A Lazy Sequence

Zombie World first impressions

Zombie World box cover

Kicking of this years tabletop gaming, my regular group dived into Zombie World. We got in about a 2 hour session, including going over the basics of the rules, and doing enclave and character creation. I’d say that overall it went well, despite my fumbling with the rules. This post is just a grab-bag of thoughts.

This was our first contact with a Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA) game, so there was a bunch of stuff to get to grips with initially. As we were packing up one player commented that his initial impression was that the game was very complicated, but once we got into it, it all fell into place and was much simpler than it looked. With all the piles of cards and play mats strewn over the table, I’m not at all surprised by that reaction. I think that in the future, if I introduce this game to another group, I would try to give a clearer picture of the setup steps up front, and try to minimize the amount of stuff on the table till it was actually needed.

The physical product itself is brilliant. Card based character creation and fortune is excellent. The dry erase character sheets and cards is so handy; I don‘t think I’ve encountered a better pickup game.

Having spent a lot of time in the last several years running canned scenarios, or material that I can do a decent amount of prep for, having to sit down and do everything on the spot was a challenge—I suspect I'll still be feeling the pressure for a while time come. The game is really well designed for this mode though; the way the moves work, and the way the Fate deck kicks off the action is really good at just pushing the story forward; GMing is surprisingly reactive.

Speaking of the design of the moves, I really like how they exert subtle pressures on the fiction. For example, Turn to Violence: Not only does the move force complications (no surprises for a PbtA game), the limitation of at best avoiding three of the four bad outcomes works to undermine any myth of redemptive violence. It’s always going to cost the characters to turn on their fellow survivors, but its especially powerful by putting exactly which bad outcome they get in the hands of the player.

I’ve never previously had a game go from first reading to at the table in a week. That’s a kind of magic.

In a funny twist of fortunes, the very first (and so far only) time a character had a encounter with a zombie, the card drawn from the Bite deck was the Bite, with the player decided he didn’t want to reveal it to the rest of the enclave. It’s interesting to watch how that simple result has already had an impact on the fiction, pushing it toward genre standards.

My biggest complaint about the product is that the rulebook is a little terse for my liking; I can only guess that it’s written with a tacit assumption that you haven’t waited 9 years to try out a PbtA game.

In some ways I really like that the rules are a tidy 35 pages; being able to read the whole thing cover to cover twice, in the week between the game arrive and hitting the table is absolutely a boon.

On the other hand, I did have to hit the internet to address some reasonably fundamental questions about how the characters interact with zombies. The GMing rules (advice?) is particularly terse. I think it would have benefitted from some additional examples of play, thankfully there is a great official demo on YouTube that answered a lot of my questions.

Maybe all this is just my own gaming baggage and experience getting in the way of seeing what the text is saying?

Long term, I suspect what might make the game fail for us is that the core is very much about character drama, against a background of action and horror. This group is only just starting to explore more indie games and styles of play; we’ve been playing pretty conventional games for many years now. I’m interested to see if the moves available to the players will help overcome this.

18 January 2020