This week our On The Tabletop report is on Mantic Games', The Walking Dead - Here's Negan! board game. Here's Negan! is based on the popular comic and television series, The Walking Dead. Mantic Games already have a successful wargame, The Walking Dead All Out War, which we have begun covering in a Start Collecting series.
On The Tabletop first impressions articles are usually preceded by an Off The Shelf preview of the product, but we wanted to get this article out before its release this week, so we're combining the two into one article. This means that the start of the article will be an overview of the product, followed by details of our first play-through and then a report from the On The Tabletop team on their first impressions.
The On The Tabletop play-through articles catalogue our initial experiences with the game; as a result, mistakes will be made. On The Tabletop should also not be taken as a full review. These articles are simply our first impressions of a game.
[gallery columns="2" size="large" ids="266418,266419"]
Off The ShelfHere's Negan! is a cooperative board game that makes use of a few of the mechanics from The Walking Dead All Out War wargame. Players of All Out War will find a lot familiar, but with some new mechanics and twists. Players who haven't played All Out War will find a great entry to it, but also a fun and challenging cooperative game.
For those not aware of Negan from The Walking Dead, he's a bad, bad dude who rules through fear. In Here's Negan! players take on the role of members of his crew, trying to clear out a facility from the walking dead, known as Walkers. Negan himself isn't a playable character, but clearing a path for him across the boards is your aim and he makes his presence felt at all times.
The Here's Negan! box contains 6 survivor miniatures including Negan and 12 Walker miniatures. It also contains 16 double sided board tiles, several decks and all the dice and tokens you need to play. Here's Negan! is a completely self contained game, so everything you need is contained and transports nicely within the box.
Games of Here's Negan! are set up according to one of 12 scenarios in the rulebook. These can be played as one-off adventures, or played through in order, with your survivors carrying wounds and equipment through from game to game. The aim of the game is to get Negan safely to the exit marked on the map, and during the game Negan will walk along a prescribe route, unless forced to deviate from it. Game rounds are divided into four phases, the survivor phase, the Walker phase, Negan's phase and then the end phase.
During the survivor phase, players can perform 2 of several actions including moving, attacking walkers, securing rooms, healing and trying to control the threat level. The threat level is an important mechanic in Here's Negan! The current threat level dictates where new Walkers come onto the map, and also indicates how easy or difficult it is to secure a room. The threat level changes several times a turn, usually on event cards, when survivors cause noise with their actions, when entering unsecured rooms for the first time, or during the end phase if enough rooms haven't been secured. Because of this, using actions to reduce the threat level is essential to completing a scenario as once it reaches a certain amount, the survivors lose.
Some actions the survivors can do cause noise. When noise is caused walkers move towards it, the threat level increases and more walkers can enter the map via set entry points. Walkers are initially placed on the boards with tokens, so that their number is unknown until the token is in line of sight. Most firearms cause noise, but they allow you to attack at range and players can attack in close combat and fire one weapon a turn, so there's an interesting balancing act of maintaining stealth, but also needing to remove walkers.
Combat in Here's Negan! is a simple matter of rolling the special dice. Each character has an attack and defence value and is shown as a number and colour of dice. For the Walkers, it's a single red dice for both attack and defence. If a character is carrying a weapon, they roll any extra dice the weapon provides. As an example, Dwight rolls one red dice for Fight, and his knife provides him with another red dice. He would roll 2 red vs 1 red dice for a Walkers defence. If the survivor rolls more dots than the Walker, the Walker is knocked prone. If the survivor's attack includes a !, it means that they've struck the Walker in the head and it is removed from the game.
All of the information you need for your characters is shown on their character card, including any equipment they start with. Different equipment can replace their starting equipment during play, and the survivors can find these as they explore.
Along with having to keep the Threat Level down, survivors also have to secure rooms by entering unsecure rooms, eliminating the walkers and then rolling to secure the room. The first time a survivor enters an unsecured room, they draw a card from the room deck which details what they find inside, along with any special rules for the room. Once the room is secure, the token is flipped over and Walkers will no longer spawn there as a result of event cards. If Negan starts his turn in an unsecured room along any part of his route, he enters a rage, so making sure at least one survivors is clearing the way in front is essential.
During the Walker phase, an event card is drawn. This usually has an effect on the threat level, plus causes random carnage to ensue. Most cards spawn walkers on the map, which then activate after the event card has been completed. After the event card, Walker tokens move 1 space and Walker miniatures move 2 spaces. If tokens enter line of sight of a survivor, they are flipped over. Flipped Walker tokens show a colored dice, this is rolled to determine how many Walkers replace the token. If a Walker miniature ends its move next to a survivor, it will attack, rolling a red attack dice per Walker adjacent to the survivor. Single Walkers are easy to defend against, but multiple Walkers pose a threat to the single defence dice of the survivors.
During the Negan phase, if Negan is in an unsecured room or adjacent to a walker, he follows the instructions for Negan's Rage as he kicks off at the survivors for failing in their simple task of clearing the way for him. If his path is clear, a card is drawn from the Negan Action Deck and the instructions followed on that. Sometimes, even if the survivors have done well, his card will put him into a rage, but that's life under Negan.
