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Posted on Oct 29, 2020 in Boardgames, Front Page Features

“They’re coming to get you Barbara!”  ‘Night of the Living Dead’ Board Game Review

“They’re coming to get you Barbara!” ‘Night of the Living Dead’ Board Game Review

Rick Martin

Night of the Living Dead: A Zombicide Game  Board Game Review.  Publisher: CMON as licensed by Image Ten Productions.    Game Designers: Raphael Guiton, Jean-Baptiste Lullien, Nicolas Raoult and David Preti  Price  $89.99

Passed Inspection:  beautiful components, easy to learn, fast game play, very atmospheric, excellent replay value

Failed Basic:   a few more rules could have been included to simulate the personality of the characters from the movie

1966 to 1968 were fantastic years for film even as America was undergoing massive cultural and political trauma.  Not only were young, new film makers flooding Hollywood with outside the mainstream ideas but independent film makers throughout the country were grabbing their 16 and 35mm cameras and trying new and different approaches to narrative entertainment.  The horror genre was not exempted from this new film movement as 1968 saw the release of two ground breaking horror films – Rosemary’s Baby and Night of the Living Dead!  These two films would shift the horror genre from the Hammer and AIP Gothic horrors of Dr. Frankenstein and Count Dracula to the cultists or living dead in the house or apartment next door or perhaps walking up your driveway!  Rosemary’s Baby and Night of the Living Dead almost singlehandedly created the modern and post modern horror film movement. Not only did George Romero create the modern flesh eating zombie film subgenre but gave us the first African American horror film hero in the character of Ben who was superbly acted by Duane Jones.


For those unfamiliar with Night of the Living Dead’s plot, I’ll give you a quick spoiler free synopsis.  In rural Pennsylvania, Barbara and her brother, Johnny, are putting flowers on their father’s grave when they get attacked by a man in the cemetery.  Johnny falls and knocks his head on a gravestone while trying to keep the man from biting his sister.  Barbara panics and flees as the man followers her.  She ends up at a farmhouse where a man in a pickup truck also arrives.  His truck is being followed by more people who seem to stumble as they walk.  Barbara and Ben take refuge in the house where Barbara descends in to shock.  Other refugees have been hiding in the basement.  TV reports inform them that the recently dead are coming back to life and eating the living. The reports reveal that this phenomenon is not a localized emergency but is happening all over the world.  The refugees argue amongst themselves about how to survive while hoards of zombies gather outside eager to feast on the refugees in the farmhouse.

Night of the Living Dead has been followed by sequels and parallel stories scripted and directed by Romero.  The most successful was 1978’s Dawn of the Dead which showed how society was beginning to crumble under the onslaught of the zombie hordes.  Day of the Dead was released in 1985 and revealed that human civilization is nearly gone except for small bands of humans trying to survive in a world populated by flesh eating zombies.  In the early 1990s, special effects maestro Tom Savini directed a brilliant retailing of Night of the Living Dead which much more effectively links Night to the events in Dawn of the Dead.  Night of the Living Dead has been remade several times and a new remake is in production starring Vivica A. Fox.  Like its zombie stars, Night of the Living Dead is a film that won’t stay dead.

Romero’s classic film didn’t just change the nature of the horror film genre or overturn American cinema’s stereotype of who could be a hero in a genre film, it also forever changed the nature of the treatment of zombies in film.  Prior to Night of the Living Dead, the zombie was represented in film much as the traditional zombie in Haitian legends.  That is to say that the zombie was a pitiful person who was raised from the dead to be a slave to a powerful voodoo practitioner ala Val Lewton’s I Walked with a Zombie or Hammer Film Production’s Plague of the Zombies.  These zombies did not eat human flesh but did have an allergy to salt much as their “real life” brethren did.  If it wasn’t for Night of the Living Dead we wouldn’t have Lucio Fulci’s Zombie, Jean Rollin’s The Grapes of Death, Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive or AMC’s The Walking Dead.

While there have been some computer and console games taking place in Romero’s Living Dead world, there has only been one other board game that takes place in his dystopian world.  It was an adaption of Dawn of the Dead and was released by SPI back in 1978.  I was fortunate enough to have a well loved copy of that game which sadly was lost in my house fire several years ago.

Now CMON, creator of the classic horror game Zombicide, has licensed Night of the Living Dead from Image 10 Productions and created a monster –Night of the Living Dead the board game!

box art
back of the box

There are two different ways to play the game.  One is George Romero Mode in which you are playing the characters as they appeared and acted in the 1968 film or in Zombicide mode in which the characters work together to fight the zombies instead of fighting against each other and level up in terms of their zombie fighting skills.  The scenarios on the game are all based upon plot points in the movie or are an extension of the film’s plot in which the characters (SPOILERS FOLLOW IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and shame on you if you haven’t)  survive the initial night when the dead came back to life to eat the living and flee to Willard, the nearest town.

The game includes the following components:

  • 66 miniatures
  • 6 Romero Mode Survivors
  • 6 Zombicide Mode Survivors
  • 54 Ghouls
  • 111 mini-cards
  • 65 Equipment Cards
  • 46 Ghoul Cards
  • 6 Game Tiles
  • 6 Survivor Dashboards
  • 6 Survivor ID Cards
  • 12 Survivor Colored Bases
  • 6 Dice
  • 48 Trackers
  • 24 Tokens
Ben and Barbara

All of the minis are exquisite sculpts of the actors in the classic film and you may recognize many of the zombies too – yes the sculpted the extras who played those flesh eating ghouls over 50 years ago.

