By January 29, 2008

Last Night on Earth game review

Desire often trumps logic. Sometimes we want something so badly that we overlook flaws inherent in people, jobs, movies, or games. In my case, Last Night on Earth. The game seemed perfect: a co-operative, competitive table top game that pits human heroes against my favorite undead. The game comes with five different scenarios, eight different playable heroes, and a mostly-randomized set of map tiles that mean each game is just a little bit different from the last. LNoE comes a TON of awesome collateral such as an old truck, gasoline, and townsfolk tokens, and most importantly, a bunch of plastic zombies. The production value on this game is outstanding. With scenario titles like “Die, Zombie, Die!” how could we go wrong?

NOTE: at the time of this review, I had misread the rules. We were adding the hero fight dice together, which gave them a huge advantage. Any additional dice just ups the chance that a hero may be successful in combat. This is explicit in the rules, but six very experienced board gamers all failed to notice this amidst the rest of a poorly-written manual. In rereading the rest of my review, my complaints about the game still stand. Every game we have played of LNoE leaves someone frustrated. We actually played Illuminati as a joke during a gaming session and I had more fun playing it than Last Night on Earth.

The problem with Last Night on Earth is that it doesn’t play out like a zombie game at all. If you get to play the heroes, you’re in for a good time. You get to do a lot of stuff, like move around a lot, search for weapons and nifty items, trade things back and forth, heal each other, and generally have a grand time punching zombies to death or blowing them up with the dynamite you somehow found in the hospital. Even though each hero may only more or search once per turn, the zombies move so slowly that it’s easy to put together an arsenal that quickly puts zombie players on the defensive.

While the hero player is busy finding his second shotgun, the zombie player plods forward one space at a time. There is a maximum of fourteen zombies on the board at any given time. While I’m a big fan of shambling zombies, it is damn near impossible to trap a human player long enough to actually hurt them. There just aren’t enough zombies and they move too slowly. A human moves on a D6, so they might be able to move as far as six spaces away — six zombie turns!! And since LNoE’s scenarios have time limits measured in turns, zombie players know they aren’t going to finish the marathon necessary to actually catch up to someone … before they sprint away again.

There are some basic game mechanic flaws with the zombies that should have been resolved during playtesting. For example, zombie players get to see if they spawn new zombies every turn. You must roll higher than the current number of zombies on the board in order to spawn new ones. If there are twelve shamblers on the board you can just skip this step. IF you are lucky enough to bring in reinforcements, they must be placed evenly at zombie “spawning pits,” most of which are pre-designated on the game board.

This is a horrible rule for zombie players. Most of the time you only get to respawn two to four zombies, and instead of being near the action you have to place them as evenly as possible on the game board. Remember that zombies move one space per turn? Good luck getting reinforcements to the barn in time. What’s worse is that certain zombie action cards force you to open MORE spawning pits at random locations. This further dilutes your ability to place new zombies close to the action.

Yes, there are action cards that help the zombies move faster (one at a time) or en masse (D6 zombies move forward an extra space and then move as normal). Yes, zombies can — often temporarily — overrun a building so that heroes can no longer enter there and search. But these things are random and preventable by a hero player with good timing or equipment.

As I mentioned before, the hero characters can get equipment or abilities that REALLY make them zombie-killing machines. The priest character can gain “Faith,” which allows him to roll one extra D6 when fighting zombies. Heroes get to roll 2D6 by default; zombies roll 1D6. Zombies wound (not kill!) heroes if they have the highest roll or tie. Heroes push zombies away on a high roll, or kill them if they get a high roll plus roll doubles. My priest found Faith and charged into a mess of zombies. He beat two to death on the first turn and killed the other two in the following two turns. The zombies never touched him once. I’m not good at this numbers thing, but what are the chances of a human player rolling all ones and then the zombie player rolling at least a three?

Weaponry makes the game even easier for the hero players. Heroes may shoot through walls that they are adjacent to via imaginary “windows” or holes in the walls made by relentless undead. The dynamite card is ridiculously over-powered. Hero players can blow up any square up to two squares away by rolling two or greater on a D6. Remember all those fucking zombies you spent six turns moving to the high school? Dead, in one turn. Oh, you wanted to avoid getting blown up next time and spread your zombies out? Father Asswhooping just circle-strafed them with his fists.

