10 Terrifyingly Good Zombie Games for Your Tabletop Pleasure

5) Zombies!!!

When it comes to zombie-themed board games, Twilight Creations Inc. is the king of the genre. As I mentioned earlier, this company has no fewer than five zombie-themed games which range from enjoyable games like ZombieTown to the nigh unplayable like All Wound Up! And I really wanted to like All Wound Up! It has a fantastic toy factor, but like many toy factor games the entertainment value depends on how well the toys perform. The wind-up zombies in my set didn’t work very well, and that led to a play session that was more about trying to get the game to work at all and less about playing. Enough about disappointments, though, let’s get to the good stuff. Zombies!!! is the game that really put Twilight Creations Inc. on the hobby gaming map, and for good reason.

Zombies!!! is a competitive zombie apocalypse board game in which the players compete against one another to see who is the first player to kill 25 of the walking dead. To accomplish this task, the players need to keep track of their ammunition and collect the right weapons for the job – which is to find a way to survive the near limitless hordes of brain eaters that this game produces. Unlike Lock N Load’s All Things Zombie, which relies on cardboard chits to represent heroes and zombies, Zombies!!! includes about 100 plastic miniature zombies that populate your game board. I write “about” because pretty soon, your box will include an additional 100 glow in the dark zombies, 100 zombie dogs, some space aliens, and then you’ll have to subtract from this number all of the figures that somehow migrated into your D&D miniatures set. That Twilight Creations managed to provide a product with 100 plastic zombies at a $30 price point is a remarkable feat; that they did it over a decade ago, in the days before many of the cheap miniature printing options were available, makes it all the more impressive. The only reason this game is as low on the list as it is is because the rules are a bit simplistic compared to some of the more recent entries in the field. But have no doubt that it will rise from the grave to find its way to the top of your “to play” pile on many occasions.

4) Zombie Dice

Zombie Dice Zombie_Dice Dice
After endless sessions of playing games where you seek to avoid having your brains eaten by the walking dead, it’s time to take a walk on the dead side. In Steve Jackson GamesZombie Dice, you play the risen dead who have a hankering for brains tartare and seek to consume as many cranial contents as you can, but there’s one small catch. The humans that you are hunting have these pesky things called shotguns that have a tendency to send your own zed-virus infected brains out the back of your skull, taking you out of action. Of all the games on this list, Zombie Dice is the absolute easiest to play. Mechanically, it’s a very simple push-your-luck game where you roll a handful of dice and try to collect as “brains” as possible before you roll 3 shotgun bursts. You can stop at any time before you have been shot three times and if you do, you get to keep all the brains you collected that round, but if you push your luck too far you finish your turn having not collected any brains and all you can do is moan as you watch other players collect victims.

The game comes in both a very portable, physical version, and an iPhone app. In both versions, the basic play is the same and a full game can be played in less than 15 minutes. Zombie Dice is a perfect pick-up game or game to play while you are waiting for the rest of your gaming group to show up. What’s thematically interesting is that as a push-your-luck game, the game simulates the monster’s side of the horror equation due to a nice tension factor where you can feel the anxiety build as you get closer to your end goal only to have those pesky dice turn against you. While the basic game can be purchased for under $14, I recommend picking up the deluxe version as it includes a die cup which helps to minimize cheating.

3) Zombicide

ZombicideGuillotine Games’ cooperative zombie apocalypse boardgame Zombicide was originally launched as a Kickstarter in collaboration with Cool Mini or Not. Looking back at my backed projects on Kickstarter, I was surprised to see that this was Cool Mini’s first attempt at a Kickstarter. Given that the game grossed over $700,000 in revenue, it isn’t surprising that it quickly established Cool Mini’s reputation as a big-budget board game manufacturer; it also marked them as one of the “kings of the stretch goal,” for better or for worse. This is because sometimes Cool Mini stretch goals mean you get more for your money – more zombie minis, for example – and sometimes the stretch goals present an opportunity for you to spend more money. I don’t know about you, but when ever I see that a project has unlocked a “now I get to spend more money” stretch goal, I imagine some nerdy corporate executive jumping up and down screaming, “Whee! Look at us! We were so successful that you can now buy more stuff from us!”

These kinds of stretch goals can be frustrating for consumers on a budget, especially when it means that you might miss out on some pretty sweet exclusive promo minis and Cool Mini loves to include several promotional characters based on popular geek culture products into their games. Ever wonder what it would be like to play The Dude and Walter as they destroy undead hordes on the means streets of Venice, CA? What about Chuck Norris and Nicolas Cage, or even Snake Plissken? You can find out, but only if you manage to acquire one of the promo figures and good luck with that if you missed the Kickstarter.

As mentioned earlier, Zombicide is a cooperative game where the players work together to accomplish a mission goal before being eaten by zombies. The system is simple and for the most part entertaining, butt here are two major drawbacks. First, ranged weapons are extremely dangerous in Zombicide.  Not only do guns have the nasty tendency, as they do in other games as well, to attract zombies due to noise, but you also have to be careful to keep track of who is near by when you use them. If one of your fellow survivors is in the same area that you are shooting in, you automatically shoot friends first and hit zombies only after all friends have been eliminated from that space.

With friends like these, who needs zombies?


