I had heard some positive buzz about the Walking Dead: All Out War from Mantic and Skybound. One day I was at my FLGS, and I saw a copy of the game labeled as a Solo Starter Set. I had never really done too much Zombie gaming, except for a board game called Last Night on Planet Earth. I had a lot of fun with it. So, I impulse bought this set to give the game a try. I wanted to do more with Zombie gaming in the future with either Last Days or Dracula's America from Osprey anyway, so why not give this a go to compare. After all 'tis the season!
You can see the first scenario set-up and ready to play. The game came with a short and simple instruction manual with three scenarios in it. It had everything you needed to play such as counters, spinners, ruler, and a few figures that I painted up in a night. The game had 5 walkers (Zeds, Zombies, Zs, Undead, corpses, C.H.U.D.'s, etc) and one hero figure. The material they made these guys with definitely needs a good wash and undercoat to accept paint. Thankfully, the Zombie genre practically begs for messier paint jobs.
Things I Liked
The mechanics are pretty simple. Children will be able to play this game and anyone not familiar with how to play a war game. All the rules fit in a 14 page book, with scenarios. In addition, the cards you draw and use explain what the items or card does. Very easy.
I also like that the threat rating increases as you do things that make noise such as fighting, running, or shooting a gun. As the Threat rating increases you are reducing the amount of time you have to complete mission objectives, but also increasing the odds of more Walkers appearing or Walker attacks. In addition, as the Threat goes up, some models with weaker nerve might start to panic or act in ways the player does not fully wish based on the results of a die roll.
Finally, I like that the game can be played solo versus the game, or against an opposing gang of survivors. Not many games have a solo play mode and as a gamer in a rural part of the world sometimes you need games to play solo.
Since this solo version only has 1 hero, it is tough to get into some of the more aggressive actions like baiting zombies to attack opponents, out maneuvering them, or doing much tactically against them. However, just reading the rules, it is clear you can use the zombies AI to your advantage if you act carefully.
Things I Do Not Like
Since this is a solo starter set, it would have been nice if this would have come with a fold-out mat to play on like the main core box. A solo starter player probably doesn't have the nice drop cloth or terrain I have available. Instead, they would be playing on a bare table with counters. Not visually appealing.
Custom dice! I hate them. What happens when I invariably lose them and they have stopped making this game? The game is no longer walking dead, it is just dead. At least they gave me enough dice to play the full game.
The game uses named characters with set stats. I prefer games where I can make my own mooks to go die fighting zombies. However, it is a licensed product so you need the names or why bother licensing the product? Since I am an out of touch misanthrope who is one bad day away from being a member o the walking dead, these named characters have no connection to me on any level.
Meh and Other Uncertainties
The game does not seem to have any campaign system, at least in the starter solo set. Perhaps in other expansions or waves it does but not that I am aware of. This is a big turn-off for me. So, in my first mission I get a knife, but by scenario two I have lost it somehow? Lame.
Unarmed characters are very vulnerable, and tactically it seems pretty hard to out maneuver the zombies in the limited play space the game provides. Perhaps this is remedied somewhat in the Core Set. I can see how team tactics could really help you in this game, but based on what I played it is hard to tell. It seems like you WILL have to fight your way through Zombies no matter what you really do. The question seems to be who, when, and what else is going on.
The main objective is to pick up loot boxes. Even versus other survivors I can see how that would get boring fast. Look at Frostgrave as a good example of how they had to diversify the game to avoid repetitive game play. Again, this maybe avoided in the Core Set and supplements, but it is a big problem I see after playing the Solo Starter.
Well, I don't really see myself getting a bunch more stuff for this game UNLESS I plan on using it with other Zombie games I found more interesting. I actually preferred the games Last Night on Earth that I have played in the past because searching was more fun, it had more scenarios, and the archetypes allowed more lite RPG as we brought the characters we wanted to the board.
The only other reason I would get some more expansions or stuff would be to be able to take it to play with the family at Holiday time. This is a pretty easy game for non-gamers to grasp and have fun with. I could see each family member controlling a survivor or small group of survivors on a slightly larger board where they could decide how much they wanted to work together or not. The rules and mechanics are simple enough to learn and play a few escalating narrative style games.
This is not a true war game, and it is not a true board game. It is more of a “Dudes on a Table” game. It borrows some conventions from both genres of board games and war games but isn't that great at either of them. I feel the replay-ability is low and the tactical choices a bit monotonous. There really are not enough choices that your survivor needs to make or that matter for this game to interesting enough to play more than a handful of times.