Because ZOMBI is back on sale, I figured looking at an old review might be timely.
Zombies have appeared in RPGs since D&D first appeared. Those early zombies were the sword fodder for many questing bands. Recently though the zombie horror movie has become a focus for games. Zombi, along with All Flesh Must be Eaten (AFMBE) from Eden Studios, are both part of this new wave, yet they take very different approaches to the same subject.
The skeleton of a character is similar to Crucible’s earlier game Space Ninja XDO Cyber Crisis. Ten traits (including close combat, scrounging and medicine) along with a character’s panic statistic (which simulates their reaction to the presence of the zombi menace) define a character. This system leads to characters that are significantly less detailed than those found in AFMBE but are also quicker to generate from scratch.
The game’s muscles are embodied in its simple mechanics. A dice roll, modified by the panic statistic if there are zombies about, is compared to a trait or an opponent’s roll. This mechanic is readily applied to a variety of death dealing methods. Zombi relies more on a referee’s judgment than providing rules, and so this section is considerably less detailed than AFMBE combat rules. Then again, how often do you need rules for dogfights in a zombie horror game?
The meat on the carcass in Zombi comes in the background section. The setting is detailed in a few pages and is straightforward enough. The Zombi plague-infected dead rose from the ground at the end of 1999 and shortly afterwards the widespread collapse of civilization ensued.
A wide variety of encounters with other survivors, from a loner in a recreational vehicle right through to major settlements, are suggested. This is where Zombi really shines. Instead of a long list of optional twists on the zombie, as found in AFMBE, they are treated as a force of nature. Zombi suggests they are used to force disparate groups of survivors together, creating the tensions from which great stories spring.
Zombies aren’t neglected though, along with game statistics come a random appearance generator and rules for the zombi plague. The book is rounded out with over thirty short adventure hooks.
Zombi is a sixty-eight page, A5 booklet. The layout is clear and effective with competent black and white, full-page illustrations. It certainly isn’t as pretty as AFMBE but the presentation certainly doesn’t detract from the product either.
While the system is competent, the focus on the living rather than the dead is where Zombi’s real strength lies. Anyone considering running a game in the zombie horror genre would make a wise investment of a bit of cash if they picked up a copy of Zombi. A nice little game that won’t burn a hole in your pocket.
Zombi is a game very much like the films that inspired it. There are zombies everywhere, it wasn’t made on a blockbuster budget and it’s full of interesting ideas.