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Reviews - Last Night on Earth
 
by Lee Valentine


Last Night on EarthLast Night on Earth
Published by Flying Frog Productions, LLC
Designed by Jason C. Hill
Released October 2007
$49.95

This game is featured in our 2007 OgreCave Christmas Gift Guide.

If you've been living in your gamer cave then maybe you haven't heard about Last Night on Earth: The Zombie Game. It's a tense, interesting horror board game that is dedicated to simulating all the fun of a B-movie zombiefest. LNOE is the first entry of newcomer Flying Frog Productions, and its lead designer Jason C. Hill.

Flying Frog could have practically filmed a zombie film while they were making the game. Actors in "hero", "townsfolk", and "zombie" makeup and costumes were all photographed for the various cards and box images. The imagery adds substantially to the B-movie horror theme espoused by the game.

The game can be played with 2 to 6 players in 60 to 90 minutes. Most of this review will focus on the two-player mode of play, where one player plays the heroes and the other player controls all the zombies. The zombie controls up to 14 zombie miniatures, and the hero controls up to 4 (out of 8) different hero miniatures per game.

Board and Scenarios
The LNOE game board is modular. It is made up of a single, double-sided square board, and 6 L-shaped boards. Four of the L-shaped boards are randomly selected for each game, and arranged around the central square board. The result is a large square board. Each of the L-shaped boards features a variety of genre appropriate buildings and locales such as the church, the gymnasium, the cornfield, and the police headquarters. The central square board is usually played with the town square side up, a map largely devoid of details. The reverse side of the square board features a fairly detailed manor house which is obviously used for that last resort stand in the house featured in Night of the Living Dead.

The game board's modular design allows for a variety of different starting configurations for the heroes and zombies. More than just distinctions in board layout, replayability of LNOE focuses on scenarios and play objectives. Each scenario requires that the heroes complete certain objectives within a specific amount of time. Some use special object cards and tokens provided in the game. For example, there's a pickup truck cutout that's placed in the center of the board in one scenario, and the heroes have to find the keys and gas up the truck before dawn.

Each scenario is timed using a special counter track. It's a sort of night-to-dawn time track. In the darkest half of the track, if a hero is killed by a zombie, he becomes a sort of super-zombie himself (called a "Zombie Hero"), placed under the control of the Zombie Player.

The game comes with a variety of scenario cards with information specific to each scenario. Two more free scenarios are available online from Flying Frog, one of which utilizes all 6 of the L-shaped boards plus the square board (I hope you have a big table). The game comes with a variety of counters and tokens suitable for generating homebrew scenarios that range from supernatural zombies to biohazard zombie stories. The modularity of the game and the scenario-creation potential will give this game a lot of replay value. I found this aspect of the game reminiscent of Betrayal at the House on the Hill or the downloadable PDF game Zombie Plague (with its fan-created scenarios), but I prefer the cleaner mechanics and scenario handling of LNOE.

Which characters and locations you have in play can really affect how the game plays out, as all characters have standard starting locations and some have special powers or effects usable only in certain locations. A well-armed farm girl in the cornfield is a good way to mow down zombies in America's heartland.

Gameplay
LNOE requires a fair bit of dice rolling, adding in a fair bit of luck, making this a decidedly American-style game (rather than a Eurogame). Movement is one of the most common sources of dice rolling. Zombies move only one space per turn, but can crawl up through the floor boards, allowing them to ignore building walls when moving. Heroes can't walk through walls and each one rolls 1D6 for movement, allowing the hero to move up to that many squares in any direction.

Another element of luck comes from zombie spawning. The Zombie Player starts with 2D6 zombies spread out across Zombie Spawning Pits. On subsequent turns, the Zombie Player has to roll higher on 2D6 than his number of current zombies. If he does, then he gets to roll 1D6 and add that many zombies to the board (up to 14 total).

Combat is another dice-centric part of the game, that's tense and fast. Even when multiple zombies attack a single character, fights are handled one-by-one, with one zombie vs. one hero. Heroes roll 2D6, and pick their single highest die. Zombies roll 1D6 and compare to the hero's die. If the zombie's roll equal to or higher than the hero's roll, then the hero takes a Wound (heroes can take either 2 or 3 wounds before dying, depending on the hero in question). If the hero's roll is higher then the zombie is fended off (i.e., that one fight is a draw). If the hero rolled higher and rolled doubles the zombie is generally killed.

The luck of the dice is balanced by the play of cards. The Zombie Player has 4 Zombie cards to play during each of his turns. The Heroes have no free cards, but each character can either Move or Search each turn. Searching happens only in buildings and lets the player draw a card for the character. If the card is an Event card then it is generally kept until needed. If it is an Item or Weapon card then it is played on the Searching character. Weapons dramatically improve a hero's chance of survival, although some have a chance of running out of ammo or breaking during combat. Zombies don't get Items or Weapons typically, but their cards can be used to provide the Zombie player with a variety of temporary or permanent advantages and plot twists affecting the heroes.

I normally prefer games of skill to those of luck, but in LNOE, the cards kept the strategy flowing, while the luck really added a lot of dramatic tension. Even in movement, you get those "go on without me" moments where one hero rolls abysmally low for movement and the whole group of characters will be doomed if they slow down to save the character who is lagging behind. In scenarios where the heroes don't have to save everyone to win, offering up one of the heroes as a zombie snack while the rest escape can be one of the key strategies of the game.

