Overview: The small town of Woodinvale has a bit of a problem: the shambling undead. Last Night on Earth pits zombies versus four heroes in a number of different scenarios in a board game that plays out like a horror movie. (There’s even a soundtrack included to help you set the mood.) With a number of excellent expansions, LNoE is hands-down the best zombie board game available.
Players: 2 to 6 players (I recommend 5 max—see “Gameplay” below)
Ages: 12 and up, largely because of the horror themes
Playing Time: 60 to 90 minutes
Retail: $49.95 for base game, expansion set prices vary
Rating: Mnnrraaaaaaaaarrrgh! (That’s zombie-speak for “awesome.”)
Who Will Like It? If you like zombies, zombie movies, board games, little plastic figurines and dice, you’ll dig Last Night on Earth.
I’ll just warn you here—I like this game a lot, so I’m rather long-winded about it. So here’s the short version: If you like zombies, you’ll probably like it too.
Flying Frog Productions is, as art director and co-founder Scott Hill told me, a bunch of people who love horror movies. So they hired actors, applied make up, made props and sets, got out the fog machines—and made a board game. Instead of illustrations, the images in LNoE are all photographs, and you can tell that these folks know their zombie tropes and are having a lot of fun with them. From the characters to the event cards to the different scenarios, everything about the game helps you feel like you’re in a zombie movie, whether you’re playing the part of the heroes or the zombies.
There are Hero Cards and Zombie Cards, with fantastic photography and often little quotes to help set the scene. The scenarios range from the basic “Die, Zombies Die!” (kill 15 zombies before sundown) to “Escape in the Truck” (find the gasoline and keys, and make it back to the truck alive), and each one puts you right in the middle of the action.
Of all the games I own, LNoE has one of the strongest themes—while you’re playing you really feel like you’re there. That’s not to say the gameplay is better than everything else, but when you’re playing Carcassonne (which is a fantastic game) you don’t necessarily feel like you’re actually knights and robbers and monks. LNoE draws you in unlike most other games I’ve played.
You get a whole lot of stuff with the base game: 14 plastic zombies and 8 heroes, a modular gameboard (6 L-shaped boards and a center piece), 120 cards (Zombie Cards and Hero Cards, divided into basic and advanced versions), 16 dice, a soundtrack, 8 cardboard Character cards, 5 cardboard Game Scenario cards, and a huge pile of cardboard counters and tokens.
The quality of the components is pretty good—the heavy character cards are very sturdy and all the tokens and board pieces are made of the same hefty stock. The cards are plastic-coated which makes them pretty durable but they have a tendency to stick to each other and are a bit hard to shuffle. One of the great things about the game is that they threw in a lot of extras even in the base game: a lot of the counters and tokens aren’t even for specific expansions, but they’re included so you can make your own scenarios or use them in new scenarios that Flying Frog releases on their website.
The soundtrack CD is a fun touch—it’s instrumental and can be played as background music. My only complaint there was that it’s too short for the game, lasting about half an hour. They do have a Special Edition soundtrack which is longer and comes with two exclusive cards, but I only found out about that recently.
With the modular game boards, various scenarios to choose from, and a random draw of four heroes, there’s a lot of variability to make each game a little different. I should note that the game includes six of the L-shaped corner boards but you only use four each time so that’s an additional source of variety.
There are always four heroes, so you can have one, two or four people playing the heroes. You’ll need one or two people controlling the zombies, too, so you can get between two and six people playing depending on how you divide them up. However, I’ve found that the zombie players don’t really have as much strategizing to do so my gaming group really prefers to have just one zombie player against the heroes.
Each scenario has a set number of rounds, marked by a sun tracker, and different goals for each team. Zombies automatically win if they’ve killed four Heroes or discarded the last card in the Hero Deck, in addition to whatever the scenario goal is.
