No Headshots Needed
Welcome back space cowboys. Let me paint the picture for you. You were dispatched to planet PKL7, a sleepy planet, with a pretty cushy job. Your mission: monitor the mining equipment and make sure it, well…mined stuff. Pretty simple task, the native inhabitants are super docile and all you do is sit around all day and collect your pay. Life could not be easier on the frontier, but all that changed when the Fire Nation attacked *Avatar reference*…I mean, all that changed one day out of the blue. The native lifeforms, the Xenos, became violent and began to attack. Some even started to…change. Things are looking to get far worse before they get better and you sure are grateful you brought your shotgun with you.
Zombicide Invader drops you right into the thick of the action, fighting aliens that seem to have taken inspiration from the zombie ants that popped up in the news a while ago. Just like with penicillin and good cheese, mold is a big deal. Players control various characters, working together to overcome the obstacles set before them and emerge victorious in the varying scenarios that Invader has to offer. The Zombicide franchise has a legacy of being incredibly difficult and challenging, rewarding teamwork and strong tactical decision making, and Invader does not disappoint.
Let’s first discuss how Zombicide plays and what to expect from the game then I will dive into how Invader is unique and what gameplay mechanics it has improved on from previous iterations.
A Legacy of Lethality
Zombicide Invader comes from a proud lineage of Zombicide titles spanning all the way back to 2012 with a new cousin being released in an app version you can read about here. The first “chapter” (we shall call it) was a modern day Zombicide set in an overrun city near you. This release gave off some distinct Left 4 Dead and 24 Days Later vibes with players working as a team to survive the stereotypical zombie apocalypse trope. Zombicide was so successful it spawned the next iteration, Black Plague / Green Horde, which pitted players against a supernatural curse afflicting a medieval country. This “chapter” made many improvements to the original and dialed up the difficulty in some serious ways. This brings us to the current “chapter” of the series which closes the loop on past, present and future. While each “chapter” has a different theme and feel, all of them carry the same concept and promise…you will face a horde of baddies and it’s going to take a lot of thought and a bit of luck to survive. Since it is created and managed by CMON you can have faith that this game is quality in both components and gameplay. You can check out some of my favorite game design companies here.
Zombicide is played over a series of rounds consisting of alternating turns between all players and then alien invaders. This will continue until the players win or are defeated as per the specific mission’s requirements. On the players’ turns, each unit will be activated in turn order performing a base of three actions. As characters level up by defeating enemies or meeting objectives, they may start to gain new abilities or extra actions.
On the Invaders’ turn, all the enemies on the board will activate. All enemies have a certain amount of health showing how much damage needs to be dealt to them and a number of activations they can use to move or attack. Most enemies only move or attack but the deadly hunters have actions which allow them to cover a lot of ground or even attack twice in a turn. Those guys can really mess up a good plan. Once all the Invaders activate, you will spawn new enemies by flipping a card for each spawn area located on the map. These cards will tell you what enemies are spawning, where and how many of them based on the experience bar of your most highly leveled up person.
After spawning, players will pick up any noise tokens generated (baddies hate noise!) and try to formulate how to best deal with the new mess that has shown up on the board.
Let’s Get Down to Business, to Defeat, The Xenos
So now that you know the general overview of Zombicide, let’s get into the nitty gritty of how you play. On your turn your characters get to perform a number of actions, generally broken into three sub categories: move, attack, and interact/search.
Movement is straightforward with each move usually being a single action and moving you to the adjacent area. The catch is that if you are sharing a space with enemies, they slow you down. It costs one more action per enemy in your space to shake them off and move. There are some abilities and items which allow you to get around this restriction but if an Invader is on your space…the best option is usually to fight.
Speaking of fighting, your next staple action is to attack. When using the attack action you will strike at one or all enemies in a chosen hex (as limited by your items), roll the dice for all of the weapons you are currently wielding, and calculate how much damage you dealt. Combat is the most complex thing in Zombicide and follows a few simple rules. All weapon cards are broken down into two main categories, melee or ranged weapons. These dictate how many zones away you can attack from. Both have pros and cons: melee weapons have a shorter range but often hit harder, while ranged weapons can reach out and touch someone but often restrict you from using them in your own zone.
Weapon cards follow a consistent structure: how many dice you roll, which die faces generate a hit, and how much damage each hit does. While many Xenos only require a single hit to destroy them, there are tougher enemies such as tanks that take two damage to destroy and even abominations that require three damage. Most weapons in Zombicide Invader only deal one damage per hit, while a select few dish out three damage a hit. The worst is that all damage must be dealt in one blow to eliminate an enemy; otherwise, they heal back up.
Thankfully, Zombiecide Invader introduced a great workaround for low damage weapons that give the players a fighting chance against these hulking monstrosities. Players can choose either to attack a zone willy nilly, allowing damage to be allocated from a very simple prioritization system, or they can focus fire on a single enemy to take them down. Players can sink all of their damage into one enemy, adding all of the damage together to be able to reach those high thresholds for tougher enemies, which helps a lot when the abominations start spawning on the map.
The final action option is to interact/search. There are various things in the world of Zombicide Invader that you may need to interact with to accomplish the current mission.The most impactful option you have at your disposal is the search action. This will allow you to search rooms to find new weapons and gear that will help you survive, because your enemies will continue to grow in number and ferocity as the game rages on. Three of the most common things are locating oxygen tanks to head outside, opening or closing doors in buildings, and operating the various drones or turrets that are on the map. All of these actions are streamlined and straightforward but will chew into your action economy so plan accordingly.
