I love playing skirmish wargames, and I play quite a few. But I also tend to collect skirmish wargame rulebooks, even ones I know I’ll likely never find local opponents to play. I sincerely hope this isn’t the case for one of the newest wargames from Osprey Games, Last Days: Zombie Apocalypse. I’ve been waiting for a skirmish Zombie wargame with fast-play rules and a campaign, and LD:ZA appears to have been worth the wait. Osprey Games provided me with an advanced review copy, and I sat down and read it through in under 90 minutes.
Below, I’m going to provide some details about the LD:ZA rulebook. I’ve yet to play a game (the rulebook won’t release for another month), but I’ve played enough skirmish wargames (including Frostgrave, Gaslands, and Rogue Stars) that I believe I’ve got a solid grasp of the new game’s mechanics. Let’s take a look…
Last Days: Zombie Apocalypse is a 112-page hardbound book with full-color artwork. Inside the book are the complete rules to play the game plus reference sheets for players to manage their Group of Characters and the group’s Refuge. A game consists of two or more players, each controlling a group of survivors. Each group attempts to gather resources while fighting or avoiding other groups of survivors and slow-walking zombies.
A game takes place on a 3′ x 3′ table (larger for more than two players) and 28-32mm miniatures are used to represent survivors. The game calls for 20 zombie miniatures although it appears to be a rare game where that many zombies will be in play. Additional terrain is needed to represent buildings, vehicles, and other obstacles.
As a player, your first job is to gather your survivors. This entails picking a Leader, and you get three stereotypes from which to choose — The Everyday Hero, The Merciless Thug, and The Professional. Your choice will impact the types of survivors you can attract (buy), and each type has variations when it comes to allowable weapons and even the overall cost of the Leader.
Each player starts with 100 Scavenge Points, and its these points that are used to buy a Leader, Survivors (also called Characters), and starting weapons. You’ll also choose a Refuge. There are six to choose from, with each offering advantages and disadvantages. The Mall, for example, will support a maximum of 12 characters and offers 8 empty spaces to upgrade later. The Gun Shop, however, only allows for a group of 6 and 3 extra spaces, but it has built-in perks such as fortified windows and reinforced doors, which can come in handy when it’s time to defend your refuge from another player’s attacks. Each of the remaining four refuges (Farm House, Police Station, Church, and Prison) vary in the size of group they will support, number of free space for upgrades, and special perks.
All characters, including the Leader, come with a set of 8 Characteristics (Stat Blocks), ranging from 0 (bad) to 6 (good):
Action Points (AP) – defines movement and how many actions a character can take in the game
Close Quarter Combat (CQC) — the higher the value, the better the skill in fighting hand-to-hand
Firearms (FA) – determines a character’s skill in handling firearms
Strength (S) – how much weight a character can carry as well as damage done
Endurance (E) – relates to the toughness or armor of a character and resistance to damage
Damage Capacity (DC) – the health of a character
Courage/Horror (C/H) — for living beings, the ability to fight through fear and low morale; for the undead, how much terror it can inflict on the living
Intelligence (I) – hotwiring cars, unlocking doors, and other strategies require a high value here
Examples of characters include fire fighter, gang member, Sarge, Cop, Crony, and Survivalist. All in all, there are 15 different characters to choose from with the basic rulebook. Each character has a cost, but also a Keyword. The keyword can be selfish, selfless, neutral, and trained. Leaders can recruit characters that match their Keyword (Hero = Selfless, Thug = Selfish, Pro = Trained) or Neutrals (up to 50% of max group size). Different keywords can make up to 25% of your max group size.
All characters must start the game with a single weapon, but each character can carry a maximum of two Firearms and two Close Quarter Combat (CQC) weapons (such as a club or knife). Every weapon has a cost, but also a Rarity. Some weapons (such as the Military SMG) are so rare, a Leader can only have one of them per group. This helps balance the game, but also reflects the reality that scavenging powerful weapons will get harder as the zombie apocalypse runs its course.
Weapons can also be classified as Noisy. This will have major impacts on the game because zombies are going to be attracted to loud noises. The more Noisy weapons are being used, the faster the table is going to fill with wandering undead.
More powerful weapons can be obtained, however, but these come from scavenging during a game. Smart players will count bullets and make certain they have plenty of CQC weapons on hand to keep the noise down AND for cases where bullets have become scarce.
During a game, the goal of the group is to find and retrieve Supply Tokens. An obvious tactic is to reduce your opponent’s group in numbers, but grabbing Supply Tokens and getting off the board is critical to long-term success.
Supply tokens can be traded in (assuming the group survives AND doesn’t chicken out and run — called reaching its Breaking Point). Various charts will allow players to resolve these tokens and turn them into additional Scavenge points and weapons. Woo Hoo!
