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Zombicide Review

Don’t look now, but I think I saw a zombie.

Remember when I got my copy of Zombicide?   Well, I finally got a chance to sit down and rub the pieces all over my body play it a few times.  For those who want the TL;DR version: I LIKED IT VERY MUCH.

For everyone else, let me give you a quick summary of the key gameplay ideas:

  • Everyone plays one or two characters, each with a particular set of abilities that they can get as they level.  Players die after taking two wounds.
  • The more powerful the players get, the more zombies spawn each round.
  • As a rule, zombies are slow and fairly harmless in small numbers, just like in the movies.  In groups, they can be deadly.  The main danger is that in order to leave a square with zombies in it, you need one action per zombie, plus the move action itself.  Since you only get three actions to start with, you can see how this would be bad.
  • Zombies that start in the same space as a player deal a wound.  Since you can only take two wounds to begin with, groups of rotters can be right dangerous.
  • Players create noise, both by being in a space, and by loud actions they take.  Shooting guns, for example.  If a zombie can see you, it will head your way.  If it can’t see anyone, it will head for the noisiest spot on the board.
  • Shooting into a space targets players first, then walkers, then fatties, then runners.  Melee weapons let you pick your targets, as does the sniper rifle.  So, shooting into a crowd of zombies surrounding your fellow players is a good way to get a punch in the chops at the table.
  • Each weapon does 1 or 2 damage per hit.  Hits are dealt out to targets, and do not add together.  So, a fatty can only be killed by a weapon that does 2 damage, like a machete.  A pistol does 1 damage, and since hits don’t stack, you can shoot them all day and they won’t give a zombie rat’s ass.
  • Each map comes with a win condition and may contain multiple objectives.

Those are the important bits.  There are more rules that cover searching for gear, combining things together to make even cooler gear, how to drive over zombies with a car, etc, but this will give you an idea of what the meat of the play is like.  One of the fantastic things about the game is that the rules are fairly lightweight.  While some people will turn their noses up at games that lack a certain depth, those people are likely not looking to shoot a bunch of zombies in the face while hoarding a can of beans.

At its heart, Zombicide is about trade-offs.  The more powerful a player gets, the more zombies spawn on the map.  How badly do you really need that extra combat bonus?  Having one or two orange level survivors on a map with blue (starting) level survivors is a good way to lose half your party.  Weapons are the same way.  The more dice a weapon rolls, the harder it is for any given dice to hit.  I like this part of the design quite a bit, as it keeps the difficulty ramped up, even as the groups power level increases.

Like the best zombie flicks, the zombie population starts off small, and the survivors have a pretty easy time of things, scavenging and shooting lone walkers with a song in their hearts.  And like those movies, it’s hard to pin down exactly when things go from “piece of cake” to “why didn’t we loot any adult diapers”, because it happens so gradually.  But rest assured, the game really shines when things do go pear-shaped.  People will heroically sacrifice themselves for the group (or not, I’m looking at YOU, Josh), and even pull off amazing last stands versus a shuffling hoard that stretches as far as the eye can see.  It’s pretty cool.

So, it’s a ton of fun, but it’s not without its flaws.  The scenarios in the book are uneven, to put it mildly.  The first scenario is amazing, but can be very tough and take a long time, which isn’t really what you want for your first outing after the tiny tutorial mission.  The second scenario, in contrast, is so easy that it can take longer to set up than complete.  My advice here is to read though the missions, and pick the ones that send you into the city for multiple objectives.  Anything that looks too simple probably is.

The other issue that the characters are not evenly balanced.  Some really are better than others.  That said, all of the characters are fun, and very competent in the zombie killing lifestyle.  If it bothers you that someone else might be more powerful than you, then pick carefully.  If, like me, you’re just looking to have some fun separating zombies from their unlives, then just pick the character that looks the most interesting to you.

Nitpicks aside, Zombicide is the most fun zombie game I’ve ever played, and as a fan of the genre, that’s saying something.  This is a perfect example of the fact that the entertainment factor of a game can be independent from, or at least very tolerant of, problems with the game rules or balance.

