Just when you thought the plague of zombie-themed games was over... The Walking Dead has already spawned numerous board, card and miniatures games. Some have been based on the original comic books, others on the popular TV series. The Walking Dead: Something to Fear is very much based on the original comics.
The game was designed by Derek & Lizzy Funkhauser, with art by Justin Chan. It's published by Skybound Games. Open up the box and you may be surprised to find that the 30 x 30 cm space is mainly taken up by cardboard insert. The Walking Dead: Something to Fear is a card game and the components are a deck of 118 cards that could fit in a box a tenth of the size. On the plus side, the oversized box leaves you plenty of space to sleeve your cards. :-)
Box to one side, The Walking Dead: Something to Fear combines some interesting mechanics. Players (2–6) all have their own identical decks of nine cards, each representing one of the main characters from the Walking Dead comics. You won't find a Daryl card because he was a character introduced by the TV series rather than the comics. The cards are numbered 1 tho' 9 and each has a special ability. The nine character cards are shuffled and players draw three cards. Through the course of the game's nine rounds, you'll get to play each character card once, unless you draw on the special ability of, for example, Abraham, allowing you to swap a card from your hand for one in your discard pile (ie: allowing you to play a particular card for a second time). The rules suggest an optional 'expert' mode with players having all their character cards in hand rather than just three at a time. We found that was generally a more satisfying way of playing, not least because it avoided gripes from players claiming they'd had an unlucky draw. If you play with all your character cards to choose from, it removes a major element of luck from the game.
Each round, Encounter cards are flipped so that there is a row showing one more Encounter card than the number of players. Subject to variation according to a character's special ability, players will usually take one card from the Encounter row to add to their individual stash. You'll be collecting cards for their individual or set-collection points value and be trying to avoid cards that do you 'personal damage'. Players play their character cards simultaneously and it is the numerical values on the cards that determine the all-important order in which you choose Encounter cards. Each round, there will one card left unclaimed. That gets added to the 'Mob'. The damage values of the cards in the Mob are totted up at the end of the game and all the players take that much damage.
The interaction between the different character abilities of itself makes this an interesting hand management game. You can see what sets other players are collecting and you'll be competing with them to avoid them building high-scoring combos. There's also a 'take that' element in stealing cards from an opponent's stash and in shifting 'personal damage' cards onto an opponent. Meanwhile, this competitive game maintains a co-operative element. If your damage total exceeds 20, you die - which means you lose. With nine Encounter cards in the Mob, it may demand some selflessness on the part of the players to avoid the Mob total exceeding 20, which would mean that all the players lose. This game maybe adds the Survivor's Dilemma to the more familiar Prisoner's Dilemma!
The Walking Dead: Something to Fear plays quickly. We found games typically took less than 30 minutes, with six-player games not taking a great deal longer than games played with just two; although you'll find the game's tie-breaker rules inevitably kick in more often as you increase the player count. We had particular fun with the push-your-luck element of the scoring of some of the 'sets': a single Negan card, for example, is worth 10 points, and three of them net a stonking 40 points, but if you get stuck with two Negan cards, your score for them is -20(!)