I go ages without doing a board game review then two come along at once. This time it’s the turn of Last Night on Earth by Flying Frog Productions, a turn based Zombie survival game.
Before I get into the rules and game play let’s look at what you get in the box. Well, lots of cardboard as one would expect from a game of this type but includes gaming tiles that allow you t play over a various locations in the town your characters find themselves in, game cards, profile cards and scenarios. You also get 8 heroes, 14 zombies, dice and a soundtrack CD. I’ve got to be honest, the soundtrack wasn’t really a soundtrack. It wasn’t creepy music that got you in the groove for the game. I’m not saying it was bad, but I am saying it didn’t fit in with the game and I turned it off after a couple of tracks. It’s a nice idea but didn’t quite work for me.
The overall production value is very good. The models are a passable standard and from the looking around I’ve done on the interwebs suggests that they’ll stand up to painting, which is great news for the more die-hard wargamers out there. If I’m honest the actual artwork on the board tiles and vehicle cut outs were a little basic but I suppose it was done to keep costs down and also the emphasis is on the zombies and heroes not the board. But what it lacks in creative splendour it makes up for with intelligent design as the board is made up of a central tile then four (out of six) L shaped tiles that allow you to play across different parts of the remote, besieged, town.
It’s a very simple but effective design that allows for, if my maths is correct, 15 possible board combinations. Which doesn’t seem a lot but its enough variation that’ll keep the board looking relatively fresh.
The characters, like much of the game has its roots firmly planted in all the various archetypes that made the zombie horror genre so popular with the drifter, the sheriff, a priest and the school Jock all making an appearance. Each character has their own strengths too which includes special attacks, extra speed or the ability to heal in the case of the busty nurse.
The game itself keeps its focus around the genre that inspired it and the scenarios reflect that, each one cinematic and for any fans of the zombie/horror genre easily identifiable. Zombies obviously have the numeric advantage as well as deck of cards they can draw upon to make life difficult for the plucky heroes trying to live out the night.
The heroes too have a deck of cards they can draw on when they search rooms which can give them weapons of various types in including shotguns, flare guns, baseball bats and chainsaws. Searches will also throw up event cards which can be used to either hamper the zombies or boost the performance of the characters. And you’ll need it because unless you get the right mix of characters (as you have to choose four of the eight at random) you’ll struggle to win the most basic scenario.
The game mechanic is very simple. Zombies move one square. Heroes move D6. Fair enough. In combat zombies roll 1 D6 and Heroes 2D6, highest roll wins. Fair enough? Well, no. Although high roll wins, a Hero needs a double to kill a zombie otherwise it is merely fended off. But where it comes unstuck is that in the event of a tie, unless it states otherwise, the zombie wins and inflicts a wound. This seemingly benign rule, couple with the sheer number of zombies that can and will fill the gaming space means that it’s easy for a character to be killed on turn 1. And when losing two costs you the game, it’s a bitter pill to swallow.
The numbers stack up like this. Statistically the average roll on a D6 is 3. The average on 2D6 is 7 of one combination or other. None combination of 7 affords the heroic player a killing blow. So because you need double fours, fives or sixes to deliver a killing blow your odds of killing a zombie outright shrink to – 3 in 36 against a zombie who has a 3 in 6 chance of getting an equivalent result with the added bonus that a draw is a win.
Now heroes can spend an action searching buildings which will garnish them with the aforementioned weapons and events. And should they get their hands on firearms then the tide turns very quickly and the hero player starts to feel a glimmer of hope in their soul. But granting the zombie player the win on a draw means that it’s the only way the hero player will win. One of the play tests I ran through on Friday night had me kill the required two characters in 3 turns. The run through before that it took 5. The right Zombie Cards cropping up at the start was an undeniable help, but it was far more to do with no matter how well Neil (of The Chaps) rolled, as along as I could match or beat it I would win.
To be completely clear, Last Night on Earth is a good game. More to the point its a fun game. And you can play it in an hour which is ideal if you’re short on time or fancy doing something different of a lunch break at work. The rules are simple and emphasises the importance of game play and the cinematic. By keeping it simple you get to focus on what really matters which is heroes trying to stay alive whilst zombies come at them from all sides. Although the rule book could do with a tidy. Far too much ‘which will be explained later’. There are some genius touches in Last Night on Earth. The sunlight tracker is a particularly brilliant idea. The ability to cut power in buildings, causing heroes to stumble around in the dark. Or for buildings to be overrun entirely meaning heroes can’t go in them at all. Zombie pits can pop up in random locations suddenly putting real pressure on the heroes and increasing the threat risk significantly. It’s all very cleverly done to create that sense of dread and foreboding that’s so fundamental a zombie survival film let alone game. Which makes the ‘tie’ rule all the more unbalanced.
The characters are fun, the special rules giving them their own unique tactical advantage – although if you get the Sheriff from the off you’ve got a good chance of survival thanks to him starting with the revolver and the special rule that effectively means he’ll never lose it. The Priest is rubbish. If you get him just use him as a proverbial sacrificial lamb. We quickly worked out the strongest character combination which, I suspect, is why you have to choose randomly.
With a slight rule tweak Last Night on Earth is as good as they come. And for around the £37 mark isn’t bad value either. The expansion: Growing Hunger is already available and boasts for heroes, armed zombies, plague zombies, new tiles for bigger boards and new rules. At £25 it’s pretty good value as there’s only marginally less in there than the main box.
For all my ranting, Last Night on Earth is a good and fun game. It looks ace and plays well. It has bags of character from the heroes, to the Zombie Card that’s actually called nnngghh. If you’re a fan of the zombie horror genre you’ll love this. Actually you’ll love it even if you’re not.