Skills and Attributes
One of the things I most enjoyed seeing in this new wargame is the large number of skills that can be obtained by characters. With 30 skills ranging from Sniper to Gear-Head to First Aid Training, characters will gain bonuses that apply to one or more characteristic and/or provide them with a special ability that come in handy on the battlefield.
There are twelve attributes (such as Noisy, Point Blank Thrown, and Heavy) that will affect hardware or obstacles/terrain. Attributes typically come assigned to hardware and more, while Skills can be improved over time as the campaign progresses.
Perks are upgrades that can be applied to your refuge. Escape Vehicle, Fenced-Off Garden, and Radio Room are just some examples of the twelve Perks. The Garden, for example, allows a group to roll a d6 to get additional Scavenge points for buying stuff. An Escape Vehicle will allow a group (that has lost its refuge to another player) to take all its equipment and weapons with them when they head for the hills to look for a new refuge.
There are six different Encounters that can be used to setup a game. You’ll roll a d6 and consult a table to determine whether you’ll be playing Bushwhack or Home Defense (your Refuge is under attack) or one of the other four scenarios. Each encounter has its own setup, special rules, and how the game ends and winner determined.
While one-off games are fine, players wanting to experience a story are encouraged to use the Campaign rules. These allow for characters to grow through the accumulation of XP (all start at Level 0 but can get up to level 10) and new skills, but it also allows for the risk of major injuries to damaged characters and even the loss of your Leader!
In between games, the survivors aren’t sitting around. There’s scavenging to be done, perks to be built, and the never-ending risk of zombie attacks. All of these are covered using tables that will help tell the story of what is happening to your little group between encounters.
The game is divided into phases, five in all, that go in order and repeat again and again until the game ends:
- Menace Phase – issues like noise, ammo checks, and zombie placement occur here, at the start of the phase list
- Action Phase – Initiative rolls are made, with Leader stats combined to determine which player starts as the Aggressor and which the Defender. The roll is made again at the end of each set of five phases. During the Action phase, characters will spend their Action Points (AP) to move, reload, open a door, or Interact with objects or others.
- Shooting Phase — the name says it all. There are Ranged attacks to be made, and Line-of-Sight is important in this game as are distances for types of weapons. Damage is also resolved in this phase.
- Close Quarters Combat Phase – for those characters who are too close to shoot, CQC phase allows for hand-to-hand combat with zombies and other survivors.
- End Phase – Before the next turn begins AND only if a casualty happened during the current turn, both players will roll a D6 and add the number of casualties to the roll. If that number is less or equal to the Leader’s Courage value PLUS total number of friendly survivors left on table, the group keeps fighting. Otherwise, the group reached its Breaking Point and will flee.
Skirmish wargames are meant to be both fast and fun, and Last Days: Zombie Apocalypse delivers both. As with other skirmish games I enjoy, the combat rules are simplified and fast to resolve. Most every table and roll uses a single d6 with a few modifiers added in to see if there’s a hit. Damage is also resolved with a d6 plus the damage value of the firearm used; divide the total Damage done by the victim’s Endurance value and round down. This is how many Damage Capacity points are removed from a character. Hit 0 Damage Capacity and you’ve got a casualty! (The casualty could be DEAD DEAD or just injured… depends on a roll if you’re playing a campaign.)
Close Quarter Combat is resolved with Aggressor and Defender each rolling a d6 and adding their CQC value. Highest number wins. Damage is calculated by rolling a d6 and adding the Strength value plus modifiers. Once again, divide the total damage by Endurance value and round down to determine how many points of Damage Capacity a character loses.
Zombies are handled a little differently when it comes to taking damage. They’re already dead! When hit by a firearm or CQC, roll a d6. On a 5 or 6, they’re hit in the head and they’re down. Otherwise, they just keep going…and going.
I cannot WAIT to play this game. I’ve played zombie boardgames that are more complicated, and that’s not a compliment. The best skirmish wargames deliver the fun in a fast and fair manner, with plenty of chances for rallies and surprises, and LD:ZA is going to offer players lots of return on the small investment.
Note: The author of LD:ZA is Ash Barker, and in his introduction to the rulebook he offers up something that perfectly nails what I love about many skirmish wargames. He states that a game he truly loves will have three things: Memorable Moments, Crackerjacks, and Ever-Afters. You can probably figure out what he means by those, but I’m going to leave his introduction as a surprise (and enjoyable) read to new owners of the rulebook.
Note: I’d like to thank Christian and Osprey Games for providing me with an advanced copy of the rulebook. Last Days: Zombie Apocalypse releases on June 19, 2018.
For more information about skirmish wargames, please take a look at two of my previous posts on GeekDad: