Playing With The Walking Dead

How would you survive the zombie apocalypse? That's the question the makers of "The Walking Dead Board Game" will pose to players upon the game's late summer release. The combined efforts of popular board game makers MegaGigaOmniCorp, Inc, To Be Continued and Z-Man Games along with input by Robert Kirkman's own Skybound, the "Walking Dead Board Game" takes it's cues from the early days of the popular zombie-infested comic series from Image Comics and offers players a pretty simple premise to understand: survive and win, or die and lose.

The game boasts six playable characters that each attain any number of follower characters. The aim is to stay alive by collecting weapons, food, water and other supplies to help you navigate the world of the comic books. Sometimes staying alive means joining up with other players and sometimes it means betraying them so you can escape with your life while they wind up zombie treats. The game offers plenty of options for repeated play and even takes into account aspects of the comics like zombies being attracted to loud noise, so be careful when you start blasting away with that hand cannon. To get the dirt on the upcoming game, CBR News talked with MegaGigaOmniCorp's president Keith Tralins and Brian David-Marshall of To Be Continued about how the game came together, how different players can interact with one another and how the game fits in with comic continuity.

CBR News: How did the idea for a "Walking Dead" board game originally come about? Was it something you guys developed and pitched or something Kirkman or his people brought to your attention?

Keith Tralins: There were two things going on. My company MegaGigaOmniCorp and Brian's company TBC, we had been working together for a long time. We do the "Twilight" game. There was already a natural partnership between us. I had been a diehard fan of "The Walking Dead," the comic book, since the first issue. Early last year, I started to reach out to the folks over at [management company] Circle of Confusion to do a game for this because I was thinking that this would make the next great game for us. It just seemed a natural fit. Being so ingrained in the comic books, that's just the world I wanted to play in and started the conversation. Given the success that TBC and MegaGigaOmniCorp had had in taking properties from different mediums and translating them into the game space and staying faithful to that brand, that story and really recreating that experience in the game world, it just seemed like a natural fit and we all had a great time.

Brian David-Marshall: And I have a relationship with Zev Shlasinger from Z-Man Games that goes back further than most people who are reading this have been alive. It goes back to when we were both teenagers going to a comic book store on Coney Island Ave. in Brooklyn. This was our first real opportunity to work together since we had collaborated on unfilmed movie scripts when we were 14.

Was it a hard sell, considering the comic is pretty graphic and filled with zombies, or did the success of the TV show help move things along?

David-Marshall: One of the things I think people mistakenly think about "Walking Dead" is that it's a zombie property. For us, we really approached it from the perspective of the survivors. It's not really about killing zombies, it's about getting the heck away from them and trying to find a safe place to live.

Tralins: We started on this project really before we knew about the TV show. For us it's always been about the comic book and wanting to get involved in that world. It was actually an easy sell. What we did is we came up with a prototype and we sat down with the people at Circle of Confusion and Skybound and just showed it to them. We showed them some of the mechanics and how we were recreating the tension between the survivors in a world populated by zombies. They felt like we totally nailed what "The Walking Dead" was down to its core essence, which is how humanity survives in a world without law. It was actually fairly easy going from that point because I think we were all on the same page, all headed down the same direction and it's been a wonderful partnership.

David-Marshall: Certainly the highlight of the whole process was getting Kirkman's feedback in the game, which was just fabulous. He felt like we really nailed the experience that he wrote for Rick and the other survivors in the game.

Tralins: We definitely had two really cool standards to meet. We had to stay honest and faithful to Kirkman's vision and we also had to create a great game that fits into the Z-Man footprint of amazing games. Getting the feedback from Kirkman and from Zev at the same time and knowing we were on that path, to me, was incredibly rewarding and I know for BDM it was too.

In addition to pitching him the game and him enjoying it, did Kirkman have any feedback or notes that influenced the production of the game?

Tralins: There weren't any game play elements that he ruled out. Pretty much everything we brought in, they all enjoyed. For us, where we really got the input that mattered, there are elements of the game that we haven't revealed yet that are essentially becoming canon in the world of "The Walking Dead." There were things that we were doing that I got on the phone with them and said "I've been down this road on 'Lost' and I'm not going to mess this up. How do I make sure these elements that we're creating are part of the canon and are truthful to the world?" Because people are going to see it and relate it to the comic books and they're going to want to make sure that it fits in faithfully. So he got to look at that stuff, comment, tweak and include it and give us the thumb's up that this is part of the world of "The Walking Dead" a visual representation that has heretofore never appeared in an issue of "The Walking Dead."

Can you give any details or hints as to what some of those elements might be?

Tralins: [No], only because it's part of the roll out plan we have, but you will be seeing it soon. We've hinted at it in a couple of places already, but it hasn't spread wide.

David-Marshall: We can give a hint though: we don't want you to be bored with the details.

Tralins: Really bored with the details.

Let's get into some of the game details. There are six playable characters, chief among them is Rick. Who else can you talk about?

