[Disclaimer: Mantic was kind enough to provide me with the core game and first two expansions (‘Days Gone Bye’ & ‘Miles Behind Us’) for reviewing purposes. This did not influence my opinion and as always my views are my own. All other expansions, boosters, and scenery were purchased by me to supplement my experience and this review.]
‘The Walking Dead: All Out War’ is a thematic tabletop miniatures games based on the popular ‘The Walking Dead’ comic franchise. The miniatures game originated as a Kickstarter campaign from Mantic Games, the UK-based games company that’s well-known for titles like ‘Warpath’ and ‘Kings of War’, among others. Mantic’s 2016 ‘All Out War’ campaign for the game received a staggering amount of pledges - $685,853 from 3,737 backers.
Needless to say, fan interest was piqued by the project on a scale that few Kickstarter tabletop attempts achieve. The real question is, how did the ‘Walking Dead’ franchise fare in this tabletop translation?
‘The Walking Dead: All Out War’ tabletop miniatures game is for 1-2 players (though I’ve seen variant rules for more) and consists of groups of survivors in the ‘Walking Dead’ universe facing off against each other while attempting to survive against a swarm of walkers (what ‘TWD’ calls zombies).
Inside the core box you’ll find six detailed plastic survivor miniatures: Rick, Carl, Derek, Sandra, Patrick, and Liam. Alongside the humans are twelve menacing walker miniatures. The set also includes:
- a paper gaming mat
- a rulebook
- quick start guide
- a variety of scenery and objective tokens
- a ruler
- game counters
- a kill zone template
- cards for events, characters, equipment, and supplies
Everything you need to get started is in this box. It’s entertaining alone but I suspect fans of the property will be left wanting more, as Rick and Carl are the only notable faces in the set. Moreover, the generic scenarios provided in the book are not comic narrative-based and serve as introductions to the game itself.
Fortunately Mantic regularly releases optional expansions to supplement the ‘All Out War’ gaming experience. Each expansion comes with roughly 6 miniatures and their accompanying manual, cards, and scenery, while boosters have 3 figures plus cards.
Later this year Mantic will be releasing ‘Made to Suffer’ and ‘Safety Behind Bars’ expansions - one featuring the Governor’s group from Woodbury and the other themed around a group of survivors who are holed up in an abandoned Prison. These will be accompanied by additional character boosters for popular characters like Rick, Andrea, and Michonne.
Gameplay itself is simple to learn but more difficult to master. Provided in the core game is a quick start guide with basic rules, but at the back of the game manual there’s a section of advanced rules that add additional depth to gaming sessions and add flavor to the experience.
The structured nature of the scenarios simplify the process however and prevent new players from becoming too overwhelmed. Each scenario tells you which characters and equipment to bring but also provides alternatives just in case you haven’t purchased that booster yet.
Each character and piece of equipment has a point value associated with it, and generally higher points indicates a more powerful character or weapon. In skirmish games, players typically agree to a set points total for their teams.
Scenarios dictate which group has first turn initiative, and each round in the game consists of alternating turns. The player with initiative will first choose a character to activate and use. When they’ve finished, the turn passes to their opponent. Different characters feature varied and sometimes unique actions that affect movement, combat, and the overall morale of your team.
Nearly every action (except for sneaking) causes noise or mayhem, both of which will attract the undead in droves. When both players have finished playing all eligible characters, it’s then time to resolve combat and draw event cards that determine the actions of the walkers themselves.
The gameplay system that controls walkers is clever and enables single player gameplay because no one is saddled with controlling them. This kind of a system seems to work well for mindless horde type enemies, but wouldn’t make sense for a miniatures game like Star Wars: Imperial Assault where the enemy is by necessity more tactical.
The predictable movement patterns of the walkers reminds me of billiards: it’s all geometry. Walkers travel in straight lines toward the closest commotion. It’s entertaining to strategically lure walkers into groups of opposing survivors, or to otherwise use them to box your opponent from reaching objectives. If you don’t plan ahead or pay attention to their movement patterns, it’s likely that you’ll soon find walkers taking a bite out of your favorite character.
Where ‘All Out War’ truly shines is in this tense back-and-forth survival experience. Both players must balance their priorities between accomplishing their objective, avoiding or eliminating rival survivors, and dodging an angry swarm of walkers.
Where the real potential of the game begins to unfold is when you crack open the manuals for ‘Days Gone Bye’ and ‘Miles Behind Us’. These expansion manuals guide players through major events of the graphic novel and allow you to play through the story as a sort of what-if scenario. It’s entertaining to get to see how you’d fare if thrust into the same crises as Rick and the rest of his group.