If you have any love in your heart for shooting, bludgeoning, and chopping up the undead, then I highly recommend you give it a try.


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Gaming: Table Top on Geek & Sundry

As you know, I’m a huge fan of nerding out over tabletop board games.  I’m also a huge fan of both Wil Wheaton and Grant Imahara, who I like to think of as my imaginary friends.  They’re real, it’s just our friendship that’s imaginary.

No, I’m fine.  I just have some dust in my eye.

Anyway, even though they refuse to stop by the house so I can crush them at Mansions of Madness, the next best thing is watching Table Top, which is a new series all about gladiatorial board gaming with your favorite geek icons.

Here’s the first episode:

If you liked it, and I know you did, you can subscribe here.


Cthulhu Wars: A Look at the Entire Beast

Last weekend, Sandy invited me down to take another sneak peek at Cthulhu Wars.  This time to see the whole thing in all its sprawling glory: the core set, the expansions, every add-on, every creature.  It was a blast and I have a bunch of stuff to report, but before I go any further I have to show you something:

Dear De Vermiis Mysteriis Backers:  Start making space now :)

Dear De Vermiis Mysteriis Backers: Start making space now 🙂

This was a quick shot of us unboxing and setting out the factions and figures.  For scale, this wooden counter is over two feet wide and easily twenty feet long.  And when I took this picture?  WE WERE STILL TAKING THINGS OUT OF THE BOXES.  Seriously, if you ordered the DVM ‘get everything’ pledge, prepare your body.  You’re going to swear you failed a sanity check as stuff keeps pouring out of the boxes.  I’ll drop some close ups of the figures as I go along.

The State of the Game

Mmm, free massage!

Pro Tip: next time you get a free massage coupon, you should check the small print for the words “Space Vampire”.

The scope of the game is huge.  Not only does every figure come with special abilities, and in some cases their own spellbooks, but there are three additional expansion maps, each with their own special rules and figures.  The combinations of factions, neutral forces, and maps is staggering.

I asked Sandy what, out of all this stuff, we could play.  He pointed at the vast sprawl in front of us and said, “Anything you want.  You choose.” I wasn’t sure if he was serious, so I offered to help playtest anything that still needed work or balancing. He just grinned at me.  “No need.  It’s done.”

So we spent the day playing anything we wanted on any map we wanted.  And guess what?  He was right.  Everything fits together like clockwork.  It’s ready.

How It Works: Azathoth Comes for a Visit

I swear to you, this dimension totally doesn't make you look fat.

I swear to you, this dimension totally doesn’t make you look fat.

Think of the core factions as hubs.  The neutral Great Old Ones and monsters socket into your faction, expanding your forces on the map and granting you access to their powers.  If you think facing Cthulhu is bad, wait until you see Big Green coming your way arm-in-arm with his new buddy Azathoth.  And some Elder Things.  And maybe a Star Vampire or two.

Players start the game with only their faction in play.  But as they accumulate points and power, they can bring in heavy hitters on a first-come-first-served basis.  If I purchase a Star Vampire, then only I can bring them in for the rest of the game.  Of course, they don’t come cheap, so I need to make sure they compliment whatever mad strategy I’m in the middle of pursuing or I’ve wasted precious resources.

You like creatures? Great! I bought you these Servitors! Too bad they drain your powers and eat all your snacks...

You like creatures? Great! I bought you these Servitors! Too bad they drain your powers and always take the last beer out of the fridge. Enjoy!

You would think that this would quickly become a convoluted mess, but Sandy has managed to create a system that provides complexity without complication.  The unspeakable horrors that you summon integrate neatly into any of the factions, providing the expected benefits that are common to all creatures, plus a specific power or two that work within the existing gameplay as you would expect.

