Review: Outbreak- Undead (1E)

Outbreak Undead 1E

If you’re like me and enjoy a good zombie game as much as the next gal, you might try a quick session of Outbreak: Undead.

Outbreak: Undead is a Zombie Survival ‘Simulation’ RPG that:

originally premiered at GenCon 2010, and won several awards (ENies 2011 – Judges Choice, GenCon Marketing Fellowship Award)

So naturally, over six years later, I got around to trying out the system the other day in a gaming session.

I sat down at a table of the 1st Edition rules which incorporates a unique little ‘AI’ system for generating your character. The game is built around the concept of players playing ‘themselves’ through a sophist-omicated series of questions that feels an awful-lot like a cross between a job interview and a Myers-Briggs personality test. This SPEW-AI, short for Strength, Perception, Empathy and Willpower Assessment online exam, to date has according to Hunters Books, the makers of Outbreak: Undead, over 200K test-takers.

Essentially the test builds a character that is supposed to model your actual ‘self’ in terms of stats like D&D equivalent’s of Strength, Wisdom, and the like. Based on these stats, players get to choose traits that further flesh out their in-game characters that are meant to reflect their real-world abilities like skill with firearms, hand-axes, first-aid and automobile driving: all of which encompass what the game refers to as Gestalt.

Rounding out your characters are handicaps, things like dietary restrictions, near-sightedness and the like, and equipment. Basically, what players are literally equipped with at the table the moment they sit down to play Outbreak is what their characters are considered to possess. From this brief (although our table took about an-hour-and-a-half to go over character generation and rules) setup, the game movies into the Zombie Apocalypse with the storyteller throwing whatever version of ‘walkers’ they want at their hapless victims.

Overall, it was a good session.

However there were a few drawbacks to the game that may be entirely personal preference, which I wanted to go over.

First, the system uses a d100 setup similar to Call of Cthulhu, with players needing to roll under their score to succeed on a task. This may seem somewhat straightforward, howeverI kind of felt that the SPEW test that generates these scores left a lot of real experiences and abilities completely absent that makes these rolls somewhat incomplete.

For instance, the lack of a Dexterity or Agility stat seems highly problematic. SPEW questions revolved completely around the physical trait of Strength which, for example for small framed individuals may not be very high but in terms of things like climbing, escaping from the clutches of a zombie or even being able to effectively wield a crossbow may be just as important, if not mores so, than simply brute force power.

Additionally, a great deal of the traits available to characters had  stat prerequisites that, based on the SPEW-test seemed prohibitively high. Combined with the relatively ambiguous way to answer the SPEW questions, its difficult to either not ‘game’ the test entirely or wind up with scores so low as to discount access to any skills whatsoever, even if you have real-life experience in them.

Lastly, I must say I’m not a fan of d100 systems because of their inherent difficulties and their largely independent from the ‘moment’ play-style. For example, one of the characters in the game attempted to climb over a deli counter and failed three times. This seems something inherent in systems that don’t adjust an objective to the difficulty of a task before your character.

To be fair, there is a  2nd Edition of Outbreak that was funded two years ago via Kickstarter that may address some of these issues, and if our next session implements these rules, I’ll be sure to add some thoughts on that version as well. But if you’re looking to literally ‘play’ yourself in a Zombie Apocalypse and see how you’d fare, you might take a peek at Zombie Outbreak from Hunters Books.



Published by Jesse B

Eclectic taste for horror and dark fantasy

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