App Reviewed on: iPad Pro
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Classic zombies don’t seem like anything to be afraid of, at least on paper. They’re slow, stupid, and uncoordinated, yet they’re dangerous. If too many of them are grouped together, or you just get careless for a second, you’re toast. Zombicide: Tactics & Shotguns understands these principles exceedingly well, which is the main reason why it’s so dang good.
Zombicide: Tactics & Shotguns is based on the board game Zombicide, but it’s not exactly a straight digital port of the game. Both games are still very much about using a team of survivors to kill zombies in turn-based combat using dice, modular map tiles, etc, but Tactics & Shotguns has a progression layer not found in the original game.
As you play through scenarios in Tactics & Shotguns, you find loot, specifically food and weapons, which can help make your survivors stronger between missions. Food is used for leveling up characters and weapons, and weapons can be mixed and matched with characters according to their class type so you can fine tune your survivors’ zombie-killing abilities. These elements make the experience feel more video game-y, especially considering this progression system comes along a single-player campaign that features set level designs of increasingly difficult waves of zombies to kill, plus a narrative to contextualize all of your actions.
Most of any given scenario in Tactics & Shotguns features combat, and quite a lot of it, even though your mission objective is rarely “kill all zombies.” In fact, Tactics & Shotguns almost always ensures you’re outnumbered and overwhelmed. While you’re on your way trying to do things like gathering medical supplies or rescuing other survivors, certain tiles of the map are constantly spewing out new zombies each turn, forcing you to try and manage—rather than eradicate—a tide of undead in order to progress forward safely.
Progress through a Tactics & Shotguns mission generally consists of slowly carving a path through zombies to a given objective point while also covering your back. This would probably be boring if the game didn’t constantly try to disrupt this strategy while also making sure you're provided the tools to maintain control when things inevitably take a surprising turn. Clever level design and flexible character customization do a lot of the heavy lifting on this front in the sense that you're always walking into a new, more difficult situations while at the same time unlocking more and more capabilities and options for your team to ensure your survival.
In my time with Tactics & Shotguns, I constantly found myself confronting what seemed like impossible scenarios, but still somehow finding a way to squeak through them by the skin of my teeth. The more I played the game, too, I was discovering new ways to deal with certain problems that I hadn’t considered previously, or even incorporating new efficiencies into old strategies to make them more effective.
These are all hallmarks of excellent design, though there are a few places where Tactics & Shotguns stumbles. Certain UI elements can obscure others at times, switching between characters can be really clunky and slow, and it’s really easy to accidentally do more attacks than you intended given the game's dice-rolling controls. Of these though, only the last issue is truly annoying, as you frustratingly can’t undo any actions, even if you committed to them by mistake.
It’s also worth talking about how Tactics & Shotguns is a paid game that features in-app purchases for additional units and scenarios for $2-$3 each. While this definitely is a bit of a bummer, the core game gives you enough units and levels to play with to make it feel like a fully-featured experience.
The bottom line
Not since games like Invisible Inc. or Into the Breach have I been so impressed with a tactics game. Zombicide: Tactics & Shotguns knows just how far to back you into a corner to make you feel the desperation of your survivors, while also empowering you to put together a plan that lets you make it out alive. It may not capture other tropes of zombie fiction so well, but Zombicide: Tactics & Shotguns nails the feeling of intense zombie combat so well that you should definitely make some time to play it.