Chatty Plays: “Last Night on Earth”

I met her at Gen Con, she's nice.

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?

Hello?

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.

Comments

  1. Have you tried Mall of Horror? It’s the only zombie game I’ve found palatable, and it captures the zombie theme very well.

    The aim is to survive, and for better or worse that means selling out your friends. The zombies are inevitable, they can be slowed down but not stopped, and they will eat brains. To paraphrase an old expression, you don’t have to outrun the zombies… you just gotta trip your friend.

  2. Runeofdoom says:

    I remember playing Left 4 Dead 2 with a friend that had a similar attitude as Asmor! Together we fought our way through multiple chapters and upon reaching the (then) final level where you run across the giant bridge, as we neared the end and got mobbed he shouts “Every man for himself!” and takes off running to the finish leaving us all to be eaten.

    … I think he won’t be invited to play when I get this board game.

  3. I played this game recently with some friends.

    We may have been playing it wrongly, but the pitchfork and cleaver combination was godlike. Cleaver lets you kill a zombie if either of your 2d6 attack dice come up a six, and never breaks. Pitchfork lets you reroll one or both dice, but has a 2 in 6 chance of breaking when used. If I calculate correctly, you now kill a zombie on 16/36 (any six or any doubles), can reroll that on a miss, and there’s a very good chance you’ll retain the reroll ability.

    I did a big statistical analysis of this in September, then forgot to write down the results, and now I’ve forgotten the results.

  4. @Asmor: Is it that you haven’t tried LNOE yet or that you didn’t like it at all. And if so, what? I’ll give Mall of Horrors a check, I never heard of it before.

    @Runeofdoom: Ha! Indeed! Oh so wrong but sweet sweet revenge.

    @Jonathan Drain: That’s exactly what the hero player must attempt to build, a perfect combo. But the odds are stacked against him/her because you need to dig through that hero deck to get that combination of items. I like Shotgun + Shears + Baseball bat myself.

  5. As stated on the box and in the rules, Last Night On Earth is a 2-6 player game.

    With 5 players, there are 4 Heroes and 1 ZM (zombie master!).

    With 6 players, there are 4 Heroes and 2 ZM.

    All in all, I agree with your review. Fun game, but if nobody at your table knows the in and outs of it, the zombies are going to win most of the time.

  6. I haven’t tried LNOE. I’d be willing to, but I don’t have high hopes.

    My issue with most zombie games is that they’re just action games where the things you kill happen to be zombies.

    Incidentally, if you find a good deal on Mall of Horror, grab it. I looked it up last night after this post and apparently it’s out of print and the price is going up.

  7. If only there were a review of Mall of Horror on this very site people could read…

    (cough cough)

  8. Asmor said: “My issue with most zombie games is that they’re just action games where the things you kill happen to be zombies.”

    So what a good zombie game should do to get it right, according to you?

    In LNOE, there is more than one way of playing…the default scenario is to kill the other faction, but there are other scenarios.

  9. My friends and I have had great fun playing Last Night on Earth. Sally (shown in the picture at the top of the page) has had the most incredible luck in our games. I’ve been tempted to start a webcomic based on her… Sally the Zombie Slayer.

  10. @Carl: I didn’t have the box at hand so I forgot the proper number of players, fixed! Thanks!

    @Asmor: Do give it a try, the game simulates most of the genre (except “everybody out for themselves”) quite nicely and many scenarios feature Zombie killing as a threat management strategy to achieve the actual goals rather than the goal itself. I remain amazed at the interest I retain in it after having played it on a semi-regular basis for a year… this is NOT Munchkin… 🙂

    @Dave: I saw what you tried to do here… I’d LOVE to have someone as versed in Board Games as Asmor writing a piece on our humble website. 🙂

    @Scott: That would be very cool to see… the actress/design team member playing her is very nice and funny, I bet she’d play along. 🙂

  11. @Chatty: Oh, if I had ANY talent for art, I’d give it more serious consideration. Believe me. heh. If I end up going to GenCon next year, I’ll have to drop by the Flying Frog table, though.

  12. Carol Foster says:

    I’ve been playing MTG for a long time and the cards now are so damn expensive maybe now is the right time to try this board games.

  13. 8 out of 10 zombie wins is still within normal range for a 50/50 outcome. (Assuming you have only played 10 times of course, and aren’t just scaling down from 40 out of 50 wins for ease of reading.) You need 9 out of 10 results to go one way in a 50/50 outcome to reach statistical significance. (You lose 8 coin tosses, life sucks. You lose 9, your friend has a double headed coin.)

  14. @ChattyDM : I have the french version of “Mall of Horrors” – I can bring it again to another geekout, if you like.

  15. Several years ago (whenever the game first came out), some friends picked up LNOE at GenCon, and ever since it has been our GenCon after-hours game of choice. I probably have some friends who don’t even know the game’s actual name — they just ask “when are we playing Zombie Game?”.

    I have played with the farm-girl (one of the promo characters), but not with any of the expansions. Often I find that with well-balanced games like this the expansion sets (intentionally or not) skew the balance, to give tired players a new perspective. Since we play once a year, we don’t really get `tired’. 🙂 I’ve been thinking about picking up a copy for home play now and then, and in that case I’ll look into the expansions — any recommendations on those (individually or collectively)?

    Thanks for a great review; thinking about LNOE always makes me think wistfully of good times at GenCon…