Adapting the Movie to a Board Game

Just like the process of the game itself, we move forward to the next step: adapting the setting, characters, and story of the movie to the game design, staying true to its core identity and at the same time bringing the Zombicide flavor that we know and love, making sure that both merged together seamlessly.

In today’s article, Jean-Baptiste Lullien, Raphaël Guiton, and Nicolas Raoult, the game designers behind the Zombicide line, explain their process to adapt Night of the Living Dead into a board game.

How did you start the game design process for a project such as this?

Night of the Living Dead is an all-time classic. We watched it again, several times, with the eyes of game designers. We did research on the time and conditions the movie was made, the original script, the characters, and the message George A. Romero wanted to get across to the audience. We also paused the movie a lot, to analyze every scene.

Even for strangers to the zombie genre, Night of the Living Dead is a foundation movie. It carries an intense atmosphere, despite being made with little resources. As designers, we count it as a major movie prefiguring the artistic wave of the late 60’s-late 70’s.

How was the process of “gamifying” the movie in a way to ensure consistency with the story, but have clear chapters that could serve as “missions”?

First of all, we had to design game tiles, in the same style we usually do with all Zombicides. Unfortunately, the sources to be found on the web about the house’s setting were not as accurate as we needed them to be. That is why, when starting out, we paused the movie a lot: to recreate the scenes as accurately as possible, while ensuring we could reuse the tiles in a modular way. From the outside, seeing three guys pausing a black and white movie every five seconds may look quite odd, but trust me, that’s a deep and funny experience to undergo! The licensors also offered valuable information, which we used to create the drafts and refine the setting.

We designed the equipment cards in a similar way: pausing the movie, noting which equipment and weapons were used, and looked for available references about them. At some point, we had to select the more significant ones to get balanced equipment decks.

In the meantime, we also studied each character, one by one, discussing their role, background, and personality. The goal was to create their ID Cards to be as close as possible to their movie counterpart, yet playable in the most enjoyable way.

Our points of view on the six main characters evolved during the movie. For example, many people see Ben as a daring hero, and Harry as an opportunistic coward. Being husbands and fathers, we quickly understood why Harry acted this way. If only he gave his advice in a diplomatic manner… There would have been no movie, as everyone would have locked themselves in the basement!

In Night of the Living Dead: A Zombicide Game, Missions are called “Scenes”. We are in a movie! Translating the movie into Scenes was quite easy, in fact. We took the whole plot, extracted 5 moments reminiscent of Zombicide classic themes, and turned them into Scenes: getting into the house and securing it, looking for the pump’s keys, breaking the zombie siege, refueling the pick-up, and surviving the “night of the living dead”.

This game, however, consists of 10 Scenes.

How could we stay close to the original but have a clear Zombicide twist in it?

The movie is played behind closed doors. Ghouls are mostly an outside threat, and characters do their best to avoid them. Zombicide, on the other hand, is like an action movie where everyday people become fierce zombie hunters. We made the twist by introducing “what if?” scenarios in the game. “What if” the characters trusted each other from the start? “What if” they explored their surroundings further and used every available tool in an efficient and deadly manner? “What if” they made it together against the ghouls? “What if” the movie offered alternate plots and events? These possibilities are explored (and exploited) in several ways, detailed below.

First and foremost, each character (called “survivor” in the game) has two game modes: Romero Mode, and Zombicide Mode. The Romero Mode depicts the characters as we know them: they are less powerful than classic Zombicide survivors, yet they are faithful to the movie. The Zombicide Mode is the opposite: the characters become full-fledged Zombicide survivors, being able to battle dozens of ghouls and win. The most extravagant weapons may only be used by Survivors in Zombicide Mode.

In the first Scenes, all survivors start the game in Romero Mode, and may switch to Zombicide mode by performing defined deeds. In a general manner, it always involves trusting each other. Stronger together, Zombicide-style. In later Scenes that offer alternate plots and endings, Survivors start in Zombicide Mode.

Going into Zombicide Mode is not a one-way trip, however: a Survivor may revert back to Romero Mode, becoming more vulnerable, during the game. That happens when a Ghoul Relative shows up, for example.

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