Perhaps you thought that everything that can be said about the zombies-vs.-survivors story The Walking Dead has been said already. You've already read the graphic novels, watched the TV show, and talked about each episode after you watched it. Ah … but have you played the board game?
Earlier this year I received a copy of The Walking Dead board game that is based on the TV show (there's another board game based on the graphic novels), and I figured that my Teen Advisory Group would be up to the challenge of playing it. I also figured that Friday the 13th would be as good a day as any to try it out.
So … is it challenging? Is it scary? Will you be able to figure out what's going on in the game even if (say, hypothetically) your parents expressly FORBID you to watch the show? And can teens who spend so much time playing video games wrap their minds around a board game, instead? Let's find out!
Each player chooses a human character (a "survivor"), and they move their characters around the board based on rolls of a 6-sided die. One of the first things you might notice about this game is that the board isn't exactly … a BOARD. Instead, it's made of flexible material kind of like a mousepad, which makes it easier to carry and easier to clean in case (God forbid) you spill something on it.
Each character moves around the board, using different cards to determine what happens after they land on each space. Each player has a limited number of "scrounge" cards, representing weapons that they can use, and each time they land on a space they pull an "encounter" card that says what zombie attacks they will face.
Each encounter boils down to numbers: did the number on the scrounge card you've chosen plus the number of your die roll beat the number on the encounter card? Then you survived. Did you get a lower number? Then you lost, which means that you lose one of your allies or (when all of your allies are gone), then YOU have lost … which means that your character turns into a zombie, and you spend the rest of the game trying to kill the other survivors.
This game is filled with unusual touches—for example, when a character turns into a zombie, their playing piece comes back on the board through one of the "sewer" spaces. Zombies also have special attacks, like being able to sneak up and attack a survivor who is ANYWHERE on the board.
Well, the chaos began as soon as my teens picked their characters, because I had three players who chose to play Rick Grimes, Lori Grimes, and Shane Walsh. That's right, the three sides of a love triangle.
So a lot of the game had a running commentary that went something like this:
"You cheated on me!"
"THAT'S the guy you married?"
"I cheated on you, but I thought you were dead!"
They also reacted a lot to the zombie action:
"When there are zombies, there can never be enough rifles!"
"I HATE being surrounded! It's annoying!"
"Why do zombies want to eat brains, anyway?" [This soon detoured into a discussion of how the movie Warm Bodies had a very good answer to this question]
My teens definitely enjoyed playing the game, and they thought that it was fun because they could relate to the characters. They said that the game was cool, especially when you played with friends and especially when you highlighted the love triangle angle (yes, they were ALL OVER the love triangle).
Overall, the game was a lot of fun, except … well, we had to end the gaming session before anyone actually turned into a zombie! You see, playing a luck-based game means that you can lose or you can win, but so much of that depends on rolling that six-sided die. Normally, you'd be happy if you kept scoring high numbers over and over again. But this is one of the only games in which rolling a low number (and thus losing) (and thus dying and returning as a zombie) could be kind of cool. So by the time we ended the session, all of the characters were still in the "survivor" category.
Anyway, even though each of the players came from different backgrounds in terms of familiarity with board games, card games, and The Walking Dead storyline, they all enjoyed playing this game. Although they might want to play it again to see what it's like when characters start turning into zombies.
More about The Walking Dead
Check Out The Walking Dead TV series at NYPL: