The two most accurate and descriptive statements about I, Zombie and the system that it uses, All Things Zombie, come after the midpoint of the book. The first is that while this started as a zombie game in the core rules, it has turned into a post apocalyptic game that includes zombies. The second statement actually appears on the back cover. The publishers call this game “RPG Lite,” a miniatures game that includes elements of an RPG.
There are, indeed zombies in I, Zombie and these zombies come in a great variety. There are, of course, the usual shambling, mindless undead who do nothing more than hunger for the hot, succulent flesh of the living. There are also the new, 28 Days Later style rage zombies. In fact, these particular threats are called Ragers. Even zombies that are gaining rudiments of intelligence and are capable of using tools are available options for undead enemies. Zombies are not the only opponents, though. There are also Tremors/Dune style giant worms that apparently exist only to ruin the characters’ day. Those giant worms are probably the strangest things in I, Zombie, but they are not the only strange thing. There are also psionics. Of course, all of these freaks of nature were caused by the meddling or screw up by the American government in some way or another, just like in any good zombie story.
But, like any good zombie story, the most common and dangerous opponents seem to be other living humans. As usual, man’s inhumanity to man becomes one of the central themes to this zombie game.
Calling the game RPG Lite is quite descriptive and the game has a feeling not unlike the popular first person shooter/RPG video game hybrids like Borderlands and the Mass Effect series. It bears much more resemblance to a game like Necromunda or the Savage Worlds Showdown rules than Warhammer or Warmachine. For that matter, It could almost be called a Wargame Lite game, as well. The game is really quite simple, a fact that is accentuated by the fact that a character really has only 2 stats that matter in the system – REP and the weapon(s) they’re carrying. While there are also special abilities that they might have and situational modifiers that add or subtract from the character’s REP in certain circumstances, almost everything that happens in the game from combat to social interactions is based on the character’s REP.
That should not be taken as a sign that the game is to simple to be utilitarian, however. In fact, the game has rules for an extensive number of situations. For that matter, it has rules for situations that most larger, more complex games do not account for. It covers ground transportation like cars and horses that are not uncommon in most war games but I, Zombie also includes rules for such common zompocalypse modes of transportation a boats, bicycles and shopping carts.
Another nice addition to the war game genre is a simple, but detailed system for carrying on combat within a building. Usually, a building on a war game board is just another piece of terrain to be used as cover or a source of elevation. They would have to be far too large to fit on the board for the interiors to be large enough to be useful in most cases. I, Zombie uses a rather abstract system but one that, nonetheless allows players to have a fair amount of diversity in the buildings it can represent. This is quite a useful set of rules for this game since a great deal of the encounters the characters seem intended to undertake essentially amount to home invasions. But then, it’s the zompocalypse and anything goes.
For the most part, the game does a good job of presenting everything concisely and coherently. In fact, the only example where this is not true is the section on psionics. The description and basic explanation of psionic abilities and how they work in the game is in the middle part of the book but the actual rules that adjudicate their use are only in a chart at the end.
The chart is part of a section that is quite impressive, though, and is a key factor in another portion of the game that is both novel and adds to its appeal. Unlike most wargames, which require at least two players, I, Zombie is a game that can be played by only one person or by two or more people playing as allies rather than opponents.
This is possible because of the extensive number of charts and what they represent in the rules. These charts account for the actions of all the NPC’s in the world and a roll or two for each individual NPC or each group in each round will determine their actions. A system attempting this could easily get too complex and overwhelming and the array of charts is dizzying at first, but the charts are done concisely and clearly enough to make them simple and useful. In fact, a simple flow chart could be made to consolidate these charts and make using them all too easy.
The charts include rules for random encounters and an individual with a little time, space and a few miniatures (or counters of any kind) could easily play an encounter or two. While it would be difficult to call these strings of random encounters a “campaign” they could certainly form a story with only a little bit of imagination and creativity.
Speaking of “campaigns,” one is included in I, Zombie. This is not a group of set encounters, as is common with many games, though. Instead, it is a set of locations, some characters and a few special charts for situations that arise in the Lake Havasu area of the zompocalyptic world. And, in keeping with the tone, it is a place where “civilization” is starting to bud again but hope and human kindness are not.
One of the more interesting and telling portions of this campaign setting is what the people in the area consider “entertainment.” As with any story involving the collapse of civilized society, humanity immediately reverts to gladiatorial combat as a way to entertain themselves. These shows are, occasionally between two living people but far more often involve a human fighting some form of zombie.
In line with the numerous charts that can be used to run the game is an extensive that is invaluable for a game like this. While it is nicely organized and the rules are coherent, being able to reference a good index to allow players to flip back and forth between the necessary portions of the game is not exactly necessary but is certainly helpful.
If you’re looking to play a character driven epic or a large scale competitive war game, I, Zombie is not going to be very useful. On the other hand, if you have some time, space and miniatures, and maybe someone around to play with, you’ll be more than happy playing an encounter or two. In fact, you just might find yourself making time, space and miniatures to find out what happens to your zompocalypse character, next.