So we took the 2011 game The Walking Dead out for a spin last week. It’s an older game now but if I play it, I blog it.
A gritty struggle. That’s the feeling of The Walking Dead game, which is a great fit for its source material, but I don’t know if that’s the most fun kind of game to play. It’s a game where you can get your butt kicked, or even where your characters get eaten by zombies and you have to start over with a new character. It’s not the most elaborate, dynamic game, but it gets at the heart of the graphic novel by Robert Kirkman as its source material, which is obviously still a pretty close feeling to the popular TV show. This is about moving, scrounging, fighting, surviving. It’s about characters coming and characters dying. It has appeal to TWD fans, especially fans of the graphic novel, and would be fun a TWD-loving group, but otherwise there are better zombie games.
Pretty straightforward and easy for this one. You have to separate cards and chits into their various piles, that’s really the extent of it. It’s a pretty light setup overall.
Theme and Components
Obviously it’s a zombie theme, but the components are in the style of the Robert Kirkman graphic novel, complete with drawn pictures for the characters. The characters you play are black-and-white cardboard cutouts in stands that resemble their graphic novel selves, the cards are pretty standard. The best thing about the components are the custom red, blue, green and black dice that you roll to resolve checks and combat.
The game would be a lot better with figures, as others have noted. We actually played ours with Star Wars Minis figures, and I think that added something to it, but I actually think the cardboard cutouts are decent enough. Using zombies from Last Night on Earth or Zombicide would have been even better. “Would have been better” describes the components pretty well. What’s really lacking to me is the map. The characters are solid enough and compare to games like Zombicide, but the map just doesn’t do much to bring you into it, with locations looking like they were hastily drawn with pencil instead of sturdy or spooky buildings. The components work well enough for what the game needs to do, but they could be better to be more immersive in the experience.
Interesting Mechanics and Game Play
The Walking Dead is an interesting game construct, a game world where familiar characters (if You’re a TWD fan) look to survive in a hostile world. The base version of the game has only one map and a few scenarios that you can play with the different characters. You start with a character such as Rick, Glenn or Andrea. Each character has special abilities and starts with a follower such as Morgan, Carl or Lori. Daryl, for example, automatically starts with Carol, and they have some synergy together.
As this topic is called “interesting mechanics,” it’s probably worth mentioning that the mechanics aren’t all that interesting, and the ones that are, aren’t for the right reasons. Your character card is the main thing going on, where you can add followers, mentioned above, items such as an axe, and you manage your Food (to heal), Ammo (lets you roll an extra die when you fight) and Gas (to move an extra space).
Otherwise, your characters move around a fairly small hex map, to locations marked on the map but without much feel to them or really, to the map itself. You turn over cards to resolve encounters, and the random nature of them is a fun element.
Now, the wonky part is that some of those cards have you interact with the other players, such as “fight or flee,” where each other player has to make a choice. It’s not clear whether or not players should know what the consequences of their decisions are. We played it where we didn’t let people know, which was kind of fun because you didn’t know what was coming. At the same time, once everyone knows how the cards work, I don’t know how replayable they’d be. Several of them were a bit unclear as to how they were supposed to work, and the consequences ended up being extremely random. Outside of those events, it’s a game where there’s nothing going on when it’s not your turn. In a 6-player game, you go, then wait around for 10 minutes until it’s your turn again. It’s like, they put a working game together, but the bare minimum.
It’s there, it depends how well you can get into it despite the components. If you’re able to get into it, you get to power up your character and bash zombies, which is doing something at least. However, you might feel like you’re just plodding around a bleak board. I think when done right, it feels like you did something just to survive, though not everyone will.
I’d play other scenarios, maybe something cooperative, but I wouldn’t be all that interested in playing this competitive scenario again. You win through luck of the draw and luck of the dice more than anything, as it isn’t terribly strategic. The struggle aspect of it is true to its source material, but it’s not necessarily a fun time to build up characters just to see them get eaten by zombies, nor to sit around between turns. I’d be much more interested in something cooperative, which I hear is available for this game, but again, I’d rather just play Zombicide.
There are just so many other games out there. It’s solid enough to be a hoot for a group of TWD fans a couple times around, but there are at least two better zombie games out there, so it’s hard to give this one a ringing endorsement, even if I was a fan of the TV series for a while. I wish it had a bit more going on in terms of components, characters and the map itself. There are expansions to the game that address some of this but I’d rather just stick to Zombicide or Last Night on Earth before I’d play this one again.