Last Night on Earth: The Zombie Game
Time: ~70 minutes
Times Played: 8
Last Night on Earth: The Zombie Game (LNoE) is a B-movie rolled into a board game for an hour and some change. This game came out in 2007, right before zombies became the ‘it’ villain in popular culture so while the theme might not resonate with us in 2018, it wasn’t as over-saturated a decade ago.
This is a game where your interest lies solely in its theme. As it’s 2018, a dump truck of zombie-themed games have since hit shelves since LNoE has been released and maybe you’re tired of them or maybe you’re clamoring for another opportunity to put down the undead. Or maybe you’re overwhelmed with the possible choices out there and are wondering if this game has the staying power that other games do not.
Unlike some other games, LNoE leans on the B-movie trope like it’s a crutch and it has two broken legs. It’s campy and silly and story-driven and highly thematic. You won’t find deep, meaningful euro-style strategic decisions to be made. That’s incredibly okay as long as you know that going into the game.
The game will split players into two distinctive groups. They will either be the heroes or the zombies themselves. Both have different rules and ways to move and fight and I cannot recommend The Esoteric Order of Gamers rule summary enough for an easy run through of what the game has in order for everyone. They also do a better job than I could do explaining as well.
But I will try to explain what the game looks like from a gameplay perspective briefly. The zombie player(s) and the hero player(s) will alternate turns. Zombie player(s) is trying to eat the hero(es) by advancing one space and attacking anything in its zone. Heroes are moving, searching, attacking, and trying to succeed at objectives unique to the scenario. That’s the short of it.
As I won’t be going into the actual rules too in-depth, I want to spend some time on what will frustrate players before getting around to the good stuff.
As LNoE is a highly thematic game (I liken it to Betrayal at House on the Hill but a little less fiddly), your group will play a heavy role in how enjoyable the game is. Do they get into character and see that a low role for movement is their character stumbling or panicking or do they blame the dice for not letting them act and hindering their actions? Do they like the character tropes or do they find them dated and irritating?
LNoE pits players against one another and that may not be for everyone. They may not want to be the lone zombie player or be forced to manage multiple heroes by themselves. It could be an overwhelming amount of information and record keeping to keep track of. They may not like having to directly combat their friends either. Many of us have no issue mowing down the undead but don’t like games where you’re pitted in a direct competition against a friend. The inverse could be true as well where players are so used to playing against one another that they want more strategy and want to be more in control of their actions.
Luck plays a heavy part in the game, from the multitude of dice rolls to the card draws. LNoE is a relic of a distant time as it relies on rolling a lot of dice to do anything. The dice rolls can make a scenario end quickly as it seems like the characters have laser-sighted weapons or drag out scenarios into unwinnable experiences as players try to cut down zombies with weapons that have as much lethal force as a stress ball. The same can be said for the zombie player(s). The card draws also have the same ability to influence the game as players may find exactly what they need on their first search, which can end a scenario in a fifth of the typical gameplay time. The inverse is true too where players may search and search and search but find the item(s) they need too late for them to do anything with them. This luck can make the scenarios and experiences seem like one-sided affairs.
Regarding balance, this is also a game where an experienced player will fare far better than an inexperienced one. While the depth and strategy isn’t as heavy as a Terraforming Mars, experienced players will know the luck and randomness and just the general gameplay that sits before them and do what they can to mitigate that better than a player playing for their first or second times.
The rules can be iffy and vague at times when cards are put into play. As the game has been out for quite some time now, there are numerous FAQ’s and errata’s available online and discussion posts that more than likely answer the question you have. This is nice, but you will have to search for the answer and that may put people off that just want to glance at a rulebook and go. There was a tenth anniversary edition released that may have addressed these issues (but I cannot speak for certain regarding that).