I really want to like LNoE. I really do. But in five games played, the humans have won four times. Quite a bit different from the genre that is based on fatalism and overwhelming odds against humanity. It got to the point that zombie players would try to move away from the heroes.

This game needs a lot to fix it, but here are some ideas:

  • Double the zombies. At least.
  • Slow humans down to move three spaces per turn, with one less space moved per wound.
  • “Youth” hero characters cannot heal themselves by skipping a move action.
  • Zombies must start out the game evenly, but may be placed on spawning pits in any quantity thereafter.

Last Night on Earth has gained the dubious distinction of being one of the games in the house that people don’t want to play. Sure, some nights we feel more like Settlers of Catan than Monopoly, but rarely does anyone flat out say “I don’t want to play that game. Ever.” In fact, Illuminati might be the only other game in my collection that has garnered such a reaction.

I’d really love to love Last Night on Earth, but the game just doesn’t click. I’ve supported the publisher by buying their Web-only mini-expansion, and will probably buy their retail expansion, but I wish the zombies stood a better chance. As is, whomever gets the zombie side is in for a lot of twiddling their thumbs while the hero player does all sorts of fun shit … and then kills them.

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24 Comments on "Last Night on Earth game review"

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  1. Ed says:

    But, illuminati is a great game!

    Hmm, and it sounds like this game needs house rules like mad.

  2. drfaulken says:

    Illuminati is one of those games where one person wants to play it, and everyone else in the room groans. It’s a game that you have to gear up for, and in most of our pick-up sessions there isn’t enough testosterone and ill-will to play. Stilts keeps wanting to play, but I’m just not up for it.

  3. bob says:

    Are you overlooking the rule that says Zombies can walk through walls? (This simulates all those movies where the Zombie bursts up out of the floor, or crashes in through a window.) With the heroes having to manouver around walls, and in and out of doors, while the Zombies can move in a straight line to anywhere they want, it usually difficult for the heroes to stay more than a step or two ahead of the Zombies.

  4. drfaulken says:

    Hi Rob!

    Nope, we move ‘em through walls and diagonally, too. Unless a hero rolls a 1, they can skip away quite easily. And since a hero can move away from zombies at the start of a turn, having one or two undead bust through a wall and attack them isn’t enough to actually kill a hero.

  5. drfaulken says:

    Hey Vin,

    We haven’t really played LNoE after my review. I did buy the Web-only expansion, but haven’t felt the urge to play it. It’s really a shame. The production value is great, but the game isn’t much fun. At least, if you’re playing the zombies.

    If you could find it for less than $40 shipped you might give it a run. I love the zombie genre, so I kind of consider LNoE my “zombie and independent game company” tax of 2008. ;)

    In regards to other interesting board games, what do you already have, and what types of games do your friends like to play? Do you generally have a mix of gamers, like those who are hardcore into games and those who aren’t? Do your friends like co-operative, team, or PvP/head to head type games? Any kids in the mix?

    There are a lot of experienced board gamers on this site, so if you can provide us with some more background with your environment I am sure we can get you going in the right direction.

  6. athugnamedvin says:

    hey drfaulken! i being wanting LNoE like crazy eh past few days and came across your review. i think ill still try it out anyhow… do you think its even worthwhile? also what are some other interesting games that you would recommend? (im pretty new to the whole board game thing other than the popular originals)
    -Vinny

  7. athugnamedvin says:

    i really dont have many games and my friends are definetly not big gamers… i have friends into video games and magic the gathering but not really board games so much. my girl friend and i like to play zombie fluxx and scrabble alot and also like games like pictionary and cranium tho i like more of a board game type game sometime. ive always liked adventure type games as a kid i liked stratego and always liked zombies and other horror themes. i did some research on games last night and i think hoity toity looks like a pretty cool game and santiago looks pretty interesting for a simple game but im just looking for direction in what is good since i its all new to me. so i guess just recommend something and ill see if i like it. thank you very much – Vinny

  8. drfaulken says:

    Hey Vin,

    Check out Zombies!!!, it’s a very small, quick, simple game that you might enjoy. It’s not a horror theme, but Settlers of Catan is a favorite at just about every gamer’s home.