Tralins: Rick is clearly one. I answered a question on Board Game Geek and we can say that Glenn is one because we've put that out there. Do we want to reveal one here?

David-Marshall: Sure, absolutely.

Tralins: Okay, Andrea. And then there will be three more to be revealed.

David-Marshall: There's also a lot of other characters you'll see from the comics here in the game as followers that you can interact with. Characters with a relationship with one another will definitely have a mechanical impact on the game.

Tralins: There are more than 20 other characters who will appear. Players will get to play with them and the relationships between the characters definitely have a major impact on the game.

Do the specialties of the characters from the comics play into the game, like Andrea's sharp shooting or Glenn's speed?

Tralins: Absolutely. Every character has different skills which are represented in a couple of different ways yet to be revealed. The characters will evolve over time.

David-Marshall: It's very true to the comic book.

Tralins: For us if you're playing as Rick, you should experience a different strategy than if you're playing as Glenn. Rick is strong, he's the hero, he's got a lot of skills. Glenn is fast, great at stealth, at finding things. It's two completely different strategies and the players can play a different kind of game in the same game.

You've mentioned that survival is key to the game, can you talk about modes of survival, like weapons, supplies, food, those kinds of things?

David-Marshall: All the trappings of the zombie apocalypse are certainly there. One of the things I can tell you is that, if you read the comics, you do not want to fire a weapon. You'd like to kill zombies when needed, but you'd like to do it as quietly as possible

Tralins: We'll have those weapons if you want to use them.

You can use them, but they come with some drawbacks.

Was it difficult translating ideas from the comics, like zombies being drawn to loud sounds like gunshots, into game mechanics?

David-Marshall: That's the challenge any time you're designing a game, there's always considerations, especially when we're working on a licensed game. There's all sorts of expectations from people from the creators of the brand and the consumers of the brand. Trying to make that all fit in is tricky. What was really fortunate for us is that we're such fans of the material that it made sense to us. There's a very flavorful game experience. As a result the things that were important were very obvious to us. A lot of times things become tricky when those important things sort of raise their head late in the process, but early on we knew all those things. "What happens when you fire a gun, isn't that really bad in the comic?" That was something that didn't show up late, that was something right from the outset we were like "How do we deal with that?" There have been a number of zombie games out in the hobby market for years and it's such a traditional thing like shoot all the zombies, blow them up with shot guns, kill them, and that's not what this game is, but also not what this brand is about.

Tralins: The survival element is not just about surviving zombies, it's about surviving against the other players and people living in the world. Do you survive with them or without them? From a game development standpoint it all began to flow together really nicely because we had all these different elements. Now the game became, "Can I trust the other players? Can I play with them and can we win the game together?" We've ended up with a cooperative play that can occur mid-game, it can occur end-game and end at any time, it's up to the player. It creates a truly social environment where you might change tactics and switch into a cooperative mode mid-game just to make sure you win.

David-Marshall: That's also how you want to experience the brand. There have been scenarios where play testers say, "This is the zombie apocalypse, why are we fighting each other?" It's a very visceral narrative experience so they join forces and get the hell out of there.

Tralins: I've had a similar gaming experience where one of the people decided to leave everybody behind at the last possible moment which is an enjoyable gaming experience, but he's not invited back.

From a visual standpoint, is the artwork included in the game pulled from the comics, was new art created for the game or a combination of the two?

Tralins: There are original elements also to be revealed soon and then there are other sources that are all 100% faithful to the world of "The Walking Dead."

Some of our readers might not be as familiar with these kinds of board games-can you explain some of the game play to give us all a better idea?

David-Marshall: Basically you start the game smack in the middle of an apocalyptic zombie event and you're trying to find a safe haven. You're going to need ammo and food and gas and additional followers and you're going to need to not get killed by zombies and you need a safe place to go. Narratively, if you were playing Rick, it's like "I wake up, holy crap there's zombies everywhere" and you're trying to navigate your way through that world. Essentially every player has a party of characters.

Tralins: To speak to that, players will start as one of the six starting characters and then they also, at random, get one follower. Rick will become much stronger if he has Carl and Lori with him. You don't have to try and find Carl and Lori.

David-Marshall: This Carl has both his eyes.

Tralins: We're not up to issue #85 yet.

David-Marshall: This game is set very firmly at the beginning of the "Walking Dead" storyline.

So we'll see some faces we maybe haven't seen in a while?

Tralins: Exactly. Or if you're reading ["Walking Dead Weekly"] right now, you'll recognize a lot of people. And that's to give us a lot of room to grow, especially with such a rich and incredibly realized world. That's what attracted us this, we know we can create a terrific ongoing game and really take our time and enjoy each storyarc as we go and really give it the attention it deserves and give people the opportunity to play as the characters and feel like they're living in that world.

Would those further adventures be whole new games, expansion packs or are those things too far in the future right now?

David-Marshall: Right now we're just trying to get the game to show up in time for the convention season, get it to market and see how it will do.

Tralins: I think it's safe to say that we're forward thinking but we're also focused on the now.

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