Posted on October 19, 2009 by spikexan
Available at RPGNow.com
It’s only eighteen pages. There is no artwork beyond some font variances. There are no graphs and no sidebars. You get no character sheet. There are some bullets, but that just seems sensible in a game about zombie survival (or is it Zombie survival?). Despite the utter lack of bells and whistles, it still costs five bucks (except mine was a free reviewer’s copy from Wicked Dead Brewing Company). You know what else?
It’s totally worth skipping out on a combo meal to snatch up this booklet.
Shotgun Diaries apparently started out as a birthday gift. As most things zombie-related, it got a bit out of hand. According to John Wick’s livejournal, it’s now getting put on film and being offered the Nobel Peace Prize (okay, so I made that last bit up). What’s the big deal?
Didn’t All Flesh Must Be Eaten already take care of the zombie market in RPGs? This game shares subject matter, not approach. You cannot compare this rotten apple to Eden’s rotten orange.
This game is frantic. You read it frantically as the conversational tone zips you right along. The mechanics are fast and messy. Death comes pretty damn quick too, especially if you Lone Wolf things.
What you do is pick a character (a Survivor). You get a smattering of choices, based on adjectives. You’ve got the Fast Survivor, the Strong Survivor, and so forth. The type of Survivor you are lends directly to the kinds of dice you have at your disposal. Having no dice in this game is usually fatal.
What do the dice do? Well, Wick calls it “taking risks” in this game, which makes sense. You basically chuck X amount of dice and look for sixes. Finding sixes (even one) means one thing while finding none means quite another. Weapons, teamwork, and other factors can play into adding dice or bonuses to those rolls, nevertheless, the core mechanic falls to that initial fistful of dice.
This game grants players a massive amount of power at times, but it equally can strip them of their power. It’s 80% chance with a little bit of mechanics thrown in for strategy. It proves to be a harsh lesson in gaming, but a lesson that makes sense in a game of this nature. A simple dice roll can get you killed here (or zombified) because you have no saving throws or hit/life/energy points. You’re either alive, infected, a Zombie (capital on Survivors becoming zombified), or dead meat.
Wick offers a few more details by means of crunchier rules like Supplies, Sanctuary, Fear Checks, and the Zombie Clock. All of these concepts probably do exactly what you guess, so I won’t elaborate on any of them save the Zombie Clock. If there is one thing I would throw out in this game, then it would be the clock. Oddly, I love the idea immensely, so what I’d actually do is throw out the ZC as it currently reads.
I like the passage of time through the Zombie Clock. It affects the Supply Pool and permits the zombies to gather. It’s also a great mental aspect to the game. Gamers will watch the Zombie Clock clicking away while knowing fully well that it will eventually mean a torrent of teeth and nails.
The only thing I don’t like about the Zombie Clock is that it doesn’t, as it is written, permit large quantities of zombies to gather. Once the number of zombies exceeds the Sanctuary’s score, then they come knocking. Beating the Sanctuary score could mean large numbers, but most gaming groups probably won’t garner a large count (unless the dice are really against them). What I’d like to see the clock do is double the amount of zombies. This would mean one zombie at one rank, two at two, four at three, and so forth. Beating the Sanctuary score could refer to the turn number, not the actual zombie count.
There is one other aspect to the game that should be addressed: the diary. This game offers a fantastic in-game motivator for keeping a diary. Writing the diary helps with your character’s fear and can also earn you bonus dice if you underline the juicy parts. I’m always happy when my gamers keep in-game notes or fan fiction or whatever. Wick has figured out a terrific way in inspiring them.
I’d normally throw some scores out at this point, but the areas I tend to grade on don’t apply to this game. Maybe you’re psyched that Halloween is afoot. Maybe you’ve just watched Zombieland. Maybe you just haven’t ran a horror game in awhile. This little five dollar gem is the way to go. It’s really what you want to sink your teeth into.
Review by Todd Cash