Cardboard Children – Zombicide: Black Plague

Hello youse.

ZOMBICIDE has been hangin’ around for some time. There’s been ZOMBICIDE and ZOMBICIDE: Zombie Biscuits and ZOMBICIDE: Attack of the Zombies and probably one called ZOMBICIDE: Attack of the Biscuit Zombies Part 2. In this Kickstarter-fuelled era of boardgaming, ZOMBICIDE is the poster child. ZOMBICIDE is the one pulling in the big bucks. But where is ZOMBICIDE now? Well, it’s in the Middle Ages, obviously, with the fun and, well, fun ZOMBICIDE: BLACK PLAGUE.

I promise I’ll stop writing “ZOMBICIDE” now.


Yeah, so Zombicide has had lots of expansions and editions, so what makes this one different? Well, while word on all the earlier games from friends of mine has always been sorta muted, the word was that Black Plague was the finest evolution of the game so far. And the setting – a zombie-infested middle-ages setting, during a plague and such – sounded a far more interesting proposition than the overused modern-day setting of the earlier releases.

But what is Zombicide: Black Plague, really? Well, it’s a beautifully produced big PLAYTHING for 1-6 players, where a band of heroes plow through constantly-spawning zombies to gain experience and fulfil objectives. It’s a premium product, very expensive, but the product looks its money. There are loads of little toys inside – walking zombies and running zombies, fat zombies and necromancers, monstrous mutant zombies and a whole load of heroes with swords and beards and hammers. (By the way, I think SWORDS, BEARDS & HAMMERS would be an amazing title for a board game.)

It’s not just about the toys, though. The graphic design is sharp, the artwork is gorgeous throughout, and the quality leads right through into the practicalities of gameplay itself with the plastic player boards that come in the box. These player boards let you slide cards and pegs into them, allowing you to display everything you need to know about your character on your table like the physical manifestation of a character screen from a video game. They are beautiful things, these chunky dashboards.

I want to expand on these player boards a little bit, because nothing speaks more highly of the CARE and CASH that has been pumped into this game than these things. And it’s the small stuff that most impresses – the little extra space in the indentation that lets you lift character cards in and out easily, the little plastic arrow that marks off your gained experience, the slope at the side of your equipment indentation that lets your regularly-switching equipment cards just slide off and away.

This is quality stuff. A high price, yes, sure. But this is a quality product.

But what of the game? Well, that’s where things get a little tricky, because here’s the truth about Zombicide: Black Plague – it’s not a massively interesting bit of board game design. It’s your standard move, attack, search, move, claim objective dungeon-crawl, dungeon-slash game. Heroes move first, then the zombies, and you work your way through scenarios in that fashion until the players either win or lose. Combat is simple – rolling dice to land hits, and very very much of it – almost all of it – is stuff you’ve seen many times before. Grab objectives (keys) to open doors. Go through trapdoors into hidden areas. Move, attack, move, search, change equipment, get stronger.

I’m not saying that there aren’t any cool little wrinkles. The zombie spawning is fun, with the undead leaping unpredictably from cards drawn from a deck, and the spawning scales well too – as the heroes slaughter zombies and claim objectives to gain XP, the number and strength of the zombies pouring into battle rises to meet them. The noise mechanic is nice too. Some weapons make noise, and noise can be deliberately made as an action. All noise generates noise tokens that are piled into areas of the board, and these areas draw zombie attention – later scenarios demand that you make clever use of noise to create channels of attack for your heroes. It’s a cool thing. I like it.

But again – there’s nothing here that feels particularly dramatic from a design standpoint. This is a box full of stuff that works. And we know it works because we know it works because we’ve played it all before.

But wait. This sounds like a negative review – it really isn’t. What you’re buying when you buy Black Plague is a premium product, tried and tested, and polished to a sparkle. Zombicide’s own fanbase has assisted with this, their feedback on earlier releases steering this game into a space that finds it instantly fun to play – a smooth, fun treat of a game that looks a million bucks on any table. (It’s worth noting here that Black Plague lacks a rule from the earlier Zombicide games that drove people absolutely crazy – a rule that had player characters hitting fellow player characters first on any ranged attack into a crowded zone. That rule, if I’m remembering it correctly, is just silly. And it’s gone.)

