Rooting For, Or Against the Setting of the Sun

The best games are those that
artfully balance the tension of losing versus the hope of victory. Even a victory
can feel tarnished if it comes too easily so I want a game to make me feel like
I’m always in danger, but my skill and a tiny bit of luck carried me through
the end. I criticized the last board game I wrote about, Zombies!!!, as it failed to establish any sense of dramatic
tension, expecting its zombie theme to hide its many shortcomings. That fragile
façade quickly crumbled to reveal a game that was mechanically weak and
ultimately quite boring.

Many of the cooperative boardgames I’ve played do a great job of presenting a real sense of danger. Perhaps
that’s accentuated by the natural, joint sense of purpose established by that
board game genre since the players are all working together. It’s easier to
craft a story when it’s shared, when we can bemoan the same calamities and when
we can exclaim over the same improbable success. In the end, however, strong
mechanics must be part of that experience as you’re still playing a game.

I was eager to break out the
board game Last Night on Earth as it
seemed to do the things I was felt was missing from Zombies!!! and appeared to have a nice mix of cooperative and competitive
game mechanics. Players are split into teams, humans versus zombies, and both
sides have their own set of objectives to try and achieve before the sun sets
on the game’s small town. For the human side that generally means getting the
hell out of there or surviving for a certain amount of time; the zombie
objective usually is something along the lines of “kill everything alive.” Game
play can easily be boiled down— each side moves their figures around a map
built by tiles randomly placed at the beginning of the game, all the while fighting
and killing each other and playing special cards to gain a cheap, competitive

The combat in Last Night on Earth is simple enough
that it won’t scare away a casual player but has sufficient nuance to satisfy
more strategy-minded people. What especially makes combat interesting, and
something I criticized Zombies!!! for
lacking, is that death has consequence in the game where a human player’s death
scarily adds a super-zombie to the zombie player’s side. For the zombie team,
while they get a never-ending supply of the undead to work with, destruction of
their creatures is not a good thing as swarming the human players is their key
to winning.

One of my favorite parts of Last Night on Earth is that it sneakily
requires a teensy bit of roleplaying. Sure, that generally consists of the
person who’s playing the high school quarterback character telling the player
who’s playing the busty nurse what they’d envision their “last night on earth”
being, or the zombies groaning a lot, but overall a story of the humans’
survival (or massacre) is being uniquely crafted with each session. One of my
favorite games so far was when the human players had to make their escape by
finding gasoline and keys to start up a  truck sitting in the center of town. After
finding the gasoline, but not yet the keys, one of the human players
misguidedly decided to go ahead and fill the truck’s fuel tank while the search
continued. In the process of doing so they were torn to pieces by the zombie
horde they accidentally attracted to the site. The rest of the session was a
blood bath as the remaining humans tried desperately to force the throng of
undead away from the truck but only succeeded in adding to the swarm of dead.

Last Night on Earth has just about everything I’m looking for in a
zombie themed game with plenty of tense moments, dramatic swings to either side
of the fight, and strong game mechanics that create a real sense of consequence
with their results. The game can drag
a little if the zombie players don’t play aggressively enough, letting the
humans wander freely, but is mostly well paced, with a good variety of
different scenarios you can play, and plenty of cinematic action to make you
feel like you’re fighting for survival— or, if you’re a zombie, the end of