All Flesh Must Be Eaten
Reviewed by Randy Campbell, Copyright ©2001
Edited by Suzanne Campbell for The Guild Companion
All Flesh Must Be Eaten (AFMBE) classifies itself as a "Survival Horror Game". Produced and published by Eden Studios, it is basically a tribute to every zombie movie you have ever seen. When I was asked to review it, my mind instantly flashed back to a period of time when our gang rented absolutely everything with a zombie in it. I thought it might be fun for a night's play. I knew that finding play testers wouldn't be difficult.
It was time to start. I picked up the book. It's a nice glossy hardcover with a good weight. It comes in at 227 pages, and is fairly well organized. I read and reread the game over a 5 day period, getting used to their system and how different aspects were handled. I wanted to make sure I gave the game a fair shake and ran the system as it was meant to be. I definitely didn't expect to soon be laughing at the book's black humour and the visions they conjured of desperate characters in hopeless situations.
I'm not a big fan of stories within a book, but the lead-ins for each chapter were superb. Not only did they give the feel of the game, but they also demonstrated the different types of situations, campaigns, and zombies that one could face. I moved from "It's just a zombie game" to "There is a lot of potential variety here" halfway through the first reading. By time I hit the end of the book I knew I was sold as I willingly reviewed sections to clarify the rules, and still chuckled at a couple of sections!
Chapter 1: The typical introduction and flavour.
Chapter 2: All aspects of character creation. Listing of stats and how to generate them. Listing of skills and how to acquire them. Listing of Metaphysics and how to acquire them. There are notes on the three types of characters (Normals, Survivors and Inspired). The section ends in a series of classic archetypes, such as Cheerleader, Video Store Clerk, Reporter, Hacker, and Police Officer. For any experienced role player, you will find this section pleasantly easy to use.
Chapter 3: This chapter handles how to run the game. Everything from combat to hints on being a better "Zombie Master" (gamemaster) is there. Combat feels simple, but is still open ended high and low (for all you Rolemaster fans). Of course, there are "called shots" for shooting those zombies in the head. Damage, armour, healing and shock are handled and explained within the system. There is a fear table that made me laugh and think of the H.P. Lovecraft inspired Call of Cthulhu. Great style in this section.
Chapter 4: Gear, gear and more gear. These are mostly things that will stop those zombies, but also include armour and vehicles.
Chapter 5: This chapter is subtitled "Anatomy of a Zombie" and although short, really helps to make the product special for those creative Zombie Masters. This chapter details how to create your own zombie. How fast are they? How do they make other zombies? What is their weak spot? How smart are they? ("Dumb as Dead Wood" is one possible answer.)
Chapter 6: This section has no less than 10 campaign worlds outlined with their respective specialized zombies and starting situations. This section really shows the strength and potential variety of the system. There are radioactive zombies, plant zombies, Nazi zombies (in 1944) and human bodies controlled by aliens. There are zombies back in the year 1000, and zombies that are based on disease. The ideas rocked and I wanted to play!
I had decided to create my own adventure. Something typical to test the basics of the system with your "Day of the Dead" type zombies. It took me a day's thought and 3.5 hours of work. I wanted a party that mixed all types of characters to see their different abilities and judge their strengths.
My players were Suzanne C. playing three "Normal" U.S. National Guardsmen; Suzanne B. playing a "Survivor" conspiracy theorist who is feeling mighty justified and scared; James playing an "Inspired" Jesuit priest with mystical powers; and Laurie playing a "Survivor" professional hunter who used to take tourists on big game hunts.
Normal characters are only a bit better than "Joe Average". Survivor characters are heroic in stature and probably the most common as player characters (or "Cast Members" to use AFMBE's vernacular). Inspired are the mystical characters. They have powers that no one else has access to, but with stats that fall between Normal and Survivor.
The Internet proved invaluable. I no longer was restricted to a few fantasy role-playing sites, but instead could use the entire World Wide Web! I went to the U.S. National Guard sites and followed a series of links acquiring a mountain of information. I knew the local unit (116th Cavalry Brigade), found the sub-unit I wanted (Troop "E"), downloaded copies of their shoulder patches, noted the Headquarters and even had names for their commanding officers (if they are still alive).