Characters are split into two distinct groups: Civilians and Soldiers. While all players are somewhat unique, the big difference felt here is in searching. Civilians are usually squishy and unarmored but can search any room of any compound. Soldiers are bulkier and tougher, but only have permission to search for items in the designated weapon and locker rooms. Both of these characters have pros and cons so it is important to share your resources as a Civilian and protect your friends as a Soldier.
The Big, the Bad, and the Ugly
While the Xenos may not be winning any Earth beauty pageants anytime soon, they do have one thing going for them, their tenacity and overwhelming numbers. The Xenos forces are divided into four main types so let’s take a moment to discuss what they do and how to exterminate them.
Worker Type Xenos
Up first is the basic worker type Xenos. These little guys can only move one space or attack in their space, and only take one damage to defeat. While they’re easy to remove, they are plentiful; they’re the cannon fodder of the Xenos horde. Defeating these buggers will net you one experience point (exp) which you use to level up (we will discuss this soon).
Next up we have hunters who, while similar in build to the workers, are drastically more deadly…for one simple reason. They receive two actions when they activate, giving them a much greater chance to close the gap on your team and the power to devastate a unit if you’re unable to remove them from the map in time. They also grant a measly one exp when defeated, which is a small reward for how threatening these guys can be.
The Tank Xenos
Tanks fill out the standard rank and file of the Xenos as the “big boys” of the brigade. Just like the workers, these hulking guys receive only one action but are tough and take two damage to defeat. They serve as the literal meat shield of those behind them to allow those sneaky hunters to close the gap and start dishing out the pain to your team. Tanks do, however, deliver a tasty three exp when bested.
The Abomination Xenos
Finally, we come to the abomination. These massive baddies take 3 damage to defeat and dole out 5 exp when bested! Their real danger comes from what they bring with them to the battlefield. Do you remember when I mentioned something about mold affecting these poor Xenos? The abomination brings it with him and spreads it around the map like a college student with Nutella and pumpkin spice lattes. This mold is troublesome as it blocks line of sight. Worse yet, invaders can spawn directly from it. You can deal with the mold by burning it with certain tools, but this takes time (of which you have precious little). So it’s best to stop mold at the source by removing the abomination before he even gets a chance to move.
On the Xenos’ turn each of the present invaders move according to their action limit and will try to get as close to a player as they can. If they are on the same space they will instead use actions to attack the player. There is often no defence against attacks and you simply take wounds equal to the total damage of all the attacks. Character health ranges from 3-6 so even the toughest player can get overwhelmed very quickly if they are not careful. After all present units have activated, each spawn location is activated and a new card is drawn which determines what unit spawns there. Since this determination is based on the level dictated by the player with the most exp now might be a good time to explain exp and “leveling up”.
Take it to the Next Level!
Each player has as experience tracker that increases as they complete various mission objectives and defeat Xenos. As you reach certain thresholds, you unlock unique abilities based on your character. The trade off is that as you level up, the swarms of enemies level with you. Each spawn card has levels indicating what spawns at each point around the board. You determine which level you spawn at based on the highest leveled character on the team. This is a nice balancing mechanic but also a real danger because if one player is an exp hog, or just happens to complete a lot of high exp actions, the rest of the team may find themselves in a real tight spot. This is one of the fun puzzles Zombicide Invader brings to the table, as teams must figure out how to fairly disperse the exp wealth amongst the group lest one player rocket to the top of the track and spell doom for the whole group.
Zombiecide Invader is a splendid addition to the franchise as it really streamlines some of the tedium of spawning and adds some rules that were needed to balance out combat a bit more. The diversity in player characters, rules about ranged weapons, and mold spawning are all welcome additions that give more choices and make those choices more viable.
The equation for Zombiecide is relatively straightforward: roll dice, remove plastic, and add more plastic but that equation has some incredible depth to it that I love. As with all co-op games that I enjoy, Zombiecide is HARD. I have seen the best laid plans go to ruin by some bad dice rolls or a spawn of enemies, and that is ok. The beauty and fun of Invader is that in most games you will pass by the skin of your teeth, and that is the way a good co-op should feel. Invader adds a lot of polish and a nice sci-fi theme to a classic game and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
I understand how people could say it is luck based, but I do not feel this detracts from the experience. I felt the experience akin to the old Starship Troopers movies where I was just so woefully outnumbered that I was simply hoping to survive the turn. The brain burning puzzle aspect to Invader was wonderful, and had our whole group on their toes till the very end.
The one true negative that can emerge from co-ops (this is not unique to Invader) is the danger of a “shot caller” player, also known as “the alpha gamer”. Since Zombicide Invader is highly co-op it becomes easy for one player to start bossing the table around to “optimize” the turns, and that can be a real fun suck for everyone else. While teamwork and table talk is key to Invader’s success, a little overzealousness can mess with that dynamic.
All this is to say that if you are looking for a fun, fast-paced co-op that works well with variable player counts and will keep you on your toes then Invader is for you. It is dripping with theme, quality, and the massive missions index will leave you in no want for replayability. It’s an out of this world good time.
Pros: Variable, beautiful, challenging
Cons: Potential for bossy players, May be too luck based for some
Rating: 8.5/10 a real hit that will challenge and delight your gaming group!