Friday, April 30, 2010

Review: Last Night on Earth and Expansions

My biases first: I am a big fan of theme in games and do not mind reaching through piles of chits if the theme and game play is good enough. While I do favor confrontation, chits, bits and polished pieces of AT games, there are still a large number of Euros that I'll build my farm on or attend auctions at and be quite content at the end of my experience. Also, I've never been a big fan of zombie flicks other than Shaun of the Dead, but I do have over twenty years of D&D experience under my belt, so I know to use slashing instead of blunt weapons and that zombie bites don't turn you into a zombie; it's an Animate Dead spell that will transform you.

The Overview:

A bunch of zombie goodness in a fairly standard box size. And, with every LNOE expansion owned, I am still able to fit everything in this box (minus the insert). 

Box contents (though the cardboard bits are not visible here). Ditch the insert and you can lug all of the expansions around in just the one box. 

Last Night on Earth:
Last Night on Earth is a survival horror game in which divides the players into teams. One side controls the Heroes, who are ordinary townsfolk who have risen to the challenge of the dead rising in their small town. The other side controls the slow-moving, endless horde of zombies bent to devour the flesh of the living. For each game, a scenario is chosen which defines each side's victory conditions and any special rules in the game, including how many Turns the game will have.

The game is for 2-6 players and plays in about 60-90 minutes. New players may take a little longer than that and games can run shorter if either side gets lucky and achieves their victory conditions early. More players can bring about more discussion and planning and may add to the play length as well.

The game set up begins with the Hero players either picking or randomly choosing the characters that they will control. There will always be 4 Hero characters divided between the Hero players. After that, a Scenario is either picked or chosen at random and the board is set up.

The board is modular and starts with a large square. Four "L-shaped" additions are placed around the center square to expand the board outwards. These modular pieces are chosen at random. The Hero characters are then placed in their starting buildings (usually on the outer L-shaped boards). If their starting location is not on any of the boards chosen, they begin in the center of town instead.

The Zombie players then place their zombies from their pool. In most scenarios, there are a maximum of 14 zombies that can be out at any time. Either one Zombie Player controls all 14, or if there are 2 Zombie players, then each controls 7. The 14 zombies are in 2 colors (7 of each), which makes it easy to tell who is controlling which zombie. Each of the L-shaped outer board pieces has a "Spawning Pit" on it. These are start locations for the zombies in the beginning of the game and whenever new zombies are added to the board. The Zombie Players roll 2 six-sided dice and place that many zombies on the Spawning Pits to start, dividing them as equally as possible among the Pits. The Sun Track is set up to count down the number of turns remaining, as per the specific Scenario instructions.

Each Round is broken into two turns, a Zombie Turn and then a Hero Turn.

The Zombie Turn starts with the Zombie Players moving the round marker down one space on the Sun Track. They then draw up to their hand of 4 Zombie Cards (if there are 2 Zombie Players, then each Zombie has 2 cards). These cards are secret and can be played for a number of detrimental effects against the Heroes. Zombie events are cards that can be played at specific times for specific effects, while Fight cards can be used only in combat. Some cards require you to play them immediately and immediately resolve their effects.

The Zombie Players then roll to see if they will spawn more zombies at the end of their turn. The Zombie Player rolls 2 six-sided dice and if it is higher than the number of zombies they currently have on the board, they will spawn new zombies at the end of the turn. If there are 2 Zombie Players, each rolls 1 six-sided die and they spawn new zombies if the number rolled is higher than the total number of zombies of their color on the board.

Zombies then move. Zombies move 1 space each (as they are the lumbering slow moving zombie kind), and if a zombie is adjacent to a Hero, the lure of the taste of flesh is too much and they must move into the same space as the Hero (this gives some tactical opportunities for the Hero players to draw the zombies out somewhere).

After all zombies have had the chance to move, and zombies in the same space as a Hero must fight. Combats are simple. If multiple zombies are in one space attacking a Hero, the combats are resolved one at a time. The zombie player rolls 1 six-sided die (though this can be modified by Zombie Cards). The Hero player rolls 2 six-sided dice (this can be modified by Hero Cards). If the zombie rolls higher on his die than any of the Hero's dice, he wins and inflicts one wound on the Hero. If the Hero rolls higher than the zombie on any of his dice, then he has fended off the zombie for the time being and neither side takes damage. If the Hero has rolled higher and has doubles on any of his dice, then the zombie he is fighting takes one wound. In most cases, this will kill a zombie (they have one health each). Zombies win on ties, so if both players tied for the high roll, the zombie inflicts a wound.

