♫ Eric Herman ♫
I like elephants. I like how they swing through trees.
The latest Last Night on Earth expansion comes in a smallish box, but it's crammed with a good amount of stuff; 4 scenarios, 5 counter sheets, 3 new decks of cards and about 8 each of new Hero and Zombie cards. My first impression is that the new scenarios, combined with the new mechanics, make this more of an "advanced" version of LNOE, moreso than Growing Hunger, but for a LNOE fan looking for some more depth and variety, that's a great thing. Here are some details...
There are 3 new decks, Survival Tactics and Unique Items (which benefit the Heroes) and Grave Weapons (for the Zombies). If a Hero rolls 5+ for movement, instead of Searching, they can draw either a Survival Tactics card or Unique Item card, depending what numbered building they're in (Unique Items = 1-3 or 1-2, Survival Tactics = 4-6 or 5-6, 3-4 = choice of either). So basically, any time you were going to search anyway, you'll have a 1 in 3 chance of getting one of those cards instead of the usual Hero card. And by and large, those are quite powerful...
A few of the Survival Tactics cards...
Several of the Survival Tactics cards are of the same type as other Hero cards, but the difference is that these cards, as well as the Unique Items and Grave Weapons, are never considered to be "Hero" or "Zombie" cards, and cannot be cancelled as such. And some of them include new elements like "Duct Tape", which allows you to combine two of your Items to gain the effect of both at the same time; "Use the Sewers", where you can add sewer tokens to the board to allow for faster movement (I'm glad that there is a counter provided for being "in the sewer" which is placed off the board and which requires one movement space; I didn't like the idea of teleporting across the board between sewers, which is how I thought it might work from the original description... I also like that the Zombies can use the sewers as well); "Ammo Belt", which lets you put 3 Ammo tokens on it and discard them instead of discarding a Gun, or to add +1 to a roll; and "Barricade the Windows", which gives additional barricade strength (more on barricades below).
A few of the Unique Items...
The Unique Items offer some kind of bonus, and sometimes an additional bonus if a particular character has them. For example, Sally's Pendant allows its owner to discard it to cancel a wound, but also gives Sally an extra Fight die if she has it. Father Joseph's Bible gives any other player his normal ability to take a wound to attempt to cancel any Zombie card on the roll of 3+, and if Father Joseph has that, then he automatically cancels a Zombie card if he takes a Wound. I'm a little disappointed that there aren't more examples of that in the Unique Deck than there are; from the earlier description of this, I expected there to be more character specific bonuses like that, but a lot of characters aren't represented in this way and not all of these cards offer that kind of thing. Presumably, we'll see more character-specific Unique Items with future LNOE expansions.
One of the Grave Weapons cards...
The Grave Weapons cards may be drawn by the Zombie player instead of spawning 2 normal zombies, and they give a specific zombie a particular ability, per the example above. I really love these, because much as I like LNOE, one criticism I have is that the Zombies don't seem to have as much character or as many tactical choices as the Heroes. This improves both of those things. Survival of the Fittest provides tokens (see the counter sheet above) to place under zombies with Grave Weapons, but having played the game now with the tokens, the value of having the miniature set became apparent, because it can be a real PITA to move around all of the Zombies with the markers. I am disappointed that while the mini set includes a new Grave Weapon type (Crawling Torso), it does not include two of the existing types (Recently Dead and Explosive), so you still have to use markers for those. But that's more of a complaint against that set and not against SOTF itself.
SOTF includes several new or updated "dot" mechanics in the rulebook, and probably the most significant of those (and long-awaited by LNOE fans) is for Barricades. Basically, when you are in a building, instead of searching, if your movement roll was 4 or higher, you can either erect a barricade or reinforce one. A Hero can also take a wound at the end of a Move Phase to build or reinforce a barricade. A barricade blocks an entire wall, and a zombie who wants to move through it must roll 4+ to do so... If a barricade has been reinforced (by adding a reinforcement marker), a zombie wishing to move through it only removes a reinforcement marker on a 4+ roll but cannot move. Heroes can move through basic barricades but must pay movement points to remove reinforcement markers to move through. I like the way the barricades work... simple but effective, though I'm a little surprised that they are only worth 2 dots. I suppose the time and trouble it takes to build them offsets their usefulness.
As expected, all four of the new scenarios involve the new decks and include the barricade rules, and three of the four include direct involvement with the barricades as part of the objective or setup. Here's a brief description of the four scenarios...
HUNKER DOWN: The Heroes must fully barricade two buildings and spend at least 4 turns (not necessarily consecutive) with at least one Hero inside each barricaded building.
RESCUE MISSION: Four Townsfolk Allies start in a fully barricaded and fully reinforced (barricades can have up to 3 reinforcement markers) building on the opposite corner of where the Heroes begin. The Heroes must bring at least 3 of the Townsfolk Allies out of the barricaded building and over to the Hero safehouse. Without having played any of these yet, this one is the one I'm most eager to play... It sounds very challenging.
SUPPLY RUN: The Heroes start in the Manor House (which includes a new dot mechanic, Manor Deck; 10 cards that Heroes can search from while in the Manor House) and must pick up supply markers from other buildings around the board and return enough of them to the house.
SEARCH FOR THE TRUTH: You'll notice in the picture above that some of the Unique Items include letters (A, B, C). They have no game implications other than for this scenario. The Heroes have to find two of the Unique Items with letters. The first record found determines the goal objective. For example, "A" equals "collect 2 explosives and get them to the final location." The second record found determines the final location, which is either the Farmhouse, the Plant or the Hospital. If the location isn't on the board, you find the board side with the location and attach it to the existing board on a random corner.
To me, the scenarios of LNOE are what make it really fun, as you can play the same basic system with different types of thematic challenges that make for unique situations and call for different strategies and tactics. These four scenarios seem to be well crafted with some creative elements that make good use of the new cards and the barricades mechanic.
Having played through two of the scenarios now, I have to say that the new additions are excellent and add a lot to the experience, and moreso than some of the things included with Growing Hunger, these seem to be things that I'll want to include with every LNOE game I play. For example, the presence of the Barricades in the new scenarios is cool, but I'm also looking forward to adding them onto older scenarios like Defend the Manor House, Zombie Apocalypse and Zombie Pillage to see the effect they might add. The Survival Tactics and Unique Items are a really nice addition to add variety when searching, and make the character of Billy more powerful by giving him better odds of getting those cards when he searches. And I honestly can't imagine playing another game of LNOE without the Zombie team having the Grave Weapons. As I said earlier, the Zombie team has always seemed to lack some character and tactical choices compared to the Heroes, and these really do improve that quite a lot.
There has been some grumbling about Flying Frog splitting up their new LNOE offerings into three packages, priced at $24.95 each. I would agree that the MSRP is too high for what you get, but considering that these are available for as low as $16 online, then I think that is very reasonable, and I like that these were split up so that you could decide which ones you really wanted. The Grave Weapons minis are always going to be a chrome/luxury purchase, and Hero Pack 1 is certainly not a necessity, either, but I really think that Survival of the Fittest is more of a "must have" for fans of this game, and will likely become ingrained into the games you play quite a lot.
Good review, Eric.
Many thanks! A great review with some excellent insight into the new mechanics. Now to convince the wife!