10th Jun2020

‘The Walking Dead: All-Out War’ Board Game Review

by Chris Thomas

How did zombies go from being an extremely niche form of horror to being pop culture mainstream? up there with teenage mutant turtles and twerking. There is even a skittles television advert featuring a zombie high school romance scene for heaven’s sake. At this point we are so invested in the idea of zombies it feels like a disappointment that the apocalypse that looks set to fall upon is so mundane.

One of the brilliant stories I love from George Romero was that Night of the Living Dead (1968) was never intended to have such a strong racial subtext. It is just the African American guy was the best, most heroic actor of the small pool available at the time and was thus the logical choice to be the hero. Having said that, it is interesting that art often lets us gain more than the artist originally intended.

A key driver to making zombie entertainment so popular was The Walking Dead TV series, which was very loosely based on The Walking Dead comic/graphic novels by Robert Kirkman. I could talk about George Romero and Shaun of the Dead forever but for once I am going to stay on topic. Starting, now. In 2020 there are so many wonderful games out there, so many demands on our time and wallet that means that the hobby space is bigger than ever but also it is brutal for new games to find an audience.

Starting. Now.

Here you can see the character cards, bespoke dice, cop badge and so on.

The Walking Dead: All-Out War is a tabletop game that came to Kickstarter a couple of years ago from Kings of War fame, Mantic Games. Kings of War is a game I absolutely love, and you can read my review of it if you go here. The Walking Dead: All-Out War is a skirmish game (i.e. low model count) that sees two or more players forming their own little group of survivors and battling it out in the zombie occupied wastes of your dining table Georgia.

Important to note, is that this game is based on the original comic series and they do not have the rights to make anything that was original to the TV series. Cry big, salty tears that Darryl is therefore not in this game.

This game does a lot of things right. Firstly, it is clear what you need to buy to start playing. If you pick up a retail box (which will give you a version of Rick, a few of the other main characters, plus enough plastic zombies, rules, dice and other bits and pieces to get you started).

The box also gives you some cardboard terrain, which is fantastic as the cost and amount of effort you need to start playing is on a par with a board game. Everything you need to get a taste of the game is included. This includes cardboard templates and, crucial to gameplay, cardboard terrain.

The fancy Kickstarter box I got included a generous amount of plastic terrain (e.g. cars, barricades) but in terms of gameplay and especially if you are a bit nervous about calling this a “hobby” or “tabletop game” you can just as well leave your minis unpainted and treat this experience as a self-contained board game. The Walking Dead: All-Out War will work just as well as a board game you get out occasionally and play with friends, as well as nerds like me who treat it as a huge hobby project. If you do like doing nerdy things, this game is an absolute dream for making little post-apocalyptic tables.

The red roofed building is a cricket pavilion. But you can use any pavilion you have lying around the house.

What is a big plus, is the models come preassembled, and they are nice. There are some lovely sculpts with some fun poses. As a way of enticing people who are fans of the Walking Dead this is a strong and intelligent piece of work. Mantic have done an excellent job of removing any of the good reasons that stop people from investing in a game, particularly people who are new to tabletop gaming. The box includes a “quick start rules” guide that means players can get a tutorial game in even before they read the rulebook (which is simple and clear to understand with great diagrams). At this point, I am deep down the tabletop hobby well, so building and painting huge amounts of plastic models doesn’t worry me, but if that is a concern for you, then WDAOW is probably going to fit you better than Kings of War. Two excellent games from Mantic that are positioned in different hobby niches.

The brilliance of the game is that theme is not slapped onto this product but baked into the rules. Mantic have also done an excellent job of creating fun and robust rules that are very thematic. One zombie walker is usually not a huge problem, but multiple walkers certainly are. Firing guns creates noise, noise draws walkers, being bitten does what you think it will. Only a headshot can put a walker down for good. There is also an interesting mechanic where players must decide whether to be aggressive in melee combat (the only way to permanently knock out a walker) or to be defensive, which gives you a better chance of not being killed but means killing the walker is not possible. The rules of the game are simple, intuitive but rich in all the things that make the Walking Dead so compelling and interesting.

In constructing a crew, each survivor has a stats card and a model, you can give them weapons and items (mini cards) which will give the survivors abilities and generally give them more and better bespoke dice to perform various actions. Crews are suggested by their faction, e.g. Woodbury, the Kingdom but really players can do whatever they want to tell whatever stories they might want to have fun. Important to note, there is an expansion called “Return to Woodbury” which contains what you will need for solo play.

Interestingly, Carl was not annoying in the comics

I have only ever played it as a “narrative game” which means, telling an interesting story is the main point, rather than who wins or who loses, and honestly this is just how I like to play games. I believe it would make a fine competitive game too, but I have not tried to build a “competitive list”.

What is difficult to explain in this review is quite how much fun this game is. In my reviews I often talk about things being “fun”, and how “fun” is often somehow considered indulgent or unimportant (by my parents, for example). But for me, “fun” is significantly undervalued in 2020. Playing this game makes me laugh, like a maniac. The rules are remarkably simple and clear but the possibilities for zombie related fun are huge in this game. As the threat tracker ramps up the zombies quickly go from being a curious nuisance to being deadly. On top of this, another crew are likely to be shooting at you.

The possibilities for creating your own little, hilarious stories in this world are huge. Once you get the basic rules it becomes clear that you can manipulate the zombies, which becomes an incredibly fun tactical strategy to get a zombie to munch on your friend’s brains (however it often backfires, hilariously). I treat this as a wonderful toy box to make little, fast narrative skirmishes but a campaign would work brilliantly in this format. The board space you need to play is minimal, the cost of playing is low if you want it to be (though I dropped several hundred pounds buying everything from the first few waves, on top of the 100 odd pounds huge Kickstarter edition). In all honestly, were I not so committed to Kings of War I would play a lot more The Walking Dead: All-Out War.

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

If you enjoy The Walking Dead, games in general, or this weird obtuse concept of “fun” I keep banging on about I highly recommend you pick up the starter box of The Walking Dead: All-Out War. Try it for yourself and unleash some zombie bitten mayhem on your friends and family.

The Walking Dead: All-Out War is available from Mantic Games. Compatible terrain is also available from Mantic Games. Some terrain pictured is available from Warlord Games. The board is just MDF from my local DIY shop, cut to 1 foot squared panels (by the shop) that I glued sand to then painted grey and dry brushed.


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