AAR/Review-The Walking Dead: All Out War- Impressions From The Outside
Hello all! Some relatively new blood here, and this is my first blog post on this site, of which I hope to write more in the near future as time enables. 😉 I participated in the Walking Dead All Out War playtest this Memorial Day and wrote up some impressions, which may or may not be in line with what others have prepared; but for me the potential for discussion and analysis is part of the fun of the gaming hobby.
And that, my friends, is where my Walking Dead knowledge ends. Well, there's some badass woman with a sword, but otherwise I'm way out of the loop. Which is funny, because I totally dig the apocalyptic premise a zombie horde brings. Dawn of the Dead, both the original and the remake, were fantastic flicks filled with cynical social perspectives. The world cracks apart and suddenly everyone's ids fly free, like a freshly split skull revealing the delicious glistening brains beneath.
That's a fairly appropriate metaphor for what I perceive Mantic's The Walking Dead All-Out War miniatures game to be based on this playtest. I went in fresh, folks! Well, I do own a few mantic games, and enough of their minis to back fill a mass grave of headless zombie corpses, but otherwise, no videos, no rules perusing, heck, I never even checked out the comic. I let the hosts do all the work just like they planned to for Tabletop Minions Expo next weekend. (Fun youtube channel by the way; good tips and the "Every Other Sunday" show is great background noise while getting your hobby on.)
Let's get that skull out of the way first. *crack* The game has a built in timer...sort of. It's called a threat level dial and it represents the ever-increasing danger of hanging around one place in a world hemorrhaging hungry rotting fleshbags. It's supposed to add to the tension of the game and it does. It gives you the sense that you have to sprint in, pillage, and get out before those zombies call their bros and it starts to get live up in there...or... is that dead? Err..well, it functions. Many things make this threat dial increase: if anyone does melee during the melee phase, some weapons, alarms, events, etc. This really adds weight to your action choices, as combat is probably not always the best option and draws the attention of the zombie tsunami. Zunambi. (Patent pending, expect a movie and a crap ton of sequels, maybe a crossover with sharks.) There are about 18 levels on this threat dial, divided in to a few major tiers: All Clear, Low, Medium and High. The game ends if it ever maxes out. You die!!!! Hmm, maybe not die, but hide under your blankets or inside an invincible fridge until the storm calms.
Your individual characters have a nerve rating, most of which we saw were Medium. This represents how cool they are in stressful situations. Once the threat level hits medium, all those medium survivors have to roll a special die to test their nerve. (Yes, this game uses custom 6 sided dice, but they work! And for the most part, they keep charts and stat referencing to a minimum!) This special die has different results that basically force an action on your character. One makes you automatically run away from the nearest zombie, forfeiting your activation. Another makes you scream drawing the attention of zombies. Most of the others seem to cut you down to performing only 1 action out of the 2 each character has. It's thematically plausible...but, it also robs you of some choices. Think: enough damage in Roborally, where your card gets locked in to your program and you MUST do that action even if you didn't pick it. Boo. It steals some control from you. One of my characters got that run result twice in a row, and literally ran back and forth between two zombies. Cinematically: freakin' hilarious! But also a lot of wasted activations.
Now, of those 18 levels...roughly half are in the Medium-High threat range. 7/8 of the characters we used only had a Medium nerve rating. To me, this translates as, potentially half the game your characters are out of your 100% control. And those events cards push that dial up FAST! Now, the designers did include an action that let's you cool your nerve as a die roll test to lower that threat rating. (The dial is communal/shared by the way, it affects everyone.) So, some players can coordinate to waste actions to lower the dial, extending the game, but they're giving up those precious actions making the attempt in the first place. So, do you want a slower paced, careful, game...or a fast paced adrenaline rush death arena that may play out by itself? That's my one major gripe with the game, even though it's still fun and flavorful. Personally, I'd suggest a tweaked threat dial, where the damaging threat tiers are only the last quarter or so of the dial. Let the players get some stuff done, and then let it be a mad scramble out of the hornet's nest.