For example, comic protagonist Rick and his friend-turned-rival Shane face off fatefully in the woods. Shane attempts to murder Rick and usurp control of the group but Rick’s son Carl intervenes and saves his father’s life by shooting Shane.
How different would the story be if Shane had succeeded in killing Rick? Or what if Carl had instead been killed in the crossfire, or even attacked by a nearby walker? You can play through and find out for yourself.
This is immediately compelling for fans of the graphic novel because it opens up endless possibilities. Across the span of a campaign you get to make countless new decisions that deviate from the established canon. Characters can be permanently killed or injured, and this can dramatically alter the course of a narrative campaign. Think of ‘All Out War’ as a tabletop rendition of a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book. It’s a bold and creative idea that I applaud Mantic for.
‘All Out War’ oozes personality and handily translates the aesthetic and theme from the graphic novels. Each character card uses portraits pulled directly from the comics, and it’s an especially nice touch. In addition, Mantic produces variant character cards (and models) to reflect the changes and growth of these characters throughout the story. Each variant card has unique art, different stats, and new abilities. I appreciated that Mantic embraced the journey and evolution of these beloved characters.
For example, Rick at the beginning of the series is not yet a battle-tested leader. “Rick Grimes - Police Officer” has completely different stats and abilities from later “Rick Grimes - Disfigured But Determined.”
It’s a nice touch that not only fits different point costs and team compositions but reflects the growth that these characters have undergone throughout the story. In narrative campaigns this is certainly a welcome addition.
It gets better. ‘Days Gone Bye’ also provides rules for creating your very own survivors. Mantic even offers blank character cards to fill out yourself. This level of customization supported directly by the publisher is uncommon and adds to the gameplay experience. I’ve already made character cards for myself and several friends.
It’s evident that Mantic wanted players to have the option to make their gaming experience as immersive or casual they want. The core game and each expansion come with paper mats and cardstock scenery to serve the purpose of adding color and life to the game. The paper mats aren’t particularly durable unless you laminate them, but the cardstock used for scenery is sturdy.
Mantic sells a scenery booster pack for $34.99 that replaces all of the cardboard scenery bits (cars, barricades, supplies) with plastic versions. I purchased this pack separately and then decided to build and paint additional scenery to make the game even more engaging. If you don’t want to construct your own terrain, there are others like Battle Systems Ltd that offer specialized solutions to fit everything from a 2x2 gaming space up to a full 4x6 table.
It’s understandable why Mantic opted to go with paper and cardboard, however. The core set retails for $49.99 USD, and this keeps the price low enough to not scare away potential players. ‘All Out War’ has the right price point and it’s smart of Mantic to offer expansions and boosters for those who are interested enough to expand their game experience.
While I opted to create my own game board, I am interested in purchasing the various game mats as they become available. These mats are easily rolled and transported which is useful for playing at a friend’s house or at your Friendly Local Gaming Store (FLGS).
This brings me to the figures themselves. The miniature sculpts are great quality and on-par with what I have come to expect from Mantic’s other plastic lines. Each figure is roughly 31mm, though 28mm scenery works perfectly well with them. This increased size also makes them easier to paint for less experienced hobbyists. Unfortunately they are not in scale with any of Mantic’s other miniatures.
For casual fans, ‘The Walking Dead: All Out War’ is an entertaining thematic miniature skirmish game. It’s easy to pick up and the core set contains everything you need to get started. The price point is about what you’d expect for a game of this size.
The miniatures and cards themselves are all high quality. The flat cardboard scenery and the paper game mat are not particularly impressive, but can be replaced with other products Mantic offers. For those wanting to customize their experience, you can create your own scenery or rely on third-party options to flesh out your game board and create a more visceral gaming experience.
Diehard fans are sure to appreciate that the game captures the aesthetic, tone, and intensity of the graphic novel. What really sold me on the game is the introduction of the comic-based scenarios contained in the expansion manuals.
For fans of the ‘Walking Dead’ franchise who want a narrative experience, I strongly recommend investing in the ‘Days Gone Bye’ expansion. Without it you don’t get to experience what I see as the biggest selling point: the ability to alter the course of ‘Walking Dead’ history by playing through the story as you see fit.
Mantic Games’ tabletop adaptation ‘The Walking Dead: All Out War’ is a compelling and entertaining game that shines best when taking full advantage of the narrative scenarios and team customization options.