You get clear and usable options, rather than puzzle pieces that don’t fit.  A good example are the High Priests.  For all intents and purposes, they act like regular cultists and provide the same benefits: producing a power each turn, taking ownership of gates, and selflessly throwing themselves in front of your enemy on command.  But they can also be used as living eldritch batteries that can be sacrificed to give you a burst of power when you need it most.

New Factions

Windwalker, for when you think an extra Great Old One that happens to be indestructable and some free leg breakers might be nice.  You know, before your ACTUAL Great Old One appears to mop up.

Windwalker, for when you think an extra Great Old One that happens to be indestructable and some free leg breakers might be nice. You know, before your ACTUAL Great Old One shows up to devour everyone.

There are three new factions and they’re all brutal.  Each one has a new and unique play style and can easily go toe-to-toe with the four original factions.

Windwalker is a combat powerhouse.  He’s slow to build up, but the longer the game goes on, the more ridiculously powerful he becomes.  First of all, as combat begins to happen around the board, you’ll discover that battlefield deaths are summoning your Windigos for free.  You’ll also notice that every one of the powerful Knoph Kehs that you summon is cheaper than the previous one.  Oh, and while your army is rapidly swelling up on the board, you get to back them up with a Great Old One that is indestructible.  And you STILL have Ithaqua, your primary Great Old One waiting to join the fray.  Oh, and don’t forget to hibernate so you can save up your power this turn in order to release it all in an overwhelming show of force next turn.

The downside to playing the Windwalker?  Keeping people from ganging up on you early.  The upside?  Laughing when they gang up on you later…

If Windwalker represents power, then The Sleeper represents leverage.  Pound for pound, Sleeper is the best at turning points of power into mayhem and destruction.  Don’t like spending power to summon units?  No problem, how about free monsters that can appear anywhere?  Don’t like the fact that other people have monsters on the board?  Me neither.  Good thing they have to sacrifice them to you, oh mighty Tsathoggua.  Covet their faction powers?  Why not use them yourself with your devious Serpent Men?  Hate other people taking turns while you’re trying to crush them?  Why not take a nap while they scurry around and then spend all your power at the end while they watch helplessly from the sidelines?

The Sleepers motto?  Life is hard.  For everyone else.

The Opener of the Way represents change.  Specifically, changing the entire game world around so that you win.  Cthulhu Wars revolves around gates.  You need them to generate power and to be the start player, certainly, but more importantly, they generate the doom points you need to actually win the game.

Players spend all their time and resources scheming to protect their own gates and to take yours.  You know what makes this hard?  When someone has the power to yank a gate completely out of reality and keep it to himself like some kind of private cosmic hot tub.  Or how about when they are staging their forces to take over a gate, only to have it vanish and reappear on another continent?

Welcome to trying to deal with Yog Sothoth.  Oh, and check this out:

Is anyone else feeling hot and itchy?  It it okay if I just take off my shirt and turn into a giant monster?

Is anyone else feeling hot and itchy? It it okay if I just take off my shirt and turn into a giant monster?

See the four figures on the right?  That’s one mutant.  The longer anyone tries to face you, the bigger and nastier he becomes.  Automatically.  You see one of these and you know its about to be time to leave the neighborhood.  Oh, and did I mention they can split back apart into lots more mutants at will?

And the final nail in the coffin?  The Opener of the Way gets to sit back and wait for the perfect moment during the game, that instant when he has a lot of gates and the points are rolling in, so that he can double them.  In one of our games, the Opener controlled EIGHT gates at once (a new record, by the way).  The only thing better than winning the game is the look on everyone else’s face when you go from last place to first in a single turn.

Maps: Freezing Your Shoggoth Off

Picture taken one second before the end of the world.

Picture taken one second before the end of the world.

We had time to play two of the new maps: Primeval and Yuggoth.  Or as I like to call them “trapped in a barrel with a beehive” and “why is my army gone”.  New maps are always good to have in a game, but far better is to have new maps that change the game itself.  Believe me when I tell you that these maps change things.