And now the good stuff. Pure and simple, just about everything else in this game was fun. The mechanisms are super easy to grasp. The character cards are easy to follow, tell you which dice to roll, and what your special abilities do. It uses custom range rulers to tell you how far you can move, how far zombies move, and blast templates for weapons, and zombie kill zones (ie: aggro zones). You can make your own characters, search terrain for items (card deck), and play different thematic scenarios. It lends itself well to customization, which, for myself, is fantastic! Make your own survivors, and table setups! Use the bajillion Zombicide zombies you have from those KS copies you never play! Well, maybe you do, but I can't even seem to find time to watch The Walking Dead. ;D
Probably the most interesting mechanism for me, was the way you can manipulate zombies! Zombies act like linear vector projectiles. If you run or make noise, they shamble towards you, immediately, in a straight line. If they hit an object, they stop and will shamble around during later activations. The gamey potential this has is great! Imagine the Tron light cycles, but with nasty decaying corpse exhaust. Run up behind an opponent shouting obscenities, and watch that zombie charge at you only to hit him first. *Chomp chomp* It's a glorious thing!
In our particular demo scenario, we searched for hidden objectives within the various terrain on the board. Scoring was a bit of a secret, but as it turned out, objectives were worth 2 points a piece (there were 9 hidden on the table secretly by the hosts, once 7 were found it was an artificial game ender), and survivors were worth 1 point a piece.
My characters were an axe wielding bruiser, and an Energizer bunny psycho kid, who was a great silent runner, with a pistol (totally rad model, btw). Greg was on my team with a Leader (only High nerve rating character in the game, but with the ability to calm nerves of those nearby) and another bruiser type.
Our opponents, Mike and Rhodrick, had similar archetypes, but one had a long range sniper rifle and scope. (36" range)
I wanted to see how combat played out, so I charged the nearby zombies initially. Turns out, individually they are not difficult to knock down, but killing is tougher. Prone zombies die fast, but you need a melee to knock them down, a prayer they don't stand back up at the end of a turn, and then another melee success to finish them off during a later activation. There is a special result on the dice to kill them standing, "headshot!" but as per my usual routine, I never rolled that. Again, guns cause noise, melee increases threat level, etc etc. Straight combat is secondary and somewhat discouraged. As they say in the economics world, "There's no such thing as a free lunch." Except the tender, juicy gray matter of an unsuspecting scavenger. Once a few local zombies were finished off, we started combing the streets finding random items. Mike and Roderick seemed to search and find random zombies (hiding in a dumpster and subway entrance).
It seemed like a standard loot and scoot game...until Greg's bruiser ran up to a car in an abandoned intersection. "Hey Mike...why are you unwinding the tape measure...from the sniper you had climb to the rooftop all the way on your side of the board? Uhhh..."
The shot echoes through the cityscape. A murder of crows flies off, startled.
Greg's Leader looks over his shoulder and sees Big Stu Brickhand's body fall over. Congealed tomato soup spouting from his neckhole. "Maybe there were two shooters," he thinks...but there wasn't. It was just one. One cruel merciless man on a perch. One lost soul incapable of distinguishing the value of life in this cold world of writhing death. One shot, one kill.
Our hosts Josh and Tim were a bit shaken, not expecting such a cold hearted player kill.
I thought it was devious, and epic, and the movie scene played out in my head. That's exactly what I look for in these mini games. They're story boards to me.
The rest of the game went by quickly.
The events, car alarms going off, and melees escalated the threat dial so high it ended the game. Both teams managed to secure two objectives worth 2 points each. A tie!....but wait...hidden scoring based on surviving members of our team? Nooooooo! Stu Brickhands didn't make it, costing us the game. Old Uncle Irony also had me making it all the way to a door that had another objective, but I needed one more activation to search it, which that nerve die robbed me of!
Gah...so close...but also...so epic! This was a lot of fun to play. It's got elements of simple generic skirmish systems like Song of Blades and Heroes or Frostgrave, but also feels slightly more board gamey. It's like this mythical middle ground between the two genres. Basically, for someone like me it's the type of game I wish Zombicide or Last Night on Earth was. It has the aspects of exploiting a system to your advantage, but the pure visual treat and open ended tactics mini gaming delivers.
While, the threat dial needs some tweaking, I do believe Mantic has served up a rather delicious loaf of bread with this one. It's simple enough to teach at conventions, fun enough to play with the family, with customization options any hardcore mini gamer would relish.
Mmm...bread...relish...Memorial Day...I guess it's time for a hot dog. There's no brains in those, right? Right???
EDITOR'S NOTE- We got a couple rules wrong that might alleviate some of the threat tracker concerns. There are certain character types that auto succeed at "hold nerve" tests, and the rule that raises the threat level at the start of each turn is meant for solo-only games.
Check back later for another post with additional images from the game, and some feedback from other participants...