Next I went to Montana State sites and downloaded an excellent highway state map at 1.6 MB (thank you cable internet and color printer!) in a few minutes. Next, I had full details of the capabilities of the two main hospitals and choose the logical one for the marine's sister. In less than 10 minutes after that I had a local map and the first and second story floor plans coming out of my printer! Of course, I still had to write up local recent events and place the interesting zombies, but I was well on my way.
I decided to have an email to start the adventure. I used "Facemail" to give a futuristic touch so that the players would see and hear the actual email instead of having me paraphrase something.
After a tour around some Billings and Montana sites, along with some time designing the mission, I was ready to go!
The session started with my quick explanation of the characters' last 6 days coping with the growing zombie problem. After some initial adventures and losses, the group had stabilized as is. With the immediate threat of survival temporarily out of the way, they were looking for an opportunity to strike back. The adventure truly started when an email arrived on Ron's (one of the National Guardsmen) laptop/cell phone unit. It was from his sister Anne, the doctor.
Her email said that she might have stumbled onto a vaccine that would prevent people from turning into zombies. Not a cure, but still incredibly valuable as the world was falling apart. She needed to get to a Class Four lab, and the nearest was in Winnipeg, Canada. She was in Billings, Montana, at the Deaconess Clinic. The players were roughly 90 miles from Billings and low on gas for their HumVee. A small and desperate biker gang was holding onto the only functional gas station for miles around, and wanted two of the group's three M-16's in exchange for filling their gas tank.
Here was the first of several ethical decisions the Cast Members were faced with, and the most difficult. The players knew they needed gas and quickly confirmed there were no other significant sources of fuel. The Jesuit priest had a vision of extra fuel, but the amount wasn't significant and the effort to get it would be. They returned to the gas station and pulled up close, indicating they were willing to trade, but when the main biker and one assistant came out to get the M-16's the National Guardsmen declared that the gasoline was being seized by the U.S. military due to a national emergency. The biker and his gang would hear none of that. The fight was on!
The professional hunter used her .45 caliber pistol to send the brains of a female sniper into the gas station and the other three members were badly wounded and in shock within moments. Combat with other humans is frightfully lethal! In AFMBE, armour, even the minimal protection offered by a leather jacket, is very desireable. The Cast Members treated the three other gang members wounds and tied them up in the more spacious area of the garage.
The party decided to hunker down for the night as they weren't keen on sleeping in the HumVee again. (you try to sleep with zombies banging on the sides all night... Good thing these particular zombies were too dumb to figure out how to open a car door.) The Jesuit priest and professional hunter took the deceased away to a large ditch out back. The corpse was blessed and they discussed whether to bury her or burn her with the excess gasoline available. One Guardsman set up his laptop to check for messages from his sister, while the other two took patrol around the station to watch for zombies that may have been attracted to the noise. The conspiracy theorist watched the prisoners.
Shots rang out from inside the garage! All members rushed back inside the garage to find the conspiracy theorist with a smoking gun and three dead prisoners. The other players all admitted that it probably hadn't been the smartest thing leaving a paranoid with the prisoners, the whole hind-sight being 20/20 excuse. This situation, however, illustrated AFMBE's emphasis on encouraging role-playing your character's traits and flaws, even to the detriment of the mission or group survival. The awards for experience also reflect this. It was good to see that my players took the system's style of play to heart.
The next morning the group headed off. There was no additional word from Anne on the laptop and a message saying "We're on our way, hold on!" had been sent. The drive to Billings was relatively uneventful (Zombie! Bump, bump).
In town, more zombies were spotted, both strays and larger groups. One group of almost 400 zombies caught the player's eyes as they surrounded a public building. Several people hung out of the second story window begging for help. Again, decision time. The hunter noted that they didn't have enough ammunition. The Guardsmen didn't feel their few remaining grenades would be sufficient. The conspiracy theorist said it was a trap set by the government. The priest sat in the back and just shook his head. The players only gave the slightest hesitation before moving on. They justified their actions by agreeing that the potential vaccine was worth more than the few lives they could save there. This time, it was decidedly easier for the Cast Members to exhibit the necessary level of ruthlessness in order to suceed at their mission.