    I did a review of Hoity Toity in case you haven’t read it yet. It was okay for $10, but I wouldn’t buy it at retail.

    Good luck, let us know what you decide!

  9. athugnamedvin says:

    ha, sweet! thank you very much will let you know as soon as i get some games.

    -Vinny

  10. athugnamedvin says:

    i got Zombies!!! yesterday and played it tonight with some friends and i thought it was fun. i bet its even better with some expansions. thanks alot.
    i also looked into settlers of cantan and know it will be a future purchase. tho hopefully ill still have friends to play these games with in a few months (joined the air force). thanks again
    -Vinny

  11. Stefan says:

    Hi there,
    played our first game last night. Really didn’t kick in. I think I will houserule the Zombies up a bit…

  12. G Ramon Gomez says:

    I think you misread the combat rules, and are making tactical mistakes as the zombies.

    A hero with Faith doesn’t roll 3d6 and add it all together. No matter how many dice you have, you only use the highest one. So, even if you roll all 6s, if the zombie player rolls a six, the hero LOSES.
    Even *with* the Faith card, I’ve lost many battles against the zombies.
    Hand-to-hand combat with the zombies is no fun. Your chances of taking them down are way better with a handgun of some sort.

    The zombies don’t have to kill the heroes to win. Sure, that’s gratifying, but the heroes lose if the turns run out and they don’t complete the scenario objectives.

    Also, if your zombie player isn’t using *all* of their cards every turn, then they’re doing something wrong. They get a whole new hand every turn.

    Really, the cards are stacked in the zombie player’s favor. All they have to do is slow the heroes down long enough to keep them from accomplishing their goals.

  13. Jimbob Jones says:

    Honestly, I’ve played three times (varying sides), and it was a pretty close game each time. Maybe you just weren’t playing it right?

    This game kicks the hell out of Zombies!!! in every conceivable way (and, yes, I own Zombies and a number of the expansions for it). Granted, I haven’t played it with a large group, but with small groups, it’s a helluva lot of fun.

  14. drfaulken says:

    Hi Jimbob! You could well be right. The rules aren’t very well written, and it could be that we are over-interpreting some rules and/or just outplaying the game’s intentions.

    I can’t help but think that we are playing right, though. Some games are just busted, and once you find an exploit in a game mechanic it ruins the game unless you lure newbies in who don’t know how to play.

  15. Rodney says:

    I played this for the first time last night, and I found the exact opposite to be true – the game is very much in the zombie’s favor.

    We had four heroes against one zombie player. The first turn she milled the top 10 cards off the hero deck. Weirdly enough, a lot of weapons were discarded off the bat. Thus for each turn it seemed as though we never got any weapons.

    Once we did get guns, we would roll 1’s, which would force us to discard our weapons. The one time I got a shot off with a shotgun, the zombie player played a card forcing me to discard my shotgun before I could fire at the other zombies in the group.

    Which brings me to the next point – she ran them in packs. I’m not sure if we did it right, but when she ran them in packs, she rolled one die for EACH zombie.

    My last point is that she used cards to speed her zombies up. When we thought we had a few turns to search a building, we immediately found ourselves surrounded by zombies with no escape!

    After the game, a lot of people said that they didn’t like it – because the zombies were broken! Granted, we played the scenario where we had to kill 15 zombies by turn 15. I think that if we played a scenario where we had to simply survive, then maybe the game would have faired better.

    The zombies in this game are hardcore…maybe you’re playing wrong?

  16. drfaulken says:

    Hi Rodney,

    Try these tips for next time, you may fare drastically better:

    1) Milling weapons into the discard pile sometimes works in the human team’s favor. You may have a board setup where you can just go into a structure and pick the weapon out of the discard pile. This is MUCH better than wasting a turn searching to get something you don’t want.

