With no ongoing RPG campaigns going for my gang at the moment, I find my font of inspiration to be somewhat drier. But I can write about other things right? Like boardgames!
Guys? You still there?
Last Friday, PM and I were hanging out looking for good 2 player games. We usually defaulted to Last Night on Earth a zombie-themed board game by Flying Frog Productions. Turns our I won 2 games back to back… but as you’ll see later, it was more luck than anything.
What it is? Shambling Review
Last Night on Earth is a 2-6 player board game that simulates a small-town zombies infestation movie. Half the players control non-infected character archetypes while the other half share a fluctuating pool of slow-moving zombies.
The game is played on a semi-random board built of tiles representing various town buildings arranged around an open area (or, in some scenarios, a manor house). Gameplay is driven by one of many different scenarios simulating zombie movie plots and tropes.
For example, the townsfolk players need to either kill so many zombies before sunup, find gas and keys in buildings to leave town, torch a certain number of zombie nests, barricade themselves in buildings and make it to sunup or a bunch of other objectives all very much in line with the genre.
Zombies usually win by thwarting the Heroes’ plans or killing a set number of heroes before sunup.
The game is structured around alternating turns with series of straightforward steps to follow and a very simple combat mechanic. that makes zombies relatively easy to fend off but hard to kill. Zombie roll 1d6 and unarmed heroes rolls 2d6 each. Zombies win on ties, heroes fend off on a high roll or kill a zombie if they roll high AND get doubles. Complexity comes in the form of hero and zombie cards which break the rules in various ways (additional dice, killing zombies on high roll only, etc).
Heroes draw cards (simulating finding shotguns, meat cleavers, faith, courage, first aid kits, etc) when they forfeit movement to search inside buildings. Zombies get cards (Spawning, cutting power off, locking doors, swarming bonuses, etc) every turn!
The game’s production values are up there with the current generation of boardgames. They added an extra twist of using photos of actors (or, I suspect, the game designers and their friends) to illustrate the character cards as well most of the hero cards, giving the whole game a very personal touch, including stock quotes you would expect them to say when cards are played.
The game has several expansions out, including a few promotional ones you can pick at conventions that Flying Frog attends.
Games last about 60-90 minutes, either to completion or when a player abandons because of the impossibility of completing one’s mission (or in Magic: The Gathering speak, reaching Inevitability).
So, how many severed thumbs up Chatty?
This remains to date, my favourite zombie-themed game. It’s got GREAT re-playability and I’ve been able to play back-to-back games of it without developing much of the “tiredness” that makes its enjoyability drop rapidly once into the second game. I heartily recommend you getting it.
It is however, a very swingy game that seems to favours zombies (although the makers of the game swore to me that they have 50% win rates when they play). Yet, in the 10+ games I’ve played so far, Zombies have taken over 80% of the games. I’ll explain some of my more game-specific observations about that in the next section to spare the non-adepts. Suffice it to say you should expect games to cover a wide range of outcomes, not all of them drawn-out, toe to toe struggles to the next sunrise.
We’ve also noticed that splitting the heroes and (with 6 players) zombies into multiple teams make for strange social and mechanical dynamics as players are less likely to cooperate as closely. Maybe it’s part of the game’s design to have players bicker about optimal tactics.
Regardless, it’s a game I love playing and you should consider it for your gaming library. I found it to be a lot better than that OTHER zombies game.
The Grisly Bits
All right so how come the zombies won so often?
At first we realized that heroes could both shoot AND fight zombies in the same turn. Very useful! Revolvers, shotguns and flare guns are fundamental parts of the game that give a huge edge to players since they have lots of range for those speed 1 zombies.
Secondly, we realized that heroes need to spend a LOT of time looting building, that’s what drives their game. Without gear and bonuses, they get eaten alive (snort) by the much more resourceful, albeit randomly spawning zombies. So time must be spent between fending off the zombies and gearing enough to grab an edge and go for victory. The zombies are not as dangerous as they appear, a hero can afford to share a square with one (or more if well equipped), so don’t always run away.
Thirdly, apart from moving through walls, zombies are a lot slower and have less flexibility in their movement than heroes. The hero player needs to exploit that to the extreme. The fact that Zombies must always move into squares with a hero in them allows the hero player to control how swarming will occur and even out the odds if possible (like getting them all in that square with the blessed, baseball and garden shears-armed, football captain hero).
Lastly, and that applies to both teams, being a rules-exception based game, player skill in timing the use of cards and carefully managing resources (# of zombies, # of cards, # of turn remaining, wounds, etc) can make more of a difference than what people realize. While nothing will help you through a bad streak of dice rolls (or your opponent’s accidental latching on the teat of the goddess of chance), efficient, ruthless play and some risk-taking based on odds will skew the scale your way.
I don’t have statistical evidence as my last game was such a freakish spike of chance where my heroes trounced the zombies so bad they all dug their own graves and apologized for troubling our evening. I do however see elements common to similar games I know very well, like Magic: The Gathering. I’ve seen key mistakes in my opponent’s play that might have sent the game into a different way, provided Lady Chance kept things close to the baseline.
Of course, this can all be reduced to nought (or become a disadvantage) in multi-player games if full cooperation isn’t achieved between teammates…
…and maybe therein lies the game’s true balance mechanic.
I will need to ponder this further, but I’m very curious to see what other adepts of the game have found so far. For the record, we play with all the expansion sets and the 3 promo kits of extra cards we threw in there.