After this, the Zombie Players spawn their new zombies if their previous spawn roll was successful. The Zombie Player rolls 1 six-sided die and places that many new zombies on the board from his pool. If there are 2 Zombie Players, each one that successfully spawned places 1d3 of their zombies instead.

The Hero Players then take their turn. The four Heroes can take their turn in any order, but each must finish his or her move before the next Hero can act. It starts with their Move Action. The Hero rolls a six-sided die and they can move that many spaces, though they cannot move through walls and must immediately end their movement if they go through a space with one or more zombies in it. After rolling, but before moving, if the Hero is inside of a building, they can opt not to move and instead Search. Searching lets the Hero draw the top card from the Hero Deck. If it is an Event, they place it in their hand to use later. If it is an Item or Weapon, they place it next to their Character Card face up. Each Hero can carry 2 weapons and 2 items. If they draw any more, they need to either discard the card they drew or one of their current items to carry the new one. Certain buildings have special actions available when Searched, and the Hero can draw a specific item, if that item is in the Discard Pile.

Heroes may then Exchange Items with any other Heroes that are in the same space with them.

Heroes then may make a Ranged Attack if they have an Item which allows them to. The Item lists the range of spaces and the Hero can attack a zombie in that range. The Item lists what needs to be rolled to see if the zombie is hit and the effects of it. Most Items then specify if another roll needs to be made after the attack, whether successful or not, to see if the Item is out of ammo and is then discarded.

Finally, any Heroes who end their turn in the same space as one or more zombies must fight them hand to hand. This is resolved the same way as the Zombie Fights.

This continues until either the Sun Tracker runs out, signifying that there are no more Rounds left, or one of the sides have met all of their objectives listed on the Scenario.

Growing Hunger:
Growing Hunger is a large box expansion that offers little to change the rules of the game, but it includes another 4 Hero Characters and figures, 3 new Scenarios, 2 new L-shaped Outer Boards and 25 new Zombie Cards and 25 new Hero Cards to offer a lot more variety to the base game. One of the Scenarios introduces a new kind of zombie opponents and there are 7 new colored zombie figures to accompany that Scenario. Despite being the same sized box as the base game, it is not a standalone game.

Hero Pack 1:
The first Hero Pack is a small expansion that includes 4 new Hero Characters and figures, 1 new Scenario and 5 new Hero Cards and 5 new Zombie Cards. There are no real rules changes presented in this small expansion pack.

Survival of the Fittest:
This small expansion provides the most direct rule changes in any of the expansions. Included are 8 new Hero Cards and 8 new Zombie Cards, as well as 4 new Scenarios, 3 twenty card Decks and a bunch of new counters and components to use. The rule changes are seen most in the new decks. The Zombie Player now has access to Grave Weapons, which are cards which empower individual zombies on the board and give them a host of new abilities and powers. Whenever the Zombie Player spawns new zombies, he can forgo placing 2 zombies and instead draw a Grave Weapon card to give to one of his zombies. The Heroes now have access to powerful Unique Items and Survival Tactics. Now, when a Hero Searches a building, if he rolled a 5 or higher on his movement, instead of drawing a normal Hero Card he can draw from either the Unique Item deck or the Survival Tactics deck, depending on which building he is in. These decks complement one another in power, so that the new Hero decks can be added to any existing Scenario as long as the new Zombie deck is also added to it. Finally, the expansion also adds a means for Heroes to barricade the walls in the buildings they are in to try to keep the zombies out, which adds a bunch of new rules, though this is only present in certain Scenarios.

Zombies with Grave Weapons:
This is a supplemental pack really designed to supplement the [/i]Survival of the Fittest[/i] mini-expansion rather than the base game itself. It comes with sculpted miniatures that show zombies using some of the weapons and powers listed in the Grave Weapon decks of the SotF expansion. It does include 2 copies of a new Grave Weapon card not in that set, but it is really useless without the SotF expansion.

