For what was essentially a low budget independent film with a restricted release, George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead spawned some unusual merchandise. These days, the world is awash with retroactive merch for cult movies and toy tie-ins for movies with adults-only ratings, yet back in 1978, this was decidedly odd.
Whilst some Dawn of the Dead merch was standard material – the soundtrack album, the novelisation – others were more left-field. There was the poster magazine – a fairly disastrous affair mostly filled with terrible, unofficial art. And then, there was the board game from SPI.
Role-playing board games were big in 1978, with Dungeons & Dragons spawning several imitators – of which this was one, although the restrictive nature of the film’s narrative – taking place almost entirely within a shopping mall – kept it from becoming the extensive universe of the more fantasy-inspired games. You could play as a two-player game – one player the humans, the other the zombies – or a solo player game. The board – sorry, ‘map’ – is based on the shopping mall while cardboard figures represent the characters. Zombies win by killing three people; humans win by closing off the mall entrances and killing all the zombies, which sounds like rather more work.
This wasn’t a particularly successful game at the time – although the film Dawn of the Dead quickly gathered a cult following, horror fandom at the time wasn’t really part of the geek culture that was into role-playing games, and gamers probably found this a bit simplistic for their tastes. This lack of popularity and a large amount of losable pieces inevitably means that complete sets now go for big money.
However, less flush players can download and print out the whole thing here: http://www.homepageofthedead.com/baps/dawn_board_game.html
David Flint, MOVIES & MANIA
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