Close Up of Heroes from CMON
beautiful sculpts

The modular game board represents the farm house that Night of the Living Dead takes place in plus the barn and the gas pumps which play a major plot point in the film.  There is also extra terrain based upon the surrounding country side and the town location.  There are also pieces representing Johnny’s and Barbara’s car and the pickup truck that Ben used to escape from a zombie attack on a diner as mentioned in the film.  Additionally there are various props including weapons, table legs, boards for boarding up windows, etc.  You can combine different props to create weapons such as torches (table leg plus rags plus an accelerent) or Molotov Cocktails.

setting up the first scenario

Each character is represented by two nicely sculpted minis plus a double sided data card.  There is one version of the character in Romero Mode which represents them as they were in the film – just regular people trying to survive a horrible situation.  The second version of the character is an amped up full Zombicide version in which the character has fully adjusted to taking on the zombie hordes and is ready to whip some zombie butt!  Think of the difference between Rick at the start of The Walking Dead TV series and Rick in season 4 of the show.

a zombie attacks Barbara

Each character is rated for skills they will develop as they gain experience points from performing acts like neutralizing zombies or boarding up windows or performing other feats as detailed in the scenarios included in the game.  For each character you have at control console that you put their character card in and then put little colored pegs which are used to track hit points, ultra experience points and such.  On the bottom of each panel is a slider for tracking experience points.  When that tracker is full, put a pin in to show that you are now in ultra mode and slide the tracker back to zero. On either side of the control panel is a space to put what the character is holding in his or her right and left hands.  You can also put items in a backpack but it takes an action to get the item out and ready it.

Ben’s Control Panel

The 48 page rule booklet is beautifully illustrated and easy to understand.  It contains an index and plenty of examples of play.  It also contains a consolidated turn sequence for ease of use but, at its heart (beating, bloody and being consumed by zombies – oh sorry, I digress) the game is so simple to learn that I could teach my girlfriend’s kids to play it in less than 10 minutes.

The game can be played by 1 to 6 players.  The zombies’ moves and other actions are controlled by the game, itself.  It’s a perfect solo experience and it’s a hoot as a multiplayer game.

The turn sequence is as follows:

  1. Player’s Phase – each player gets 3 or more actions depending on how experienced they are.  Actions include moving, opening and closing doors, putting weapons together, barricading doors and windows, fighting zombies, passing items to each other, driving vehicles, etc.
  • Ghoul/Zombie Phase – zombies are much slower than humans so they get one action.  First they attack the nearest character but if that isn’t possible, they move 1 time or attempt specific actions depending upon what type of zombie they are.  Some zombies will try and break through barricades while others may be relatives such Barbara’s brother Johnny (who in my first game was lurking outside the house thankfully out of sight of Barbara) who can shock Barbara into a quivering mass of fear.  The number of zombies who enter the board from their scenario placed “spawn points” is based upon the experience points of the characters.  In the pictures that include this review, most of the characters were low level as I was playing the first scenario which is a training game therefore only a few zombies were attacking.  In a game with high level characters, things can go bad very fast.
  • End Phase – housekeeping and getting ready for the next turn sequence

The game is fun and fast.  One scenario can be played in an hour or two depending on the number of players and the complexity of the scenario.

Ben finds a Winchester

Small unit tactics can be applied to the game so you can do things like use a character to distract the zombies while other characters try and accomplish a goal like trying to unlock the gas pump and filling up the truck’s gas tank. But there is still enough randomness to add to the danger of the situation.  Also cards of different types add to the randomness and help create a rich and full story for the players.  Even if your character dies (and comes back), the game play is very fulfilling.

I think a few more rules could have been included to add to the feel of the movie.  For example, in my training game in which Ben and Barbara try and board up the windows as zombies try and get in to the house, Harry and his group was holding up in the basement.  I added in a rule which said that Harry would only let people out of the basement if he rolled a six on a die.  By the time this happened a zombie was in the room near them and Harry quietly opened up the door and saw the zombie wandering around.  I gave him a second roll to see if he overcame his fear of the walking corpse to attack it and help Ben and Barbara out.  He didn’t succeed and sealed the door shut again at the first sight of the flesh hungry ghoul.  So they ended up staying in the cellar for the entirety of the first scenario.   I would have also included a Shock rule for Barbara to simulate her mindset from the film.

That minor complaint notwithstanding, Night of the Living Dead the board game is a blast to play and should be on most horror film fan’s game table at least every Halloween.

There is also the Dead of Night expansion that has been released at the same time as the base game.  It adds amped up Zombicide versions of the Johnny and Karen zombies (she gets a chainsaw instead of a trowel) as well as adding in members of the local police who form up a party to kill ghouls as happened in the film.  So yes, you can play Sheriff McClelland and say that famous line “They’re dead; they’re all messed up.  Beat ‘em, burn ‘em they go up pretty easy.”

Dead of Night Expansion
Dead of Night contents
Dead of Night back of box

Long live Night of the Living Dead the Board Game!

too many zombies

Armchair General Rating: 98 %

Solitaire Rating: 5 (1 to 5 with 1 being Poor and 5 being Perfect for Solo)

About the Author

A college film instructor and small business owner, Richard Martin has also worked in the legal and real estate professions, is involved in video production, film criticism, sports shooting and is an avid World War I and II gamer who can remember war games which came in plastic bags and cost $2.99 (he’s really that old)!  Richard also is the author of three published board games – Tiger Leader, The Tiger Leader Upgrade Kit and Sherman Leader.