Just like the process of the game itself, we move forward to the next step: adapting the setting, characters, and story of the movie to the game design, staying true to its core identity and at the same time bringing the Zombicide flavor that we know and love, making sure that both merged together seamlessly.
In today's article, Jean-Baptiste Lullien, Raphaël Guiton, and Nicolas Raoult, the game designers behind the Zombicide line, explain their process to adapt Night of the Living Dead into a board game.
How did you start the game design process for a project such as this?
Night of the Living Dead is an all-time classic. We watched it again, several times, with the eyes of game designers. We did research on the time and conditions the movie was made, the original script, the characters, and the message George A. Romero wanted to get across to the audience. We also paused the movie a lot, to analyze every scene.
Even for strangers to the zombie genre, Night of the Living Dead is a foundation movie. It carries an intense atmosphere, despite being made with little resources. As designers, we count it as a major movie prefiguring the artistic wave of the late 60’s-late 70’s.
How was the process of “gamifying” the movie in a way to ensure consistency with the story, but have clear chapters that could serve as “missions”?
First of all, we had to design game tiles, in the same style we usually do with all Zombicides. Unfortunately, the sources to be found on the web about the house’s setting were not as accurate as we needed them to be. That is why, when starting out, we paused the movie a lot: to recreate the scenes as accurately as possible, while ensuring we could reuse the tiles in a modular way. From the outside, seeing three guys pausing a black and white movie every five seconds may look quite odd, but trust me, that’s a deep and funny experience to undergo! The licensors also offered valuable information, which we used to create the drafts and refine the setting.
We designed the equipment cards in a similar way: pausing the movie, noting which equipment and weapons were used, and looked for available references about them. At some point, we had to select the more significant ones to get balanced equipment decks.
In the meantime, we also studied each character, one by one, discussing their role, background, and personality. The goal was to create their ID Cards to be as close as possible to their movie counterpart, yet playable in the most enjoyable way.
Our points of view on the six main characters evolved during the movie. For example, many people see Ben as a daring hero, and Harry as an opportunistic coward. Being husbands and fathers, we quickly understood why Harry acted this way. If only he gave his advice in a diplomatic manner… There would have been no movie, as everyone would have locked themselves in the basement!
In Night of the Living Dead: A Zombicide Game, Missions are called “Scenes”. We are in a movie! Translating the movie into Scenes was quite easy, in fact. We took the whole plot, extracted 5 moments reminiscent of Zombicide classic themes, and turned them into Scenes: getting into the house and securing it, looking for the pump’s keys, breaking the zombie siege, refueling the pick-up, and surviving the “night of the living dead”.
This game, however, consists of 10 Scenes.
How could we stay close to the original but have a clear Zombicide twist in it?
The movie is played behind closed doors. Ghouls are mostly an outside threat, and characters do their best to avoid them. Zombicide, on the other hand, is like an action movie where everyday people become fierce zombie hunters. We made the twist by introducing “what if?” scenarios in the game. “What if” the characters trusted each other from the start? “What if” they explored their surroundings further and used every available tool in an efficient and deadly manner? “What if” they made it together against the ghouls? “What if” the movie offered alternate plots and events? These possibilities are explored (and exploited) in several ways, detailed below.
First and foremost, each character (called “survivor” in the game) has two game modes: Romero Mode, and Zombicide Mode. The Romero Mode depicts the characters as we know them: they are less powerful than classic Zombicide survivors, yet they are faithful to the movie. The Zombicide Mode is the opposite: the characters become full-fledged Zombicide survivors, being able to battle dozens of ghouls and win. The most extravagant weapons may only be used by Survivors in Zombicide Mode.
In the first Scenes, all survivors start the game in Romero Mode, and may switch to Zombicide mode by performing defined deeds. In a general manner, it always involves trusting each other. Stronger together, Zombicide-style. In later Scenes that offer alternate plots and endings, Survivors start in Zombicide Mode.
Going into Zombicide Mode is not a one-way trip, however: a Survivor may revert back to Romero Mode, becoming more vulnerable, during the game. That happens when a Ghoul Relative shows up, for example.
A Ghoul Relative? Does Night of the Living Dead introduce new Zombies… errrr, Ghouls, to the infected fold?
Creating a tailor-made ghoul horde for the game was another way for us to stick to Romero’s art. There are Walkers and Fatties, but no Runners or Abominations. There aren’t any in the movie! Instead, we replaced them with Breakers and Relatives.
In the movies, we can see ghouls tearing apart barricades, or even taking tools (like a brick, for example) to break windows and barricades. In the game, these are the Breakers. They play mostly like Walkers, but can open doors and break barricades to allow other ghouls to go through. They are a major threat in Scenes involving barricading and protecting an area, like the house the survivors are holed up in. In many Scenes, the game is lost if ghouls manage to get inside. That’s why the Breakers are so dangerous. In these Scenes, there is a clear siege mentality.
The movie also features ghoul stars: Johnny and Karen. When they show up, the tension increases dramatically, pushing key characters into a panic. They made their way into the game as Relatives. As long as they are on the board, Survivors stay in Romero Mode. Being able to severely hinder all Survivors by their mere presence, Relatives are priority threats to deal with.
Having a single rifle and a couple crowbars, like in the movie, may not be enough to deal with a ghoul horde in a Zombicide manner. What about weapons?
The game comes with several weapons inspired by those available in the 50’s and 60’s. Most of them are directly taken from the film (thanks to Chief McClelland and his hunting party!). For obvious reasons linked to the movie’s atmosphere, we could not allow survivors to find weapons in the easy, classic Zombicide way. Equipment comes in several decks to draw from: Starting, Melee, Ranged, House, and Special. Generally, House equipment can be found anywhere, but consists of utilitarian items. Melee and Ranged equipment can be found in specific places on the board, forcing Survivors to move around, share, or make choices. Special equipment consists of powerful items, like the Scoped Winchester, Torch, or Molotovs. What would a Zombicide game be without Molotovs? Let’s hope Survivors will make better use of them than in the movie!
Night of the Living Dead and Zombicide: 2nd Edition were designed around the same time. What are the bridges and major differences between these games?
Let’s start with the bridges. From afar, Night of the Living Dead is easily seen as a Zombicide game. The modular tiles, the plastic dashboard, the miniatures, the core game mechanics (spawning, Danger Levels, Skills, inventory, phases, etc.) are basically the same. There are even cars to drive around and smash ghouls/zombies with! One last important thing: both games are quick to set up. We made sure the progress made regarding setup in Zombicide: Invader (sci-fi setting core box), and then in Zombicide: 2nd Edition, made its way into Night of the Living Dead.
Now, about the differences. Apart from all the new key features we got into with the previous questions, Night of the Living Dead is both easier to introduce to new players, and offers a different experience to seasoned players. Slight adjustments in the rules were made to achieve these goals and stick to the movie’s atmosphere. Car rules, the Skills we chose for all Survivors, and replacing Runners with Breakers, are just a few of these changes we are talking about. Another key change is the board’s setting. Until now, all Zombicide boards were either rectangular or square. Now, with modular square tiles, they can adopt any form. Two Scenes of note, for example, use a tile sequence for players to “unfold” a board as the zombie hunting develops.
Is Night of the Living Dead compatible with other Zombicide boxes?
The game was designed to be a standalone, and stick as closely as possible to the movie, while keeping a Zombicide flavor. Compatibility is somewhat possible in some aspects (Survivors, equipment, using rules found in other boxes), but was not a priority for design. That’s especially true for the tiles.