The Walking Dead: All Out War Review

The Walking Dead: All Out War Review Hot

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MattDPMattDP   February 06, 2017  
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The phenomenal success of the X-Wing game has made it an irresistible model to follow. Grab a hot media franchise and slap a miniatures game on the top of it. The latest member of this herd is The Walking Dead: All Out War. The game art makes clear that it's based on the eponymous comics rather than the TV series. But it's all related enough to catch the eye of anyone with a passing interest in either.

Picking up and flicking through the accessible quick start rules shows this to be typical miniatures fare. There is a cardboard ruler in the box, which measures things in inches. Figures can take two different actions like move or search unless they're in melee, in which case they do nothing but fight. Combat gets resolved by custom coloured dice, with more successes than your enemy translating into damage.

There's an impressive amount of plastic in the box for the money, eighteen miniatures in total. Twelve are zombies and the other six are human characters, including Rick Grimes and his son Carl. They're good sculpts, full of life and detail although the plastic could be better quality. It's bendy enough that I'd be a little nervous of painting them.

Playing with the little guys, however, reveals that All Out War uses typical miniatures rules to make something quite unusual. It's presented as a two-player game of tactical combat where each side fights to secure the most resources on the map. The tasty filling in this plain sandwich is the walkers themselves. Each player gets to pick a roster of characters and equipment up to an agreed points value. Then, for each 15 points or part thereof, a zombie gets added to the map. 

Zombies have a simple AI routine to follow. If anyone on the map makes noise, by running or firing a gun, they're likely to move toward the noise. If anyone gets in their "kill zone", a circular cardboard template, the zombie will attack them. Individual zombies are no real threat but two or more on a single human escalates their combat pool with terrifying speed. Also, they're hard to kill permanently. You need special "headshot" results on your combat dice or take an extra turn attacking a prone one to finish them off. Otherwise they're likely to stand up again. 

Right away, that presents players with an series of awful conundrums. You need to get to supply counters on the map before your opponent. But if you run, you'll bring zombies. If you fire weapons, you'll bring zombies. Sure, you could spend some time finishing them off but that's a waste of actions. Especially given those walkers are just as dangerous to your enemy as they are to you. Victory is often as much about making best use of the zombies as it is moving and fighting with your own pieces.

Furthermore each turn sees a random event card flipped over. Many of these cause new walkers to appear or the ones already on the map to act. Sometimes the active player will get the chance to move one or move zombies themselves. These have the potential to  totally derail existing plans and make you reassess the situation and form new strategies. The dice and cards do a great job of keeping decisions in the hands of the players while also keeping them on their tactical toes. 

Cards also tend to increase the threat dial. This is a rubbish plastic spinner which is far too easy to knock off track, and is better replaced with pen and paper. The mechanics, though, are gravy. As threat increases, the effects of event cards on the walkers get more and more dangerous and characters get less and less reliable. It's effectively a timer: the longer you spend creeping about and not securing those supplied, the more riled the walkers get. Not only does this fit the theme well and keep a lid on the play time, but it turns the game into a pressure cooker. You're not only racing against the other player but against the walkers too. Every choice you make cuts multiple ways.

Threat also works to transform All Out War into a serviceable solo or co-operative experience. In the solitaire rules, it increases automatically every turn as well as by event cards, and all zombie movement is toward the nearest human. This wouldn't be the way I'd choose to play most games with a multi-player option but it works well here. Not least because it's a very unusual option to have in a miniatures title.

Before you dream of using the franchise hook to pull in some non-gaming fanboys, you should be aware it's not a simple game. Wherever there's a range ruler and scenery there's bound to be ambiguities and edge cases which need rules to cover them. It is, however, quick to play and easy to get stuck in and learn piecemeal. And the six game characters with special abilities plus a roster of equipment gives you plenty of options to try out at first. It's tense and addictive.

After a few games, though, it becomes clear that this starter set is exactly what it says on the box. There's only one "scenario" which you can mix up with different rosters and scenery. The event deck is small and you'll see most of it in most games. That first flush of variety in the characters and items starts to look samey. Given this is an expandable miniatures game this shouldn't come as a surprise. But it's hard to not to feel a little disappointed that there isn't more mileage in the starter box.

So, anyone investing in this need to prepare themselves to invest in an expansion or two. It's par for the course with games like this, I guess. And while there's nothing entirely novel on offer here, the game does a great job or arranging familiar blocks into something fresh. It's exciting, challenging and evocative of the source material. I gave up on the TV series long ago, but this game is good enough to give a zombie resurrection to my interest in the franchise as a whole. 

Posted: 07 Feb 2017 15:21 by edulis #243620
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Thanks for the review.. now I am actually thinking of picking it up. I have a bunch of gaming terrain laying around from warhammer 40k and necromunda days and I am a fan of both the comic and the tv show.

