Miniatures games can be a tough sell because they typically require assembly and a large initial outlay of cash. Once you’ve sunk some serious dough into your units, you need to consider terrain and external factors like finding opponents. The Walking Dead: All Out War looks to solve all those issues, and it helps that the game is pretty damn fantastic as well.
This new title firmly straddles the line between board and miniatures game. It comes with a paper mat that’s visually spiffy and functionally delineates the claustrophobic play area. It has 2D cardboard terrain for cars and barricades. The beautiful miniatures are even pre-assembled, so you can get going right out of the box. It’s not difficult to see the comparisons to the ever popular X-Wing Miniatures Game. The All Out War starter set boasts a similar scope and even offers an identical visual presentation on the shelf, with a clear plastic window for ogling the pretty figures.
All Out War succeeds because it simply nails the essence of the comic. It’s about desperation and grinding your way out as you’re trapped between a rock and a hard place. You control bands of survivors made up of either characters from the comic (Rick and Carl) or scavengers who appeared in bit roles (you know, those guys whose names I can’t remember). Expansion content offers even more familiar faces.
This set comes with 12 Walkers, which function as dynamic terrain. They’re attracted to noise and pose a simple threat that’s easily dealt with in small numbers. If they gang up on you, it’s lights out and Rick will be having long nights sobbing Carl’s name into his ratty pillow.
An event deck increases the instability of the battleground as new zombies will wander onto the map and existing ones will behave erratically. It’s all wonderfully connected to that existential dread and increasing sense of turmoil as a meter measuring threat literally escalates over time. This causes the environment to become more unstable and for the walkers to react more violently. It may even cause some survivors to lose their nerve and perform undesirable actions.
Navigating the walkers and chaotic arena is tricky, but the goal in the base scenario is to scavenge supplies. Unfortunately, that trio of nameless schmucks captained by the jerk sitting opposite you at the table is not going to make your life easy. You trade character activations back and forth, sneaking about the map to create as little noise as possible and trying to finagle your way into better gear.
Much of the game will come down to fighting the other group, and occasionally walkers that get in your way. You’ll have moments where you’re running full speed into another band of survivors to engage their leader in melee, firing off shots to draw in the walkers and tangle up the other gang members. Other times Carl will get bitten, an actual game mechanism, and you’ll be glad you took a hatchet with Rick so that you can literally amputate the poor little dude. Be careful though, because last time I tried to chop off his arm, I rolled too high and he didn’t make it. Instead he turned into an ungrateful, flesh-eating reprobate and Rick had to put him down. This strong sense of narrative and memorable outcomes is what firmly pushes All Out War into the top tier.
While all of this is fantastic, this starter set does have some natural limitations. The single scenario it ships with is flexible and provides some great head-to-head action similar to the default scenario in X-Wing, but it’s still just one scenario. Combine that with the limited force building options in the core and you have an experience that will grow a bit repetitive after several plays. This isn’t ultimately a huge stumbling block because expansions are on the way and you will want new content; that hunger can’t be satiated.
While this game has a few constraints, it’s a stellar entry to a phenomenal new line. It’s a miniatures game with some board game DNA, but most importantly, it nails the feel of its source material and presents a compelling narrative to engage. This is The Walking Dead as it ought to be, gritty and evocative.
Are you a fan of the Walking Dead? What’s your favorite Walking Dead game? Shamble on down to the comments below!
In addition to Geek & Sundry, Charlie Theel writes for Miniature Market’s The Review Corner and co-hosts the gaming podcast Ding & Dent. You can find him on twitter @CharlieTheel
All images courtesy of Mantic games