Lastly there’s the theme. In 2007, the world was not as fully entrenched in the undead lore as they would be. The Walking Dead TV show wouldn’t air until 2010. The comic that it was adapted from had the characters still maintaining life at the prison (TPB 7). Call of Duty wouldn’t introduce Nazi Zombies for another year. Zombicide was still five years away. But it’s 2018 now. The Walking Dead TV show is seeing star Andrew Lincoln leave the franchise while the comic rumbles on past TPB 30. Five different Call of Duty games feature some implementation of zombies. Zombicide produced so many games with the undead that they moved to using aliens as the antagonist. It’s a tired trope at this point. That’s no fault of the game at all but it does bare mentioning as players may be burnt out on the living dead.
So that’s a lot that this game has going against it…so what makes this stand out still after eleven years?
While the theme has been done to death, it’s still engaging and relishes in its campiness. I believe I’m interacting with a low budget movie storyline or an Orson Wells broadcast. It makes the rules easy to grasp and the gameplay easy to follow as all you have to think about is “what would happen next on the Scy-Fy channel?”
The modular set-up of the town helps keep the game fresh and while there are only a few scenarios, the game has an active fanbase that creates new scenarios and posts them on BGG with regularity. While not all are hits, there’s more than enough to keep players invested. With the randomness of card draws and the switching of roles and characters, the game stays fairly fresh.
The heroes, while stereotypes of typical media tropes, have enough character and charm to them that they feel different and offer different ways to approach the game. The balance for the characters is fairly well done and while some are definitely better than others (such as the Nurse and Sheriff Anderson), no character is bad enough that you’re hindered by playing as them, especially since the game has so many heroes active at once. What I think really makes the game shine though, is that everyone ranks their heroes effectiveness differently. One list will have Nurse Becky near the top while another views her as one of the worst characters.
Commitment wise, LNoE plays in roughly an hour or less, which is surprising for a game of this scope and as deeply thematic as it is. I never feel like I’m waiting for the game to end and while this isn’t a go-to game of mine, I have no problem playing a second game back-to-back.
There’s no player elimination either. If a character loses their hero, they just get another one! What’s not to like about that?
This game gets better with experience. Having two sides that have played enough to know the strengths and weaknesses of the zombies, humans, and scenarios creates this thematic chess match (with a good amount of luck and randomness thrown in). LNoE can create memories and lasting experiences
The components for the game are great, which is incredibly impressive as this was the first game Flying Frog Productions ever produced. The map tiles are thick and sturdy and allow for a unique and modular playing surface with each game and the cards are of high quality with a gloss finish. The cards will stick together the first few times the game is played but in our experience, no harm occurred to the cards and the ‘stickiness’ disappeared after four or five plays.
The miniatures are standard tabletop style and are easy to spruce up by painting (if that’s your thing). LNoE also comes with a CD that is a sound track for the game. The music and ambiance help create and immerse players in the theme of the game. The soundtrack can also be found on YouTube for those of us without CD players. I could not find a Spotify playlist (if there even is one). This is a small part of the bundle that you buy that just goes to show how thematic Flying Frog Productions wanted to make the game. We don’t play with the soundtrack every time (or even most of the time) but when we do, it does help boost our engagement a little more.
One grey area is player count. The game fits two- to six-players but the sweet spot is five-players. This can definitely be played with less but then players are managing more than one hero (which can be too much for some players). Six-players might be too many and can slow down the zombie player(s) as they need to coordinate, causing the game to run a little long. Three- and five-players is in my opinion the only time to bring LNoE out.
There are a ton of reasons not to like LNoE (the dice rolling to move, the luck factor, the unbalanced nature of the two sides) but against all odds it works and the game is fun. If you’re looking for a highly strategic euro-style game or something where you can plan in advance your actions for the coming rounds, you’ll be greatly disappointed but if you’re looking to throw some dice while acting out a B-level horror script, Last Night on Earth will scratch that itch. Even better, once you exhaust the base scenarios, there are several expansions and supplements to give the game fresh legs.