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CMON Celebrates 10 Years of ZOMBICIDE

By Sean O’Leary · @SeanOlearyNJ · May 4, 2022, 11:59 AM PDT
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If you’re like me, as you move through life, you find yourself regularly, and perhaps not always consciously, evaluating things… objects, places, even people… as to their usefulness during an (oh, let’s face it… “the”) eventual zombie apocalypse. I wouldn’t say I’m quite so ghoulish as to divide my friends into two categories: either faster or slower than me, rather I would prefer to surround myself with people with whom I could hunker down in my well-fortified abandoned grocery store, barbed-wire-wrapped baseball bat or, in my case, spare gobo arm within reach and while away the twilight hours of civilization lamenting mankind’s folly and playing board games… like, say, Zombicide, from CMON Ltd. and Guillotine Games, now celebrating ten successful, ghoul-filled years!

In Zombicide, a co-operative game for 1-6 players, you take on the role of “survivors” with some basic gear. A mission is chosen from the book, from gathering food or rescuing other survivors to blocking streets with stolen cars and peppering the zombies with Molotov cocktails. The appropriate double-sided tiles are arranged to create an environment consisting of a combination of urban streets and derelict building interiors. Then the action begins.

You’ll meet your bog-standard “Walkers,” of course. You know, the slow-moving, shambling type of zombie. They’re easy pickin’s until you let your guard down, then they start to accumulate. “Brutes” are more formidable… fleshy and bloated, they can take more damage before they go down. Then there are “Runners”... always on the move and seemingly over-caffeinated, they never give you enough time to reload! At the end are the “Abominations,” massive and horribly mutated, you’ll need some serious firepower to even have a chance of blowing these monsters away.

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A game round consists of two phases: first is the Player Phase, where you’ll move through the city and search for useful items, trade with your fellow survivors, bust down doors, or just start picking off those zombies with whatever you have on hand. But remember: all that rummaging, door-busting, and gunplay make noise. That could spell trouble for you in the Zombie Phase, where each one of them will activate by either attacking any survivor in their immediate area or moving toward the source of noise (and brains). The final step in the Zombie Phase is the “Spawn.” More zombies will appear (as they always do) according to the current danger level. The danger level is determined by how successful the survivors are at killing zombies (that’s the good news). The more successful you are, the more zombies will get thrown at you (that’s the bad news). But don’t despair… practice makes perfect, after all. As you kill more zombies and your danger level increases, you’ll unlock additional skills and abilities, making you a more efficient zombie-killing machine.

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The action in Zombicide is meant to be frantic, exciting, and berserk! The survivors are armed and continually more dangerous as the zombie slaughter rages on.

While it wasn’t the first zombie board game on the market, gamers responded to the quick, streamlined gameplay, terrifically dynamic illustrations, and beautifully-produced miniatures of the first edition of Zombicide, released in 2012. It was a big hit for CMON and Guillotine Games, which, perhaps fittingly, rose, in part, from the corpse of another tabletop gaming company.

David Preti, now Chief Operating Officer of CMON Ltd., was working in finance. However, he had “always been a geek, playing board games, etc.” and several of his friends, Raphaël Guiton, Jean-Baptiste Lullien, and Nicolas Raoult, were working for the French miniatures and role-playing game company Rackham Entertainment before it folded in 2010. Preti noted the resurgence of the zombie genre in popular media. Among other properties in books, comics, and movies, The Walking Dead was just beginning its run on television, so he said to his friends, “Make a zombie game.” Sure, simple, but Preti continues: “And I explain what kind of zombie game… something that is easy, accessible, not overly complicated in terms of rules and that the kids can play easily with family.”

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They soon had a working prototype and began shopping it around to potential publishers, but the production envisioned by Preti and company was a tough sell. Besides dice, large double-sided tiles, over a hundred cards, and tons of tokens, there were the miniatures. It’s not surprising that Preti and friends, being fans of miniatures games, would create a tabletop game that would eventually include over a hundred miniatures, including multiple unique sculpts for each type of zombie.

Preti remembers, “I traveled to GenCon that year and I started knocking at the door of all the companies, the usual suspects… and everybody would say ‘no’ because it was a game that was $100, too expensive.”

Preti eventually knocked on the right door… that of David Doust, the founder of CMON.

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Why was CMON such a great fit for Zombicide? Well, that acronym, CMON, stands for “CoolMiniOrNot,” which was founded as a website in 2001 intended for users to upload pictures of their painted miniatures for other site visitors to evaluate and decide if it was “cool” or “not.” They eventually evolved into publishing games, with Super Dungeon Explore in 2011. Zombicide would be their second.

Preti remembers their initial meeting at GenCon: “It was Friday night at the bar. He told me to come tomorrow, and we’ll test the game. He died in three turns, and he told me, ‘Oh, this game is great! This game is great! Let’s do this, but we’ll do it with a crowdfunding campaign.’ And I swear I didn’t know anything about Kickstarter.” (Kickstarter had been launched only a few years earlier.)

The campaign for Zombicide was going well when they got an unexpected mention by gaming juggernaut Penny Arcade, essentially doubling their funding overnight. Zombicide eventually ended its Kickstarter campaign with over $700k, a record at the time, however short-lived. “The month after,” says Preti, “we were already beaten.”