Radioactive Grave Dead:
This is more of a supplement than an expansion. It is a new Scenario (which is not printed on the cardboard) and comes with 7 translucent green Radioactive Zombie figures. There are no real rule changes, except for those specific to this Scenario.

Revenge of the Dead, Stock Up, Zombie Pillage:
Each of these three mini-expansions are really just supplemental releases that each include 5 new Zombie Cards and 5 new Hero Cards, as well as including a new specific Scenario, printed on the same thick cardboard as the original Scenarios. None of them present any real rule changes other then minor things tied to their specific Scenario.

The Theme:

Last Night on Earth is designed to be a schlocky B-movie about a zombie invasion on a small town. Each of the Heroes have a minor back story and some have relationships with one another that really do nothing in the game other than enhance the flavor. In this regard, this game really succeeds on many levels on creating that zombie/horror feel.

Some of the Scenarios seem to be pulled from movie plots and the way the event cards play out, you really can see how it tells a greater story. Now, it requires the right kind of player to really get into it, but this, more than many other board games out there, sets the stage to create a light roleplaying experience.

I would suggest that the "Dungeon Master" in your group handles the zombies in your games, however, since that player will really be setting the stage, playing to antagonists and really adding to the plot for what is the Heroes story. Personally, I don't have any problem with that. I've been a DM, GM and ST in any number of systems, but that is probably more accurate of a depiction of the role that the Zombie Player will be setting as far as the thematic and story portions of this game.

Now, the theme of horrific desperation can be tricky to maintain in some of the Scenarios. It can happen where lucky die rolls, card draws or otherwise can result in situations where the Heroes run rampant over the town, doing whatever they need to succeed with little impediment from the Zombie Player. If you play often enough, you'll see it happen. However, the games where the die rolls and luck stays roughly equal result in some of the most memorable stories of desperate horror and edge of your seat tension up to the very end.

Each expansion and supplement gives you a bit more to add to the theme, but mostly from either new characters and stories to include, new Scenarios to build your stories around and new cards and powers that really build the action.

However, what is sorely missing from the Last Night on Earth series is a big box expansion that gives new starting tiles and L-Shaped Outer Boards to build a suburban mall. True, some of the existing cards might not mesh that well with a mall theme, but the game is desperately crying out for it and I am very surprised that Flying Frog has not answered that cry yet.

Learning the Game:

The base game's rules are presented in a full color, 24 page rule booklet of large type interspersed with numerous illustrations and pictures. The game also explains the rules in depth for a starting scenario for the first game. However, the game is quick and easy enough to learn that really the "advanced" Scenarios can be played the first time out of the box as long as at least one of the players has ever had any experience with any game more complex than your standard Milton Brady fare.

The game really is easy to learn and can easily be used as a gateway game as well. My non-game playing, construction worker father-in-law joined me and my wife for a game and had absolutely no problem adapting to the rules and strategy. Sure, it was a little uncomfortable for me when I played the "It Could Be Our Last Night On Earth" on his and his daughter's characters in the same space, but that wasn't because of any rules confusion.

The supplements do not make the game much more complex. Growing Hunger adds only the mildest of potential confusion with two-handed weapons. Survival of the Fittest is probably the most advanced of the expansions as it adds a number of new rules and situations, but also starts to add a bit of confusion with possible combinations. These aren't overwhelming, but can be a bit much for newer gamers, so it should be added only after the base rules are really understood.

The Components:

The modular board, and a view of a couple Hero figures and some of the Zombies. 

Card artwork. The artwork theme of the game is modified photo art, which works well, in my opinion. However, others have differing views. 

The Radioactive Dead figures from the Radioactive Grave Dead supplement.

Some of the zombie figures included in the Zombies with Grave Weapons supplemental set. 

The components of the game are well produced and sturdy. The Scenario and Hero Character sheets are all printed on thick cardboard, making it easy to choose them at random. Some people may not like the modified photographic art used on the graphics, but personally I think it fits the feel of the game portraying a B-movie zombie flick.

The figures are really well produced and look very nice. Without painting them (and I am also surprised that Flying Frog has not released painted minis), the Heroes can sometimes blur together as just grey figures without standing out individually, but that is really a minor issue since there are only four Heroes on the board at any time.