Both the Walker and Negan phase are described in full on the Reference Cards provided, so there's no need to flip back and forth through the rulebook. There's also space for the relevant phases decks and also a tracker for Negan's stamina along with the Walker dice information for quick reference.
During the end phase, Walkers that have been knocked over may stand up, and if enough rooms haven't been secured, the Threat Level may increase again. If there are still survivors left, Negan is still alive and the Threat Level hasn't passed maximum, the game continues into a new round. If Negan reaches the exit square, then the players win. But that's not the end. During the game players earn reputation by securing rooms and removing Walkers. Making Negan angry is a quick way to lose reputation along with getting bitten by a Walker. The player with the most rep at the end is the top dog, and if playing a campaign, may get a reward for the next scenario. There's also a scale of success for your reputation score, just so you're aware how angry Negan is with you.
On The TabletopThere are five characters to chose from in Here's Negan! So the group began our mission by selecting those as I set up the board for our first scenario. Anna chose Sherry, who has a solid defence and comes armed with a close combat and ranged weapon. Sherry also has an incredible ability that lets her attack multiple times a turn, using another character. James selected Laura, who can also perform the same activation twice, which is an incredibly powerful ability as she can attack twice, or move twice, or attempt to secure a room if she fails the first time. She also starts with the longest ranged weapon out of the starting equipment. Lizi chose the last female of the group, Tara, who can fight back against any Walker who attacks her, and her combat knife allows her to attack two Walkers at once with the same roll. I chose Dwight, who is the silent hunter of the group. He can move 4 spaces as standard instead of 3 and can also re-roll his dice if he creates noise when running. He's also got a silent ranged weapon with the crossbow.
During our first few games, we weren't taking advantage of our character's special rules enough which would have made things a lot easier for us, but there is a lot to take in for the first few games, so I would advise everyone to read over everything carefully before starting play.
The first Scenario is called Training Day and is a straight-line of four boards connected together, with only a couple of unsecured rooms to battle through to get to the exit. Taking the first action with Dwight, I thought we would be able to secure the first room quickly. Drawing the Room card, I managed to find several walkers inside and the Overspill card then puts more Walkers outside. Dwight and all the other survivors then failed to remove any of them. We decided to call Negan over with our survivors final action and he managed to remove three of them for us, leaving us a couple for us to mop up in the next phase. We then had to race ahead of Negan to secure the next room before he reached it.
After a few turns, we got into a slight rhythm and were very lucky with Negan's movement draws from his deck. Dwight regularly managed to fail his attacks, but the other three survivors did good work to clear the way for Negan, even though we had a secured room burst open on us and a couple of Walker tokens in the corridor to the last room. It was around this point that I realised that Here's Negan requires constant team-work in maintaining the balance of room clearance and threat level. Simply taking out Walkers is not enough, even in such a small map.
We were able to rush Negan through the final corridor and last room by using the Clear the Way survivor action which immediately moves Negan three spaces along his route. We ended the scenario with all survivors alive and Tara as Top Dog with the highest reputation. She got a +1 action token to take into the next game.
The second scenario, Anyone Home? Was played with Anna controlling Sherry, Lizi with Tara and me taking John for some added muscle. Because there were only three characters, some doors and unsecured rooms are not placed on the map, scaling down the difficulty when playing with less than the five playable survivors.
The second scenario is a larger map than Training Day, but Negan's route is still fairly straight.
We were very lucky in our second scenario. Several rooms were locked by event cards, locking the Walkers inside and we were able to consistently clear out bottlenecks along the route. Every turn at least one of the survivors was able to bring down the Threat Level, maintaining a healthy balance of Walkers entering the map. We kept noise to a minimum and Negan followed us, not causing much of a fuss.
There's a very horrible zig-zag of a corridor halfway through the map, which we all got stuck in after Walkers flooded out of a room. A huge amount of tokens built up behind us, and slowly moved towards Negan who was stuck at the back of our group while we tried to clear the way ahead. It created a huge amount of tension as we tried to push forward and clear the room that Negan had to move through to push for the exit.
Even with those issues, the three of us managed to settle into a nice rhythm of lowering the threat level and knocking over Walkers, who we removed by the survivors following behind. Once the last room was secure, we smashed into the last map tile and everyone one of us Cleared the Way to push Negan to the exit.
John was the Top Dog for the scenario, managing to clear a huge amount of Walkers out with his combat prowess. Yet all of us had the Practically Dead result, which resulted in all of us meeting the bad end of Lucille for a point of Stamina.
Player Thoughts[gallery columns="4" ids="264469,264471,264520,264470"]
Adam - Having played All Out War a substantial amount for the Start Collecting article, I went into Here's Negan! thinking 'I got this.' During my character's first action, I open a single door during my move and was immediately faced with five Walkers. I then failed to inflict any damage during my attack and it became very apparent that I didn't have it. I didn't have it at all.
We had to call Negan over early in the first scenario to bail us out and for Dwight it was downhill from there. He regularly attracted Negan's attention as he couldn't get far enough away from him and kept being the closest character for Negan's action cards. There was however a beautiful moment when I drew the 'You're growing on me' card and Negan rewarded Dwight. It felt incredibly thematic.
