I’ve been asked a few questions lately about All Things Zombie so I thought I might pull together a review. There are a couple of common questions that get asked so I’ll do the review in the form of responses to the mostly frequently asked ones.
Can you play it solo?
Ohh yeah baby.
All Things Zombie produces the best solo game experiences that I’ve had. I’ve often wondered what is in the magical sauce that makes it so and I think it’s because it’s got the following key ingredients:
- It puts YOU in the action. You don’t need to play as yourself but the fact that there is a system specifically set out in the rules to enable you to play yourself is a massive bonus. The day one scenarios and trying to choose what you would do is inspired. It really adds to the tension when you are a very real possibility of becoming zombie chow.
- It’s got zombies. One of the best things about zombies, from a solo gaming point of view, is that their actions are predictable and hence their behaviour is readily programable.
- The campaign system. The campaign system motivates you to do things, which in this case is often to go out and find food. I’ve found in other solo games that I’ve tried to play that you need to have some goal, some thing that drives you on, besides, you know, just killing stuff. I find that Pathfinder/D&D works well for solo games because there is always that element getting experience points to level where as Traveller I find a lot more difficult. You’ve come out of your career and have heaps of cash and, well I guess you’re just bored so you try to do some stuff. Anyway, maybe that’s just me but with All Things Zombie eventually you need to go out and find some food and sometimes you’ll get thrown into an involuntary scenario even if you are a well stocked prepper.
- It’s got a decent system for non-zombie entities. There are systems for making friends, making enemies, trading, building up your group, systems for the police, gangers, survivors and the military. Will they shoot at you, will they trade with you, will they just exchange pleasantries and walk away. It’s all in there.
What are the rules like?
The rules are very different to anything else that I’ve played before.
Now I’ve never met Ed (the author) but these rules seemed to have originated from the mind of an evil genius. They would have to be the most innovative set of rules that I’ve ever come across.
At their core the rules are quite simple. There are rules for movement, shooting, melee, driving a car, buildings and other forms of terrain (including entering but also things like fortifying and what happens if they catch fire), weapons, levelling your character, enemies (mostly zombies and gangers), scenarios, setting up the table etc. All the normal stuff that you’d expect.
It’s a d6 game and so many of the tables, charts etc are pretty simple to use. Not too difficult on the little old brain. You’ll have most of it sorted in no time.
Now, with every innovative set of rules, with every evil genius comes a couple of things that us normal mortals aren’t quite used to. None of this I Go You Go system here with its standard move, shoot, hand to hand and morale and now it’s your turn mechanics. The game comes with really innovative turn and reaction systems and whilst these innovations come at a cost of taking a little while to get used too, once you do you’ll find that they are well worth it. Here’s a bit of an overview of them:
- The turn system. The game has a different turn system in which you need to role to activate your character and the opposition every turn. This means that during some turns you may not activate whilst your enemies will (and vice versa). Most of us are used to I Go You Go systems and so when you first play this it can seem a little odd but once you get into it you’ll find yourself inventing reasons why the enemy activated and you didn’t. Every good movie has a scene when the main character is pinned down behind some cover whilst he’s working out what to do or a scene where the characters stop running to discuss what they are going to do next whilst the zombies are still shambling towards them and this is what the All Things Zombie turn systems is like for me.
- The reaction system. This is the most complex part of the rules for me. When stuff happens you get to react. You pop around a corner and see someone for the first time you go to the In Sight reaction section, you see a zombie for the first time you go to the Zed or no Zed reaction section, some dude fires at you, go to the Received Fire section. This works with the turn system. Even when you don’t necessarily activate you still get to react. Once you’ve got this sorted in your little brain you are good to go.
To make it a bit easier for me, I developed up a couple of little cheat sheets, The Advanced Players Guide and the Game Masters Guide for Scenarios. With these two little babies in my hot little hand the game hums along.
How does it compare to other zombie games?
Unpredictable. And that’s why it’s fun. Whilst a lot of other zombie games have spawn points or zombies generated by being attracted to noise, All Things Zombie also has Possible Enemy Forces (PEFs) and a Random Events Table.
Zombies are still generated by noise, by when you enter the table and possibly when you enter a building, but the PEF’s and the Random Events Table is what sets it apart.
These parts of the rules not only might generate additional zombies but also they may generate additional citizens, gangers, survivalists, police or military or they may result in one of your party spraining their ankle, getting lost or a building catching on fire.
This together with the unique activation and reaction system, a great campaign system and the fact that you can play it solo is what sets it apart from other gaming systems.
How does the campaign work?
The campaign systems essentially revolves around playing a series of Encounters which may be voluntary (Search, Raid/Rescue, Take Back, Burglarized, Robbery) or involuntary (Burglarized, Bushwhack, Raid: Defend, Robbery).
In between the encounters the player sees if their Rep increases, if they are able to keep their gang together and they consume food.
The steps between the encounters are quick and simple which gets you back on the table quickly, which is where you want to be.
The best thing is that it is paper work light. There are only a few statics to keep a track of (such as food and what resources you may have) and that compliments the way paper work light character systems (which not too many stats).
It is definitely the best solo campaign system I’ve come across and it’s well balanced with the need to find food and the involuntary encounter system meaning that you won’t spend the apocalypse just locked up in your little hidie hole just trying to wait it out.
What are the supplements like?
Ed has released several supplements to support either one off games or the campaign system. I own two of them, Haven and I-Zombie and of these Haven is my favourite.
Haven essentially consists of a series of scenarios for you to play either the police, national guard, army, gangers or survivors. These scenarios are excellent examples of what you can do with the system and it also gives you a glimpse of the apocalypse from a different perspective.
My favourite mission is perhaps Protection where you are in control of a national guard squad which is protecting a civilian work crew trying to repair the electric power system. Brilliant. Imagine the pressure mounting on you as the workers are trying their best to fix the system whilst the military is under pressure trying to keep hordes of zombies away.
In the back there is a little setting called Nowhere Nevada, which provides the player with a base camp that they could operate out of whilst they go on their missions. It feels a bit like an old school D&D module.
Anyway I hope this has been of use for those who are wondering about what All Things Zombie is like.