Guillotine Games

The other problem, and it is a problem, is that the game allows for player elimination where players can be eliminated from play as others continue with their game time enjoyment. If Risk has taught me one thing, it’s that player elimination is one of the worst game design decisions of any multi-player game. There are few things as pointless as sitting around for two hours watching as other people continue to play a game from which you were eliminated and this is especially true of a cooperative game. Thankfully, they changed this rule with the Toxic City Mall expansion by the inclusion of “Zombivors.”

It is primarily for these two reasons that Zombicide finds itself in the number three slot. The game is fun, but it’s more fun if you fiddle with the rules a little. I favor making shooting friends a basic 50/50 proposition, with modifications for certain characters who are less likely to shoot friends than others, and I recommend using the zombivor rules, even when playing the base set, unless you want to spend your “eliminated” time playing Zombie Dice. Then player elimination is a feature and not a bug.

2) Dead of Winter

Dead of WinterFollowing in the footsteps of the movies, zombie themed games released prior to Dead of Winter were often very similar in play style. If you read through the descriptions of Zombies !!!, Zombicide, and All Things Zombie, it’s easy to see the influence of SPI’s earlier George Romero inspired Dawn of the Dead board game, because in all these games the players are survivors who must battle zombies in what amounts to a tactical war game of varying levels of excitement and visual appeal. There are some differences in game play, the escalation of difficulty as characters become more experienced in Zombicide is one, but they share certain mechanical similarities and use similar mechanics to convey the rising stakes of the zombie threat.

Dead of Winter breaks that mold by combining game design elements from resource management-style Eurogames like Pandemic and Reiner Knizia’s Lord of the Rings with “there’s a traitor among us” mechanics like those in Betrayal at House on the Hill or Shadows over Camelot. In combining these elements, designers Jon Gilmour and Isaac Vega have created a wonderful simulation of John Carpenter’s The Thing which also happens to be a very good simulation of how to keep a survivor colony alive in a post-zombpocalypse world.

Like in Zombicide, there are some promotional characters available to expand your game play and there is even a Felicia Day promotional character that you can use in the game, which is a nice nod to one of the most active tabletop gaming evangelists in the media. Unlike Zombicide, this game’s promotional characters can be purchased directly online from Plaid Hat Games, including my own personal favorite promotional character, “Mall Mrs. Claus” Roberta Plum, who provides a lovely reason to play a zombie-themed game during the Christmas season. I’m always looking for excuses to play horror games during that festive time of year.

1) All Flesh Must Be Eaten

All Fles Must Be EatenAll Flesh Must Be Eaten is undeniably the best zombie apocalypse role playing game on the market. For a time it was the only zombie apocalypse role playing game on the market, but geeks being geeks, rival games have sprung up as surely as Walking Dead spinoffs and variant zombie apocalypse television shows. It is also a pretty darn good multi-genre role playing game if you decide to play without the zombie element. Why you would ever want to do that is a complete mystery, but I guess there are some people who might want a cinematic alternative to GURPS. All Flesh Must Be Eaten is published by Eden Studios Inc. and uses their in-house Unisystem rules set which is the same rules set that powers the Army of Darkness Role Playing Game, but All Flesh Must Be Eaten has a number of settings (called Deadworlds) and expansions that allow for much greater customization than the Army of Darkness game does. One might even look at Army of Darkness as “Basic All Flesh Must Be Eaten.”

All Flesh Must Be Eaten was designed to be a comprehensive survival horror role playing game and provides a wide variety of options, including not only options for the survivors, like many other games, but also options for the game master to use when designing zombies. This gives game masters an opportunity to increase the terror factor because players may know that they are in a zombie apocalypse, but they won’t know what the capabilities and weaknesses of the zombies are until play is already underway. In this way the game is a kind of zombie apocalypse tool kit, if you will.

Not content with proving you with a solid role playing game with eleven different campaign options, Eden Studios has decided to publish survival horror sourcebooks for every genre. They’ve written a pulp hero sourcebook, a Shaw Brothers style martial arts film supplement, a Band of Brothers style book, They’ve covered pretty much every genre you could imagine, and have even published a pro-wrestling themed book entitled Zombie Smack Down! Imagine how terrified John Cena would be if he discovered that The Undertaker were actually risen from the grave, or how awesome it would be to run a game where WWE fans become so bored with John Cena that they willingly turn themselves into mindless zombies just to alleviate their annoyance.

*    *     *    *

While all ten items on this list are games worth featuring at your annual Halloween horror themed game day, this list is far from comprehensive. In an effort to offer diversity of game types, I’ve left a couple of games off of the list. One of my favorite games didn’t make the cut: Cheap Ass Games’ Give Me the Brain, a game that captures the challenges of being a zombie doomed to work fast food until the end of time, is a wonderful way to pass the time.

What are some of your favorites?

Previously by Christian Lindke:

10 Geek Holidays and How to Celebrate Them
7 Reasons I, Frankenstein Is Like the Greatest RPG Campaign Ever GM’d
The 10 Best Superhero Role-Playing Games
From The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle to Dallas: 10 Strange Licensed RPGs
Ten Ways to Make a Dungeons & Dragons Movie Not Suck
10 Non-Fantasy Films that You Should Turn into D&D Adventures in Your Campaign