The second game was incredibly tense. The Walker token spawn mechanic has different entry zones that depend on the Threat Level. This meant that the Walkers built up in force behind us and if we had allowed the Threat Level to rise, they would have started spawning in front of us as well.
I initially thought this was going to be the entry-level product for All Out War, but there are some incredible mechanics that make it an extremely thematic game, that really captures the nature of Negan and his group. Everyone needs each other to survive, and everyone wants to be top dog and reap Negan's rewards, but standing out isn't always good, and it's very easy to fall from the top.
Here's Negan! is probably the game I want to play all the way through the most at the moment. While there isn't a huge deal of character development between scenarios, simple survival is the key and I think the ebb and flow of Reputation over the course of the game would make for a very tense campaign experience. It's hard to believe that a single enemy type, with a basic stat line could provide so deep an experience, but Here's Negan! manages. If you've enjoyed All Out War, Zombicide or Zombies! then give Here's Negan! a go, you won't be disappointed.
Adam is the righteous leader of the On The Tabletop Team and is an experienced tabletop gamer. He has played physical and online CCGs to a very high competitive level. He also has a background in roleplaying, board and wargaming and has playtested and produced content for several companies. A veteran tabletop writer who's favourite games include Dark Souls the Card Game, The Legend of the Five Rings LCG, Shadespire and Bushido. You can read his work here on TechRaptor and follow his exploits on Twitter - @StealthBuda.
Lizi - This felt like a very well thought out game. I'm a fan of the Walking Dead series and I enjoyed how realistic it was (if I can describe a zombie apocalypse as realistic). Everything would be going well and then suddenly Walkers come out from behind a door or you are somewhere you thought was safe and you're suddenly getting cornered. How going through a corridor will put you in a vulnerable position, the nerves of knowing there might be something in the next room but you don't know how many, and the ever growing number coming through the windows behind you meaning you have to push forward because you know you won't survive staying and fighting.
I liked how well Negan's actions matched his personality because if he was annoyed and you were close by you'd get hurt and if you are desperate and need his help you know he'll be there for you, but you'll have to handle his wrath afterwards. There were cards to help talk you though the different phases which was helpful and the weapons and abilities weren't too complicated to understand. We did have to keep the instruction book open for both rounds we tried, but I think that by the fourth scenario we would have the hang of it. Each scenario felt like a good length for one sitting, and you can carry your advantages and keep track of your overall reputation.
I enjoyed the game and will hopefully be playing it again.
Lizi is a mathematician, the closest she's ever been to being a gamer is almost completing Lego Batman on the PS2. Her favourite games are Codenames and Zombicide.
James - I’ve never liked and hated an NPC as much as Negan in this game, so hats off to Mark Latham for the solid mechanics and implementation. Like the robber in Settlers of Catan, Negan is a dick. You clear the way for him, and he’s angry. You yell for help, he’s angry. He’s a pretty angry guy, and as a group it felt like we suffered his wrath more than the threat of being munched by zombies. Which was great.
While I had to leave early, we got through most of the first scenario and the experience was exactly what it needed to be; escalating threat, clear goals, team work (with an edge of competitive ‘rep’ collection). I really enjoyed it throughout and as a team game it worked exactly as it should.
If I have a negative it would be that some characters seemed slightly underpower. As the machine gun-toting bass ass I romped through the level fairly easily, but it felt like the others had to make do with a knife and low defence. Adam in particular took the brunt of both Negan and some unwanted zombie attention (thought that may have been aided by some poor rolling). Since it was the tutorial that will probably shake out with the other special rules coming into play later, but a solid combat character seemed like a good starter. Overall it was fun, we laughed a fare amount, and Negan was a genuinely unsettling presence for all involved.
James is a long-time tournament wargamer (but he’s not as horrible as all that), RPG and board game player. He works designing and producing games of all types, and is launching his own company Black Cats Gaming in 2019. Follow him on twitter @Guilensturn and @followblackcats and check out his company at Black Cats Gaming.
Anna - All I know about The Walking Dead is that it's about zombies and some survivors, and this knowledge is from reading the first comic and what my friends have told me about the show, so I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. I found the game pretty fun to play once we got going. It was easy for me to get into as I really love Zombicide and this game was very similar except you end up having to escort Negan through the game.
The one thing I really liked was the event cards and the consequences of the "noise" action, which added an extra sense of urgency to the game and using actions to try and bring down the threat levels. I didn't totally understand the extreme actions of Negan but apparently that's very in-character and would have made more sense if i watched The Walking Dead. I would happily play this game again and recommend it to others.
Anna is a cosplayer and photographer. She started roleplaying a few years ago and now runs several of her own games. Her favourite games are D&D, Betrayal and the Witcher series. You can follow her gaming exploits and see her cosplay work and photography here.
This copy of Here's Negan! was provided by Asmodee UK.
Have you played Here's Negan!? Are you a fan of the Walking Dead? Have you also played All Out War? What do you think of them? Are the games a good representation of the comics/tv show? Let us know in the comments below.