Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/09/09/tabletop-review-band-of-zombies-a-world-war-ii-sourcebook-all-flesh-must-be-eaten/
Man, do you know how long it has been since All Flesh Must Be Eaten received a new release? Several years! I think the last was Thar Be Zombies, and that was roughly three years ago. So it’s nice to see a new release for the line. I’ve been so desperate for new AFMBE content that I reviewed the 2011 free Quick Start Rules when they came out, and in August, I also covered the Kickstarter exclusive Zombiemaster screen that accompanied this book. Now Band of Zombies is finally out, and I’m happy to say that it is a fine addition to one of the best horror lines tabletop gaming has to offer.
Band of Zombies is a sourcebook for an alternate universe’s World War II era. Here, the Nazi’s obsession with the occult actually bears fruit, and they use it to stifle or outright squelch the successes the Allies had in our world. Imagine a world where SS troops get up and continue fighting after being shot dead. Where a Japanese kamikaze pilot has no fear or qualms about crashing his plane because he knows he will come back to fight for Emperor Hirohito afterwards. That’s a pretty scary picture. Not to be outdone, however, the Allies have found a way to harness the power of the undead without limiting the loss of humanity and subduing the earth to devour living flesh and blood. Enter the CAPTAIN PATRIOT program today soldiers! Yes, it’s a bit of a parody of the super-soldier formula from Captain America, but with more dramatic (and possibly gruesome) results.
It’s also worth noting that pieces of Bands of Zombies has been cribbed together from other All Flesh Must Be Eaten sourcebooks, like Atlas of the Walking Dead, Worlds of the Dead and more. In this respect, those that have every AFMBE release up to this point might be a bit disappointed by the repeated content, while those who only have the core rulebook and maybe a few other releases like Dungeons & Zombies or Zombie Smackdown! will be happy to have all the content they need to run this campaign setting without having to purchase multiple books, ala Shadowrun and several other games that do nickel and dime you in this fashion.
One thing I really loved about Band of Zombies was the in-depth coverage the book gives you about WWII and showing where and how the two timelines diverge. There is so much actually historically accurate (and detailed) information in this book, you could probably use it as a citation for a paper. Just make sure you use the real world stuff and not “the Auschwitz victims come back from the dead to devour their Nazi tormenters” part, or your professor will look at you funny… and fail you. It doesn’t pull any punches with the atrocities committed by the Nazis or their Japanese allies (the latter of which were often worse, which most people forget these days), but the Allies (specifically the Russians) weren’t exempt for a litany of horrors either. It’s good to see how much detail is put into the book in that regard without making readers squeamish about the events that occurred so very long ago.
Band of Zombies is divided into eight chapters, along with a ninth entitled “Shambling Commandos,” which are pregenerated characters based off some high level Kickstarter backers. Each chapter is primarily devoted to world background, setting detail and the timeline for this WWII era campaign, but there are stats and mechanics littered throughout. The Unisystem, which All Flesh Must Be Eaten uses, doesn’t really need any mechanics above and beyond what you find in the core rulebook, so what’s here are primarily WWII era vehicles, weapons, new (reprinted) zombies, pregens and some new walking dead like mummies, ghouls, vampires and the like. The extra undead were an unexpected highlight to me, as I loved the idea of Vlad Tepes returning to wage war on both sides and trying to make Romania the home for vampires, or the Ancient Egyptians rising and wanting all these crazy white people out of their country. Band of Zombies just is dripping with potential, and the book lets you set a campaign before any real zombie outbreak occurs, to after nuclear weapons have been dropped in Japan, which caused radiated zombies to shuffle across the floor of the Pacific towards the gaijin devils who slew them.
Chapter One, “Introduction” is self explanatory, as it gives an overview of the book, gives some DM hints and tips on how to use Band of Zombies, and has a list of books, movies and video games to help make the setting come alive. Chapter Two, War is Hell, is where you’ll find a lot of the new character creation bits, such as the new qualities, drawbacks, and hindrances. Want to make a Captain Patriot? You’ll find all the information on how to do so here. “Aces High” is the next chapter, and this is where you’ll find vehicle and weapon statistics along with the new sanity aspects, such as shell shock and combat fatigue. There are also rules for mass combat (slightly converted from Army of Darkness) and even a set of rules for miniatures in a tactical style game. Very nice! Chapter Four is “Altered History,” and it’s the big chapter for the alternate timeline that Band of Zombies takes place in. Chapters Five through Eight continue this trend, with each one being about a different section of the world. “Fortress Europe” is Europe, “The Eastern Front” is Russia, “Decaying of an Empire” is the Middle East and North Africa and finally, “The Heart of Darkness” is Southeast Asia. I would have liked to have seen more information on the Australia and South America of this time period, as both are so rarely and/or briefly touched on when looking at World War II, but what’s here is excellent, and this is a small quibble at best from me.
Basically Band of Zombies is a wonderful look at WWII, and there is a lot of potential for various storylines and campaigns using this book. Don’t want to use the exact alternate timeline unveiled here? You don’t have to! The sheer amount of mechanics, new creatures and items are here for you to design your own WWII era campaign. Your imagination is the only limit. I can’t emphasize enough how highly detailed and well written this book is. To be honest, I originally backed this on Kickstarter to support All Flesh Must Be Eaten. I had no real interest in the subject matter or time period. Now that I’ve read the book and spent a decent amount of time with it, I have to say I’m mightily impressed by the content, and think Band of Zombies is one of the best campaign settings of the year. With a price tag of only $12.50, this PDF is a must buy for anyone interested in AFMBE or who is just looking for a good guide to WWII. My only worry is that this will be the last All Flesh Must Be Eaten release for a while, if ever, but with enough support and attention paid to Band of Zombies, the game might have a lot of life left in it after all.