Last week, CMON announced Zombicide: Green Horde, the sequel to the immensely popular medieval zombie survival game Zombicide: Black Plague. Black Plague is a reference to a real time in history, also known as the Black Death or the Bubonic Plague. In the mid-1300s, a mysterious pathogen swept across Europe. It’s thought to have originated on the plains of Central Asia that would’ve lined the Silk Road trade route. By around 1343, the disease reached Crimea, and proceeded into Europe from there, borne by rats aboard merchant ships, en-route to the Mediterranean. It was a period in time that claimed the lives of up to an estimated 200 million people, upwards of 60% of the population of Europe. Much of the zombie lore we see in popular culture today refers to a plague that sweeps across the world affecting everyone in its path and leaving the survivors fighting for their lives. One of the scariest things to imagine is that this has already happened in our history.
In both Black Plague and Green Horde, players take control of a group of Survivors of the mysterious illness that seems to have taken over the countryside. In the Zombicide version of the story, the dead are being raised from their graves by necromancers intent of taking control of the land. The real Black Plague comes from Yersinia Pestis, an organism commonly found in the fleas carried by ground rodents, including rats and marmots. At the same time that Europe was dealing with the plague, so too were Asia and the Middle East. Reports of massive outbreaks in Mecca, Mosul, and Baghdad have been recorded.
Records from the 14th century are varied, so it’s tough to know what, exactly, would be the appearance of someone suffering from the plague. The most commonly reported symptoms were the swelling of lymph nodes which caused huge, oozing blisters in the groin, neck, and armpits. Victims suffered from acute fevers and often vomited blood. Once infected, people only tended to live (maybe mercifully) about a week.
These people weren’t zombies, of course. They were victims of a time and place in history, where the conditions for outbreak were perfect and the medical and scientific capacity to deal with the situation was far outmatched. Although we now know there was nothing supernatural about the plague, at the time, people were ravaged by fear, much like they’d be in a zombie apocalypse. The result was a renewed religious fervor. People assumed they had angered the Gods in some way and fanaticism erupted, leading to a great deal of man-made problems.
Most good zombie stories discuss the breakdown of society in the face of a crisis. The societies that existed during the Black Plague were no better. Different groups like beggars, foreigners, pilgrims, and lepers all faced persecution, blamed for the outbreak that was centuries away from a scientific explanation. Society tends to look for scapegoats in a situation like this. In the Zombicide storyline, it’s easy to blame the walking undead and the evil wizards powering them to do their bidding. In reality, with the lack of science that we have today to explain the plague, many innocent lives paid for it.
Although the period of the Black Death had a huge impact on the entire world, it lasted a relatively short period of time. By 1350, the death rate began to drop off and the period of the Black Death is considered to have ended by 1353, although it never disappeared entirely. Subsequent epidemics occurred, most notably in the first half of the 17h century, when over a million people died in Italy, and in 1855, when a third major plague started in China. A number of factors are considered to have contributed to the end of the first plague (strangely, none of them refer to a team of scrappy Survivors banding together and fight off the spreading disease, gaining weapons and experience along the way). Most scientists now believe that a combination of quarantining the victims, improved hygiene, and people leaving the cities in search of clean air all factored in to the end of the plague.
Some of the places we see the impacts of the plague the most are in medieval art, literature, and poetry. At the time the plague hit, much of the art being created in Europe was focused on the church. It wasn’t long before images and tales of death became commonplace, often using the skeleton motif, to show people being led away to the afterlife. The children’s rhyme, Ring Around the Rosie, is thought to have originated from one of the later outbreaks of the plague. The ‘rosie’ refers to the red rash associated with the disease, and the posies were to mask the smell of death. As you can imagine, an event like the Black Plague had long-lasting effects on society. In less than ten years, a huge percentage of the population was wiped out. Psychologically, that’s going to change how people saw the world at the time. Even today, we still feel its effects on our shared consciousness.
Zombie stories are about a plague, an infection that spreads all too quickly, leading to the breakdown of the world that we know it. They mirror the horrors of the real outbreak that claimed so many lives. Science has brought us a long way. We can now identify the reasons why the plague occurred, but we’re not immune to the possibility of another pathogen wreaking havoc on the world’s population. Zombicide Black Plague and Green Horde capture the fears that people would have felt during those time periods. However, in these stories, the enemy isn’t a microscopic organism. They’re shambling creatures, intent on wiping out the remaining humans. Survivors can take up arms against their foes and fight for their lives!
Zombicide Black Plague is in your FLGS now, and you can begin the battle against the new menace when Zombicide Green Horde comes to Kickstarter at the end of May.