Friday, September 25, 2009
The Zombie Apocalypse Genre
As a man of science and reason I do not worry about ghosts when I go to bed. Neither am I concerned about vampires, greys, or El Chupacabra. Yet, I always make sure I bolt the doors and shake my head at the large accordion windows, and am thankful for the cement wall around the garden - because of zombies.
No one believes in zombies but on a certain level we find them both particularly disturbing and if not plausible at least relevant to our times. Romero's clever trick was to take the familiar and make it monstrous -- we did not need to go the darkest corners of the Amazon or the Taiga to find horrors, nor ancient palaces from before the coming of Man or the limitless promise of madness from deep space. Instead we could look next door at our neighbor. At children crossing the street. At our own family members. Within each, the promise of horror.
The genre Romero spawned in 1968 with Night of the Living Dead has some key hallmarks:
- Apocalypse. The zombies have, are, or will destroy the world as we know it.
- Cultural Collapse. Nations fail, organized power evaporates, and the values of the civilized world and its citizens are replaced by brutal survivors with brutish thoughts.
- The disaster is of our own doing. The zombies rise because of the opportunity given them by human greed, pettiness, cruelty, and stupidity.
Our challenge was to capture all this in miniature wargame.
We had ourselves a large number of figs from Rebel Minis; SWAT police, zombie containment teams, rugged survivor types, and greys. Rebel Minis does some excellent 15mm and their prices are quite good (20 zombies for $9.99, with poses ranging from insurance salesmen, to fire fighters, to children with teddy bears). They also ship pretty quickly and cheaply, I recommend them.
We had enough minis to do a larger wargame rather than a skirmish based fight, and I very much wanted to use as many zombies as I could but not have them be a hassle to move about. Given this we decided to use Flames of War bases and put the zombies on 4 to an infantry base, with everyone else 3 to a command base (the survivors though we mounted on small coins individually - I wanted them to really stand out).
You can't really do a larger scale wargame without more unit types, so we supplemented with some minis from other ranges.
Some British Flames of War quad tractors that looked vaguely Humvee-like got press ganged as trucks for the CDC containment troopers. Backing up the zombies were of course the meddling Greys that started the Infection in the first place, and I gave them anti-armor rippers that I got from Zombiesmith (who also do some awesome 15mm space frogs among many other things). The Greys of course needed saucers, and being a cheapass bastard I made these out of GW aerial bases, warmachine bases, and bits of Tau drones.
Harean, a friend of mine and one of Sri Lanka's proud and few wargamers, saved the game from being a simple objectives fight. He gave me the idea of having the humans start working against each other, and using triggered events and changing objectives to push them towards open conflict. This of course would allow the zombies, helpless against the united human players, to swarm into their city and grow explosively off the flesh of helpless civies.
Dinuka, a new gamer and space wolves fan, played the Government. He controlled SWAT police and riot cops, as well as CDC troopers with their trucks. We used 40k rules and cops we made middling shooters (BS 3) with no AP, while the zombies had 3+ saves. This was to bring how difficult zeds are to drop by supporting cast characters. Riot cops we made tougher though (padding and armor), and gave them additional attacks if they formed a line and baton-charged things. We gave the cops poor leadership (LD 7) to represent their panic during the early Infection period.
The CDC containment troopers we allowed to join cops as Independent Characters, as gave them Imperial Guard commissar ability of sacrificing a mini to have the unit pass a failed moral test. They also were good shots with good AP and range - and could glance against flying saucers.
The CDC trucks had flame throwers (that utterly devastated zombies), 50 cal guns (that didn't), and rocket launchers for harassing the flying saucers. They were lightly armored though, Armor value 10 all round.
Ruwen, a Star Wars fan, played the Survivors. The Survivors were SWAT and riot police as well, backed up by "Natural Born Killers" - individually based survivor minis wielding shotguns, attitude, and lots of attacks. They just had 3+ saves but they had two wounds, and excellent initiative to get their hits in first. These represented cheerleaders with sharpened pool cues, gas station attendants with golf clubs, S-MART clerks with boom sticks. The few out of the crowd that survive the initial infection stage and emerge as the heroes of the story.
Ruwen also got CDC trucks -- they were too powerful and too key to be held by just one player.
Harean played the Infection. The Greys were shooters, the rippers were anti-vehicular, close combat creatures that had a move of 9 inches. The saucers could deep strike, had a fairly decent shooting attack, and could carry eight bases of whatever they liked! They were key for deploying zombies and Greys about the city and generally giving the human players a hard time.
The Game: Orchestrating Romero-style Human Worthlessness
The public objectives of the human players was to repel the oncoming zombie hordes (starting at the far end of the table) and not let them enter the city. Both players were then separated, and given little notes with secret objectives. Dinuka (Government) was to evacuate vital personnel and documents from city hall to the airport, and told that Washington expected the city to fall. Ruwen (Survivors) was to get someone to city hall to contact a whistleblower who had grave news for them.
The zombies (coming on the board 10 bases per turn) were annihiliated by the combined human forces. But then, Dinuka (Government) began falling back, establishing a secondary line that Ruwen (Survivors) was not too happy about. Meanwhile Ruwen had a SWAT team racing off to the town hall, that Dinuka was not too happy about and couldn't stop by the time he realized what it was doing.
On Ruwen (Survivors) reaching the town hall, the human players were given more information and new objectives. Ruwen was informed that a nuclear strike was inbound, and that they needed to rescue people from buildings and get them on planes leaving the city (we had six plane tokens at the airport). Meanwhile Dinuka (Government) was told that the city had been judge to be compromised, and that by no means were any be permitted to leave the city. Dinuka still needed to ferry out government officials and files to get his victory points. To guarantee a punch up, he had to use the same planes that Ruwen was going for.
Meanwhile, Harean tried his hand at deep striking. Getting zombies and Greys in the thick of things, and swarming about uncontested parts of the city and feeding on civvies, came together nicely as cops turned on natural born killers and trucks fired rockets at each other.
The fight was very close by the end. The zombies were gobbling up huge numbers of victims, the cops had been largely eliminated, and the human units were cut off from each other and being picked apart by both the other side and by the Infection. Ruwen managed to get one transport out, before Harean blocked off the roads to the airport with a swarming mass of zombies. There were some interesting set piece type battles, as NBKs were swarmed by undead - and somehow managed to hold their own (two, named "Ash" and "Ash's girlfriend" ended up fighting back to back as it were versus a horde, and "Ash's girlfriend" was the only survivor, limping away on a single wound (and of course, infected).
The Government faction fell apart too quickly. They needed more CDC troops, and likely the Survivors (who we gave a lot more points to since we were afraid they would get caught hammer and anvil between the other two), could have done with fewer NBKs.
Everyone had a blast, the game ended up being far more successful than either Harean or I had anticipated. While we can't play that same scenario again with the same players, it is definitely something we can use on newbies or at events and conventions on the uninitiated.