Dead of Winter gives you access to a significant story-building element, but still relies heavily on risk-reward exploration, co-operation, and, crucially, paranoia. Social deduction has also become an important and popular gaming mechanic, particularly with larger groups.
There are a lot of zombie games. I’ve only scratched the surface here (and hopefully infection will follow). At our 2019 conference, you may recall that before my paper on Train to Busan, I put up a picture of some of the games from my collection. I have quite a few (I’ve also got a few postapocalypic non-zombie Mad Max style games, but that’s another story). Maybe next time instead of designing our zombie manager, we can play one of these games. If I were to pick one, it would be Dead of Winter (2014), designed by Jonathan Gilmour and Isaac Vega, another popular zombie game that has produced numerous expansions and spin-offs of its own. Read more
A key element of many of these kinds of games is the sense of discovery that comes with the joy of postapocalyptic looting, and there are many classic calculations of risk versus reward in how you choose to expend energy and resources in other to gather more of both through food and supplies. Tiny Epic Zombies (2018), designed by Scott Almes, is a kind of summative game in this mould, as are all the entries in the ‘Tiny Epic’ line by Gamelyn Games, which present popular themes and game systems in small boxes at a comparatively low price, designed to be portable and accessible. Part of the fun in Tiny Epic Zombies is the plastic ‘meeples’ (a gaming term for playing pieces that are roughly people shaped – mini-people, you see), which you can actually equip with weapons (tiny plastic ones) or even mount on a motorbike as you zoom around the mall pinging zeds and collecting items. A considerably more exotic setting is found is the independently published Carnival Zombie (2013), designed by Matteo Santus, set in Venice during the titular event, which adds a piquancy of a Bakhtinian society turned upside down and players embody kinky medieval archetypes including a Harlequin or a masked Plague Doctor. Read more
In 1978, while you were playing Monopoly (or weren’t born yet, I guess), SPI (Simulations Publications Inc.) released a board game tied in to the release of George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead designed by John H. Butterfield. It could be played as a team or solitaire, with players controlling Peter, Stephen, Roger, and Fran as they dashed around inside the zombie-infested mall trying first to lock the entrances then clear out the remaining zombies. Or you could be the zombies, an undifferentiated horde with a considerably larger team to control (well, slowly nudge around). The human characters had varying skills based on their capacity to move, shoot, and keep calm. They had to make a panic check (roll a dice) after each shot fired, and if they failed, they would be more vulnerable to nearby zombies. The human goal was to move and shoot and try to work around the slow moving zombies and be prepared for sudden ambushes from unseen ones. The zombie goal is not difficult to guess. Think you have it? Good.