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Plans for a follow-up campaign offering additional expansion content for Zombicide, was put in motion. While Preti might not have been familiar with Kickstarter before this, he was a canny observer of consumer behavior.

“I was looking at numbers,” Preti says, “and the numbers were telling us that, when you make an expansion, the expansion is normally selling 30% of the core box. So, I said, to keep the momentum, we should make a second season that is a stand-alone game, but you can put it with the previous one and you can continue and build up.”

In addition to that model, the team was also using “stretch goals,” additional content that is “unlocked” once certain campaign milestones are reached.

“We created this kind of system that I have copied from the television, in America,” Preti explains. “I spent a lot of time in the United States and… I was just swapping channels, and I ended up on a program where this guy was selling blades. He was saying you should buy these blades and in the next ten minutes if we reach this amount of money we’re going to give you this fantastic pan. And if we are reaching a thousand people and we get this number of calls, we will give you this Japanese blade for free. So I said let’s do the same. Let’s do the exact same thing. So, we just put some stretch goals and, if we reach the stretch goal, we are giving something for free. Something that is valuable and exclusive that you can only get here.”

The use of stretch goals and Kickstarter exclusive content can sometimes be controversial among gamers and publishers, but there is no doubt the model can yield the desired results, and CMON are experts at running these campaigns.

The second season of Zombicide, called Prison Outbreak with another expansion, Toxic City Mall, provided gamers more content (survivors, tiles, tokens, and, of course, miniatures) for their zombie slaughter-fests and CMON with more than $2.25m in pledges. Season 3: Rue Morgue, another core box, and an expansion, Angry Neighbors bolstered the growing horde and raked in more than $2.8m!

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2015 saw the first shift in setting for Zombicide, with Zombicide: Black Plague, transporting the action to a medieval fantasy world and adding necromancers to the zombie threat. Black Plague, with the Wulfsburg expansion, brought in over $4m during the campaign.

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In 2018, CMON stayed in the fantasy setting with Zombicide: Green Horde, where players can mow their way through wave after wave of orc and goblin zombies. Two expansion boxes, Friends and Foes, and No Rest for the Wicked, flooded the tabletop with even more miniatures and tiles.

Eventually, all horror franchises go to space, whether it’s Irish, gold-hoarding fair folk, hockey-masked New Jerseyans, or even 32mm scale tabletop zombies. 2019 saw the launch of TWO stand-alone core boxes: Zombicide: Invader and Zombicide: Dark Side, along with an expansion box Dark Ops. Zombies became “Xenos,” but players would recognize the familiar zombie-bashing gameplay.

By now, David Preti and his partners in Guillotine Games had been officially brought under the CMON umbrella. While they work on a variety of CMON projects, Guillotine Games has been maintained as a “boutique” label within the larger company.

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In 2020, Zombicide: 2nd Edition was announced with two expansion boxes, Washington Z.C. and Fort Hendrix, offering campaign-style content. In the second edition, every aspect of Zombicide was re-examined and fine-tuned, further streamlining set-up and gameplay to let players get to the hack and slash even faster than before. Mission times, too, were shortened overall. Some of the longer, more complicated missions had estimates of up to three hours in the first edition! In the new version, most missions should last somewhere around 45 minutes to an hour.

The 2nd Edition campaign also introduced something new to the Zombicide universe: Zombicide: Chronicles, a role-playing game sourcebook that allowed players to “flesh” out their adventures. Game mechanisms drew heavily from existing Zombicide board game components like weapons, miniatures, etc., but they weren’t required.

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Later that year, CMON launched a campaign for the first tie-in of the franchise and one everyone should have seen coming: Night of the Living Dead. While it seems like such a natural fit, it did represent something of a departure from the standard Zombicide style of play. Night of the Living Dead, after all, isn’t a raucous zombie hunt, it’s a siege, and the included missions reflect that. The creators had great respect for the original film, the source of all modern zombie movies, and that’s obvious in the production of this edition. The character artwork is beautifully rendered in black and white when playing in “Romero mode,” offering a version of the player “survivors” with pared-down skills in keeping with their personalities in the film. If you flip the character card over, you’ll get them rendered in full color with appropriately ramped-up skills and weapons for use in all your other Zombicide games… or, just defend that farmhouse in ways Ben or Harry Cooper never had the chance to.

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2021 saw another shift in setting to the American west with Zombicide: Undead or Alive, and CMON recently finished their most successful Zombicide Kickstarter yet with their second tie-in, Marvel Zombies! Gameplay essentially flips the script and allows players to take on the role of zombified Marvel heroes, their hunger increasing every turn. If they don’t devour bystanders or S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, they run the risk of going berserk with hunger. The Abomination zombies from the original game are replaced here with actual heroes from the Marvel universe. There’s even an add-on figure of Galactus that’s as large as a garden gnome (with a cooler hat)!

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After ten years and more than 2 million copies sold, the Zombicide franchise is going strong and still expanding: in 2021, a paperback, Zombicide: Last Resort, and two hardcover graphic novels were released: Zombicide: Day One and Zombicide: Invader - Dead Contact. Of the fanbase for Zombicide, David Preti says, “We have a large community, people who like us, they like what we do, we care a lot about them… we always try to give the best product possible.”

That’s the thing with zombies, it starts with just one. Then there’s another… and another… never mind Hell, there’s no more room on my shelf!