The game also includes extra heavy cardboard components to be used in later expansions and for players to build their own Scenarios around. In fact, much of the game is set to be expanded upon (and Flying Frog has done well in setting up a number of future expansion elements).

The only problem that I have with the components on the whole is that the cards are too thick of a stock with a gloss over them that really makes it difficult to shuffle them.

It Fell From the Sky is a little disappointing in that the Scenario is not printed on the thick cardboard like the other supplements, but rather just on a sheet of paper. This makes drawing it as a random Scenario a little more tricky.

Zombies with Grave Weapons really is nothing more than a miniatures set to supplement Survival of the Fittest. My only problem with them is that some of them really don't stand out well enough to really stand out that they are your grave weapon zombies. I use these figures, but still put the counter beneath them to illustrate the point better, which kind of defeats the purpose of replacing the miniatures to begin with.

Playing the Game:

Game play is simple and intuitive. It does not take much to really get a feel for the game and how it plays. Strategies are really rather obvious as well. What makes the game different with every play is the randomness of it.

This may be a turn off to some players. Heroes move from 1 to 6 spaces a turn, so that's a huge range in movement. Combats are essentially a dice fest and "unlucky" players can be bogged down by bad rolls. Still, the game isn't looking to be a deep strategic monster, so the randomness does not take away from the game in my opinion.

The Scenarios themselves are relatively balanced, though a couple do tend to favor one side or another a bit. In particular, the Scenario of "Zombie Pillage" from the Zombie Pillage supplement has its balance completely dashed if the board section containing the Antiques Shop is in play. But these are minor problems, since it isn't a game that you feel like you've accomplished a great victory if you've won or are dashed and frustrated if you've lost. You are telling a story. That is what the game is about.

Some Scenarios do feature the potential of character elimination for the Heroes. Others have rules where "Heroes Replenish", meaning if their Hero dies, they draw a new one and start again. The latter Scenarios are probably best for situations where each Hero player is only controlling one Character.

Finally, one of the ways the Zombies could win in the base game was by depleting the Hero Deck. If they every forced the Hero Players to the point where there were no cards in their deck, they automatically lost. Since the base game had 60 cards in it, it was feasible. However, with all of the expansions included, the Hero Deck is now at 113 cards, that probably isn't going to happen. So it makes some of the Zombie cards kind of pointless (there are cards that force the Hero player to immediately discard a number of cards from their deck and if they run out of cards, they immediately lose).


The game plays from 2 to 6 players, but definitely has some "sweet spots". Personally, I think the game isn't as interesting for the Zombies if there are two zombie players. The Zombie Player really has much fewer options than the Hero player and halving their input to the game makes it feel even less fulfilling. In 2 player games, there is 1 Zombie Player and 1 Hero Player playing all 4 Heroes. In 3 player games, there is 1 Zombie Player and 2 Hero players each playing 2 Heroes. In five player games, there is 1 Zombie Player and 4 Hero player, each playing 1 Hero. Any other combination results in 2 Zombie Players which kind of weakens the zombie role.

Does the Wife Like It?:

The most important category. I play games without her, but she's an integral part of my core gaming group and my most frequent game partner. She's not a fan of horror movies and even less of a fan of bad zombie movies. However, the game really hits the right spot for her, provided that she is playing the Heroes. The role of the Zombie Player does not appeal to her at all, but I don't mind this because I am used to the DM role in all of our roleplaying games anyhow.

The thing that makes the game for her is the characters and the stories built in the game. Now, each character has their own preset backstory, but I've noticed from repeated plays that my wife has created more storylines in her head. I know which characters are dating or have secret crushes on the other characters, as those two characters become near inseparable, standing by one other to help protect one another (Apparently Billy is no longer dating Sally, but instead clings to Amanda, who does give benefits to being the same space as her. But that's okay, because Sally is a strong-minded and brave young girl who rushes out and is independent, taking on most of the fights herself. Of course, Billy's father, Sheriff Anderson is around to also act as bait and almost invariably becomes a Zombie Hero that Billy needs to take down and kill himself to overcome his father-son angst.).

