Well, after ample delays and a bizarre stint on Jury Duty that had me viewing several images and a video depicting feces, I finally have a moment to jot down my thoughts on a board game. Tonight’s review is of a fantastic game in the ever-popular genre of the walking dead, Last Night On Earth: The Zombie Game. I sure do loves me some zombies, too; you can’t help but admire the selfless flesh-eating ghouls as they decimate populations to solve both human overpopulation AND global famine in one fell swoop. I mean, that’s the definition of a philanthropist, right?
Anyhow, this little gem is published by our friends at Flying Frog Productions, and I'm here to tell you that it is unimpeachably the finest zombie combat-adventure game that I've ever played. It's engaging, fun, and the folks at Flying Frog have even gone so far as to utilize live actors for the overwhelming majority of the game’s art, which is a real departure from the norm. One look at the cover art and I was hooked; I plopped down 40 bones right then and there.
The art and photography is so well executed that the grim theme pours off of the box like blood off of a feeding zombie’s chin, creating a truly unique game experience. In fact, there is not a single “LARP Lightning Bolt Guy" hall of shame inductee in the whole box, and all of the imagery is dark and believable. The only drawn illustrations in the game are on the modular game boards and a few tokens, meaning that every piece of art is literally a stylized photograph of someone doing something sinister or heroic. The only complaint that I can see anyone having is that although many zombie flicks have a hot naked heroine catching some albino Cyclops at one point or another, there's no such luck here, so don't expect to see the Farmer’s Daughter doing the “Roadhouse” or the Nurse playing doctor.
Moving to the bits department, when you crack open the box you'll be met with a well illustrated and designed rulebook containing the core rules and depictions of important points that explains the game easily and completely. Additionally included is a truckload of plasticized, ultra-thick cards, a sun track that acts as a game timer, a wealth of miniatures cast in three colors, platoons of little D6 dice, six "L" shaped boards, one square central board, a bunch of chits that serve various purposes, and finally, a large hero dashboard depicting each hero figure along with several scenario cards. The plastic insert is also really well designed because once punched, all the bits fit in with little effort and are segregated by type. It’s as if they knew you’d bag every little bit, so they left space for that too, if you’re an organization freak like me. I never thought flying frogs had such masterful engineering skill, but I now stand corrected.
Truly, the best way that I can describe this game is to say that it is the ultimate zombie adventure toolbox. With the modular boards, the wide variety of cards for both the zombie and hero sides, and the multitude of chits that can be used in diverse ways to create your own scenarios, this game will never get old if you have even a microscopic semblance of an imagination. It is such a far-sighted game concept in that it allows you to “build your own adventure” at will, or use a stock scenario, and has continuously been enhanced by ample licensed expansion material.
Now usually I'd go into the premise of the game and opine on the merits of, or detriments to, the game's design but really, the game comes with a handful of stock scenarios that range from mass re-murder of the previously deceased all the way through to getting the hell out of Dodge in a beat up '55 Ford before the sun comes up. As described above, there's a tremendous flexibility in the ways to play the game and the game is really only limited by the owner's imagination. Flying Frog even has a free, downloadable template on their website to make them look like the real deal, if you create a great design you’d like to permanently include in your box for future use.
For instance, if you’re a Lovecraft fan, the game comes with a book item marker and bunch of numbered item markers, all of which are identical on the reverse side. These allow you to easily and quickly develop a scenario where you designate a turn limit for the game then randomly place all the markers and the book, face down, and have a hunt for the “Necronomicon of the Mad Arab Abdul Alhazred". Add a gas can marker, and now you not only need to find it, you need to burn it.
Alternatively, there's a tractor marker included as well as several gas can markers, so why not create a "Mow Them Down" scenario that requires the heroes to mulch a predetermined amount of zombies with the tractor within the turn limit, complete with a refueling requirement. It's simply a sandbox to build into whatever you wish, and it all works incredibly well. To illustrate the ease of creating new game experiences, the two scenarios I just wrote about I literally just came up with as I was typing them. They may not be incredibly creative, but the underlying mechanics are perfected to the point that almost anything you can come up with will have a natural balance between the sides.
Now that you know how easy it is to develop scenarios, I’d like to move you toward the underlying precepts of the game that drive the game engine. These are a constant between all the stock scenarios, and all scenarios will use certain components universally, starting with the turn timer, which essentially depicts the timeline between midnight and sunup. There are 20 numbered spaces on this track which gives you the latitude to make a game as long or short as you wish, with most scenarios ranging from 15 to 20 turns. This equates to an hour or an hour and a half playtime, depending on the turns allotted and the number of players actually playing.
Setup is very simple, with the players first selecting a scenario and then surrounding the appropriate face of the central board with four or more of the six L-shaped boards to create one large playing surface. The outer boards depict buildings and structures which act as the item warehouses that the hero players can search, and the central board depicts a field on one side and a manor house on the opposing side, allowing “home defense” scenarios.
Next, the game always requires four hero players and up to twelve zombies be fielded at the start of the scenario. This allows six players to join the feeding frenzy at most, and if fewer players are around the game scales very well down to a mano-a-mano slugfest. The figures themselves are well detailed little sculptures and are a bit of a bitch to paint, if you don’t have a very small brush or a steady hand, due to the fine lines and subtle features. The zombies are cast in brown and green plastics and the heroes are in the industry-standard grey plastic, but the heroes are, in my opinion, imminently more detailed, although the zombies are certainly very well done too.
Setup is that simple, and your large player dashboard cards tell you where to place your hero figures for starting positions where the available zombies get evenly dispersed on the extents of the board as denoted by big red X marks which denote a zombie spawning pit. Once you’ve placed your figures, the game is ready to rock.
