Love them or hate them, it would seem that there is currently no getting away from Zombie games. The latest entry into this genre is Skirmish Outbreak from Radio Dish-Dash publishing – publishers of the Skirmish Sangin modern combat rules.
As the name implies, this is a skirmish wargame, designed to be used with a relatively small number of models. In a typical game, one player will play the side of the survivors, and will have around half a dozen models. The other player will play the zombies, and is likely to control about a dozen models at the start of the game, although this is likely to increase during the course of any scenario.
At the start of the game, one player builds a band of survivors. He is given a points allocation, and must spend this on recruiting members to his band – these could be Youths, your Average Joe, Professionals (such as the local Sherriff) or Elites (usually Soldiers). Each of these types of character cost a certain number of points, and have a different level of skill is such things as firearms, first aid or dodging. You can additional buy special character traits or abilities – maybe a hero, a doctor or even someone who has become slightly unhinged by the whole ‘zombie thing’. Dependent upon the character trait, this will give the model certain bonuses. As well as deciding who forms your band, you also have to equip them with weapons and armour – all of which cost points. As an alternative, these can be randomly determined, but there is a risk involved as you could equally have the chance of obtaining some good equipment, or end up being armed with nothing more than harsh language.
As far as zombies are concerned, there are actually two different types in the game, known as Ragers and Zeds. Zeds are your common, slow moving zombie, made infamous by anything from Night of the Living Dead to The Walking Dead. Ragers however are ‘fast zombies’ which seem to have been more recent entries into the Zombie genre in films such as the remake of Dawn of the Dead or World War Z.
The game uses action points and an alternative unit activation turn sequence. At the start of a turn, both players roll a number of D6 dice to generate a number of action points (AP). The Survivor player may then activate one model and spend up to three APs on it. Then the zombie player may then activate up to three zombies. Play continues until the Survivor player runs out of APs. If the zombie player runs out of APs before the Survivor, on the Zombie players turn, all zombies are activated with a single AP (so it’s probably an advantage for the Zombie player to roll low when generating action points!)
Survivor models can perform a number of different actions (walking, running, spotting, firing, climbing etc.) and each has a different AP cost – most actions cost a single point, but some cost more.
Spotting plays an important part of the game. Whilst models are automatically spotted if they are in the open, if they are in any form of cover then a model must spot its target before being able to fire upon it.
When using any skill, the Survivor player checks the number against the skill, applies any relevant modifiers, and then must roll equal to or under that number of a d20 to be successful.
Weapons have random damage – most hand weapons do 1d10+n, whilst missile weapons for 1d20. Zombies are quite tough, so you have to score 9 points of damage or more in order to kill them. In return, being injured by a zombie is not good news. There is a 50% chance that a model is infected when injured by a zombie. When this happens, becoming one of the undead is simply a matter of time. Given that in most zombie films, gangs of survivors end up fighting each other as well as the undead, rules are included for fighting / damaging other humans.
Zombies are attracted by noise. Combat and weapons can make noise (sometimes very loud noise!) Rules are included for zombies being attracted by noise – this can quite quickly add to the number of undead on the table and seriously ruin your day.
The game also includes a 20 page campaign system, which includes rules for models gaining experience, and also a scenario generator – the game includes nine different scenarios, which give a good range of all the ‘standard’ situations that you usually find in zombie films (needing supplies, stumbling across a rival gang etc.) The game also includes rules for the zombies being controlled by the rules, which means that it is quite possible to play this game solo.
As I read through the book, it appears that the authors make some assumptions, without ever actually spelling them out in black and white (or rather black and yellow, as most pages of the book are the same colour yellow as the cover – the book is easy to read, due to the stark contrast, but it gets a little wearing on the eyes after a while). I’ve been backwards and forwards several times, but I apologise if I’ve missed these:
The size of the playing area is never stipulated, although a passing comment about most skirmish games being played on a 4’ x 4’ table is made in the introduction.
Weapon range is never explicitly mentioned, although certain weapons are given a maximum range. The assumption is that any other weapon can fire with unlimited range, as long as the target has been spotted – however, this is never stated.
Perhaps strangest of all, although the dice used in the game is stated on page 8, and references are made to dice modifiers during spotting and all combat rolls. However, when spotting, or using missile fire it’s never actually specified that these should be done using a d20 – it’s seems to have been assumed. Interestingly, the use of a D20 is stated in the hand-to-hand combat table.
In all these cases, a simple sentence or short paragraph at the start of a section would have clarified the rules, and perhaps prevent any confusion. Whilst, from the authors point-of-view, they have been working with the rules for some time and so they are used to the mechanics so such things become ‘taken as read’, for anyone approaching this rules system from scratch, these things may well need to be explicitly stated.
In spite of the mentioned above niggles, actually Skirmish Outbreak is one of the better sets of rules that have been produced for fighting zombies in recent years. The game turn sequence works well, and does indeed generate a fair amount of fear and paranoia in the Survivor player when all the zombies on the board start converging on his band during the game. Add a good campaign system to this, and you have a game that is fairly easy to understand (the spotting / firing rules may take a couple of games to become natural). The rules contain lots of good examples of play, and the turn and combat sequence are well laid out in step-by-step tables.
As I alluded to at the start of this review, I’m not sure whether gamers are yet to suffer from ‘zombie fatigue’, but if you are a fan of the genre, Skirmish Outbreak is definitely worth playing.