on Oct 19, 2017
When I was growing up in the 1980s, zombie movies fell into two distinct categories. There were the George Romero films (Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead)...and then all of the other ones. Not that films like Return of the Living Dead, Zombi, and Night of the Comet weren't fun and sometimes even brilliant. But the entire reason that we are talking about zombies in pop culture today can be traced back to Mr. Romero's work. From the starting point he provided, it's not a long jump to get to any number of video games, comic books, novels, and of course tabletop games that feature the shambling (or sprinting) restless dead. Mr. Romero passed away earlier this year, but obviously his legacy lives on.
So in honor of Halloween, I tasked our writers with coming up with zombie film and game pairings. Like fine wine, there are of course certain nuances and flavors that are complimentary. Hopefully, by this time next year, we will see an explosion of mummies in the popular culture followed by a massive wave of mummy games and we will be able to offer you our mummy game picks. But for 2017, zombies it is!
Review Corner Editor-in-Chief
When I first played CMON's Zombicide: Black Plague, the sound mechanic that draws the horde toward noisy characters shuffling around, banging on doors with axes and such immediately made me think of this cult Spanish horror film about desiccated, undead Knights Templar returning from the dead to terrorize some hapless tourists (are there any other kind). But you see, after these particularly heretical knights were hanged, they had their eyes pecked out by birds, which of course also calls to mind Black Plague's Murder of Crowz expansion. So the undead knights are actually blind, and can only find you if you are noisy. The fact that Black Plague has a medieval setting- very rare for zombie films that aren't called Army of Darkness- makes it a perfect pairing with this spooky, unusual Eurohorror film.
From books to movies, there are two types of Zombie stories. Those that think that the snarling hungry undead are the bad guys, and those that recognize that the real monsters are the living. The latter make the better stories in my opinion. While most zombie games feature hordes of monsters for you to smash or shoot, one stands out in the way it uses zombies the way the best movies do. The zombies in Dead of Winter are an ever-present threat that must be attended to, but the real evil is sitting around the table. It's a game of trust and survival. You and your friends are members of a colony trying to scrape together an existence while staying alive. Unfortunately for you there's a good chance one of your friends is a traitor. Players are working together while trying to achieve a secret goal that is often at odds with the group goal. It could be that your friend is hoarding weapons because she wants her posse armed; it could be because she's planning to eliminate the leadership and take over the colony. Dead of Winter is a zombie game, but it's a game about humanity in all its selfish glory.
To set the mood, watch the first couple seasons of The Walking Dead or read the phenomenal comic series that spawned it.
While Raf's call of pairing Dead of Winter with The Walking Dead television series is solid, you should really just go straight to jugular and pull out
The Walking Dead: All Out War from Mantic Games. This board/miniatures game hybrid utilizes the comic property to fuel a scenario based skirmish game that is intense as all get out. You follow along the narrative of the series and run into all of your favorite (as well as hated) characters. The true magic in this design is the way walkers are utilized as dynamic responsive terrain. They can easily be ignored in small numbers, but if you're not careful you may get cornered in the claustrophobic map and it can get ugly quick. From the top down, this game embodies its source material perfectly and is an excellent choice given the new season of the television show starting back up.
If Shaun of the Dead taught us anything, it's that the line of demarcation between responsible adult and shuffling zombie is razor thin. When you're young, and everybody around you is being turned into mindless wage slaves, it can be pretty terrifying--a lot scarier than a simple reanimated corpse--and your instinct is to cling to your youth like a lifeline.
Zombie 15' from IELLO takes that analogy and skews it a bit younger: in this cooperative, real-time game, everybody who doesn't have "teen" at the end of their age has been turned into a drooling undead, and it's up to a pack of kids with skateboards and electric guitars to take back their neighborhood. The game mechanics are simple enough to keep things moving, but there's still enough crunch here to satisfy, and having the entire horde dumped into your space is guaranteed to make your heart skip a beat. The colorful art and hectic, real-time gameplay pop with youthful vigor as you race the clock against a series of increasingly complex scenarios, culminating in a massive boss fight.
In my day, zombies didn’t run. They walked. Up hill. Both ways. They found what brains they could and they liked it. To be honest I’m not much of a zombie fan. However, when it comes to the reanimated dead I must say I prefer the Old School’s iterations. Those slowly ambling and inexorably advancing legions of ghouls with an unflappable focus on YOU! There’s something more chilling in that steady and mounting hopelessness than in the sheer breakneck adrenaline-fueled terror in many of today’s zombie depictions. Flying Frog Productions’ Last Night on Earth captures the former experience with messy aplomb. It has guile and luck, bravery and camaraderie. And missions that build narrative, rather than players simply running for their lives and blowing off heads in frantic self-defense. But it’s palpably tight and deadly. Plus, in a rare element for the genre, one or more players can actually be the zombies! It’s a bit messy, over-the-top and deep to dig into. Just like a zombie board game should be. And to capture that same relentlessly forlorn claustrophobia on the screen, I must recommend the simple classic Night of the Living Dead. Yeah, it’s old school. But it got the zombie hordes genre started. And as the doomed group of strangers realize their fate and watch their lives end one by one, there’s little that is more gripping and horrifying.
Finding a good zombie game can be like finding a good zombie film. For every true gem there are roughly 10 poorly thought-out titles with little to distinguish them from the rest of the shambling horde of zombie media. But among the best board games is Dead of Winter: The Long Night. Like original flavor Dead of Winter, the game is highly focused on the motives of the players and discovering whether your fellows in the colony can be trusted. But even better, it includes more thematic elements - like improving the colony, fighting off bandits, or even discovering the source of the zombies themselves - that make the apocalyptic landscape so much more visceral, rather than a sterile environment to be acted upon. It's not unlike the world of World War Z. Zombies are everywhere, but the humans try to make the best of things within their enclosed spaces (until they are overrun). Meanwhile, the zombies themselves have a source and story all their own.