Component Quality
The game cards were simultaneously the best part of the game and a down-side of the game. The cards were clever, had evocative images and names, and had simple, interesting mechanics on them. The images and layout were mostly of high quality, but some of the images which were clear in the rulebook were repeated on some cards, in some instances with muddier, darker results. Further, the game cards were practically stuck together when I first removed them from the shrink-wrap. This seemed to be a sign of the cards being collated before the press coat on the cards was fully dried. Even after exceptional care separating them, some cards had slightly mottled edges on their faces. Two cards had machine damage on their backs which effectively marked the cards. I expect some of these card problems will be resolved during the second printing.

The cards themselves have been printed on a very thick stock, but didn't have the spring of true playing card stock. As a result, they are sturdy, but care needs to be taken when shuffling them, as they are thick enough that rough handling could result in some creasing instead of merely flexing the cards. The thickness of the cards will, however, provide greater protection for the cards during casual handling.

The game miniatures were very interesting and well sculpted in plastic. Zombies come in two colors - green and brown. The color distinctions are only used in multi-player play so that zombies can be divided among two Zombie players. All hero miniatures are gray. There are three different sculpts for the zombies and 8 different sculpts for the heroes. Some of the miniatures for the heroes were not differentiated enough, and this may cause some confusion in play. For example, two of the male heroes are sculpted at a similar height, in gray plastic, and both were wearing jackets. The characters have different weapons, so once you figure that out then things are a little easier. These miniatures have sufficient detail in their sculpting that they would be very attractive if a competent consumer painted them, and at that point they would be easily distinguishable.

Other than these complaints, the components are universally of very high quality, both in terms of presentation and construction. The rulebook is a gorgeous full-color, 24 page beauty. The rules are simple and the rulebook does a good job of presenting most things, but there are a few things that aren't perfectly clear. Fans of the game on BoardGameGeek.Com have compiled a list of frequently asked questions and answers, a link to which is provided at the end of this article. I found the FAQ really necessary for one or two cards in the game, but overall the game's rules are easy to learn and teach.

The game box allows for the components to be neatly organized. The box has a plastic insert that allows the components to be sorted and stored. The wells to hold the card decks are not quite deep enough and so if the game box is tilted a little bit the cards tend to slight around in the box. Thoughtfully, Flying Frog has included an extra card well and some extra space in the box, presumably for later expansions.

Novel to most games, LNOE comes with its own soundtrack featuring music by Mary Beth Magallanes. Largely techno or piano, the soundtrack is definitely of a professional but not exceptional quality. The music is all interesting, but not all of it is particularly appropriate to the zombie movie genre. In a zombie movie you expect some menacing or really dark music. Only one track on the soundtrack really felt like a song from a zombie movie. An operatic singer named Sunshine Jenny provides some very haunting vocals for several of the pieces, and Magallanes does a good job of putting together some interesting music to accompany here, but often these pieces seem more appropriate to a demon-possession movie than a zombie movie. Nevertheless, some will really enjoy the soundtrack, and since it's not required for play, it will never detract from the game experience.

Multiplayer Play
While LNOE can nominally be played by up to 6 players, it does so by dividing the zombies, characters, and cards up between multiple players. While this should give a nice team-based cooperative gaming experience, it does effectively divide the strategic decisions into many hands without adding any new strategies. I therefore feel that LNOE is really best played by 2 or 3 people, and that any more than that will be fun socially, but only of strategic interest for people who enjoy lighter games.

Conclusions
For retailers, put this game in your stock for sure. Display it cover out and the game will sell itself to interested parties. Its cover is simply a cut above most horror games on the market. LNOE is sure to be great for demos. Unfortunately, it is so large when setup that it's just plain unsuitable for unscheduled counter demos. Do make the time to set aside a table and a slot for free gaming. I bet you that your conversion rate on sales will be worth the effort. While this was a perfect Halloween game, I think it's going to be a strong seller throughout 2008 as well. It's probably going to be the closest thing an indie game will ever come to being an "evergreen" product for some game stores.

Last Night on Earth is one of the hottest indie games of the year, and is currently out of stock as of November 2007, but it should be available in its second printing by the end of 2007. In 2008 the game line will feature Growing Hunger, an expansion for LNOE with more cards and more boards.

With striking components, a popular theme, and a fun rules set that does an admirable job of emulating zombie horror films, I strongly recommend Last Night on Earth. LNOE is easily one of the best games I have played in 2007. It's a lot of fun and easy to teach to your friends. Put it on your holiday shopping lists. At $49.95 it is not cheap, but you are getting what you pay for. I also recommend that instead of shopping on Ebay you wait a few weeks for the second printing, in hopes that some of the problems with the card varnish can be overcome.

Lee's ratings:

Overall Score: B+ (A- with improved card quality)
Rulebook and Card Clarity: B
Ease of Learning: B+
Replay Value: A-
Components: A- (B for cards due to problems with manufacturing)
Retailer Salability: A- if displayed and demo'd
Time to Learn: 10-20 minutes

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