    2) If you are getting swarmed as the human team, you are doing something horribly wrong. There aren’t enough zombies to effectively engage all four human characters. Our games see two humans sticking together, and the other two characters running to different parts of the board to search. It’s impossible for the zombie player to swarm more than one character at a time this way, at most. The mass zombie speed-up card only allows for you to move D6 number of zombies one extra space. Are you sure you weren’t applying the “rushing zombie” card to more than one zombie? Who cares if one zombie closes to range? Move away next turn after they fail to inflict any damage.

    You say there’s “no escape” from zombies. You can’t be both blocked by zombies and in danger of being injured at the same time. If the zombie player lines up a bunch of zombies at exits to keep the humans from escaping, then they have a statistically low chance of hurting a human. If you bunch them up so that multiple zombies combat a human at the same time (for a higher probability of scoring a hit) then the human player can simply move away the next turn.

    Killing 15 zombies is probably the easiest scenario for the humans to win. Did you try using dynamite? Now that’s broken.

    I don’t think we’re playing the game wrong at all; I think we’ve figured out the game’s weakness and now no one wants to play otherwise.

  17. Peter says:

    It can be difficult trapping humans, but all the zombie player has to do is herd the heroes into a building and send small waves of zombies at them. If the heroes run into a zombie, they stop. After that, you swarm them. Statistically its very hard actually killing zombies without using a ranged weapon or the chainsaw, especially with the zombie cards forcing rerolls and the like. Since the heroes have to fight zombies in their square twice a turn (once on the hero’s turn, once on the zombie turn) it can get ugly very quickly

  18. Mark Okke says:

    I own the original and the expansion and the special web cards and all I can say is that this game is really fun….this game is a satire on the 80’s and 90’s zombie movies. My oldest son, who is 14, brings his friends over and we play this game a lot on the weekends. Sometimes the human players can dominate but at the same time a game can totally shift in the zombies favor. I myself prefer playing the zombie player because I can control way more stuff. It’s a great game but it takes a fun crowd to play it.

  19. Larkin says:

    It is sad you based your review on your misunderstanding of combat rules. General consensus on boardgamegeek.com is that the game is balanced, of course with some deviations for the different scenarios and the luck factor.

  20. roclar says:

    Why is it sad? The rules documentation does leave some ambiguity upon a cursory examination. I would have liked to seen more rules documentation perhaps with more examples.

    DrFaulken eventually found the misunderstanding and recently commented on it.

  21. Cape says:

    Just wanted to let anyone reading this review know that Faulken completely misunderstood the rules of the game, and has since learned as much. Roclar pointed to the new review, which is quite positive.

    It’s a shame that this review is one of the first things to pop up when “last night on earth review” is searched on google. I’m sure a lot of people have refrained from buying the game based on this (incorrect) interpretation of the rules.

    I urge you to addend this review with an explanation of the mistake you made DrFaulken, because I almost did not buy the game after seeing this review. Good thing I read some other ones as well.

  22. drfaulken says:

    Decent point, Cape, and I will edit the initial review.

  23. Jeff says:

    drfaulken, thanx for the review i recently bought this game over zombies!! at the suggestion of the store owner. Personally i have read the instructions three times, and i still can’t understand them. This is the first post i have read that was even honest about the instructions. I checked boardgame geek and found the reviews so fanboy i disregarded it immediately and wish i would have found this a day earlier. Sorry about spelling.

  24. Jon says:

    I have to disagree with this review whole-heatedly. Last Night on Earth has been a huge hit in my gaming circle. Pacing, the sound track, and the huge element of luck are its three major flaws, in my opinion. Otherwise it’s always a joy.

    The rules, for the most part, are in plain English. If you’re hung up on any one rule, you’re probably thinking too hard. The game is designed after B-rated horror flicks, so think what would happen in real-life/movie and make a ruling based on that. BoardGameGeek and TheZombieGame.com are excellent conduits for rule inquiries. Chances are your questions are answered in the FAQs available on these sites.

    Other than that, of COURSE there’s always someone frustrated with the game in the end. I bet it’s the losing player too. Never get complaints from the winning team.

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