Their arrival in the area of the Deaconess Clinic was punctuated by a closed intersection. An armoured car was lying on its side surrounded by a few zombies, and other stalled or abandoned cars effectively blocked any means of further progress. The zombies around the armoured car ignored the players who were parked 70' away, though a few other zombies started their approach out of storefronts and alleys. The hunter called out to any possible trapped passengers within the armoured car, but got no response. The conspiracy theorist was driving at the time, and she didn't feel inclined to wait any longer. She turned the HumVee around and headed one block over, where they could pick their way through the obstacles and make it to their destination (Zombie! Bump, bump).
They surveyed the Hospital in their HumVee, gauging the situation. Two of the makeshift barricades were torn down, so they knew zombies were on the first floor. Of the two skywalks to nearby buildings, both had small sections of the floor blown out. This stopped other zombies from crossing over to the second floor. That's where they decided they would make their entry, entirely bypassing the first floor.
They drove underneath one of the skywalks and parked their vehicle. After securing a line up to the hospital side of the skywalk, they sent up one of the guardsmen. Several zombies began shuffling up to the HumVee and it was obvious not all the players could make it up to the skywalk in time. Everyone took turns aiming and firing at the zombies. The few players with lower skills managed to destroy a leg or knock a zombie down, but the Guardsmen and hunter sent partially decayed brain matter flying into the air. The zombie cow caused a fair bit of concern, but a well-aimed 12-gauge shotgun reduced its head to a fine red mist!
The rest of the play was as expected. The players moved up to the hospital, grabbed floor plans off computer terminals and made their way through a host of small zombie encounters. One of the Guardsmen was bitten but not killed. There was quite a discussion on whether to kill him immediately or not, but they elected to delay the decision. He was henceforth kept under the watchful barrel of a gun at all times should he begin to exhibit signs he had turned into a zombie. Prudent. A large group of zombies were found trying to enter a barred room. The corridor out front had to be cleared with two of the marine's grenades (leaving only one) but Anne was found alive, hidden in the surgical bay.
We left off at this point, for the lengthy trip to Winnipeg was another adventure. The players and myself had great fun and everyone agreed that they would play again.
The campaign worlds outlined in Chapter 6 were great starting platforms. I enjoyed the ease with which I could find adventure-relevant information on the internet to enhance those ideas. I especially appreciated the touches of dark humor that were found throughout.
Some of the aspects of the game the play-testers liked were that the combat system was simple yet also open-ended; being able to "call" shots; and the opportunity to play varied and interesting "Cast Members". The session inspired much discussion what a campaign would be like. Certainly different from the play-test scenario, as characters just starting out would have a much rougher go of it till they could gather enough gear to make survival possible (shades of Aftermath). They held up the case of the National Guardsman who, for all his superior armour and weaponry, was caught in a close hand-to-hand fray and was bitten on the leg. It took scarily little damage penetrating his leg coverings to cause him to make a "saving throw"; imagine the mortality rate in a campaign where the characters did not start out with better equipment, if any! It would be challenging indeed to get a group of Cast Members up to the point where they were well-euipped and ready to do something about the zombie infestation... But isn't that the point of a survival game? It's all part of the fun, and judging from the grins on the players faces at the end of the play-test scenario, fun it definitely was.
Is this going to be my main role-playing system? No. Is it going to be added to my repertoire? Absolutely!! Its fun, fresh, not too tied down in mechanical details, and yet allows for improbability. This could easily fill a summer or a weekend for some light gaming. It is well worth the 30$ USD list price.
To conclude, this reviewer says, "Buy it. You will have a blast! Now... where did I put my videos of Night of the Living Dead and Army of Darkness???"
All Flesh Must Be Eaten is produced and published by Eden Studios, Inc. Their contact details are as follows:
3426 Keystone Ave, #3
Los Angeles, California