Today’s review is a miniatures game in name only, everything else connected to this title is literally on an epic scale. Not only is it based on a comic book series which has successfully traversed through fourteen years of trend changes yet continues to grow to this day, but it has also inspired two television series, one of which is mind-blowingly popular and shows no signs that its popularity will subside. It also comes in the form of several novels and a hugely lucrative video game series that sold tens of millions of copies.
For those of you that have not guessed the identity of this modern day phenomenon, I am, of course, talking about The Walking Dead, which can not only claim all of the above notorieties but has now expanded into the world of tabletop gaming thanks to Nottingham-based publisher Mantic Games. The game itself is called The Walking Dead: All Out War, and as I’ve already mentioned, it’s based solely on the comic book series. I will stress at this point that All Out War is only a starter set which can be added to at further expense, although it does contain everything that you need in order to play.
The premise of this 1-2+ player game is to control a group of survivors in post-apocalyptic Atlanta, Georgia. Your group will need to battle opposing groups whilst searching for resources, such as weapons, ammo & bandages, all while dealing with the threat of the Walkers. The Walkers are controlled by a well-designed system that constantly brings them into play and, most importantly, into conflict with the survivors, which also means that All Out War can be played solo. The game is probably best with 2 players, but if there are 6 survivor characters in play, then there is nothing stopping this from being a 6 player game, 7 if someone wanted to control the Walkers with a ‘house’ variant, but I digress.
We’ll look take a more in depth look at the mechanics and gameplay soon, but for now let’s see what’s in the box.
I’ll get straight down to the most important component in the box, that being the minis themselves. The pleasing aspect of knowing it was going to be Mantic Games who produced All Out War was the knowledge that Mantic have a proven record of making good quality minis, as shown in games such as Warpath & Kings of War. All Out War is no exception with all 18 individually sculpted minis looking quite stunning. I always think that miniature games set in modern times (not fantasy or futuristic) can suffer due to the simple fact that our clothes are ‘boring’ in comparison to a designer’s/writer’s imagination with armour & uniforms etc.; however, these seem to have good levels of detail and are just begging to be painted. Coupled with that is the fact that they are single pieces of hard plastic which require no assembly whatsoever and won’t bend or arrive misshapen, two bug bears of mine with any miniature game.
Although I don’t follow the comic series, a friend of mine does, and he recognised some of the Walker minis as those from the comics, which shows good attention to detail from Mantic and obviously helps massively with the theme which I’m sure we’ll all admit can become a little generic sometimes.
I’ll not go through the various cards that come with the game as I’ll mention them later, but they are all well designed, easy to read and have all the relevant info on them without the need to refer to a rule book. The disappointment comes with the paper stock itself which is extremely thin and for me seems to be becoming a trend with a lot of new games that are hitting the shelves at lately. Whether it’s because publishers believe that we will all sleeve our cards, regardless, and so decided to save a few quid, I’m not sure, but it is certainly noticeable.
All Out War comes with two booklets, the first being a quick start guide and the second being the rule book. The twelve-page quick start guide teaches players the basics by literally walking them through two scenarios which help embed the core mechanics, such as movement, melee & ranged attacks, as well as the turn sequence and initiative rule (who goes first, etc.). The forty-page rule book then adds all the nitty-gritty stuff, such as handguns, melee attacks, attracting Walkers and organising survivor groups, which if you decide to invest in the series will become more important as your collection grows. Both booklets are extremely well written and formatted with coloured pictures and diagrams generously spread throughout, enabling a better understanding of the rules as well as some cool comic book art and examples of painted minis. If UK-based Mantic were able to spell ‘Centre’ correctly, the booklets would be even better.
The rest of the components I’ll run through very quickly. I always love custom dice which are present and used in a variety of ways, including in combat. There are numerous pieces of scenery provided in the form of card tokens which include a building, vehicles and barriers that can all be placed on a large paper play mat. This breaks from the norm slightly with miniature games, which don’t normally provide playing surfaces, so hats off to Mantic as it really helps set the tone and feel of the game better than playing on a dull kitchen table. Yeah, it’s paper and probably won’t last overly long, but if you like the game, then you’ll probably purchase at least one mat, and if you don’t like the game, then big deal, you’ll not use it anyway.
There are several different types of tokens, all of which are printed on good card stock, and in the case of the range ruler & kill zone circle, are ‘dead’ (sorry) simple to use and understand. In general, the components are of extremely good quality and have clearly had a lot of thought put into their design and manufacture.
The game set-up is relatively quick and easy to achieve, the paper mat gives players the play area, the rulebook gives players the number of scenery pieces allowed based on a points system, as well as the number of supply crates depending on the scenario being played. All the players need to do is build their survivor group using a points system that relates to characters and weapons to begin the game with. The rules for groups’ sizes going beyond this starter set are extremely flexible with several point limits suggested. The size of the play area and time players have will largely dictate these limits, but there seems to be plenty of scope to vary each game going forward.
