I was very lucky this Christmas. The Zombicide Black Plague Kickstarter, by Cool Mini or Not, which I backed mid last year made a pledge to try and deliver the core box to customers before Christmas because their production schedule was going well. This was remarkable given the level of support the Kickstarter received and the quantity of material that had to be produced. So, a week before my Christmas holidays a large box arrived at my door – joy!
I have been remiss for not posting about Zombicide before on this blog because I own all of the modern Zombicide games and play this game regularly with my lovely, patient and enthusiastic partner. Each version of Zombicide has added new challenges and new mechanics to the game. Zombicide Rue Morgue is the best and easiest to play of the modern versions, in my opinion, but Zombicide Black Plague has the best game play experience of all of the games, and not just because it’s new and shiny. This is partly because I am most at home with the fantasy genre being a tabletop RPG GM & player for over thirty five years, but mostly because Cool Mini or Not have created a challenging and beautiful game.
Quest 7: Dead Trail laid out ready to play. Your Quest: Destroy all the necromantic ritual markings represented by red X’s on the board, collect the two Vault weapons and exit with ALL survivor characters. I won’t attempt a full review of the game, but will do my best to mention changes from previous versions. Cool Mini or Not have improved the Zombicide rules with each new addition and Zombicide Black Plague benefits from their depth of experience.
Firstly, the artwork is excellent. Each board tile is beautifully illustrated and each side is unique, unlike the first Zombicide modern game. The cards are good quality and utilise strong colour coding so you can tell them apart easily. The figure sculpts are magnificent. The character figures are some of the best sculpts I have ever seen for fantasy figures and could easily be used for role playing games. The zombie sculpts are perfect for this pseudo medieval setting and have a great variety of poses so that most groups on the board will not need double ups of the same figure.
The Survivor plastic dashboards are fantastic and deserve special mention because they are compact and robust. Each dashboard has a slot for the survivor card, two hand cards, one body or special equipment card and five backpack cards. The coloured pegs make it easy to identify the miniature on the board as well as tracking skills and wounds. The same is true of the experience tracker and if CMoN introduce zombivor survivors it will be easy to remember their experience score. Another nice touch is that the dashboard edge is curved at an angle where the hand cards go making it easy to slide the cards in and out. No more struggling to pick up a card and damaging it in the process – nice.
The survivors ready to go. Lovely sculpts – please note how the coloured circles (removable) match the survivor pegs on the dashboard. These clever design details set CMoN apart from other board game designers.
First move. Nelly free moves towards the first room and cracks open the door. This is not automatic as it is in modern Zombicide, unless you have the axe. Each weapon has a die score that must be equalled or exceeded to open a door. Opening a door is still noisy even if you fail! Spawn the room as per normal Zombicide. We drew a Fatty and our first double spawn. Double spawns are a frequent occurrence in Black Plague and are a great mechanic for varying the number and location of zombie spawns. We drew another Fatty and Runner. Fatties appear without Walkers in Black Plague and Runners just appear more often! A double spawn doesn’t take place in the square it was drawn in but moves onto the next spawn spot. This can be confusing at first, but the rules explain this process in some detail.
Fatties can only be killed with a strength 2 weapon and we start with only one. Our party manages to kill one of them and the Runner, but the remaining Fatty causes 1 wound to Ann, you can choose which survivor will receive wounds, before it is despatched. Survivors in Zombicide Black Plague can take 3 wounds before they are killed. We search the room for one turn before moving on.
Having played Zombicide before we know that moving too slowly can be fatal. The starter weapons in Black Plague are reasonably good so we move quickly to the next large room and by the end of our turn just manage to kick in the door – note the noise markers. The nine room complex spawns and a Necromancer appears. Extra cards are drawn for him when spawning the room and he moves closer to us.
Necromancers are the source of all the trouble in Black Plague and you ignore taking one down at your peril. When they spawn they create their own spawn point. Quest 7 starts with four normal spawn points which already makes the game challenging. The good news is that killing a Necromancer allows you to remove a spawn point and not necessarily the one he appeared from. This adds a tactical element to the game. What spawn point is most advantageous for the survivors to remove? It’s worth thinking ahead. My advice – always have a plan!
Necromancers will attack survivors when they have the chance, but their primary objective is to try and exit the board to the nearest spawn point so they can spread more mayhem. If they manage to do this their initial spawn point becomes permanent. If six spawn points are on the board when a Necromancer exits the board the survivors automatically lose – so kill them when you can.
