Last Night on Earth
(Flying Frog Productions)
COMPOSITE SCORE (out of 10): 8.95
A strong candidate for most any player, though the subject could limit its audience and recommended ages of players.
INDIVIDUAL SCORES (out of 10)
PRICE (10%): 9
The price is what one would reasonably expect for the amount of materials included with the game. However, the CD, while appreciated, does add to the bottom-line of this game and is rather superfluous. Removing this component could reduce the price a bit.
GAMEPLAY (25%): 9
The flow can go very reasonably. It plays similar to the combat phase of most table-top RPGs. Strategy can be used and is encouraged, though players who do not enjoy having their strategies forced to change through luck could find themselves disappointed or frustrated in this title.
REPLAYABILITY (25%): 10
Because the game has a modular board with more pieces than it uses, multiple scenarios, multiple characters, cards, dice, expansions, and user-created content, the replayability of this game is near infinite. It is quite possible, and simple, to adapt the game to another setting or situation while keeping the rules the same as they've been written.
ORIGINALITY (10%): 6
Zombie games have been made before, though this one does provide a fresh and strong mechanic for play. Combat feels derivative of Risk, however the use of doubles to kill the zombie and simple comparison for whether the Hero or Zombie wins used the mechanic well.
LEARNING CURVE (20%): 9
The basic rules are extremely simple and strong. I have no doubt that the basic mechanics of this game could be learned by a child of about 8-10 years. However, there can be some interpretation of cards necessary, which the developer shows strong support for. The strategies used for Heroes can be varied, and developing these strategies can require some thought and practice.
COMPONENT QUALITY (10%): 9
Components are generally well-crafted. It can be noted that the laminate on the cards does tend to stick together, and since it is high-gloss these will show wear faster. However, it does make them less susceptible to damage from food/drink/hands. Hero figures can be difficult to differentiate initially, however this can be easily remediated through paint, or simply exposure to using them.
This game, however, is not recommended for people who are sensitive, easily frightened (believe me, I know one who has been), or small children. It also would not be recommended for strategy enthusiasts, since the random chance always present in the game can certainly devastate even the best-laid strategy. It is best suited for those who enjoy moderate strategy, and being forced to adapt on the fly.
I will admit, I came into the zombie scene rather recently. Previously I had only watched movies, and played a few of the Resident Evil video games. I had watched the zombie board games that came up, but none of them really drew me in initially. That was why I was initially skeptical when Last Night on Earth was recommended to me by a gaming friend at work. He had informed me that the game had sold out at GenCon, and that immediately had me intrigued. I decided I should at least pick up a copy and give it a try.
Upon opening the box, I was initially pleased with the visual quality of the board and pieces. They are all suitably dark, and it is clear that the developers took time in selecting models and scenes for the images. Many of the images are photographic on the cards, while the board is drawn. They thematically blend well, and for those images that were drawn or painted, the colors selected were very representative of the genre. The cards have a high-gloss laminate covering, and do initially tend to stick together. This is common for this style of lamination in my experience, and the cards can be easily separated by lightly bending the edges of the cards. The character pieces are well-sculpted, though without having them painted, it may take a minute to visually identify and distinguish the models that match with specific characters. The game is also delivered with a soundtrack that is not necessary to the game. To date, I have not opened the packaging on the CD, and cannot speak to the quality of the tracks. Where I can see that it could be fun to have music or sound playing that fits the theme, I am not certain that it should be included with the game directly. It can be fun, but should remain optional. It should also be noted that the game comes with additional pieces that are not currently used by official scenarios, but are made available for players to use in their own games.