Games don’t always have to innovate. This is why I called Zombicide: Black Plague a “plaything” earlier in this review. Sit down with this and you know what you’re going to get – a little world to play in, a big budget production of a medieval zombie world, where all the bits just click together nicely. It’s popcorn gaming, the kind of thing that won’t massively challenge your brain cells but will still excite and thrill you in the right places. For the price of this game, you could probably buy two brilliantly clever or dramatic board games (maybe a Theseus or a Spartacus), but sometimes you want to go to the cinema to watch The Avengers, y’know? Sometimes you just want to fill your belly with sweet, sweet sugar and think nothing more of it.

It’s sweet sugar, this. It’s expensive sweet sugar, and it might be good for you.

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  1. latedave says:

    Fully agree with this review, if you liked the previous Zombiecides, this is them polished up to a fine sheen, if you didn’t like them, it’s not going to change your mind.

    The only thing I would add is that the previous versions are going cheap now because people have got this instead but they can be house ruled very easily and some people prefer the more modern theme. Black Plague is a bit more ‘DnD’ theme which depending on your groups views may be a good or a bad thing.

  2. Fuligin says:

    Still waiting for the Cardboard Children update that looks at something other than fiddly plastic festooned ameritrash.

    And I *like* ameritrash.

  3. Bweahns says:

    I played six games of Rue Morgue ranging from two player games up to six player games. I found it mind numbingly boring. Every turn there is a clear and most efficient decision for everyone’s movement, after which you proceed to the endless dice rolling. This is a game that doesn’t actually require more than one player sitting at the table unless you like annoying your team mates and doing stuff that isn’t the most efficient. If one person dies you all lose so leaving your team mates in the lurch isn’t an option either. You literally have no control over anything other than bringing everyone round to the decision of the most efficient plan of movement for the turn, after which random chance takes over. The game literally plays itself. I could totally accept all these faults if games were over after 30 minutes, but the game can go on for hours and hours and my god is it dull. This latest version sounds like more of the same punishing tedium.

    • Josh W says:

      Yeah that’s fairly accurate, also the rules for zombie pathing are ludicrous, as far as we could determine, whenever a group could go either way, you split it into the two directions rounding each group up, so whenever a lone zombie tries to turn a corner, he instead quantum-splits into two zombies that take both routes.

      Very silly. Quickly house ruled.

      On the other hand, there is an art to playing this game; you play it with people who don’t know games, or while digesting food, assuming no-one’s mind is 100% on the game, and you try to work out what the correct strategy is, without ever pushing anyone to do anything.

      Once you add that objective, it becomes some kind of Chinese courtly household, suggesting facts with the minimum of implication, so that a consensus vaguely emerges and everyone takes their own actions. Of course, you’re not doing it for devious political reasons, just so as to lower the demands on everyone else around you, that they must realise this obvious strategy you’ve discovered. The more obvious, hopefully the more you can point it out without spelling it out.

      And while you do that, everyone enjoys rolling dice. A funny quirk of the game is that dice are always on your side; you’ll roll to kill zombies, roll to avoid zombie attacks, but zombies move according to set rules and attack with one attack each.

      Randomness is something that you grab, corralling as many dice as possible.

      (I think actually dice might come in in some other specific circumstances, but I can’t remember any)

      And technically the cards provide randomness too, in enemy locations and sometimes extra activations, but separating out the random bit you like and you do individually, from the random bit you don’t and applies to everyone, works pretty well.

      We don’t play it very much, but we put on music, we chill out, and we talk nonsense mixed in with hinting at each other, and we spend ages after the zombies act chatting before it’s anyone’s actual turn.

    • CdrJameson says:

      This was our exact experience with Warhammer Quest.
      It felt like Warhammer-themed Snakes’n’Ladders.
      Didn’t even need one player, as it pretty much plays itself.

  4. Xantonze says:

    The game is slightly better than the abysmal original, but has nothing on Fred Henry’s Conan, which should be here in a few months.

    After playing Descent, Zombicide and the preview “builds” of Conan, I found that the later has the best action system I’ve ever seen in this genre. The “action gems”, as well as the “action queue” for the overlord, give a little “management game” feeling that is really awesome.

    You can check the rules here:

    link to

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