The survivors advance into the building and start to fight their way through the zombies. The Necromancer is slain and we elect to remove his initial spawn point as it is right outside one of the vault doors. The Abomination appears. He can be seen in the background on the left. The Abomination can only be killed by a strength 3 weapon, none exist in the game, or by ignited dragon bile. There are 4 dragon bile and 4 torch cards in the equipment deck. Dragon bile is equivalent to a Molotov in the modern game, but the dragon bile needs to be placed on a tile first then the torch thrown into it. Everything in the tile is then killed. The Abomination also ignores armour so a survivor cannot roll against his armour type to avoid a bite. This is also new to Black Plague and there are a number of armour types in the equipment deck which can be searched for in any empty room.
The survivor’s fight their way through to the vault and retrieve the Vault item ‘Inferno’, a powerful spell. There are three types of attack in Black Plague: Melee, Ranged and Magic. All survivors can use magic spells/scrolls. I found this hard to get used to as I was not used to dwarves using fireballs. One of the survivors, Baldric, is a specialist spell caster and gets a free magic action as well as the skill Spellbook at orange level so most of the powerful spells tend to gravitate towards him.
There is a difficult balance to manage in Zombicide between rising experience levels and the need to cull enough zombies to prevent extra activations – this happens if the game runs out of enough miniatures of one type and a spawn card is drawn for them. It is ideal to spawn zombies in rooms at the lower experience levels as more zombies appear at the higher experience levels. Spawning danger level is determined by the most experienced survivor e.g. Clovis is on orange experience level after killing more than 19 zombies, but the rest of the survivors are on blue and yellow. Zombies will spawn at Clovis’ danger level, orange!
We were all on blue level, about to go to yellow, and really wanted to spawn the next largest building on blue. Clovis and Ann took a risk and split from the group and went ahead to try and open the door, unfortunately they failed their door opening rolls and were swamped by zombies during the zombie activation and move phase. Not only that, but they took a couple of wounds each despite Clovis having Chainmail armour.
The rest of the team catch up and the door is successfully opened on blue and the zombie throng successfully vanquished. Two problems though: the Abomination is getting rather close and a new Necromancer has appeared – we need to deal with him!
The party splits up to deal with these joint threats. This is always risky and generally I would advise against splitting up a party because a group’s combined skills can clear a lot of zombies and Zombicide is a game of chance. This means that dice can roll badly and when the group is split up less dice are rolled. We were confident, however, because we had already found a torch in the previous building and used it to find some good equipment. The Necromancer was slain by Samson the Dwarf’s hand crossbow and he rushed back into the building to join his companions ahead of the Abomination. We wisely chose to remove the Necromancer spawn point between the last two building entrances that had red X markers. This made the final part of the game a lot easier. The survivors already in the building clear it of Zombies and Nelly retrieves the Orcish Crossbow from the Vault. Only two final markers to collect and then a mad rush for the exit!
And mad rush it was as we were hotly pursued by the Abomination and growing zombie horde. Also, another Necromancer appears! That’s five spawn points on the board and couple that with double spawn cards and a trickle of zombies can quickly become a torrent!
The last two buildings. The survivors position themselves to open these before we reach orange experience level.
The doors are cracked open and survivors dash in to collect the last two red markers.
Nelly uses her free movement advantage to intercept the Necromancer and slay him and his Fatty companion. We opt to remove the spawn point closest to the exit tile.
Silas lays down the dragon bile as a welcome mat for the Abomination.
Ann throws in the torch and boom! She hits orange experience level. An Abomination is worth 5 experience points.
With no further spawn points in their path the survivors make a dash for the exit tile and easily escape on their next turn – ritual markings destroyed, vault items recovered – Quest accomplished!
Zombicide Black Plague is a fantastic board game. The addition of armour, a healing spell and an extra wound capacity for survivors make this game easier to survive, but it is still lethal. We have played eight Quests out of ten and lost twice, once playing the quest above, so the game can take you out and requires concerted team work to overcome. I count myself lucky to be able to play this game before it is available in the shops and am very much looking forward to receiving my other Kickstarter goodies, including the Wulfsburg expansion, Deadeye Walkers and Murder of Crows. That’ll make things more challenging. Of course, Zombicide Black Plague is a great sandbox game as well and I can’t wait to create my own scenarios when we have completed all the supplied Quests.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post – enjoy your gaming! Raise thy Swords!