The rules of this game are kept quite simple and, in general, do not find themselves changed or expanded significantly by the cards. Turns alternate between Zombies and Heroes in a very structured manner each round, beginning with Zombies. The developers have included 6 turn-order reference cards, each has a Hero turn summary on one side, and a Zombie turn summary on the other side. In the games we've played, we have had these references and used them for each player consistently. In movement, the Heroes roll a 6-sided die and move that many spaces, unless they are otherwise impeded by zombies, or would like to move less than the number rolled. The Zombies, in turn, move only one space each. The only rule that seemed initially confusing was combat. In general, Zombies will roll 1 6-sided die, and the Heroes will roll 2 (similar to Risk). For the heroes to fight off a zombie, one of their dice must be higher than the Zombie's highest die. For the Hero to kill a Zombie, the player must also roll doubles. However, it is important to note that, in the event that a hero is using 3 or more fight dice, the rules do not change as stated. The doubles do not have to be higher than the Zombie's roll to kill it, as long as any individual number on the Hero's dice is higher than the Zombie's. That did cause some confusion initially.
For the first game, the developer recommends removing all the advanced cards from the deck. This is particularly easy in initial set up, because the advanced cards come packaged separately from the basic cards. However, if they have already been mixed in, they can still be easily identified and removed due to a distinctive mark in the bottom-right corner of the text box on each card. The base scenario recommended is "Die Zombies, Die!" The scenario goal for the heroes is to simply kill 15 zombies in 15 rounds. The zombies win simply by preventing that from occurring, or by killing two heroes. The developer recommends selecting 4 heroes at random for the first game. I will admit, I am not sure I agree on picking random heroes for the first game. I believe that requires more knowledge of the possible interactions between characters, and can actually make the game more difficult on a first play-through. I often find it more enjoyable to have the team be random later, in order to encourage more experienced players to vary their tactics.
After playing a couple of times on the basic game, both as Zombies and as Heroes, my partner and I decided to move on to the advanced game. The game does not change much in concept. Some cards are added in that can change the strategies used, and at this point the Hero player generally would begin selecting the heroes he wishes to use. We honestly preferred the advanced game. I did not feel that the added cards would have been difficult to integrate directly into the first game, however I will defer to the developers for their extensive testing as they may have found this to be the case. Being a rather experienced gamer, I may simply pick things up quickly. We have played the Burn 'Em Out! scenario from the advanced set, and initially found it very difficult for the Heroes. However, on a replay later, it went quite the opposite, with the Heroes taking a very early lead. It is definitely true that some strategy can be used, but a lot of luck will play into this game. I personally like the change of fortune, however it should be recognized that not all players appreciate their best plans being laid to rest by an unlucky roll, or series of rolls.
We have also played this game a couple of times with a friend of ours. I am not certain how I feel about the scaling of multiplayer. I like that the players will always replace the last Hero they're playing in order to keep playing. However, I was also somewhat disappointed in the way it can divide the Hero's abilities with cards. For example, cards that state "on your heroes" do apply only to that player's Heroes. This can create a situation where cards are far more useful when playing all four, than when playing two or one. A similar situation comes up when the Zombies are divided. In general, I liked seeing the teamwork that developed having multiple Hero players, however I do definitely think that the Zombies are limited enough in their actions to make it feel less valuable to have two Zombie players. The game is probably not ideally suited for a number of players above 5 (and best played with 2-3 players.)
The board itself is modular, a design I am particularly pleased with in board games. There is one central two-sided piece, and 6 L-shaped pieces. Because only 4 of the 6 are ever used, and their placement changes, the town has many different possible layouts. Combining this with the 8 characters (of which at most 4 are used in a standard game), and the multiple cards, it is extremely unlikely that any two games will go the same. This, and the fact that the game has upcoming expansions and can easily adapt to player-created content, there is a very large replayability factor. I appreciate this particularly in my games, since it keeps the experience fresh.
In general, I recommend the game for most players. I would definitely recommend that parents use discretion in whether or not playing this game with their children is a good idea. While it is not directly gory and violent, the dark nature of the game and the disturbing images could be unpleasant for sensitive players of any age. However, the ruleset and concepts are definitely within the range of the recommended ages given. Whether you like zombies or not, the game provides some very interesting and unique strategies, and forces players to adapt through the occasional random windfall/setback. The visuals are wonderful, it encourages interaction and storytelling, and can provide a very enjoyable small-group gaming experience.