17th Feb2023

‘Zombicide: Undead or Alive’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

The end result of yet another gigantic CMON Kickstarter, Zombicide: Undead or Alive represents something like the tenth variant/setting that the game has taken place in, and critically, this is the first spin-off to be based on the updated Zombicide: Second Edition ruleset. Many people are now familiar with the Zombicide formula, and for them the difference between each setting is really what makes these iterative versions interesting – whether those differences relate to the theme or the new mechanisms. For anyone new to the series, theme is likely to be a more important factor – and for me, the Wild West setting of Zombicide: Undead or Alive is probably the most exciting among them!

Now, before I go into too much detail about the specifics of Zombicide: Undead or Alive, I should just mention that I am only going to be discussing the retail version of the base game in this review. It should be noted that if you have a Kickstarter copy, or if you choose to seek out some of the day one expansions that have already been released, then you’ll have access to loads more content – and I do mean LOADS. Zombicide: Undead or Alive already has an expansion which adds horses and horseback characters, a campaign that adds a steam mechanic (and a unique deck of weapons), an expansion focussed on new gear in the form of inventions, and then several expansions which add new baddies of both the regular and abomination (boss) variety. There is even a full campaign expansion among these, which brings more structure than simply stringing missions together in a story (which is a feature of the base game.)

Despite me being able to list so many things that are NOT in it, Zombicide: Undead or Alive does actually still come with a whole ton of content that is more than enough for any casual gamer. There are fourteen playable characters and around ten missions to play, plus over 70 enemy zombie miniatures to fight through. My only real complaint about the content on offer here is that there is only one very basic abomination bad guy included. Whilst abominations are included in most of the other expansions as a kind of “bonus” or indeed, as expansions on their own, I think it’s a bit of a shame that there weren’t at least two or three in the base game box.

Regardless of the physical content on offer or whether you invest in any expansions or not, Zombicide: Undead or Alive offers plenty of challenge in terms of action on the board. The ten missions included in the booklet certainly felt a bit stingey to me based on my experience with Zombicide: Second Edition, but what I didn’t count on was that with Zombicide: Undead or Alive, I would end up replaying most missions at least two or three times before I even came close to succeeding in them. Yes; Zombicide: Undead or Alive is by far the most difficult Zombicide game that I have ever played and probably the most difficult cooperative game I can remember – you will die, you will die quickly and you will lose often… Which is… Good?

Yes, it’s very good, because whilst Zombicide: Undead or Alive retains the dice-chucking excitement and focus on fast-paced action that the series is famous for, it really focuses the minds of the players on making each turn as efficient as possible. This is due to a number of minor tweaks to the game tiles, the way spawning works, and because of the Wild West setting – let me explain. Firstly, the board will now often feature a train track – which at some point will feature a train – and that brings with it new challenges for how you move around the board, perhaps because your exit point is only going to be there for a few turns. Secondly, spawn points in Zombicide: Undead or Alive exist as normal in certain locations, but buildings (which have no doors in this version) now feature corpse piles, and when visited, these become active spawn points…

What this combination of the train and the new spawning means is that as you explore the map (and you will need to) you’re going to open up more and more locations which zombies will attack you from whilst still having to meet certain time-bound objectives. If the players don’t plan carefully and work as a team, they will be quickly overwhelmed, but if they try to avoid progressing certain objectives on certain missions, the train will simply pass them by. The final unique aspect of Zombicide: Undead or Alive which adds both salt and sanctuary to this challenge is the setting itself, and the classes that have been introduced to help balance the difficulty back towards the players.

Zombicide: Undead or Alive features four classes of character in the base game (and there is a fifth in one of the expansions) which are: Townsfolk, Brawler, Faithful and Gunslinger. All characters have two health (which is basically nothing) except the Brawlers who have three and can charge an enemy by moving and attacking for a single action. The Faithful have an ability called Vade Retro which allows them to “freeze” enemies in a single zone for one activation – and they can also cleanse spawn points with water or holy water. Townsfolk can shoot through “blocked” spaces inside houses and they can also search with multiple actions in the same turn, whilst Gunslingers can use an action to basically fire all six shots of a pistol (for 6 dice) with a penalty to accuracy and at the cost of having to reload that weapon afterwards.

These class abilities are not just there for fun – they are absolutely fundamental to your success. Let me just take you back a step to my comment about two health not being much – it really isn’t. Ending your turn in a space with a spawn is incredibly risky, and doing somewhere there are actual zombies is pretty much suicide. If zombies spawn and then get a second activation (which doesn’t seem to be as common in the encounter deck in Zombicide: Undead or Alive as it is in other games) will basically kill any survivor without doubt. In Zombicide: Black Plague or Green Horde, you might have had armour or similar to counter this, but there’s no such thing in Zombicide: Undead or Alive (although there is in the Gears and Guns expansion, sigh…) So your class abilities are what you have instead – you’ll need to use them.

For me, this is just fantastic really. I don’t like losing, but I also found Zombicide: Second Edition a bit too easy at times, and experienced gamers were reliably able to complete missions about ninety percent of the time – which I think is too high. My overall win rate in Zombicide: Undead or Alive is probably less than fifty-percent, which I don’t THINK is simply down to incompetence. Indeed, I think I can pick out a few games where we played almost flawlessly and yet still lost, and that gives Zombicide: Undead or Alive a feeling of excitement and desperation at times that I just don’t think I can say I felt in relation to some of the other games in this series – especially not Zombicide: Second Edition.

In summarising then, Zombicide: Undead or Alive has a lot of content in the box, but if you were to dive into it and enjoy it, then there’s a whole lot more content that you could add into it later – even if quite a lot of that stuff is, unfortunately, Kickstarter exclusive and therefore hard to get hold of. The reasons that you might enjoy it are because it has the expected “pomp and swagger” of a Zombicide game with loads of miniatures and exciting, high-quality components, yet as a game, it’s much smarter than it looks. You’ll find Zombicide: Undead or Alive a real challenge, with each character being squishy and easy to kill yet powerful and dynamic in respect of the abilities they have to keep them alive.

Whilst perhaps not the best way for a casual gamer to enter the series, Zombicide: Undead or Alive is probably the ultimate thinking-gamers miniatures game. It is tough, suspenseful, clever and innovative, and yet whilst it’s hard to win, it’s not overly complex and if anything, there are fewer rules and components to understand than there are in other versions of Zombicide. The one element of complexity is probably the train and how it moves (with tiles being flipped and slid along etc) but once you’ve done that a few times, it’s no problem. For me this is a definite keeper, and if you’re wondering why I am so well-informed about all these expansions that I don’t have – it’s because I’ve already researched and purchased most of them from a well-known auction site because that’s how keen I am to play more of Zombicide: Undead or Alive.

****½ 4.5/5

A copy of Zombicide: Undead or Alive was provided by Asmodee for review.

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