We played Primeval first.  You start out like any other map, happily placing gates and doting on your precious army of cultists.  And then the world begins to freeze over.  Gates become uninhabitable, slipping from your grip and feeding power to the entire board.  Then locations begin freezing over, forcing everyone to the center, shoulder to tentacle, tooth to claw.  And all the while power levels keep rising as more and more unoccupied gates feed everyone.

By the middle of the game, you’ve basically buzzed 4 monstrous armies on shots of espresso shoved them into a shoebox to fight it out.  Which is both a huge amount of fun and hilarious.

Next was Yuggoth.  The first thing you notice about the Yuggoth map is the giant green pyramid in the east.  Building gates there gives you bonus power.  Next you might notice a laboratory in the north that lets you convert cultists into Brain Cylinders, letting you greatly expand your army of followers with gurgling neural tissue that happens to be immune to pain.  In the west you’ll discover a plateau that allows you to summon an army of Slime Molds which are 100% loyal.  To whoever happens to own the plateau.

All of that would be enough to change the game and make everyone rethink their strategies and make it a fine map.  Naturally, Sandy pushed to another level.  Meet the Watcher of the Green Pyramid:

This is my map now, jerks.  Prepare to die.

This is my map now, jerks. Prepare to die.

When this guy spawns, and he will, things get real messy, real fast.  Imagine playing a game of hot potato with a grenade.  That explodes every time you throw it.  Over and over again.  The Watcher is a combat nightmare.  To give you an idea, a faction monster that is built for combat would roll 3 dice, maybe 4, tops.  A Great Old One like Cthulhu would roll 6.  We were rolling *17* dice for the Watcher.  And every player gets to control him in turn.

It’s huge fun and the map that produced the most howling, laughter, and tears all day.  Highly recommended.

In a Nutshell

Has anyone seen my hat?

Has anyone seen my hat?

It’s finished.  It plays beautifully.  All of the new factions and creatures slot into the core game seamlessly.  And it’s fun as hell.

Is there a learning curve?  Yes, but it’s not as steep as you would think.  We had a new player who had zero exposure to Cthulhu Wars and he picked Opener of the Way as his faction for the first game, arguably the most complex of all the factions.  By the middle of the game, it had clicked for him and he came in second against 3 experienced players.

High Priest: Top of the cultist food chain.  Bottom of the actual food chain.

High Priest: Top of the cultist food chain. Bottom of the actual food chain.

That said, it is a full blown strategy game.  It will reward groups that play together regularly, allowing them to really develop their strategies and experience the game’s depth.  If you play with a lot of pick up groups or folks that aren’t familiar with this sort of game, you may find it more challenging to introduce people to it.

For those that have the luxury of a regular gaming group, this game will quickly go to the top of your list.


FTZ Launch Date at Last!



It’s official! We’re launching on Friday, January 31st!

First of all, thanks to everyone for their support and encouragement. It’s been a crazy and exciting time getting this beast ready to launch.

Here’s what you can expect from the Kickstarter:

Modular, Easy to Understand Pledges!

Each pledge level will clearly show the following information:

• Pricing: From core set only to ‘get it all’ packages
• What’s included: Items for each pledge will be shown in the handy graphic you see above
• Stretch Goal Category: Goal badges will be shown in the circles at the bottom and will be used to show what stretch goals come with each pledge level

Free Stretch Goal Rewards!

Each pledge level that includes Stretch Goals will receive a pile of goodies for free as we hit our targets. We’re keeping the exact information a secret for now, but expect:

• CARDS: hero upgrades, monster twists, new missions!
• FIGURES: new monsters, alternate heroes and specialists!
• LOCATIONS: new map tiles and operations!
• SPECIAL REWARDS: soundtrack and fully voiced mission briefings!

And More!

• Downloadable manual!
• Gameplay and instructional videos!
• Add-ons!

It’s been a year in the making and frankly, we can’t wait to show you all the cool stuff we’ve been building. These last couple of weeks will be spent with our manufacturing and logistics suppliers to make sure we get the best prices and shipping possible. And then…it’s go time!