So, yes, the wife loves this game. It is a great game to play during an weeknight evening and it works well with casual gamer friends and as a fun, lighter filler for our heavier gaming friends.

The Pros:

*A light fun game that tells an interesting story that is fun to play through.
*Great components and figures.
*Easy to learn and very easy game play where rule ambiguity only starts to comes into play once all of the expansions are added.
*It works as a gateway game.
*It plays in 60-90 minutes.
*A lot of variety and options to change up the games, especially once the expansions are added.
*Very easy to create user Scenarios and user Heroes.
*Expansions seem to hold the same level of component production value as the original, blending in well.
*Each expansion is well balanced, adding cards and components that balance one another out. So an expansion that adds 5 new Hero Cards also adds 5 new Zombie Cards of roughly the same power level.

The Cons:

*Two Zombie Players really reduces the effectiveness of a role that is already just a storytelling rule.
*Some players may not even like the feel of the seemingly more limited options of the Zombie Player.
*Some players will be turned off by the luck factor of card draws, dice movement and dicey combats.
*Some expansions feel overpriced for what they include.

Overall:Last Night on Earth:
Last Night on Earth is a fun, light game that tells a fun story. The Zombie player and Hero player roles differ in their feel and options present, but combine to give an overall presentation of a fun, exciting story. Dice and luck sometimes throw off the balance, but the Scenarios are inherently pretty balanced. We played this game a lot when we first got it, and after some new games came out, it sat on our shelf for a while. Recently, we brought it out for a light, quick game to play with some new players and had a blast and it had my wife and I talking afterwards and wondering why we stopped playing it. Ever since that weekend, it's been finding its way to our table again for our weeknight games and it has been a refreshing, fun blast from the past.


Growing Hunger:
Growing Hunger is a big box expansion and really the only "must-have" expansion of the group. It adds more Characters, cards and Scenarios. The only thing that counts against it and lowers its score overall is that the cost is close to that of the base game, but it really does not have the same sheer number of components as the base game. It really is needed to make the play fully rounded, but is priced a little high for what it physically includes.


Hero Pack 1:
Hero Pack 1 is a smaller supplement that includes some new characters that give more variety to the game in the sense of characters that can be played for the Heroes. Since the game really is more about the Heroes than the zombies, that isn't a bad thing. It's a bit expensive, however, for just a few new Heroes selections and a handful of new cards.


Survival of the Fittest:
Survival of the Fittest adds the most complexity to a rather simple game, but it still is not that difficult to learn. Out of the small-box supplemental expansions, this one offers the most variety and changes to the game and is the one that I would suggest to purchase after Growing Hunger if you are looking for the most variety in the game itself. The fact that it adds four Scenarios is a strong enough reason to get this expansion and it feels like the best value of money for playability and components for the small box expansions in my opinion.


Zombies With Grave Weapons Miniature Set:
Zombies With Grave Weapons really isn't a supplement to the main game, but rather for Survival of the Fittest. The miniatures are well sculpted and visually pleasing, but ultimately do not stand out quite enough for me to justify the price and usefulness of them to purchasing this instead of just using the Grave Weapons counters that came in SofF.


Radioactive Grave Dead:
Radioactive Grave Dead is really nothing more than just a single Scenario with extra zombie miniatures. Since Growing Hunger includes a third color of zombie figures, the Scenario here could have simply used them instead of producing green crystal zombies. The Scenario is printed on paper, which is disappointing, but the crystal zombies do look nice. But, it is unnecessary. This is really just for the collector or completist.


Stock Up:
Stock Up is one of three supplements that include 10 new cards and a cardboard Scenario. Personally, I think this is probably the dullest of the three Supplement Scenario packs, with the objectives being a little mundane and offering little new.


Revenge of the Dead:
Revenge of the Dead is another of the three supplemental Scenario packs that includes a cardboard Scenario card and 10 new cards. The Scenario isn't anything too sensational, but is rather just a slugfest between the zombies and Heroes.


Zombie Pillage:
Zombie Pillage is probably the most interesting of the supplemental Scenario packs and adds another cardboard Scenario and 10 new cards. The Scenario sets up an interesting variation to the game's objectives, but ultimately can be unbalanced if the Antiques Shop is in the building mix. Still, it is probably the strongest of the supplement packs.


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