For the starter set, however, a one hundred point group will consist of two or three characters and a few pieces of equipment to divide as required. The survivor points limit also determines how many Walkers will be used at the start of the game; a one hundred point game will use eight Walkers and will increase as the points increase.
The game length is largely controlled by a threat tracker that will increase due to various in-game actions that will impact characters differently depending on their stats and the level of threat. Usually, the threat level will increase when event cards are played or at the start of the melee phase if survivors are engaged in combat. It can also increase when guns are fired or when the yellow panic dice is rolled.
Before going through the phases of play, I’ll explain the AI controlled Walker movement, the most common of which is caused by survivors making noise which will allow the nearest eligible Walker within 10 inches to shamble towards the survivor. If a survivor fires a weapon, then mayhem ensues. Mayhem is similar to noise, but instead of one Walker moving, all eligible Walkers within 10 inches will shamble towards that survivor, which may make players think twice before trying to blow the heads off the undead. Walkers will also move if they are within a survivor’s kill zone once all survivors have taken their turn or as the result of some event cards.
All Out War is broken down into four phases of play that make up one turn combined. The first phase is the action phase; it is where players will alternate turns and take up to two different actions per survivor. These actions could be to sneak four inches, run up to eight inches (causes noise), search supply crates, shoot or hold their nerve (decrease threat level), as well as others. If a survivor’s action would cause a Walker to move, then it is moved immediately, so too are any special actions or dice rolls etc. If a character comes into contact with a Walker, either voluntarily or involuntarily, then it is engaged and will take no further actions until the next phases. Once each survivor has taken their actions, that phase is over and players progress to the event phase.
At the start of the event phase, the kill zone counter is placed over each survivor. If that token comes into contact with any eligible Walker, then that Walker gets moved into base contact with the survivor, meaning that a survivor can quickly become swamped with Walkers. Players will then draw an event card which may immediately increase the threat level. On most cards are several pieces of text depending on the current threat level, in general, the higher the threat level, the more severe the instructions on the card. Event cards can move Walkers, add dice to the Walkers’ melee pool, add additional Walkers to the game or stand up prone Walkers.
The third phase is the melee phase and will automatically increase the threat level by one if at least one survivor is engaged. Combat in All Out War is very simple, all survivors and Walkers have a melee, shoot (only survivors) & defence value on their cards that will state how many and what colour dice are rolled in each circumstance. Players simply roll that many dice, and the player with the highest number of hits wins that round of combat; the loser is pushed backwards, and in the case of the Walkers, are laid prone. If a survivor loses, then they will lose health or could even become a Walker if all health is lost.
Some symbols on the dice will count as a headshot with regards to Walkers, which will remove them from the game, or a bitten symbol for survivors which means they are now vulnerable for the remainder of the game. Once all engaged survivors have resolved combat, players will move into the end phase.
At the start of the end phase, the black action dice will be rolled for each prone Walker to determine whether they will stand up ready for the next round or remain inert, prone on the ground. The action dice will then be rolled for each bitten survivor which could result in them losing more health. Victory conditions are then checked before starting another turn of play. Turns will continue until the threat level reaches its maximum, all survivors are dead or the victory conditions are achieved.
As with most tabletop miniature games, it would be impossible to mention every action, minor rule, consequence, etc., but I hope to have given you a basic idea of how the game is played. I will mention a couple more aspects before going into my summary, the first being the panic dice.
Each character has a threat rating on their character card; if the threat level is equal or higher to it, then the player using that survivor must roll the panic dice prior to activating them. The result of that dice could make the character lose actions, move away from Walkers, make noise, add to the threat level or a combination of several.
The second thing I want to mention is player interaction, so far I have really only spoken about survivors versus Walkers. In reality, a lot of the fighting will be a survivor(s) from one group against a survivor(s) from a rival group as each battle over precious supplies. This means that players are directly competing against one another and through certain event cards/special actions can even manipulate the Walkers to hinder their opponents.
The third point is regarding the scenarios; players are provided with one full scenario that revolves around battling a rival group for supplies. I don’t actually know how scenarios work with regards to expansions, whether they go on to tell a story or if they are random with players choosing which one to play, or even if further scenarios are provided and it’s left to the players to make up their own. As for the starter set, I would have liked two or three scenarios to mix things up a bit and offer different victory conditions which would make players use various strategies.
My last point is about the theme, which in my opinion comes across very well in All Out War. I love the way the Walkers are pulled around the play area, being attracted to noise or swarming survivors, as well as additional Walkers entering play through events. It does feel like a ‘they just keep coming’ type of game despite your best efforts, and trying to run around batting and smashing Walkers’ heads from their shoulders will quickly lead to it becoming one.
Designer: Mark Latham
Artist: Charlie Adlard
Publisher: Mantic Games