See you on the 31st and thanks again for all your support!



Click Me!

Speaking of delightful Kickstarters, this arrived in the mail today.  Well, to be completely honest, this arrived inside a box that contained more boxes.  Which was necessary, because of all this:

Yeah. That’s a lot of zombies.

And this picture doesn’t even show all the bits.  I had to leave the map tiles and tokens out of the shot, or I would have had to have taken this from space.  True story.

Zombicide is a co-op game, where you and several other survivors attempt to take down a zombie hoard, culminating in a showdown with the horrifying Abomination, who looks like the bigger, angrier, spikier version of the Tank from Left4Dead.  And the best part is that the more zombies you kill, the more badass your character becomes.  Which is awesome, except that powering up also brings in more zombies.   It should make for one hell of an entertaining mess.

Rules are here if you want to check them out, and the official site is here.



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The Joy of Tiny Plastic Fribbits

As you may have noticed, I like to gather my “friends” for the occasional table top game.  And while I mostly play the games the way they come right out of the box, I’m afraid that a combination of peer pressure and marketing has collapsed my usual aversion to buying extra bits and pieces.

I know, *gasp*.

First of all, my Super Dungeon Explore minis are nearly complete, thanks to Jason, my favorite painter of tiny things.  He painted about a million of these:

I may be tiny, but I can still set you on fire.

So, I decided to protect all his hard work with this:

Battle Foam!

It’s basically a kit that contains several inserts to hold all of the game pieces and minis, and the whole thing fits into the original box.  Super clever.

Then tragedy struck, and before I knew it, I had watched this video while my willpower was still at a low ebb:

Once the video ended, I noticed that there was nobody around to slap the mouse out of my hand, so I went here and ordered these for Arkham Horror:

Seriously, what was I supposed to do?  THEY HAVE TENTACLES.  Like anyone could resist that.  Christ, they might as well be constructed entirely out of supermodels and salty caramel.  I also bought a bag of tiny magnifying glass tokens that I can use for all my various AH themed games.  Which are numerous and in desperate need of more tiny plastic bits.

So anyway, now I’m happy.  I got everything that the internet told me to buy, and just in time, since now my wife is home and watching me suspiciously, ready to tackle me if it looks like I’m about to click on any online game stores.

All I can say is too late, baby.  Too late.


Gaming Weekend: All Hail Cthulhu!

Got in lots of Lovecraftian gaming this weekend:

Elder Sign


Mansions of Madness

Both were huge fun, with Elder Sign being the quicker, more lightweight game, and Mansions being the large, total tabletop experience.  In both cases, a team of investigators are attempting to stop an Elder God from devouring everyone, but with Elder Sign, all the players are working together against the board.

In Mansions, one player (the most handsome and clever one) is the Keeper, and is actively trying to stop the other players (nosy busybodies), who are the investigators trying to save the world.  For some reason.

Here’s a shot of the brave gibbering horrors trying to stand up to the homewrecking jerks:

Can't we just hug and accept that we're different?

All in all, it was fantastic day of trying to end the world.

My only regret is that my ‘friends’ Cory and Erik managed to stop me.  THIS TIME.


Back When Planking was Cool

You may have noticed that I’m a huge nerd.  If not, please let this serve as official notice:

I’ve already mentioned that I’m a fan of elaborate boardgames.  What I may not have said is that I also have a weakness for pirates.

I happen to be in the middle of reading Mike Kalmbach’s The Caldarian Conflict, which is chock-full of high-seas adventure, so my resistance is at an all-time low.  In a sinister conspiracy against my wallet, one of my friends managed to call me during my moment of weakness and mentioned that he heard about Merchants & Marauders and that it was REALLY GOOD.  And that we should play, RIGHT NOW.

So…I bought it.  Sue me, I’m weak.

It arrived today, so hopefully on Saturday my dining room table will look like this:

All I can promise is that my posts next week will contain the words “YARRR” and “BOOTY” as few times as I can manage.