Turns alternate between the hero side and the zombie side and the heroes have far more normal turn options than the zombies, but the zombies have an unlimited number of cards to draw from and always draw up to a limit of four before taking their turn. Zombies cannot pick up any weapons, and thus are resigned to playing cards that effect the game in other ways.
The Hero gameplay consists of phases, starting with movement or searching, then taking a shot if they’re armed with a ranged weapon, and then combating any foes within their space. To move, the player rolls a D6, and they get to move up to that many spaces. Instead of moving, they can elect to search a building, provided they inhabit one, which is one of the only ways that the heroes get cards drawn into their hands. Once the player has completed their movement or search action, they can take a pot shot at a zombie that happens to be within range of the hero’s weapon, provided they have one. This amounts to a simple D6 roll, generally, and the number needed to be rolled for a killshot varies with the weapon equipped. Many weapons also have a requirement to roll a failure check after use, which can result in depleting your ammunition or having the weapon explode, forcing you to discard it. Finally, if you end your turn in a space that contains zombies you must fight them, be it one or four, serially. I’ll get into combat in a second as it deserves its own paragraph.
After all heroes have taken their turn, the zombies step to the plate. First, the zombie player must move the turn timer down a space toward daybreak. Next, the zombie player rolls 2D6, and if the roll is higher than the amount of fielded zombies, you may take zombies from the never-ending pool into your reserve for deployment at the end of your turn. After determining what your reinforcement will be, you then draw zombie cards up to your limit of four, replenishing your hand. Movement comes next, with each zombie on the field moving one space in any direction unless they’re currently in a space with a hero, in which case they’re locked down, trying to get a snack. After all your movements have occurred, if you have any zombies engaged with a hero, combat ensues.
Speaking of cards, hero cards that are acquired through burglary of the town’s buildings may be weapons, items such as first aid kits which can heal heroes, or cards that can be played with persistent effects that can only be removed by a zombie player playing a cancel card. Zombie cards are primarily limited to one-time use combat enhancements, reinforcement enhancements, and cards that weaken the heroes in one manner or another. There are also two sets of cards for each team, basic and advanced, with the latter adding special abilities and game options and the former that have varying and more powerful effects than would be otherwise available. Cards can be played at any time, generally, with the exception of cards that have emboldened red lettering declaring that you must play them immediately. Again, these are also cancellable by the opponent playing a cancel card.
I don’t really do the cards justice when speaking in these bland terms as every card is tremendously thematic and provides a reason for an event to happen, such as the “This May Be Our Last Night On Earth” card with flavor text reading, “Give me some sugar, baby”. This particular card, when played, causes a male and female hero that are on the same space to lose a turn while “performing last rites” on one another. I suspect that they were specific about the co-ed requirement on the card to avoid an uncomfortable silence if a zombie player could elect to play that card when the Sheriff’s Son and the Priest are on the same square inside of the farmhouse.
To end this codex of ultimate wisdom of all things LNoE, let me finish up with the combat mechanics. Combat is really slick and different, with the zombies always rolling one die during a fight and heroes always rolling two dice unless a card power or weapon modifies these rules. A wound is inflicted upon a hero if neither of his dice are equal to or higher than that of the zombie's roll, but the zombies are only wounded if the hero player rolls doubles on any two of his dice, regardless of the denomination. If a hero doesn’t roll doubles but one of his dice is equal to or exceeds the zombie roll, the zombie is stunned and no damage is dealt. Heroes have multiple hit points, where a single wound inflicted on a standard zombie means instant and gruesome death to it, but when a hero is killed they don't just drop where they stand, they get back up as a zombie hero that has multiple hit points, as well as multiple combat dice, under control of the zombie side.
As noted, the event cards on both sides can counteract wounds being inflicted, change the amount of dice rolled, allow dice to be re-rolled, or all other manner of influence on the battle, and this doesn't even include the hero weapon cards, which are semi-persistent. These close combat weapon cards range from the fan-favorite chainsaw all the way through a baseball bat, a pitchfork, and my personal favorite, a big ass meat cleaver. To add to the carnage, advanced cards include some choice goodies such as dynamite, gasoline, and a lighter to create lovely pyrotechnic events that are equally effective for removing old tree stumps and bursting zombie torsos wholesale.
All things being considered, this is an exceptionally fun little romp through George Romeroland, and I would recommend this to anyone who likes Ameritrash, zombies, or horror genres. The art is indeed graphic, and may be inappropriate for small children, unless you’re OK with giving your kids the willies, in which case it’s good for the kids too. Either way, it’s on my list of games that will never be traded away and I expect that after a couple plays you will take that position too.
Reasons To Spawn This Game From Its Grave:
*The art is outstanding, making you feel like you’re playing a movie rather than a game
*The “toolbox” aspect of the design makes this game infinitely replayable
*The combat mechanic makes the game challenging, but not frustrating and unwinnable
*The card system is exceptional, with every card having purpose within the game
*It’s surprisingly easy to learn and play, with short turns and minimal downtime
Things That Should Have Stayed Dead:
*Trying to roll doubles with two dice in unarmed combat can ruin your day; get a weapon, posthaste
*The thickness and durability of the cards is nice, but they stick together a bit and are not conducive to shuffling
In short, these designers have blown away the competition in the zombie game arena on a scale of magnitude that I can only describe as being on parity with the destruction of Alderan by the Death Star. Last Night on Earth is just that good. If you like zombies, this is one hell of a ride through Romeroland.
For more investigation into the dark arts of necromancy, feel free to check out Flying Frog Productions’ page for Last Night On Earth here:
If you didn’t get the “LARP Lightning Bolt Guy” bit, you need to see this to understand:
Finally, because there’s a bazillion expansions, all of which you can buy direct from Flying Frog, here’s the Boardgamegeek.com page with everything listed but the kitchen sink: