Zombies are a perpetual staple of horror entertainment (and feature as monsters in many role-playing games) so it's not surprising that there is at least one game completely dedicated to them. It is, as you'd imagine, a horror survival game... the objective being to remain alive, uneaten and not get turned into a zombie yourself.
The Foreword by Shane Lacey Helsey (the author of Deadlands amongst other fine games and supplements) discusses this ongoing fascination with zombies and how this game - originally intended as a one-shot - has developed into a complete RPG line. Then Chapter 1: The Dead Rise opens with an account of someone becoming a zombie... and then goes on to talk about the history of the concept, from myth to fiction and in particular movies. Apart from mentions of voodoo, however, much of zombie fiction has one thing in common: it doesn't explain how there came to be zombies wandering around in the first place even when the focus is finding a way to stop them for good and all... or if a rationale for their presence is mentioned, it's unique to that book or movie. This leads to a rather unique feature of this game: it's left up to the GM or Zombie Master to decide the origins and nature of the zombies the party will face, and how (if?) they can be defeated. Often the aim of the campaign will be to discover this information, over and above just managing to survive the onslaught! This chapter also covers basic conventions (with a novel solution to the quandary of whether to be grammatical but non-inclusive by using 'he' all the time or do something else by alternating between 'he' and 'she' each chapter!), what is role-playing, and a note that the core game mechanic is Eden's Unisystem.
Chapter 2: Survivors is all about character creation. Impatient players can head straight to the Archetypes, which are just about ready to play as-is or provide a basis for cusomisation. The rest may start from scratch, with input from the Zombie Master and hopefully the rest of the group as well. Starting with Character Types (which lays guidelines for the rest of what's needed), you need to sort out Attributes, Qualities/Drawbacks, Skills, Metaphysics (if any magical or superpowers are available) and Possessions. There are three Character Types: Norm (like you or me), Survivors (extraordinary characters stronger and smarter than normal), and Inspired (complete with supernatural powers). Those seeking a scary game should opt for Norms, or you might prefer a mix of Norms and Survivors providing character balance isn't important to your group. If you really want to take the fight to the zombies, go for Survivors or a mix of Survivors and Inspired (who have the same number of build points, just distributed differently). Whichever you choose, you get various build points to use to create the characters themselves using a point-buy system. There are plenty of details and examples to help you through the process.
Next Chapter 3: Shambling 101 explains the rules of the game, with copious examples to help you get the hang of it all. If you're already familiar with Eden's Unisystem you can skim through this, if you're new to it you will soon find it all falling into place... even those new to role-playing should not find it too much of a challenge although it helps if you have someone more knowledgeable to helo you get started. Notes for those who prefer diceless games, or want to use playing cards rather than dice for the element of chance, are included... and the discussion goes to great lengths to emphasis the importance of story over mechanics, whichever method you decide to use. Task resolution, combat, even the effects of fear (plenty of that in this game!) on the characters are covered here. Combat can be as detailed or as streamlined as you like, and includes the use of improvised weapons and even covers the sheer shock of taking a wound - with this game being one where 'ordinary' people are suddenly caught up in the action, this is a welcome and realistic addition (but like everything else, it's optional!). Healing (including supernatural powers if you're using them) is also covered, along with protection and other ways of being injured than getting into a fight. Vehicle rules - for use and in combat - are also covered here, and the chapter rounds out with how to gain and then spend experience to improve your character.
On to Chapter 4: Implements of Destruction. This is the equipment chapter and, despite its title, has a lot more than weapons in here. What is available to the party will depend on where and indeed when the game takes place, although the base supposition is that it is roughly the present day. There are plenty of weapons too, from common household tools through to military hardware, and a selection of contemporary vehicles bring up the end of this section along with a brief note on transportation in the year 1000 AD, one of the setting options.
With Chapter 5: Anatomy of a Zombie we arrive in Zombie Master territory, which continues to the end of the book. This chapter presents zombies in great detail, with many options allowing you to customise them, all building on a 'standard zombie'. A key point is how to do harm to them, and this can be as general as 'anything that harms a human being' down to specific body parts or modes of attack being their only vulnerabilities. Part of the challenge for the party is finding out what works. There are also options covering how they move, what they eat (brains, surely?) and how new ones are made.
Finally, Chapter 6: Worlds of Hell provides a full eleven backstories to explain just why the backyard is crawling with zombies. Each provides a different reason for there being zombies around, and can either be used as the basis for an All Flesh Must Be Eaten campaign or slotted into a completely different Unisystem campaign to give your players a real surprise! Each setting description starts with some fiction, which can be shared with the players as a scene-setter, then there is a detailed history explaining what is going on - this is what the party ought to be trying to find out, inbetween the whole staying alive bit. Then there's the current state of affairs - you can flex this a bit depending on how soon after the zombie outbreak you want the game to start. Finally there are some story hooks to get the characters involved. There's also a brief note, before the setting materials begin, about party conflict. In many zombie stories, the survivors do not all get along with each other, never mind the zombies, and you may or may not wish this to happen in your game. In particular, it should never spill over into disputes between players, even when their characters are at each other's throats. The settings range from the classic small town suddenly being overrun to a sexually-transmitted disease, something extraterrestrial, an environmental problem, warfare gone horribly wrong in 1944 or after a nuclear exchange and even an outbreak of zombies in the year 1000 AD. There's even an opportunity to see things from the zombie point of view...
If you want a zombie game, this is an excellent one, with the Unisystem ruleset honed to the particular theme well - yet staying standard enough that if you play another Unisystem game you can unleash zombie hordes on unsuspecting players. Short campaigns or one-off games can be designed, or a full-blown campaign... heck, how long has the Walking Dead TV show been running? If you take that as your inspiration, there are seven seasons already and at least one more coming towards the end of 2017. There's no end to the possibilities, and the sheer flexibility of this game means that whatever you want to play, you can... as long as there are zombies around! Good luck avoiding them...
Return to All Flesh Must Be Eaten Rulebook page.
Reviewed: 3 June 2017