TABLETOP GAME REVIEW: The Walking Dead: All Out War
For the past eight years, Mantic Games have worked hard to cement themselves as a solid alternative to Games Workshop.
Founded by former managing director of GW Ronnie Renton it has spent the last few years making alternatives to GW’s most famous games, Mantic have used Kickstarter to make their projects come to life and over the Christmas period, Mantic was kind enough to send me a copy of possibly their biggest project to date, The Walking Dead: All Out War.
It’s a big task taking on one of the biggest TV franchises and turning it into a tabletop skirmish game, and the first question Mantic must’ve asked themselves was “is there an audience for this game?”. The Kickstarter campaign for All Out War had pledges of $658,853 against a target of of only $50,000. That would seem to suggest there was an audience after all.
So, out of the box, what do we get? 18 miniatures, 6 survivors and 12 walkers. We get a paper gaming mat, rules book and quick start guide, some card terrain (cars and barricades), eleven dice plus various cards and tokens relating to the rules of the game.
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The miniatures are really beautiful, small but well moulded, the design is clear, simple but very well put together. There’s a decent amount of miniatures in the box too, more than enough to play the game with various scenarios and set ups. As mentioned before, there’s a number of pieces of ‘card terrain’ which are used on the gaming mat, and although use of the mat isn’t necessary, it is nice to have a defined play area. These terrain pieces act as, well, terrain. There are cars, barricades, even the RV for you to play around, most of the scenarios that you’ll play will involve searching supply caches, which in turn will usually provide you with weapons, ammo or first aid, all of which have small cache tokens on the battlefield. Cars and barricades also give you cover, and can make it harder for the walkers to move around the field, the designs of these pieces are simple and effective. In fact all the little tokens, and various cards are all well designed.
Then it’s onto the rulebook, I’ll admit that I’m a tad rusty when it comes to playing tabletop games, but I found the rules a little difficult to get to grips with. That’s not to say that they’re any harder than any other tabletop skirmish game, but I had to read and re-read a few parts to get my head around them. After a while, the rules made sense and were at par with other games on the market, but occasionally something would catch us out and it would take us a while to find the appropriate section in the rulebook that referred to said rule. It would be nice to have an ‘Argos style’ index to tell me where a particular rule can be found, although the book does contain a reference page and a turn sequence to guide you through the gameplay.
The rules are rather heavy, The Walking Dead is a major franchise right now, but this game isn’t really suitable for newcomers so the sheer weight of the rules can be off putting for those who haven’t played these sort of games before. I should point out that Mantic have some simple, yet detailed tutorial videos on their site which will really help to explain the basic rules for the game. Despite being a little difficult to understand, the rule set is fully fleshed out and works wonderfully well, with varying rules working alongside each other perfectly.
The Walking Dead: All Out War also has a threat level. This makes the walkers more dangerous the higher the level is, threat levels can increase each turn with the event cards that get drawn every turn, it also goes up if you enter melee combat with a walker. The higher the threat, the more dangerous the event cards become.
The gameplay is good once you get on top of the rule set and as mentioned before the game works well as a whole unit. The gameplay makes most of the detailed rules and is well fleshed out, the turns work nicely, moving through actions (searching, moving, shooting etc.), then onto events, melee, and the end of the turn. The system works well. The skirmishes themselves can be long or short, depending on the win conditions of the skirmish in question.
The game can be played either against one another or as a co-op game, although All Out War feels much more alive when you are playing against someone else. The idea of co-op play is good, however, as the game plays against you in a similar fashion to the likes of Pandemic, meaning that you can work as a team to complete the scenario whilst trying to survive the undead.
However, setting up a game can be difficult for a newbie. Not only are there many, many rules to wade through, but All Out War (and genre as a whole) makes assumptions that you are already aware how these games are set up. Many references to the game refer to point allocations which each side should agree on before starting, which for those who don’t know, allow fairer battles and ensure that either side isn’t overpowered due to each character (or unit) having a points value. So for instance, a 60 point battle might see me take Patrick, Sandra and Liam into battle, their points being 20, 20 and 10 respectively, giving me a total of 50 points. Or I could take Derek and Sandra (35+10), Derek costing more as he is a stronger character. For a newcomer, this can get confusing. Despite the points system, I still felt that the factions were very slightly unbalanced. Also, the lack of dedicated scenarios out of the box is a bit disappointing. As a skirmish game, it’s easy enough to come up with your own scenarios and goals, but there are similar games out there which have at least a few official scenarios for players to play through.
The Walking Dead: All Out War is a fantastic tabletop game, its details and core mechanics work perfectly. However, it is what I’d class as an intermediate game, meaning that people who are new to tabletop gaming may find this title a little hard to get their head around, and considering it’s based on such a mainstream franchise, I see many people picking it up. Stick with it and you can have a lot of fun either in co-op or competitive, but as stated before, it works better in a PVP scenario. The future also looks bright for All Out War, with new expansions on the way and in January an addon that replaces the game’s cardboard cars and barricades with physical models, and they look gorgeous.
PROS: Well made miniatures. The core game is very good, with deep and well balanced rule set.
CONS: Very difficult for new players to the genre to learn, may put off more casual players.