Once everything is set up and everyone is in place, the two teams take turns. Zombies draw new cards if necessary, roll to see if they’ll get to spawn more at the end of the turn, and then move. These are your old-school, shambling zombies and not the speedy sort, so each zombie only moves one space unless special cards come into play. In addition, because of their insatiable zombie hunger, if they’re within one space of Heroes they must move towards them. Any zombies that end up sharing a space with Heroes then fight, which is resolved through die rolls (and any cards that either team can play during the fight).
During the Hero turn, all four heroes will get to take their actions in any order. You roll a d6 to move, but you can also give up moving in order to search a building if you’re in one, which lets you draw a card from the deck. Some buildings also have special rules for picking out specific cards from the discard pile, which is handy. After moving (or searching), you can also exchange items with other Heroes in the same space, shoot ranged weapons like pistols and shotguns. And then, if there are any zombies left in your space, you fight them.
There is a lot of die-rolling involved, so gamers who don’t like those might be a little disappointed. Still, there are enough cards that modify die rolls, allow you to re-roll, or even cancel events entirely so you can still work in some strategy. And of course, everyone knows that surviving a zombie apocalypse isn’t something you can come up with a perfect strategy for—there’s always that element of luck, right?
That’s basically it. Heroes can usually take two or three wounds before they die, and there are first aid kits and other ways to heal. Zombies are usually just fended off on a successful die roll, and only killed if you roll doubles (or use a weapon against them). Each of the Heroes also has special abilities that come into play, so making the most of your team’s abilities is important for the Heroes.
If you want to see the entire rulebook for yourself, you can check out the Flying Frog Wiki (which also has info about all the other characters, as well as descriptions of all the cards).
The game takes about an hour to play (sometimes up to 2 hours, depending on how quickly players make their decisions), and it’s usually a pretty good balance between the humans and the zombies, which makes for a great game and increases the sense that you’re in a zombie movie. In most games I’ve played, the Heroes just barely scrape out a victory, or are defeated by a narrow margin.
When I was still getting started with my board game collection, I was debating between a couple of zombie-themed board games. The fine folks at Tabletop Game and Hobby (I was visiting Kansas City at the time) pointed me toward LNoE, one that I’d seen on the shelves but hadn’t ever played. I was a little hesitant about shelling out fifty bucks for a game I hadn’t ever seen in action, but I decided to take a chance on it.
Since then, LNoE has become one of my game night standards. We don’t play it every time, but it hits the table pretty often if I don’t have other games in the queue to review. Not everyone likes it (in particular, some people just don’t like cooperative games so they’ll only play as the lone zombie player) but it’s been a hit for many of my regulars.
I ended up buying the Growing Hunger expansion set, which adds more heroes, more L-shaped boards, double-handed weapons for the Heroes, more zombies and new rules for Plague Carriers and Grave Dead zombies, and a whole lot more cards. We added it to the set and have enjoyed the additions.
On a more recent trip I purchased the Survival of the Fittest expansion, which doesn’t add any more heroes but gives you more cards and some new techniques for both teams. Heroes can now barricade walls and doors to slow down Zombies. Zombies can now use Grave Weapons to increase their attacks. Sadly, I haven’t gotten a chance to play this one yet because I haven’t had as many game nights lately but I’m excited about trying it out.
I was thrilled to see Flying Frog at PAX Prime this year and finally get to meet them, especially with the news about their brand-new Invasion from Outer Space. It uses the same game engine and modular boards, but features a Martian invasion—and you can even combine the games for a massive humans vs. zombies vs. Martians free-for-all. Watch for a review of IfOS soon!
All in all, I’ve been quite satisfied with LNoE and the expansions. It’s quite different from my usual fare which tends to be heavy on European resource-management games, but it’s great for when you’re in the mood to fight some zombies (or eat some brains).
Wired: A great cast of characters, all the usual weapons (and some unusual ones), and a lot of variety—randomized board setups, hero choices, and scenarios make for a very replayable game.
Tired: Sometimes the dice just don’t like you. The Zombie team has fewer options strategically. (But that makes sense, right? Zombies aren’t known for their intellectual prowess.)