effects and many more should give you some very original tactical options during the game.

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The delicate sound of thunder

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Firearms make plenty of noise in Zombicide and, as we all know, noise attracts the walking dead. In the era of Black Plague however there are no firearms and crossbows generally don’t make that much sound so is the noise system even used anymore? Well yes it is and the noisy discharge of our modern day weapons has been replaced by the voiced arcane incantations required to cast spells. All spells generate noise tokens, even invisibility, which actually allows for some pretty neat plays if you can work it right.

Now you see me, now you don’t.

Did you ever wonder what it would be like in a game of zombicide to disappear from one side of the map and appear on the other? Well now you can! Special trap doors will now appear in certain scenarios which allow you to do just that. These will sometimes also lead to a special hidden room which can contain anything from more undead, to scenario objectives or special weapon chests (think pimpmobile from the classic Zombicide). These reinforce the idea that the creators have tried to render the game more mobile and allow players more opportunities to move around the map. Oh and also, don’t think that just because they’re dead that zombies can’t use ladders.

DefaultThe ol’ one-two.

Zombicide wouldn’t be zombicide without some abominations to really ruin your day and Guillotine games have made a significant change to how you have to tackle them in Black plague, mostly due to the fact that Molotov cocktails, your standard go-to solution for abomination removal, weren’t exactly common “back in the day”.

Hitting the big guy with a power 3 weapon can still do the trick but everyone’s favourite improvised incendiary projectile has now been replaced by Dragon’s Bile, a high flammable liquid but does not include a “trigger”.

Instead of combining two different items into a weapon as before you now need to have two players collaborate (or one player use both his actions) in order to throw the bile down and then light it up with a torch. The torch on its own acts like a lamp from normal Zombicide, a very useful tool when scavenging for items. Igniting the Dragons Bile consumes it, depriving you of a useful tool. Also, the Dragon’s Bile targets a zone and not a model so if you throw it down and then your target moves away, well, you’re in trouble.

Danger Close.

Tired of being unable to shoot into melee without automatically killing your companions? Well no more! At least, not for certain. Guillotine took a real stand with this rule as it was crucial for how they wanted the game to be played however they have listened to the feedback from numerous fans and have found a good compromise. Now when you attack a model that is in melee with one of your companions, all hits strike your target and all misses your companion. Simple and effective.

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Dispite all these changes Zombicide: Black Plague is still Zombicide. Veterans of the series will immediately feel the familiarity of the rules set and drop straight into just like in the classic version. The rules will still be easy to learn and apply meaning this will still be a great game for players of all levels.

For a complete rundown you can check out our chat with two of the main designers from Guillotine games: Nicolas Raoult and Raphaël Guiton who came round to tell us all about their latest creation

They say pictures paint a thousand words so if you'd like to listen to a resume of all the changes that will be coming to Zombicide: Black Plague you can watch the "Whats New?" video here.

Axes to grind.

Now I’ll be perfectly honest, I think Zombicide is a great game, I have a copy at home and it has been extensively used to initiate many players into the world of board gaming. It’s fun, furious and easy to learn with loads of cool add-ons that mix the game up. That being said I don’t think I’ve ever played it outside of those beginner games as the very mathematical and predictable system it uses, the very thing that makes it so great for beginners, is what turns me away from it when I have the chance to play other games with more experienced players.

Which is why what Guillotine Games are proposing with this new incarnation of a great game built around a concept we can all get behind (smashing loads of zombies) is so appealing to me. The randomness in the combats that armour brings to the table means that I can now do what I have always wanted to do: waltz into the middle of the horde and start hacking bits off left, right and centre without having to worry about the certainty of dying. I am well aware that you can still die, that sometimes the odds will be stacked against you but that random element, the joy of rolling dice, means that you can embrace the foolishly heroic reality of taking on a horde of the living dead.

The implementation of the necromancer and the mechanics he brings to the table really diversify the way the game is played for me, creating a mobile objective that you have to take care of really forces players to move around the board even in situations where they really don’t want to. I’m hoping that Guillotine will consider other “boss” models like this. Maybe some sort of commander you have to duel to kill, or an abomination that becomes stronger with the deaths of other models around it. I would imagine that these sorts of things will be reserved for future expansions but I feel that these are the kind of elements that are going to let Zombicide: Black Plague break the status quo of its predecessors and really flourish.

I have to finish with the AI system, once again very mathematical and predictable; it’s one of my biggest gripes about the previous games. They don’t seem to have changed anything for this version, however, the aforementioned skew towards more mobile and heroic movement means I think this will become less of an issue. Sure, I know that those zombies are going to come and eat my face but I have a giant hammer and a set of full plate that says otherwise.

Am I excited for this one? Yes. Will I pledge for it, bearing in mind I have never backed a Zombicide game before? Yes, I most probably will. I appreciate how Guillotine Games and Cool Mini or Not do business on Kickstarter and I know I’m definitely going to get more than enough bang for my buck. Talking at lengths with the men behind the magic has made me pretty certain that this is not a simple copy-paste of the same old thing but a genuinely new Zombicidal experience built on the bedrock of a system that has already proved itself by galvanizing fans around the world under the banner of something we all love to do time and time again: put the walking dead to rest, one swing at a time.

I’ll see you all on the KS page.

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Zombicide : Black Plague
A boardgame by Nicolas Raoult, Jean-Baptiste Lullien, Raphaël Guiton
Illustrated by Miguel Coimbra, Nicolas Fructus, Mathieu Harlaut, Eric Nouhaut
Published by CoolMiniOrNot, Guillotine Games
1 to 6 players
For 13 years and up
Language: English
Duration: 60 minutes
Price: TBC




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