Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Last Night on Earth Boardgame Review (and me carrying on).

ACK! I return, after a several month hiatus. It has been a while. Miniature wise, I really haven't done much painting. I can't seem to muster up the will to do it, and now that summer is here, there are far too many things to do outdoors (even if it's just sitting outside).
Miniature gaming appeal to me. I like the story they tell, which to me, is always of more importance than the actual winner of the game. I like the visceral look and feel of well painted miniatures moving across a tabletop filled with inspiring terrain. Unfortunately, I don't get alot of time to do any gaming. With the miniature games I have had in the past, I've barely even tried them. I do enjoy reading through the rules, but preparing and painting the miniatures is just something that takes me too long. Plus, creating terrain is extremely time consuming (and takes lots of space). Don't get me wrong, I enjoy that as a hobby in and of itself, but it's not conducive to keeping my interest in a game. I'm just not a fast enough or dedicated enough painter to field a fighting force by the time my interest wanes.

That being said, there is something about an all inclusive boardgame that piques my interest. As soon as you can muddle through the rules, you can begin playing. No cleaning mold lines, priming, and then taking weeks to paint a few characters. No building terrain and hoping you'll get a chance to field it all. Just pop the box open, set down the board and start throwing dice .

And I did just that with Flying Frogs Productions boardgame, Last Night On Earth.

As you can see by the box art, LNOE is a survival horror game, with the particular menace of everyones favorite brain eaters, zombies. The game is designed for 2-6 players, with folks playing as either the shambling zombies, or a combination of small town heroes.
The game has all the flavor of a B movie. Cheesy stereotypes fill the small town of Woodinvale, the game's fictional setting. From the farmer's daughter, to the luckless drifter, all the archtypes you'd expect in a zombie movie are present. The production levels are quite high and that is showcased in all aspects of the game itself.

The game board, which consists of a two-sided 'town square' area and six 'L' shaped add-ons are printed on a very solid cardstock and feature clean and detailed art representing buildings and areas from the town. In fact, all of the game counters, which include everything from a wound marker to the 'old pickup truck' are well done and have a sturdy feel. All should hold up nicely to many gaming sessions. Most of the art uses actual photos of actors playing the roles. This artistic choice adds tremendously to the B movie feel. You can almost hear the bad one liners.

The game packs a bunch(16) of small six sided dice, a music soundtrack CD (more on that later), the playing boards, the cards, and best of all, miniatures! The miniatures are surpisingly well detailed. Let me take that back, they are sculpted by Gael Goumon, a fantastically gifted sculptor that does many of the Wyrd Games minis (among many others), so it's no surprise that they are so intricate. There are eight of the townsfolk/heroes represented, and three seperate zombie sculpts which are duplicated to give you a grand total of fourteen braineaters. The material they use is a soft, rubbery plastic and although I've heard of some people painting the miniatures, I think I'll be satsified leaving them just as is.

Gameplay is relatively straightforward. There is a 'basic' game that allows you to get up to speed with the rules rather quickly. The advanced game throws in more rules, differing scenarios and set-ups that should allow for great replayability and a variety of depth. I admit to only playing through the basic rules set and using the the simplified scenario. The scenario we played is simply to kill 15 zombies before 15 turns end. The turns are ingeniously measured by a 'sun counter' which represents the setting of the sun. Run out of sunlight before you hit your zombie-killing-quota and it's game over for our heroes.

The latest game we played had four of the hapless heroes struggling to stay away from the ever increasing, and slow moving horde. They ran from the high school to the gun shop in an effort to arm themselves, only to have their luck run out as the zombies swarmed. Sally, the high school sweetheart, proved to be a dead aim, killing a zombie almost on every turn in the later stages. Sadly, she was overrun, and eaten when she ran out of ammo and desperately tried to get away. The zombies made quick work of the luckless drifter, Jake Cartright, and put an end to the game with four rounds to go. No word on why the Sheriff and the High School Quarterback were so ineffective, although the horror of seeing poor Sally devoured may have been too much. The zombie death count was a frustrating 13, but our heros couldn't remain composed long enough to finish them off and get the 15 count needed for the win. I am very excited to try out the other scenarios and implementing the advanced rules. That is something I plan on doing in my next gaming sessions.

The game uses a combination of dice rolling and playing special cards. The cards grant things such as health bonuses and guns to the heroes and vicious fighting and movement bonuses for the zombies. Knowing when to play the cards in your hand adds yet another layer of strategy to the wild romp.

A typical game would seem to be from about one to two hours long.

Gamer support can be found from the companies website, as they have several scenarios and rule additions for free download. I'd like to see more of a FAQ on the website, as some of the rules could bear further explaination. A forum, for game fans to discuss ideas, would be a nice addition too, but those really have no bearing on the product at hand.

The soundtrack CD as I mentioned earlier is a clever novelty to throw in. It's well done in the same vein as the rest of the production value, and actually adds a great tension as a backdrop to the game. I highly doubt the music will become a top download on I-TUNES, but that is not what it is designed for. It's background music, to add a creepy ambiance. It has the effect of giving me more 'bang' for my buck, something I truly appreciate.

And it does give me a great bang for my buck. Compare the price of this game, which is roughly 45-50 dollars, to any other form of media entertainment, and I feel I am getting a fantastic deal. As I mentioned earlier, I like games played with miniatures, and realistically it is the boxed boardgame of this sort that is delivering that to me. Tannhauser (see review earlier in this blog) was another recent game to make me realize this. I'm not giving up on traditional tabletop miniatures games, as I'll still most likely paint, but these boardgames are allowing me to game without the guilt of not having my fighting force painted up (or even assembled!)

The game plays out like a movie (albiet a cheesy one), and to be honest, that is what has captured my imagination the most. It is the story, or the simulation of feeling like you are in the story that makes this type of gaming appealling. LNOE has captured the survival horror very nicely, and I am extremely pleased with the product. I highly recommend you try this game.

The company already puts out an expansion set to the original game, called Growing Hunger, which includes four more miniatures representing new heroes and seven more 'red' zombies. The new set also boasts additional rules, game boards, and scenarios and will add great life to the title. As I give LNOE some more playtime, I may give this a go. Also, I noticed a WEB only set of cards and scenario for the original game. I find myself wanting to support companies that put out this quality of a product. Especially when it is a small independant company that obviously shows much passion for what they do. They've managed to put out a solid, entertaining game with high production values and great replayablilty. Plus, you get to eat brains. How can you turn that down?