But then I think I should see if I can find someone else who would be interested. Last summer I got some people to pick up Guildball stuff and then we played three times... never even got past the looking up rules mid-game stage and then it fizzled out. Lack of free time and too many games. Too many rule sets.
Posted: 07 Feb 2017 17:07 by Vlad #243630
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If this came out 5-6 years ago, I would already own a copy and at least one expansion.
But, right now it is the accumulation of zombies fatigue+walking dead fatigue + new board game fatigue + spoiled by GW minis.
How long does it take to play?
Posted: 08 Feb 2017 04:24 by MattDP #243649
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Vlad wrote:
How long does it take to play?

As long as you like, because it depends on the points value of figures you choose to bring. You can play a small solo game in less than a half hour. With the figures in the box you're unlikely to play any scenario that takes longer than 90-120 minutes. But there's no need to go that long unless you want to: smaller games are still lots of fun.
Posted: 08 Feb 2017 11:45 by SuperflyTNT #243667
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I can't believe I missed this review.

This game was built on the steel bones of Mars Attacks: TMG, which is a good thing. I, in fact, would rather play Mars Attack because of the vehicles, wackier heroes and setting, and the overall sense of humor the game has without trying to make it into a "comedy game" or some such tripe. I also like that there's a TON of scenarios with it. Had I not needed to remodel my house and pay some bills, I'd have never sold that.
Posted: 08 Feb 2017 12:14 by MattDP #243668
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SuperflyTNT wrote:
This game was built on the steel bones of Mars Attacks: TMG, which is a good thing.

Interesting, I had no idea it was a partial reskin of an existing system.

A quick read about Mars Attacks, though, suggests it's a straight up humans vs aliens fight without any equivalent to the AI zombies in All Out War. It's those walkers that make the game for me, because of the dilemmas they pose. Go quiet or go fast? Kill them off or use them against the opposition? Plus the solo rules are more fun than expected.
Posted: 08 Feb 2017 17:34 by Vlad #243679
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Exactly, having zombies as a 3rd faction is what makes this interesting to me. There is a miniature games system All Things Zombie (that I haven't played, but is kinda famous) which was distilled into a boardgame (which I have). The latter was focused on co-op, and pretty mediocre overall. It had one fun mission where you had a two opposed groups of survivors with zombies in between.
Posted: 09 Feb 2017 08:57 by charlest #243697
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All Things Zombie (the miniatures game, not sure about the BG) has many spiritually similar ideas to this design. It's probably the best comparison. All Out War is like a streamlined, professional version of ATZ.
Posted: 09 Feb 2017 09:00 by hotseatgames #243699
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I received the All Things Zombie board game as payment for a mini-expansion to House of Spirits from Lock 'n Load. They never ended up releasing the expansion. And I never played All Things Zombie.
Posted: 10 Feb 2017 16:42 by fightcitymayor #243771
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I'm kind of a mark for this game (check BGG for proof) but really what makes it stand out for me is that it's one of the few Mantic games (Kings Of War is another) that actually does what it says. After Mantic kinda botched the Dungeon Saga KS, and half-baked the Dungeon Saga solo rules, and killed Deadzone V1 in favor of V2, and went overboard with Dreadball to the point of nuking it for a Second Edition there as well, and birthing Mars Attacks only to slit its throat shortly after birth, and leaving a few of their earliest efforts (that weren't nerfed into second editions) to die on the vine... I sort of had my eyes closed for this Walking Dead product, assuming the worst.

Maybe it was my low expectations, but it's just so super SOLID that I can't find much to bitch about. It doesn't pretend to re-invent anything, but the zombie vibe is still there with the threat tracker and Nerve Tests, and independent zombie movement. And it's totally a minis game, not a boardgame, but the rules are so straightforward and solid (there's that word again) that you can't help but be charmed by how easy it is to play & teach. True, the expansions aren't cheap, and it's obvious they are milking the cash cow a bit with how boosters are priced, but Ronnie Renton has already said this is Mantic's best selling game ever already. I can't wait for Wave 2 to arrive in a few month's time.

And there is so much of the comics that hasn't even begun to be explored yet that Mantic can mine this vein for years.
Posted: 11 Feb 2017 22:49 by metalface13 #243802
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Does it have a campaign mode? Do my guys move on to the next game with the resources they gathered in the scenario just played and gain experience from surviving another harrowing zombie encounter?
Posted: 13 Feb 2017 04:25 by MattDP #243831
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metalface13 wrote:
Does it have a campaign mode? Do my guys move on to the next game with the resources they gathered in the scenario just played and gain experience from surviving another harrowing zombie encounter?

Not in the base game, no. Would be a nice and thematic addition for an expansion, of course, and I'm sure that hasn't escaped Mantic's notice.
Posted: 14 Feb 2017 11:31 by SuperflyTNT #243925
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I still think Zpocalypse is the best 'Zombie Board Game'as far as campaign (or pseudocampaign) play goes. Or really, even as one offs.
Posted: 14 Feb 2017 11:49 by charlest #243930
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Zpocalypse is fine, I played it a few times. It's not in the same ballpark as Walking Dead IMO.

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