Zombies have held a fascination for me for a very, very long time. Maybe it’s because they represent a future even darker and more unpleasant than death. The notion of being reduced to a husk only motivated by hunger and unable to rest in peace while attempting to eat other people alive is a pretty horrific one. Maybe it is because is the only survivable apocalypse scenario I can think of. Or maybe is because zombies are, let’s face it, the easiest to kill of all. Unless they’re fast, but we all know that fast zombies are impossible. They just can’t happen.
So if we mix my love for zombies with my rather obsessive RPG collecting mania, and then we add a dash of Kickstarter to entice me even more, it was only natural that I’d end up spending money on this project.
As if that wasn’t enough, the person behind this project is no other than WJ McGuffin, who you’d know for his work on Paranoia. So, basically, that is a formula that was *way* impossible to resist.
So I didn’t resist it. I backed this project. And thus it got funded (because quite a few of us backed it, not just me, of course).
Obviously, this game is about zombies. There are other zombie based role playing games out there, no doubt, but this is meant to be a cinematic type of game. Light on rules and flexible in its development.
The book is not very big. At 145 pages, it is rather easy to digest. The art direction is very simple. Two column layout, a simple font, and a fair amount of illustrations. Said illustrations are manipulated photographs. The manipulation process is not the most elaborate or photo-realistic you can get, but it is consistent throughout the book and it is effective. The photographs are well chosen to go in the areas they occupy and put the points across very nicely, so can’t complain too much there. If the budget for this game had been twice as much as they had, I would be ranting about the lack of variety in the manipulation or something else, but, quite frankly, I think it’d be unfair to expect more than what we get, and what we get does the job.
This game has various idiosyncrasies you won’t find in many other rpgs. It is competitive. The thinking behind this game follows on most Zombie movies out there. Although the group of survivors are after a common goal (survive) they are also after their own goals and well prepared to screw other members of the “team” if that’s what it takes to survive. Every session points are awarded to the players if they act on their motivations in a meaningful way. So it can pay off to take the bullets for your gun even if that means that another character has no ammunition at all and can get killed easily.
And you can get killed easily. Zombies are relentless and the mechanics have been designed in a very clever way so, eventually (sooner rather than later) things won’t go your way. In fact they will go the opposite way altogether.
The system is based on rolling 2d10. There is a target range, say between 8 and 16. If you roll and the sum of both dice renders a number in that range, you succeed. Roll lower and you don’t succeed. Roll higher and you could break. That means that something goes wrong, even if you succeed. For example, you could be shooting at zombies and get an adrenaline high that will make you berserk for a short while, thus depleting your ammo, or shooting one of your friends “by accident”, or similar
You can find items that will help your abilities, but they will also make it easier for them to break. For example if you get a baseball bat with a bonus to damage, that bonus will also apply to your break range. So in this game you want to succeed, but not too well.
Your character will also die. Make no mistake. Outlive Outdeadis lethal and you’ll find out the hard way. Thank goodness, there is a way around it. Once you die, you return as a zombie and can hunt your friends down.
Yes, you can exercise revenge on the selfish companion who took all your bullets or used all the bandages or drunk all the water. Or maybe you just want to turn your friends into zombies so you can spend eternity together eating other humans. That can be fun too!
Zombie characters are that, characters. Although zombies are pretty mindless, they have little nuance and abilities they can use. For example the ability of getting flash back memories from when they were alive. Thus they can remember how to open a door or how to climb a ladder. It wont’ give them all the abilities and mobility of a normal human, but it gives them that little edge that makes them more dangerous and also fun to play.
They also receive karma points, advantages and disadvantages, just like the players. They are other mechanisms in the game to help you in times of trouble, share resources, etc. I won’t go too much into them because the book makes a much better job than me at explaining.
The setting is only loosely described. Rather than giving a specific type of zombie apocalypse where to base your adventures.. I mean, your imminent demise, McGuffin has dissected the components of pretty much any and every type of zombie apocalypse from movies and explained how to use them to create your own.
Instructions to create the origins of the zombification, stage of the epidemic, type of zombies, etc. are given in enough detail to make things easy for you to turn your every day world into a hell you’ll love to die in.
There is also an adventure. Yes, that’s my name in the adventure.
The adventure is actually, very, very good. If you’re not familiar with the real world locations, you’ll love it. I am familiar with the locations and I love it, even though they’re not 100% close to the real world. Still, so see my local shopping centre (mall) turned into a zombie free haven, and my friends into thugs and other unsavoury characters is much fun.
In seriousness, though, it is a really great introductory adventure. Plenty of zombies, a solid plot, good locations and enough flexibility to let the players do their own thing without breaking anything or losing the whole scenario.
Outlive Outdead will probably become a bit of a cult game for a lot of people. The cinematic nature of the game has been well executed and the system well tailored to fit flexible and, at times, very dangerous situations. Let’s put it this way, if you play montys millions online with Paddy Power games, you have more chances of getting rich than to see your character live to an old age of prosperity playing Outlive Outdead. But then, that’s as it should be.
The editing has a few mistakes here and there. For example one of the NPCs in the adventure is 18yo in one place and 17yo in another. Nothing major, but it makes me feel the book could have done with some extra proof reading and editing.
The physical book itself is good. The hard back is that, hard, and the pages are strong enough (though the paper is a bit brittle) with a strong binding, so it should last a long time.
Overall I am very happy with the game. It is not the ultimate edition of the game and I think if it got the momentum it deserves, a new edition of the game in three or four years could certainly become the definitive zombie RPG. With supporting material coming out imminently and more adventures based in different settings, the flexibility of this game should shine and make it a very attractive alternative for when we need a break from our regular game.
Three very well deserved stars and a hearty recommendation for a terrifically promising game that should end up in many, many shelves.
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So what do you think?